Addicts are attracted to chaos. Although we crave stability, many of us find it extremely uncomfortable. Despite what we believe to be the case, we find chaos and lack of control normal, because it reflects the conditions in which we grew up: lack of autonomy, capricious decisions and behavior by others, and no stable foundations for our lives.
Who’s running the show?
Whether we came from dysfunctional families where complete chaos was the norm or equally dysfunctional roots where all the reins were held by others, the effects are the same. As kids and in adulthood we continually tried/try to gain control of our lives by controlling others or by acting out. By attempting to control others we unconsciously create the familiar conditions of our childhood in an adult setting. By acting out, we stifle our lack of control beneath drugs, eating, sex, shopping or what have you. In either case — usually, both — we are attempting to control feelings and/or situations that we find uncomfortable or intolerable.
As an addict in early recovery I never quite got the idea of emotions. I’d been living in my head for so long – bending my thinking to support my addictions and fears – that I’d managed to stifle my feelings so that I didn’t have to be concerned about them (I thought). In fact, I probably couldn’t have identified more than one or two if I’d had to, and would most likely have denied having those. I thought love was when I was feeling good about a relationship. Anger was beneath me — the cool intellectual. I just didn’t have time for that other psychological fol-de-rol. It was okay for all you “still-suffering addicts,” but hey — I was in recovery!.
I carried that denial with me for a long time. I was unable to identify many of the issues in the people I tried to help, because I didn’t understand them in myself. As a result, I was far less effective than I probably could have been, and far more importantly it allowed me to completely ignore some critical, basic issues for a long time – like 24 years. If you can’t identify your feelings, you don’t have to worry about where they’re coming from. Until you do.
After a good chunk of therapy and work in and outside of treatment, I’ve gotten a little bit better about not only identifying feelings, but also understanding how they affected my life for nearly seven decades. Actually, that’s a misstatement. They affect my life today, all the time. They affect yours, too, whether you think so or not, so I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve learned in the hope that someone might find it useful. If you already know about this stuff, fine. If I’d known more about it oh, say, 20-odd years ago, I’d be a much more sober guy today. If you don’t, I’d suggest giving it some…