One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results.
It’s like that infuriating toy grabber claw arcade game where all you have to do is cinch the claw at the right time and the cute stuffed pig or octopus is yours.
Oh! —there it goes!, you say as your pig slips underneath the claw teeth.
Another 50 cents later, Darn it! I swear it was almost mine!
Some people walk away after a dollar, figuring out that the game is rigged.
Other people play the bloody game until their pockets are empty.
Addicts fall into the second group. Their brains are missing the link associating certain behaviors with unfavorable responses. Their craving for a high, or a dopamine spike, is so acute that they don’t consider the prior 99 failed attempts before they load the machine with another 50 cents. This time will be different. Look how cute Nemo is. My happiness depends on that stuffed fish. Somewhere in the insanity of their thoughts, they step from Fun Land to Addict Land.
The Empty Promises of Addiction
“Addiction is a process of buying into false and empty promises: the false promise of relief, the false promise of emotional security, the false promise of fulfillment, and the false sense of intimacy with the world,” writes Craig Nakken in his book “The Addictive Personality.” It’s less about the object of the addiction—vodka, pot, Macy’s, Marlboro Lights, Godiva, Starbucks, work—and more about the process of filling the hole in the soul, the chronic ache that all addicts have in common.
You can give up booze. However, unless you’re actively working your recovery, you’ll simply transfer your addiction to another item or behavior.
That’s what I did.
But I’m Cured Now
Last summer, with 28 years of sobriety behind me, I decided to test the waters to see if I was truly an alcoholic. My inability to drink responsibly was simply a form of high school rebellion,I reasoned. I am an adult now. My brain has evolved and developed. Surely I can handle a beer or two.
My experiment lasted a week.
My addiction picked up exactly where it dropped off at age 18. I couldn’t stop thinking about my next drink. I took a six-pack of Coors Light to the park to drink alone. I considered buying a bottle of vodka to keep in the trunk.
“If you couldn’t control it before, what makes you think you can control it now?” a friend said to me with tears in his eyes.
The next day I went to a support group meeting and have stayed sober ever since.
But I didn’t work at my recovery.
So my drinking problem morphed into other addictions: to nicotine gum, to clothes from White House Black Market, to people.
Codependency: Another Kind of Addiction
“Hi, my name is Therese, and I am recovering from …. everything,” I said today at my first support group meeting for codependency. As everyone shared personal stories, I recognized the subtle way addiction has filtered into my relationships, driving much of my dysfunctional behavior.
Characteristics of codependents include:
- Having a lack of personal and professional boundaries.
- Taking everything personally.
- Letting a fear of rejection drive decisions and behaviors.
- Trying to earn love by being successful at everything.
- Going out of your way to people please, to win love, approval, and acceptance.
- Using guilt or shame to control other people’s behaviors.
Codependency is perhaps the most painful of my addictions because its roots extend into childhood issues and trauma that need to be addressed, and because codependent behavior directly affects those whom I love the most. It’s also extremely complex because I can’t easily extricate the behavior and put it in a locked safe like I can with booze, cigarettes, and my credit card. My insatiable need for acceptance and approval can organically make its way into a conversation. By the time I recognize the behavior, I’m already in dangerous territory.
Step Away, My Friend
People in recovery circles say they have a “thinking” problem more than a drinking problem in that the thrill with which they hope to fill the empty pockets of the soul starts in the head. There are times when I can recognize the false promises of addiction whispered into my ears and refrain from exploring their paths. And there are other times, like recently, I am a bit deaf. I need a room full of people to help me tease out my inner voice of wisdom from the manipulative messages of addiction and codependency.
Experience tells me there is no such thing as a pain-free life, even after you’ve put down the drink or cigarette or new dress. Sobriety is about identifying the things in your life that are real and good and true, one day at a time. It is about stepping away from the claw game and realizing your happiness doesn’t depend on some stuffed pig or the challenge of winning the pig. Happiness is dropping that 50 cents on a cup of coffee with a friend.
Hi Therese. Not sure if you remember me as you are so busy with your amazing articles, based upon the truth if your life! I want to thank you again for being so open. I turned 63 in February and I was still lying to myself that I have my Percocet addiction under control.
It’s been tough. I have three grown kids. Barry is 40 and doesn’t work. I let his gf and her 14 yr. old son live with me. She has major ligament and tendon disorders and collects welfare. My son Ryan is 38, works hard as does his wife but they live in NJ and it’s tight. I have two young grandsons via Ryan and Jen. Logan is 6 a while Jackson is 3. I’ve given them to thousands. It’s still tight living in a 100 yr. old home that requires work.
Then there is Heather, age 41 and still a major drug addict. I’ve bought percs off the street AND 90 per month from my long time cardiologist since 2015. Heather introduced me to Xanax and back in March I popped many along with 30 percs over a three day weekend. I had to he revived twice with Narcon. But I’m still here. I’ve been clean since June as Ryan will not let me see my beautiful boys. Eight years later and I still mourn my wife on all levels. I also had to put my 14 year old dog down in July. I am truly alone but my self esteem has slowly risen. Damn, it’s so hard to like yourself! I truly wish to get out of Brooklyn, be near my kids a BD let Barry finally figure it all out. I had sextuple CABG surgery in 1996, three stents added in ’14 and 2 more this year. I need to find myself at 63 and nice on at last (and stop watching scenes from What Dreams May Come). And a plethora of deep Rick music sucg as Ann Wilson’s Alone. I know I’ve to thrown much out there but I need and want to thank you for putting out a tremendous framework from which people like you, me and so many others can learn from. I’m trying and wanted to take this time out to thank you for simply being you! – Ira email@example.com
Hi Ira. I’ll be praying for you. Blessings and peace to you.
IRA thank you for your honesty and openness. It is just SO difficult for anyone to come off any narcotics. I have been on a lot of pain meds for many years for my illness and I tried going back to work as a Midwife for 8 years on a Casual basis. While I loved the work it was a nightmare to manage my pain. When I picked up yet another virus in 2014 and was forced to stop working again and have been pretty much bed ridden since then I decided to cut down on my pain meds by myself. My Pain Specialist had put me in hospital 3 times to do a rapid detox to take me off a lot of the meds and each time it was a nightmare. So doing by myself with my Go’s supervision has been so much more gentle and easier. Over the first 2 years i managed to reduce most of the meds by about 90%. But I changed to a new Pain Specialist at the beginning of last year and he also wants to put me in hospital to reduce even more and was not happy when I refused. He refuses to recognise the work I have already done on my own. But at 59 all the Drs are telling me I cannot be on the amount of meds I am on now for much longer. Their opinion is that I need to learn to suffer in silence!!!
Therese, I have followed you for years and think of you from time to time. My daughter still struggles from depression/anxiety but your wisdom has helped carry me through the almost daily heartbreaks. I am hopeful that if you can manage life as well as you do, my daughter will someday too. The transparency and authenticity you share is a very generous gift to the rest of us. I so want to understand and help my child. You have mentioned your faith from time to time, and I want you to know that I pray for you and your family. Thank you and be well!!
The grabber is a great analogy & other good points made here as well.
Thank you for being vulnerable & open with us Therese.
I love you as a person, a beautiful honest loving soul, as a co-dependent, as an addict, as a mother, as a woman, wife, daughter…as the whole you! I never met you but know you through your posts only, yet feel so much love for you. You bare your soul to help others. I pray you know on your good days and bad, that you matter! You teach by example that life is about learning our own common yet unique lessons in life….continuously. It is not about failure, it’s about learning from our falls from who we want to be. It’s about intentions, love and treating others with kindness, empathy, respect and grace. You, dear lady, do all that! Please continue to treat yourself that way also. You make a difference in this world, especially to the ones who love you. Please remember that and thank you from the bottom of my heart! God is SO proud of you!!!!! xoxo
Absolutely- I totally agree with this post. Thank you for what you have said Bobbi.
Good read. Good writing. Good points.
I recognise that behaviour. I know that I was very codependent for many years – feeling as though I could not survive without any contact with my family, my counsellor or going to different support groups. However, over the last 5-6 years I have had a wonderful new counsellor who has taught me to be strong within myself. There are times where I still feel I want more from my family than they are providing but my backbone is growing stronger and I feel more centered within myself. My illness has left me very isolted for the last 4 years and most of my friends have disappeared as they do not understand or cannot cope with me being so weak and exhausted all the time. I would have loved their help and support but their lives are just too busy. All I have to do is finish taking myself off most of the medications I have been prescribed over the years for all my ‘problems’ and hopefully I will begin to regain some energy and strength to do more things and get back to my hobbies.
Therese, I bought your book about depression because I’m in the midst of a severe episode brought on by chronic back pain. It was hilarious, insightful, and so fitting to my experience (except the part about motherhood). I’m amazed at the similarities between our experiences. I went through something very similar only down here in the South, which meant I was shamed for taking psych meds and for not “praying hard enough” to make the pain go away. I was actually shunned from a local church back in 2000 when this occurred.
I am especially glad to know that I don’t have to keep trying to force myself to be joyful when I’m down. I am struggling with chronic pain due to a back injury and would love some posts on that. I am sorry to hear you decided to go out again and glad you made it back to the rooms of AA. Smart move. I have been taking things one minute at a time even though I have the “death thoughts” and am grateful for your work.
Therese, I found your book and read it because I’m in the midst of a depression. I can relate so much and feel like we are kindred spirits. I’m in the South, so my depression is my fault because I can’t pray it away or work hard enough to make it go away (NOT!!!). I’m grateful for your work. I struggle with chronic back pain due to a spine injury and would love some posts on dealing with depression and chronic pain. Thanks for your work. I keep going one minute at a time. Also, I work at a job with a windowless office. Don’t you think that should be considered a criminal offense? Here’s to taking it one day at a time and this too shall pass.
I went back out after 25 years. I have been drinking for over a year and hope I had my last drink yesterday.
I picked up because of Co – dependancy, not feeling enough for the woman I’ve been with for years. Co-deoency was my first addiction, trying to cure an ill mother from the age of 11. I’ve been having death thoughts today but can’t stand the thought of hurting my young boys. Please pray for me one and all, I’ll pray for us all too