Addictions Are Like Shadowboxing

                            As if the use of drugs and alcohol or participation in an addiction/attachment were not problematic enough, the in-between times can be even more painful to deal with, both for the addicted person and those around them. The experience is like shadowboxing (sparring with an imaginary opponent)—you can never actually connect with an addict while they are moving toward the drug of choice, and addicts can’t connect with themselves when they are preoccupied with the thing that has captured their energy.

Once an attachment to alcohol, pills, food, pornography, gambling, religion, etc. crosses the line into an addiction, all available energies of the addict are pulled inward, rendering him or her unavailable for emotional intimacy. Their attention is focused entirely on the next time they will be able to self-soothe with whatever the thing is that has captured them. Total self-centeredness is the predominant state of being. Once they enter into the addictive cycle, addicts become like an elusive and hollow shadow.

Addictions are multifaceted. According to Gabor Mate, MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, “Addiction is any repeated behavior, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others.”

Addiction involves:

1) compulsive engagement with the behavior, a preoccupation with it;
2) impaired control over the behavior;
3) persistence or relapse despite evidence of harm;
4) dissatisfaction, irritability, or intense craving when the object, be it a drug, activity, or other goal, is not immediately available

At various times in my life, I have been that shadow figure—grasping for alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and distorted relationships. The thing itself, or the object of my attachment, is not really important for the purposes of this article. What I am endeavoring to describe is the internal world that is commonly experienced by all addicts during the in-between times of an addictive cycle.

When I was addicted, if I was not drinking, I was either thinking about drinking or recovering from drinking. Driven by one hundred forms of fear, guilt, and shame, I was constantly trying to prove myself or control my world by playacting, caretaking, striving, planning, and scanning my exterior environment for danger. Exhausted by my efforts and interactions, I was once again driven to seek the blessed relief afforded by that first drink of alcohol. I would repeatedly tell myself things like:

“Hang on Dawn, just three more days until Friday night and you can relax with a few drinks. Now only two more days . . .”

“Let’s see, now, if I take a Tuesday and Thursday class, I won’t be able to drink on Wednesday nights, so maybe I should just take a Monday and Wednesday course.”

“Oh God, someone’s knocking at my door; what if I open it and they can guess what happened last night? I wonder what did happen last night? I’ll just hide until they go away, whoever they are.”

”I can’t bear to look anyone in the eye because maybe they will know . . .”

“I wonder if I should hide this money in my glove compartment so I won’t spend too much on drinks.”

“See, I can remember everything that happened last night, that should prove that I don’t have a problem.”

“See, I make dinner every night for my children. We eat together while listening to Pachelbel, so who cares if I was too hung over to make that stupid PTA meeting?”

Tethered to the cycle of addiction, whether or not I was actually using that day, all of my available energies were focused on drinking or on the in-between thoughts and behaviors related to the last drinking episode or the upcoming drinking episode. There was no available energy left in me for a relationship with my partner, my children, or myself. When in active addiction, my body, mind, and soul remained elusive to me and everyone around me, yet we all kept dancing with the shadow.


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