Cross Addiction – Healthy or Unhealthy?

exercisingBefore we begin here, let me just say that I’m, speaking here about cross-addiction in recovery – folks that are no longer in active addiction.

 

I know, I know, there’s a crowd at the back already shouting “how could cross-addiction *ever* be healthy????????”

 

I need to explain this.

 

From my own experience in an alcohol addiction treatment centre, an alcohol abuse prevention charity, in and around meetings, and others in recovery, for the last several years, most of us struggle in the first while.

 

Why?

 

Because we’re being asked to suddenly accept, come to terms with, and be at peace with, an emotional tidelwave of events, trauma, health, relationship, and financial issues, that have been suppressed for the last……well, let’s just say, a very long time.

 

Without sounding too cliche, we don’t choose addiction from choice.

 

We choose addiction from need – i.e. a place of pain.

 

 

We were in it because we were in pain, and didn’t know how to get out. No-one told you how.

 

During our life leading up to active addiction, we likely tried all sorts of ways of coping with stress, like exercise, food, or spending money, sometimes to an obsessive degree.

 

So we became good at the elements of life that kept us afloat, at that time.

 

And when we leave treatment, and enter the real world again, the old issues of trauma, and mental health, still surface, but this time without the accompanying obsessive behaviors that we used to exhibit, to help us cope.

 

This is why cross-addiction is so common. Our mind needs ways to cope, needs to know of ways to cope, so that everything in life is not perceived as a threat.

 

So, an addiction to something else, *appears* to fill the gap between the stress that our old mental health issues is causing to surface; and our ability to cope with that stress.

 

Can you see how it becomes much more likely, that without **a lot** of support, and of the right kind, that relapse becomes much more likely?

 

So, when can cross-addiction actually be useful?

When you know and understand fully what the addiction did for you in the first place, and the “cross-addiction” doesn’t fulfill that.

Let’s consider this.

 

To be able to “use” cross-addiction in a positive way, we first must have an extremely thorough grounding what the addiction did for us, and why.

How it contributed to trigger situations, high emotions, and negative consequences.

And, the positive intention that that behavior was trying to achieve.

 

For example, some learn that “the way to feel important, is to drink alcohol” – so the secondary gain is feelings of power.

We can only begin to replicate that gain in the real world, post-treatment, by coming up with creative ways to enhance our mental sense of self-esteem, and *perceived* power, in more healthy ways.

 

Exercise, is one of the more common ones. Diet, support groups, self-support like writing, or artistic forms of expression, can also help us to release old powerlessness, and regain a sense of control, in a healthy way.

 

Becoming addicted to any of the above, post-treatment, wouldn’t be considered the end of the world.

 

Can you see that by first understanding the nuances of the purpose the addiction served in our lives, we can then replace it with something more useful, that achieves the same end goal?

 

Now we’re getting there 🙂

Have you hit bottom yet?

drunkmanFor most of us, the lows of alcoholism are nothing new.

But have you truly hit the bottom yet?

 

This is subjective, of course.

The real question is – have you hit *your* bottom yet?

 

How much emotional pain one person can tolerate, before finally calling it a day and getting help, varies according to you and your personality.

This is precisely the factor that interventionists seek to push, when hired by families to convince their spouse/brother/mother/father/etc to enter treatment.

 

Let me give some examples. Do you recognize them in your life, or in someone you know?

 

– I’ve been late for work too many times now. They’re sacking me.

All the littles add up. Sometimes it takes an enemy like alcohol to help us realize this.

Our conscious can be relatively clean when skipping routine appointments, showing up late for meetings, or missing a bill here and there….

But if alcohol helps this continue, and become a pattern in your life – the consequences won’t take long to surface.

The only question is, how long we take to learn them.

Losing a job can be devastating. And the rationalisations that got you to that point, now have to ramp up, to continue to justify drinking.

 

– My partner left me
Relationships are perhaps the biggest learning ground we can experience in our lives. And, trying to navigate that whilst in the clutches of alcoholism is a near-impossible task, for even the most-lucid, high-functioning alcoholic.

Alcohol will make you miss important dates, details, people, and places, including your romantic partner.

It will whisper that “it’s ok…we didn’t need them anyway”, or “it’s all their fault, we know that” – as you try to alleviate the pain with more alcohol.

Communicating clearly to a partner about your needs, wants, and reciprocating with theirs, won’t last long when you need to be intoxicated to even barely function, and having a drink these days feels more like a chore than a celebration.

More relationships have likely been left in tatters due to alcohol than any other life factor.

 

– I crashed the car and injured someone.
How far will you go to rationalize injuring another human being? Imagine your future remorse about even considering this was acceptable.

“I wasn’t even going that fast!” – is what you tell yourself.

“They stepped out in front of *me*!”

God forbid, it was a child you hurt.

In the blur of alcohol escape, when we begin to look at pain like this, a part of us realizes this is too much to handle, and we turn back to the only coping mechanism (“friend”) we know – the bottle.
And the cycle continues.

 

– I was drunk and got arrested.
Alcohol and inebriation will make you do silly things. You’ll feel courage as if it’s real.

Alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain, meaning, emotions are exaggerated under the stress suffered by the limbic system.

Uncharacteristic aggression and fighting are more common when intoxicated. Insults or arguments can appear to be more hurtful than they are.

All of this means a drunken brawl will likely be rationalized the next morning, that “they were out of line” “they deserved it” etc, as the alcoholic in us rushes to protect and excuse any wrongdoing.

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Nevertheless, despite these sad, and all-too-familiar stories, there are positives we must remind ourselves of.

Because it is only living *through* the pain and aftermath of these such episodes in our lives, that we can later look back, and realize that without the pain of event X, I never would have been strong enough to handle Y.

Or without losing that (job/partner/house/car/etc), I would never have found my way to my new (situation).

Or, whilst going through the trauma of X, I never would have imagined it would have led me to Y, today.

Sometimes, the end of a relationship, job, or health, can hold the positive too – it forces us to get addiction treatment help.

When someone else in our lives, hits their tolerance barrier, and refuses to enable us any longer, the alcoholic in us is angry, but the part of us that wants to live, rejoices.

Regaining the fun in the sober journey

At The BeachWhen I first got sober I was completely obsessed just with detoxing, and feeling better, you know?

Everyone around me at the time was harping on and on about getting proper help, getting into treatment, what a mess I was…..my only focus was just *feeling* better first, then worrying about all that later.

 

Pretty typical, I guess.

 

Now that I’m 5 years on in my journey, I can see what they meant.

Staying sober hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

 

No-one really prepares you for just how….mundane…the day to day existence of life actually is, without the social lubricant we call alcohol.

Even the workers at my treatment center focussed almost entirely on me avoiding old triggers, old habits, and old social peers, to the exclusion of…..fun.

 

I mean, how would I get back that sense of…adventure (?) in life. Many around me criticised when I spoke of this. I was supposed to just accept that life is….serious sometimes.

It ain’t easy.

 

But I’ve made it this far.