I am an addict. Yes, your very own “Caring Counselor” is an addict, but not in the traditional sense. I have not once tried drugs or drank alcohol. My addictions are work and women.
I recall my grandmother telling me a story about one time when my grandfather and she visited my family when I was maybe seven or eight years old. She told me that my parents were fighting rigorously and that she can remember to this day what I was doing. I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework “red in the face.” She told me that my eyes did not leave the book. This anecdote sums up the beginnings of me as a workaholic. As I got older, I fell back on my schoolwork and extracurricular activities as an escape from a tough home life. I would be at school by seven in the morning and stay until nine at night. The security guards and janitors would periodically check in on me while I sat in the high school library doing homework. I did not want to end up like my parents. I thought I was taking the necessary steps by putting all of my effort into schoolwork and something productive/goal-oriented. The habits carried over into college where nearly every day I went nonstop for twelve to sixteen hours including weekends. This included a host of extracurricular activities, two jobs, and four or five classes.
As for women, I did not really “pick up” until halfway through college. I was a charismatic, outgoing young male that was afraid of his own feelings and that also lacked an appropriate support system throughout his childhood. I was now thrown into a collegiate watering hole of young women with free time. It initially started off as just going on dates with young ladies and genuinely looking for an intimate connection. As I started to realize how the whole “friends with benefits” thing worked, I used it to my advantage. I became a womanizer. At first, it felt good. Then, it started taking over hours of my day. I was putting myself into risky situations with women I met online. My reputation got out. I was ashamed. Thankfully, I had my first long-term relationship starting around this time. Following the breakup though after a three-year hiatus, I started going to strip clubs and drop three, four, or five hundred dollars without hesitation. I would go home hanging my head in shame, guilt-ridden and feeling stupid for allowing myself to do such a thing. My pride was shattered. I was attempting to get a temporary fix to fill an emotional void that I longed for since my childhood. I can thank years of therapy for helping me make this connection.
For the longest time, I thought what I was doing was okay because these addictions were more socially acceptable. If I was working towards a goal through my work, I was doing something productive. If I was sleeping around with all these women, I was “the man.” I could not have been any more wrong. It was my own form of denial.
I spoke with a few individuals I know that are presently in recovery from their own addiction. Here were some common themes that arose between all of us.
- Fulfilling a need- There was an empty feeling until the fix was satisfied. Otherwise, the void continued whether it was physical, emotional, mental, or even spiritual.
- Impulsivity- The addict loses all rational thought and lets primal instinct take over until the thirst is quenched. This could mean going to extreme means such as lying, stealing, and prostitution. It did not matter what was at risk of being lost including one’s loved ones, mental health, and physical health.
- A wake-up call- It took a significant event (i.e. being arrested, having a child, seeing others overdose, etc.) to shake the individual lose and bring them back to reality. The addict finally saw what was going on around them and wanted to take back their life. He or she saw the impact their addiction was having on their life and those around them. They found a reason to become sober and decided to make the change.
- Striving for a balance- The addict’s well-being was in chaos. Their time, energy, resources, and health had all been put into their addiction. Therefore, the other areas of their life were severely deprived. Relationships were in shambles. They usually had no job or money. There was no spiritual connection. Mental and physical health went unaddressed.
Self-care helped to bring back that balance. Some individuals reached out for support in the form of old friends, family, or support meetings. They utilize their support network to hold them accountable. Others started attending treatment (i.e. seeing doctors, detox, outpatient counseling) to address their mental/physical health in a more appropriate manner. Two of the individuals highlighted that they are getting in touch with their spiritual support through church and the 12 steps.
Every last one of us greatly stressed the importance of self-care in recovery regardless of the addiction. Self-care helped us to replace problematic habits with a healthier lifestyle free of temptation and negativity. It helped us to regain control of our lives and take back what was once ours.
In the words of my one friend in recovery, “It completely dismantled everything I thought I was, revealed my truer self to me, and helped me leave my past behind.”
-The Caring Counselor