Addiction switching. What is it and what does it have to do with your recovery journey?
There is an article about addiction by Lance Morrow. In it, he writes “the mentality of addiction, of alcoholism, prevails in American life even when no drugs or alcohol are involved.”
How true is that?
For those of us who have wrestled our demons and are not afraid to recognize them in ourselves, we also can (unfortunately) easily see them in others. We can pinpoint the frailty of all of humanity as we understand that no amount of time behind bars or no new legislature or task force will be able to solve the current and growing drug crisis.
Because drugs are not the problem.
It’s not about locking us up.
It’s about setting us free.
We, the addicted, are already in bondage.
Addiction is born out of a state of inner bankruptcy.
Some have called it “misplaced worship.”
At the core of addiction you will often find pain, trauma, and an abscess in need of healing.
It’s difficult to ask the addict why they are using, especially early on. If you would have questioned the twenty year old version of myself and asked, “Why do you drink to the point of blackout?” I doubt if I would have been able to articulate or even fully recognize my inner pain. For me, it began with a longing for parents that I never had. I was a child living in a beautiful home, yet emotionally malnourished, but I wasn’t aware of it. I never had the conscious thought, “Wow. I have a terrible home life. I need relief.”
For me, addiction first manifested as an eating disorder in my preteen years. I’ve heard some therapists say that an eating disorder is a way we gain control over something in our lives that we feel we have no control over. The Bible paints a vivid picture in 3 John 1:2 that says, “Beloved, I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” Even as your soul prospers. My soul was not prospering, and outside (my body and my decisions) were starting to look like my insides.
So, what does all this have to do with addiction switching?
Because if you are trying to break free from addiction and you feel like it’s a mind-over-matter situation, or an act of your willpower, you are in for a really difficult ride. In simplest terms, addiction switching is nothing more than evidence that the core issues have not been healed. Take away the drink and the drug without healing the inner pain, dealing with the childhood trauma, or filling the void in our lives and we will simply “pick up” something else.
Addiction switching occurs because drugs are not really the problem.
The desire to fill our need for love, a purpose and connection. That’s the core.
This is why those in early recovery often struggle with:
- Binge eating – Have you gained 15 or more pounds in recovery that you really didn’t need? Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just be aware that you’re feeding the unresolved issues with food instead of drowning them with alcohol or sticking a needle in your arm.
- Sex, sex, and more sex – Picking up a date-for-the-night at an NA meeting might seem normal because it’s happening so frequently, but trust me, it’s not normal. Meaningless sexual encounters are not only dangerous for our own mental and spiritual well being, but for the other person as well. Using another person as an object to fulfill a desire within us will eventually strip us of basic human compassion and the ability to fully love and receive love in a healthy manner.
- Living at the gym – There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be physically healthy, but going from drug and alcohol addiction to having our thoughts focused on the desire to be the biggest, most cut version of ourselves can easily consume us. This is one of the reasons why some refer to addiction as “misplaced worship.” We just need something to focus on and obsess over….and we are “off to the races.”
- I just need a boyfriend – In early recovery we often feel like if we just had a person to fulfill our need for love, everything would be better. We could focus on each other, bring each other joy, and go through the good times and bad times together. It’d be bliss, like the Notebook. Except a relationship in early recovery often becomes us taking another human being hostage and manipulating them so they can fulfill our bottomless pit of neediness.
These are just four examples, but there are so many more. We can become workaholics, shopaholics, gamble our money away, or become obsessed with money, video games, or even our “shows” on Netflix. It’s not called binge-watching for no reason.
So, what’s the answer? What has to happen in order to protect us from addiction switching and all the disfunction that comes with it?
I believe there’s a three step process that can help each one of us recognize and recover from the desire to lust after or glob onto SOMETHING….anything. In active addiction we are like parasites in a way. We just want a host. Something to attach ourselves to. Something to be our “thing.” Once we recognize that we don’t have to operate that way and that we actually can be free from all vices, that’s the first step.
Now, I didn’t say we will be free from the temptation to glob onto something. The temptation will always be there, and it will come in all different forms throughout our journey. Even if we are fully operating in 100% freedom and walking in our purpose, we will be tempted to get prideful or think too highly of ourselves. We will be tempted to judge others who aren’t as far along as we think we are. There’s a little bit of darkness that can attach itself to anything or any situation. It’s all in how we choose to operate.
Three Steps to Freedom From Addiction Switching
So, here’s the three steps:
- An awareness that we can be free from all vices and obsessions and a desire to operate in that freedom.
- A conscious choice to turn our will and our lives over to God and ask Him to reveal these other addictions / vices to us.
- Surrendering to God on a daily (or on a minute by minute) basis and having a willingness to face these empty places in our lives head on. That, for me, is the key to everything. You see, I can’t tell you what the root or reason is for you. I don’t have that information. Most of the time, healing is a journey that takes place one small step at a time. With each “next right step” that we take, we discover that we can turn everything over to the care of God and He will not disappoint. It’s funny, because God never makes us stronger so that we can be self reliant. That’s not the end goal. Instead, He shows us day by day that the MORE we surrender to Him and become dependent on Him and not ourselves, the further we will go.
Healing for Addiction Switching
I am almost three years sober and I can stand today and say that I have not picked up a drink, a drug, or a relationship to fulfill my empty places. I put down cigarettes. I put down the need for approval from others. But I have struggled with anxiety and an unhealthy view of food. Day by day, as I give another day to God and say, “Okay, we’re going to eat what You tell me to” and I stop running to chocolate (or half of a cheesecake) as my bandaid, I am rewarded with clarity, inner peace, and an inner knowing that I’m on the path He has chosen for me.
I am not ridden with guilt if I occasionally fall down. Yep, I have eaten half a pizza at one sitting and I have sat like a lump watching 12 episodes of some meaningless Netflix show, but I am also not walking in darkness, protecting and making room for these things that try to sneak in. I am fully aware of my propensity for excess.
On another note, the initial journey into freedom began for me with quality treatment. I could not do it alone. I was bound so tightly by addiction to opiates and alcohol that I was completely blind to any kind of truth. Many of us need treatment as a jumpstart to recovery. Getting into treatment gave me what I call a “life disruption.” Tony Robbins always says if you want to initiate change you need to take massive, immediate action. Removing yourself from your home and your surroundings, and every habit you’ve formed in active addiction is, in my opinion, the absolute best way to start. During my time in addiction treatment I was able to face and work through the core trauma that kept me coming back to the temporary solution of drugs and alcohol. After treatment, I was equipped with tools and resources I had never even thought of before, and I was living life from a healthy place.
As I’m coming up on my third year in active recovery, I want to put my hand out to anyone looking for answers or to get off of the mad roller coaster of addiction. Your life…no matter who you are or what you’ve done…has a purpose. YOU have a purpose. Living in recovery is the doorway that will take you to every good thing in life.
Author: Robin Bright, an individual in long term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
If you’re struggling, call Gracious Care Recovery Solutions today.