The obsession that accompanies addiction is the topic for this week. I know this obsession well, I have lived with it. The word obsession is defined as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.” I sometimes try and explain the obsession associated with drug or alcohol addiction to those who don’t understand it something like this…you are on a diet and have sworn off desserts of any kind. You are fully committed to losing 10 pounds for your upcoming trip to the Bahamas. One day at work, a week into your diet, a coworkers brings around a box of chocolates and offers you some. Without much thought to your bikini bod, you take one, and then two. After she leaves you feel terrible. You should not have eaten the chocolate. But you can’t stop thinking about the chocolate, you want one more, just one more. You go to the break room where she said she would put the rest of them and you have one more, then one more. You go back to your desk and feel sick. Why did you eat that chocolate? What happened to your diet? You renew your resolve to diet…until the next time someone offers you chocolate.
Maybe this analogy is too silly, maybe you are able to walk past chocolate without a thought. Replace the chocolate with whatever it is that grabs you. Is it gambling, shopping, french fries, exercise, sex? Most of us have something that we go overboard with. With addiction, the obsession gets out of control. The true addict has no control over their compulsion. No matter what resolution or promise they have made, they have no fight against it. They may PROMISE their family, their friends, themselves that they will NEVER use again. And they mean it, completely. But with the next opportunity they find themselves using again. The remorse, shame, and guilt set in. They feel awful for giving in. They remember their promises and feel miserable. How could they let this happen…again? Why? How? They had been so certain they wouldn’t do it again. There had been no fight, with the first opportunity, they gave in. They are weak, hopeless.
I know this obsession, I remember it like it was yesterday, yet it was almost 11 years ago. I told myself I would NOT take anything out of the stock drawer at work. I told myself I would NOT take any patient’s medication. I didn’t make anyone else promises because nobody else knew I was using. I was a master manipulator and very sneaky. The only one I did tell was my counselor. I had started seeing her because I wanted to quit. I was so sick of myself and what I was doing. I was miserable and felt utterly terrible for doing what I was doing. I could NOT, however, stop. I thought if I could just figure out what was wrong with me I would be able to quit. So I told her that I wasn’t using. I did that because she told me I would need inpatient treatment if I used again. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, people would know then. I had a job and I was a single mother of 2 girls. I could not go to inpatient treatment. No, I just needed to figure this out. That tactic did not work. I continued to use, continued to lie about it, and just got sicker.
No matter how many promises I made myself, I always ended up using. When I got to work, swearing all the way there that I would not take anything that shift, I ended up in the drug kit shortly after arriving for my shift. Toward the end of my addiction I felt utterly hopeless. I couldn’t stand myself. I was an utter failure. I felt a type of relief when they caught me. I was in a shit load of trouble. I lost my job immediately and a bit later my nursing license. I had a bunch of legal charges against me and had no idea what to do. My family, friends and coworkers were shocked. They were angry and hurt. The obsession didn’t leave me, it was so strong. I was so down on myself. Without my usual means of comfort, the drugs from work, I obsessed over alcohol and food. Still the drug obsession called. I ended up calling in prescriptions for myself. It didn’t take them long to catch me doing that and I landed in jail for 4 months. That was my bottom. After being locked up for a bit my brain began to clear. I finally understood that I needed to be clean and sober, free from my obsessions in order to work on the issues that made me use in the first place. I couldn’t get at those issues while I was still using. I needed to be removed from my obsessions in order to be able to begin the process of recovery. It was at that point that I was able to surrender to my addictions and begin the journey of recovery. The obsession has not returned since that time 11 years ago. I keep it at bay by working my 12 step program as if my life depends on it, because it does.