I finally posted publicly my 10/100, the post that felt so dangerous for me to publish because I was honest with my relationship with and vision of addiction. And the sky didn’t fall in. Part of me is all confused. Another part is of course relieved. The one who were proud to dare post it is still here. And since I did share it on Instagram, I keep thinking that it’s time for its due ‘sequel’ about ‘sobriety'.
Today, I’m not sober. I had a cocktail an hour ago.
But that’s not the only reason why I wouldn’t say I’m sober.
I feel like I need a disclaimer here : I am very uncomfortable with the concept of sobriety.
I think it’s wonderful that some people would quit their drug of choice, especially when it’s impacting their life so badly. Of course.
I’m not saying at all people shouldn’t pursue sobriety.
I just believe a lot of people saying they’re sober, really aren’t.
Bear with me… Let’s start with a (lack of) definition. I looked in both the Merriam Webster and the Cambridge dictionaries. Sober is generally associated with not being drunk, sometimes by an attitude of calmness, temperance and seriousness. Sometimes also encompassing moderation in food.
I think it would be fair to say to describe sobriety as it is used by most “former addict” as : not being intoxicated in any way. The Cambridge, about intoxication, only mentions alcohol again, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines intoxication by the condition of having physical or mental control markedly diminished by the effects of alcohol or drugs.
I’m having a big problem with the “markedly” part, that seems to me very vague and subjective.
Then if I keep only the physical or mental control diminished, I can assure you that many things besides alcohol or drugs diminish or impact it for starters.
But let’s just stay with “drugs” for now.
Caffeine can be seen as a drug, or at least an addictive substance it definitetly makes a lot of addicts ‘unable to function’ without their coffee or tea first thing in the morning.
So is chocolate. If you know a few persons addicted to chocolate, you know exactly what I’m talking about, how strong it can get.
So is refined sugar, knowing a lot of researchers consider anyone consuming refined sugar is addicted to it. Some even say we have an addictive bond as strong as the one we can have with cocaine.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Think for a moment about how we can crave for carbs, comfort food?
For a while now, a lot of people have been successfully treating a lot of eating disorders as addictions.
With that new scope, I also can’t be sober today since I had a tea this morning, drank a Coca Cola soda in the afternoon, had different sugary things, a bit of chocolate, some bread and a few crisps.
After our cocktails and the appetizers we had with them, my partner, who eats less sugary things than I do, mentioned how much his jaws were constricted, almost painful. I mentioned I always do clinch my jaws excessively when I have too much sugar and/or caffeine. I also can feel a tension in my neck and my shoulders. Does it sound like unimpacted physical control?
Since I’m not consuming caffeine everyday, I can also tell you, like every people who don’t either that I asked, that it participates in speeding thoughts. If I’m anxious it makes me more anxious too, and if I’m very anxious and drink too much caffeine, it can even make me feel restless and paranoid. Does this sounds like unimpacted mental control?
And then there is the concept of non-substance addiction coming to complicate things and feeding my point.
I’ve worked with behavioural addictions (mine personally in therapy and patients’ in my practice) for a decade now. I wrote a thesis on them. I can assure you too, that we don’t feel in control physically or mentally on what’s happening either.
We absolutely experience something that highly resembles intoxication. We talk about the high (at peak right before the behaviour), and then the big low afterwards, before the next time. We talk about the strength of the cravings, peaking when we have unpleasant emotions.
So with that enlarged scope, I can’t be sober today because I used my phone quite a bit, visited social media several times, went to exercise and had a mini splurge at the supermarket to celebrate with my partner. None of those have been done excessively. But all of them definitely impact significantly body and thoughts and change the control we have over them. They also are giving little highs and a sense of control over life. (Note : I'm not only talking about individual experience here, but also include results from a LOT of research others did)
Finally, I also worked during that time with trauma, anxiety, burn-out and depression (again, mine personally in therapy and patients’ in my practice). And I have been AMAZED by how much mental illness can get addictive.
Bear with me for a little while longer, I know I sounds a bit extreme, or probably nuts for some of you.
How could something so painful be addictive, right?
First of all, stress addiction, a condition linked to trauma, is quite well studied. Think about the people thriving in chaos, who love horror movies and video games etc... When stress is all you have known or the onloy thing making you feel alive, getting out of the numbness for a very long time, it feels familiar and our kind of normal. Outside of it, we freak out. We have no control over how much you need this and it greatly affects our body and mental abilities. Sounds familiar?
Love addicts are addicted to abandonment. It feels so familiar to us that, that, even when we know someone is not good for us, our whole body feels completed drawn to that person that we know will make us miserable. We have no control over this. We think obsessively about wether that person will call them, like them, what they can do to get them closer... It’s so draining, shameful and painful.
Again, does it sound like someone sober?
Depression and anxiety imply mental patterns.
Put simply, depressed people will think over and over about everything will be terrible like it was in the past. They have very little hope about the future. They think over and over about how miserable they are, and there’s a lot of self-hate talk involved. When you heal a depression without any work unrelated to depression, people don’t end up happy like you might think. They end up empty. Martin Seligman founded a whole field, positive psychology, when he discovered this and decided to solve the problem.
Here’s the thing : we don’t have those depressed thoughts because we’re sad or having a terrible life, parts of us (depressed folx) truly believe that if we think about all the ways things were and are terrible, wee can find the way out of hopelessness and helplessness we so desperately want to find. That’s why when offered alternative thinking, even facts, we’ll tell you that it’s not realistic, you just can’t understand, we KNOW it won’t work out. We even have a ton of justifications to back up that belief.
Hope in the unknown feels deeply vulnerable. Rigid pessimism feels like control. THAT’s how depression is addictive.
It’s even easier to catch in anxious thinking, where we hop from one problem to another, trying desperately to solve them. Thinking that if we can debunk it, everything will be fine, we can avoid the unpleasantness form happening to us.
We get totally hooked on the idea that we can think our way out of anxiety to a place where there’s none, where we will only feel happy and serene. It’s a perpetual chase that never end up in that place because it’s as mystical as a unicorn is. Again, we’re not addicted to pain when we are anxious, we are addicted to the idea we can avoid the unpleasantness.
A sidenote on perfectionism, that I have never seen absent of someone’s suffering form mental illness life. Here’s how Brene Brown describes it :
"Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise painful feelings or shame, judgment and blame. Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect."
I could go on on procrastination, hooking us on the belief that we might at some point, not feel any discomfort about doing a tas, like frustration, hardship, the risk of failure, the responsibility of achievement etc etc…
Or chronic anger/complaining hooking us on the feeling of relief that comes with them.
Or people unable to be alone, silent or still, hooked on the presence of people or busyness, avoiding like the plague how they really feel (the pain when they finally stop or find themselves alone)?
On the addiction to power or money making people so often amoral because it gets more important than humanity of others or their own integrity…
Or the one to information, anchored in the belief knowing all the bad things leaves us more in control (knowledgeable or magically more able to prevent and things to happen). Even if it feeds anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Again : does it sound like people whose bodies and thoughts are significantly unimpacted? You may very well not feel like you’re impacted greatly by ANY of those. (Can others say the same about you?)
But can you tell you don’t need to "take the edge off" or find things to “go through your day”?
Except if you’re a monk, and still, one might argue that religion is absolutely an addiction too, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a very hard time doing so.
Addiction is not something that only a few unlucky ones suffer from. Reframed in a way that is more adapted to our times, it appears that the question really isn't “Are you an addict?”, but rather “What are you addicted to?”.
Once we do this, we can choose what kind of things we WANT to be addicted to, and slowly, replace our old more toxic addictions by those new wholesome ones.
Maybe we will never be sober, but we might very well feel like it’s not what's important in the end.