When celebrities die from drug-related causes, the tragedy is a strong reminder that the disease does not discriminate. After listening to many in recovery recently after this type of news, what stands out for me most is their lack of surprise.
Recovering folks understand that, in active addiction, there is little awareness of limitations to using. The desire and excitement to try being in control of a substance is soothing. In fact, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes it by saying the greatest obsession of every alcoholic is to go back to a time when they can be a social drinker and control it again.
Those who cannot relate to that concept are left with sad and pitiful reactions to realities like the death of celebrities, local teens and area young adults alike. Tragedies like these allow those on the outskirts of addiction to ask questions like “Why would someone so talented do something so nonsensical?”
Those in recovery often have a great amount of insight in reaction to such news. In fact, they get it.
They get that, when you are in active addiction, no amount is ever enough. And it isn’t just because literally the drug itself craves more, but because the mental obsession to have more is unquenchable.
The disease of addiction has two parts: physical addiction and mental obsession.
Understanding the role of the second part is by far one of the most commonly underestimated elements of recovery.
Take this simple numbers exercise.
Imagine the number of minutes it takes to consume your breakfast. Write that number down.
Now, consider the total number of minutes it takes to eat lunch and write that number down.
Should you have an afternoon snack, again, write down the approximate minutes to eat that snack.
Finally, do the same for dinner, write down only the number of minutes needed to consume the meal.
Add the total up, and there you have the number of minutes it takes you to consume food in a day.
Now take the exercise from this mental angle.
Imagine how much time you spend thinking about whether or not you are going to eat breakfast or grab coffee in the morning. Write down that number.
Again, how many minutes are spent thinking about what you want for lunch, do you want something fast, do you want to order delivery, or if you really want to heat up your leftovers. Write that number down.
Consider how many minutes you spend thinking about an afternoon snack, wondering what’s in the vending machine, daydreaming about running out of the office or fantasizing about the perfect snack. Write that number down.
And finally, think about the amount of time you spend thinking about dinner, how you do a mental scan of what is in the freezer, go through the options mentally of placing items together to satisfy you, or sorting through cuisines one by one to try out in your mind what you are in the mood for. Write that number down.
If you inspect the two numbers it is highly likely that you spend more time thinking about what you are going to eat in the day than you do actually consuming the food. Hence, you spend more time obsessing about eating than literally eating.
And so it is with substance abuse.
People spend more time thinking about using than actually using. Often leading them into potentially dangerous situations as they obsess over how to keep the using going.
Users get caught up obsessing and lost in the fantasy of finishing whatever drugs they picked up. They are unaware of how much they have used. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does daydreaming about the next great meal while sitting in front of your computer at work.
Stephanie Willis is president of Willis Counseling & Consulting, a private group therapy practice in Naperville and Chicago. She can be reached at www.williscc.com and 630-481-6463.