I know there are many who, when they hear the word “addiction”, think of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal) as the source of this problem. The truth is addiction can be to anything – technology, relationships, food, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and more. To me, addiction is a symptom of something else going on inside us.
MentalHelp.net defines addiction as “the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.” The dictionary suggests such synonyms as “dependency, craving, habit, weakness, compulsion, and even enslavement.” That opens the door to it meaning many things to many people.
I’m not making any claims to being a therapist. This article is being written from my own experiences and my observations of people over my lifetime. It’s also being written from a place of compassion and concern, not only for myself, but for the many others who may not even realize that they have one or more addictions.
I have had addictions with alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, relationships, and food. Most I have taken control of or eliminated from my life, but not all are that easy to walk back or away from. For instance, I found it much easier to quite smoking (which I did cold turkey), then I found it to be to walk away from an abusive relationship. I found it relatively easy to get my caffeine consumption under control – where I control it rather than it controlling me – then I’m having giving up or at least controlling my sugar intake. Alcohol, once I began to realize I was starting to have a real problem, was easy to control once I got out of a bad marriage.
What is the cause of addiction? Here again, I make no claims in being an expert or therapist in this field. What I do know, from personal experience in particular, is that it comes from an emotional place of lack or fear. In my case, I started smoking at age 12 because I feared not fitting in, not being approved of or being accepted. That addiction lasted almost 33 years. The drinking started when my first marriage was going bad. I went out with the girls to have some fun. That turned into a weekly event, which later turned into an almost daily habit of drinking to ease the pain of the relationship. It was only when I decided I couldn’t live like that anymore, that alcohol stopped being my best friend.
No matter what form the addiction takes, if you are willing to take a really close look at why you do it, I can almost guarantee you will find a feeling of lack or a fear. It can be a lack of love, joy, approval, self-worth, self-confidence, etc. It can be a fear of making a change in your life that you know needs to be made. In other words, it’s a fear of the unknown. Better to suffer in a situation you’re familiar with (and self-medicate to cope) then to take that step into the unknown which could be worse than where you are now – like being all alone. Fear won’t allow us to see that the unknown could provide hope, success, or anything else we really desire and thus bring us joy. Nope. Better to stay where you are, doing what you’re doing then take that chance.
I totally understand that everyone is different where addiction is concerned. Some substances and situations are more addictive to one person and less or even non-addictive to another person. Where I was able to quit cold turkey smoking, my husband took 10 years to find the method and motivation to finally succeed in kicking that habit. Everyone is different. The real starting point is in recognizing there’s a problem, be willing to ask yourself if you want to change and be honest in your answer, and then start seeking answers and any help you may need.
My food addiction, specifically sugar, has to be the hardest addiction I’ve ever dealt with. My heritage is German and I was taught an appreciation of food from a very early age. I found great pleasure in the tastes and textures of food. My mother was an excellent cook and I’m pretty good myself. Holidays were always special, especially where food was concerned. This was all well and good when I was younger. I could eat a large hot fudge sundae a day and still only bounce between 102 and 105 lbs. That would all change once I became pregnant with my daughter.
My family doctor never curbed my eating during pregnancy because, to him, I was 20 lbs underweight when I got pregnant. So when I gained 50 lbs during the pregnancy, he never said a word. To him, I’d really only gained 30 lbs, being 20 lbs underweight to start with. What I wasn’t told was that your metabolism can change once you’ve been pregnant, even if your love of food doesn’t.
It was my mother who had always told me, “Just wait until you have children.” when we would talk about my weight. I can’t tell you how many times she repeated that to me. It became a mantra in my head that I still catch replaying every once in a while.
Now, about the addiction to sugar. If I look at it closely, I have to admit that it may be bolstered by the pleasure the taste of it brings me. “Sweets” are childhood memories. Simpler times when there wasn’t so much responsibility and life seemed a little more carefree. There were decades of Life ahead of me filled with hopes, dreams, and possibilities. After 70 years, three divorces (one an abusive marriage), and a number of other things that have taken the joy out of life, those “sweets” are the one constant joy in my life. I know what I’ve just said would probably make me a good candidate for counseling.
I could use the excuse that research has shown sugar addiction is harder to kick than heroin or cocaine. It might even be true. I just feel that if I kicked the other addictions or at least got them under control, then I should be able to do the same with this one. The first thing I had to admit was that I don’t really want to totally give up sugar. Okay. All things in moderation. So that’s what I’m working on.
The bottom line is, there are many people with addictions out there. I’m just one of them. If I can do this, you can do this. All it takes is being honest with yourself, being determined, and being persistent. Never give up! If you feel it’s time let go of a habit that may be costing you your health or costing you financially, then take a close look at it and see why you’re doing it. Then find a way to control or eliminate it. We didn’t come here to be miserable, enslaved by addictions, we came here to be happy to find joy and pleasure in life. Time to clear the way to finding those things by removing what’s standing in the way.