The Trouble With ‘More’

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I heard a lot in rehab about the risk of addiction transfer — trading one high for another. Once I stopped drinking and drugging, I was told, unless I addressed the underlying emotional issues that helped feed my addiction, even if I stayed sober, I might become compulsive about another substance or behavior. Food, porn, exercise, work, shopping – the list of potential obsessions went on and on.

Early in my recovery, I got an idea of what the counselors had been talking about. I had read that eating something sweet, like a small piece of hard candy or chocolate, could help stave off cravings to drink. I gave it a shot and it seemed to work for me.

So, one Monday morning, I set a small bowl of miniature chocolate bars on my office desk. Other people did this and it seemed both friendly and delicious. The first day, I ate a few more than I had planned, but when I had to buy a second bag of chocolates on Wednesday night and that bag was empty on Friday morning, I realized I wasn’t destined to keep candy within arm’s reach.

I called my sponsor. “It’s like I can’t stop,” I said. “Why do you think that is?” she asked. “You never ate chocolate like that before. What’s going through your head?” It wasn’t hard to figure out. I felt awkward and prickly learning how to navigate the world without being numbed out, including in the office. Stuffing seven consecutive pieces of chocolate down my throat, unwrapping the next one while still chewing on the last, gave me some weird feeling of calm. I barely even tasted them going down. It wasn’t like that first sip of vodka, but it felt related.

The compulsion to go overboard still strikes me when I’m not looking. One recent, frigid Saturday, I was holed up alone in my apartment. Late in the afternoon, I felt restless. I stood up, walked around and looked out the window at the people outside below. I poked my head around in the refrigerator. With my hands on my hips, I stared at my elliptical workout machine.

In retrospect, I realize that I was experiencing some mixture of feelings that I had been warned to watch out for: hungry, angry, lonely, and/or tired (HALT). Any of these can make me vulnerable to behaving in a way I otherwise would not.

Feeling uncomfortable in my skin that day, what I should have done was go to a meeting or call my sponsor. What I did was log on to my favorite website for shopping. And there they were: the high, black boots I had been coveting. Never mind that I already had them in brown or that I had vowed to cut down on shopping. I wanted them. Immediately. As I clicked, “Purchase,” I felt a surge of joy and a pang of guilt simultaneously. I knew that I had bought the boots because having quiet time at home wasn’t enough for me that day. I needed something “more” to happen. Clicking “Purchase” felt like scratching an itch and getting relief.

Moderation is always going to be a challenge for me. I have an addictive personality and am susceptible to overdoing any number of things. It doesn’t, however, have to be a lifelong game of Whack-a-Mole, with one obsession popping up right after the last one has been addressed. If I work a program of recovery and take care of myself physically and emotionally, I can maintain balance overall. I need to pay attention to the urges to go overboard, find their root cause and take some action to make myself feel more at peace.

Of course, like with everything in recovery, I need to take it one day at a time. And the next time I find myself with an online shopping cart full of items I know I don’t need, I will do my best to close my computer and go to a meeting.