Last week, I discussed addiction and the purpose of this blog series.
This is for the functional addicts.
This is for those who are barely functioning around their bouts of addictive behaviors.
And just FYI, this is not a just the facts ma’am type of exploration of addiction.
Addiction is nuanced and complex. It’s near impossible to discuss with just facts because addiction is deeply personal. Addiction is rooted in searching for something outside of ourselves or running from something within. That was certainly the case with me.
The most important thing to consider when discussing addiction is the stories of those who are addicted. After all, without the stories, all we’re left with are facts, statistics, and numbers. The people are the most important factor of any story.
One of the drivers of addiction is the feeling of being alone in our struggles, and the shame that separates us from others, but cannot exist if we bring it into the light of day.
This week, I share some of my story.
I ran the gamut when it came to addictions and collecting a variety of them like trophies. I will talk about several addictions below, but there is one that stands out amongst the others and influenced my abuse of a number of substances.
There are times where I genuinely wonder how I survived the many addictions that consumed me and my actions while chasing my addictions, with minimal damage.
While I didn’t escape unscathed and have experienced a plethora of health issues, I still consider myself lucky.
Ironically, most of my health conditions are not linked to my former substance abuse.
The numerous health conditions I suffered from were linked to one of my addictions. And, it is the most glorified addiction in our society. Most of the damage inflicted on my body was closely linked to excessive and prolonged elevated stress levels. The stress was both a symptom and a side effect of the addictions and vices I picked up along the path of life.
What caused these high levels of stress?
Well, dear reader, my stress and health issues were ultimately caused by being a workaholic and a strong attachment to my career.
Reflecting on my experiences, I have managed to find a silver lining: I realized addiction comes in various forms.
Although it took years, I realized that I threw myself headlong into work and nearly drowned myself in busyness, travel, and 13-hour work days because I was running away.
As we continue, I ask that you keep an open mind. If you start to feel uncomfortable at any stage, it may be because we share this addiction in common.
Are you ready?
Great, let’s get started!
My name is Katie, (Hi Katie) and here are some of my struggles with various addictions.
I started by smoking cigarettes, which turned into an 18-year long habit.
At age 19, I added cannabis to my smoking lineup. At first, I just liked the relaxation that smoking cannabis would bring, but don’t worry, the addiction to escapism would follow me for about 10 more years.
These addictions were minor compared to the love addiction of my life: work.
Not long after getting my first email security job, I was immediately hooked.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t just wake up and go into work one day and decide: “You know, I’m going to let this take over my entire life, consume all my decisions, and drown myself so completely in work that I cease to be able to function as a regular human.”
Instead, it was more that I finally found something I was good at, I was valued and my opinions were validated, listened to, and more so than that, I felt important, I felt whole, and I felt like I was making a difference. For the first time in my professional life, I felt respected and like I made a difference.
… and that was a dangerous combination.
I was so afraid of failing at my new job that I didn’t sleep well for the first 6 weeks. I laid awake, tossing and turning for hours, I’d wake up multiple times a night and would often wake up before my alarm. My head raced with work related questions:
Had I taken care of all the customer follow-ups I had promised?
Was I on top of my ongoing evaluations?
Did I call support too soon?
Did I call support too late?
Why in the hell did they even give me this shot?
I was so afraid that I was going to fail professionally, that I would work from about 7 am to 10 or 11 pm. During that time, there was no time or space to let go, decompress, and relax.
Smoke a metric fuckton of weed.
Also, prescription sleeping pills.
Then smoke more weed.
When I needed a break, it was time for a cigarette.
During this time, I was willing to do just about anything to calm down.
… Well except deal with my shit, end my work day at a reasonable hour, and give myself time to decompress.
Other than dealing with my life, I was willing to try just about anything else: snort, smoke, fuck, jump, run, and hide.
Although that degree of insomnia eventually went away, the amount of weed I smoked didn’t decrease for about 15 years. To cope with the constantly climbing levels of anxiety, my consumption of weed skyrocketed, eventually finding a way to increase each time my salary did.
More responsibility came with ever more stress and an ever increasibing inability to relax and enjoy myself. Without better coping tools, I lost any ability to relax and needed weed to step away from work. I’ve never been able to do my job high, which was one of my few saving graces. So, I started to numb out rather than be present in my own life.
Next, I started doing cocaine. Along with more and more frequent binge-drinking episodes.
Then I started to mix and match: working, smoking, snorting cocaine, and drinking. Binge drinking was the best: doing it “on occasion” meant I could declare myself problem-free because I wasn’t a daily drinker.
And, if I could mix as many of these as possible into one evening, it would be a great night. The next day was...well, not so much a good day, but that never stopped me.
Like attracts like. As I collected addictions, I seemed to need more: men, sugar, video games. Then, as I ran out of vices I could keep safely hidden from the rest of the world, I developed a reputation as an adrenaline junky.
Mix-and-match vices were my thing back then.
The hardest one for me to break is being a workaholic.
Some people say that smoking is the hardest addiction to break. I completely disagree. Don’t get me wrong - it’s a bitch to stop smoking.
For me, overworking is a much harder addiction to let go of, namely because society rewards and acknowledges us for being so busy.
Oh my god, Sharon. I’d love to meet you for paddle board yoga on the perfect California beach at sunrise, but I’m just so busy at work this week.
We are praised for working too hard. Hell, many of us want that praise, it usually means a raise, financial security, and being able to get more stuff we want.
When was the last time someone praised someone for smoking? Well, besides in the 50s, when doctors prescribed it to pregnant women to keep their weight down.
But now, in 2021? No one goes around saying things like: “Oh wow, look at you go girl, inhale that cancer, breathe it in. Oh yeah!”
Yet, our entire culture revolves around the luxury of busyness.
I quit smoking cigarettes 10 years prior to realizing I had worked myself into the ground. I had maybe one or two people comment or get on my ass about how much I was working.
However, perfect strangers outside the airport were willing to give me side eyes and unsolicited advice about how smoking was bad for my health and I was too pretty to end up with cancer. Excuse me, I did not ask for your life advice. Not to mention, cancer affects everyone equally, whether they’re pretty or not.
Looking back, my mom was the only one warning me to slow down with the cliched advice of: “Stop burning the candle at both ends, kid!”
Here is some of the praise I received when working way too hard:
“You’re a machine, wow!”
“I couldn’t do what you do, you’re so strong.”
“I tell my friends that you are my overachieving friend and we are so proud of you and your success.”
“She became one of our top 3 sales engineers and it's only her first year in the role!”
“Kate gets so much done she can do the work of two people inside of one day!”
If you’re nodding along, does this also sound familiar?
Scene 1: Annual reviews at work. An important executive in a fancy suit is giving out awards.
Executive: [Holding a trophy that’s legit a gold star on a stand] “Ms. Rockstar has tirelessly given up weekends, holidays, time with family, her vacation time, and even her dog to get her job function at xyz corporation done. In fact, [insert laughter] I even asked her to give up her vacation. [insert huge, proud smile] Thanks to her, we grew that part of the business 20% year over year.”
Scene 2: Gossip/praise overheard when showing up late to a team call
“Mr. Badassery himself hasn’t taken a weekend off in the last 6 months. I don’t know how he does it, but man, his numbers are the best.”
Scene 3: Team praise during the monthly sales call
“Mrs. Brown Nose always goes way above and beyond the scope of her job in order to get things done. She’s often the first one in and the last one out.”
What would make us want to look at things differently, if that’s what we are hearing?
There are three dangerous combinations that can culminate into an addictive pattern. Something that:
allows us to continue to avoid what we want to avoid,
fills us with false feelings of belonging and worthiness, and
makes us feel successful.
Who do you know that would let go of that feeling unless they absolutely had to? Would you? Because I sure as shit wasn’t willing to give it up.
Instead, we usually only reach that point by force.
In my case, physical disability forced me to pay attention and open my mind to a healthier flow to work and life.
Can you relate to any of these addictions?
Dear reader, I don’t know if you collected addictions as I did. If you have and are someone who suffers from multiple addictions; I want you to know that it’s okay and you’re not alone. This is common for many of us.
If you’re noticing multiple addictions, it means you’re awake, aware, and ready to focus on your own habit patterns. Congratulations! 🥳
You have achieved awareness and that’s something we can work on. With time and focused attention, you can improve.
Addictions don’t have to mean forever, and it’s not something that you have to carry until you die.
When you’re tired enough, you can put that shit down and keep walking.
You can overcome your addictions.
Now, you may be asking that critical and all important question: HOW?
The short answer is a lot of work on myself. Facing hard truths about myself. The long answer… well, we don’t have time for the long answer. This is a blog post not an HBO series.
Instead of answering the how question, let’s start with a simpler question:
What did all of my experiences with my addictions teach me?
For starters, our bodies are incredibly resilient.
… Until they suddenly aren’t.
While overcoming my own addictions, the following thoughts came up here and there. Call them what you will: thoughts, insights, musings, personal truths, whatever you want them to be. These were the personal truths that came to the surface:
What fuels your addictions? What drives you to run, to eat, to doom scroll, live inside social media rather than the real world, to cheat, to abuse drugs, to lie, to work every waking moment of the day?
My fuel was my desperate need to run from deep, emotional pain. I avoided my internal belief that I was unlovable by trying to find evidence that I was lovable outside of myself. Any external source of love we seek is unsustainable and a recipe for disaster and pain. Since I didn’t love myself at all, I was always able to amass a plethora of evidence to support how unloveable and shitty I was.
The day I faced and accepted the fact I was running from deep, emotional pain, I was able to start to heal.
Did I start the journey before discovering my fuel?
Did I make much more substantial progress once I figured out I had no chance of a healthy life until I dealt with the fuel that sustained my behavior?
Also yes. After my obligatory Dance of Denial was done.
Beneath the surface
Why are you numbing out?
What are you escaping from?
What is motivating you to continue this behavior?
Do you have a lot of pain either physical or emotional? Or both?
Have you experienced any trauma in your life?
You have to identify and deal with it to feel it. In order to do that effectively, you will want to be able to observe your addictive behavior without condemning or judging yourself for the fact you do it.
Personally, I had to deal with my underlying issues that caused me to want to numb out in the first place. Sometimes that doesn’t work either. Understanding that I was running from deep emotional pain didn’t make it suddenly go away. In fact, I fought that realization for months before I accepted it. Sometimes, you have to change what you abuse instead of continuing to abuse something that hurts you. That’s what I did.
An example of changing an addictive behavior is when someone you know starts a 3 day juice cleanse and the next thing you know, they’re #vegan4life, have sold all their belongings, and have signed up for a 90-day silent meditation retreat in India.
If you are hiding yourself and not dealing with what you’re running from, even a healthy change done for the wrong reason ends up being an addictive coping strategy, hiding as something else.
We all have pain and trauma. What pain and trauma are you avoiding and refusing to heal from?