I Know (Almost) Everything About Recovery from Addiction

Erik Metzger, LMFT, former addiction counselor and yoga instructor on Oct 12, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

The title of this blog is purposefully misleading. As a person in recovery for twenty years, working an active program in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Recovery Dharma, and myriad self-care practices, I still can’t purport to know everything about addiction. I have two masters degrees, one in addiction counseling and the other in clinical psychology, and even though I’ve been working in the field of addiction for ten years, I STILL can’t tell you every nuance of what your substance use disorder (SUD) does for you in terms of reward or even how bad it feels for you. What I can tell you are the things that were ah-ha moments for myself and the factoids that piqued the interest of my clients and allowed them to gain insight into their compulsive behavior(s). Here are a few, and I will follow-up in my next blog post with more:

1. I don’t have a drinking problem, I have a thinking problem: Can I be chemically dependent on any number of substances or behaviors regardless of my acting-out with said activity? Yes, of course, but what usually gets me there in the first place is my thinking; even when I abstain for months or years, that stinkin’ thinkin’ may still be getting me all twisted. What better than to soothe an anxious mind than substances (take your pick – they vary per individual – and that’s a topic I can cover in another post)?! It’s quick and easy, but it only temporarily relieves us of the bondage of those thoughts, and then comes the emotional and physical hangover and the dreaded “hangxiety.” In recovery, I have slowly learned to practice being emotionally sober; this happens only AFTER stabilizing from my compulsive habits and other impulse control disorders.

2. I can’t save my ass and my face at the same time: If I am indeed in a tight spot and needing to turn things around, it’s not gonna look pretty, and I will likely be downright humbled. Yes, I’ll be losing face, but every time I’m in a tough situation whether big or small, it’s worth it to sacrifice my look-good in order to move through an issue and learn from it. On the other hand, if I want to keep my ego and pride in tact in the face of an obstacle, that’s my prerogative, but I will be missing out on growing and practicing some good ol' fashioned humility which actually feels good.

3. We don’t get into recovery on a winning streak: When I decide to stop some behavior that is damaging to my body and soul, it’s usually because things have gotten pretty bad, so it’s usually time to “take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth,” as the AA saying goes. Listening to people who are ahead of me on their recovery journey is a wise move, especially since I can’t solve a problem with the mind that created it, as Einstein is known to have said. My impulse control disorder(s) live in my brain, quite literally, so it’s best to “seek supervision” and consult with others that can more easily see my blind spots and help to stop doing the same things again and again expecting different results. As well, I don’t enter into recovery on a neurobiological winning streak; for starters, I’m likely depleted of all those delightful feel-good chemicals that I’ve been artificially causing my brain to flood with. I will most definitely feel bored for some days and weeks since everyday activities are not firing-off those reinforcing brain chemicals (i.e., dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, etc). My sleep will also be bordering on insomnia since I’ve depleted so much of the calming neurochemical GABA; that there’s not enough of it to regulate the excitatory chemical glutamate, hence me staring at the ceiling every night for a month…

4. I suffer from a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome: Don’t get me wrong, people with SUD or behavioral addictions are not “crazy,” nor do they commonly suffer from dissociation that is so extreme as to meet criteria for dissociative identity disorder – formerly known as multiple personality disorder – BUT we often feel as if we are hosting two distinct personalities. One of these personas is our authentic self, wanting to show love to those closest to us and lead healthy and productive lives; the other persona is known as our addictive voice that often makes excuses to party like a rock star and is filled with denial and tactics to quiet that pesky inner voice (denial = don’t even know I am lying). Practicing “addictive voice recognition” is akin to doing Internal Family Systems work, where that party-animal self that probably developed as a protective coping “part” can be recognized, reasoned with, and even thanked for helping us cope and maybe even for keeping us alive through dealing with trauma. Doing this is most often not going to be successful on our own (remember #3 where the addiction centers in the brain, and by the way, also speaks to us in our own voice!), so we will want to attend support groups or meet with a therapist to at the very least curtail our acting-out behavior(s) so we can get strong enough to be successful in controlling our hitherto powerful addictive voice!

I hope these insights have been helpful for you. Remember, there is no shame in seeking medical assistance with getting prescribed detox, anti-craving, and other meds to assist with getting into recovery or harm-reduction/moderation management. In fact, please consult with a medical professional or go to the emergency room if you plan on stopping alcohol or benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax or Attivan) abruptly if you are using on a regular basis. Be forewarned: The withdrawal for “benzos” can be delayed five days, so you may think you are free and clear, but you could suffer severe withdrawal symptoms including seizure a few days after stopping…

Please get in touch with any questions or to book a free therapy-consult with me. Until next time, be present and safe!

Erik Metzger, LMFT

Erik Metzger is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Website

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