I visualize addiction like a spider web. Sticky and alluring. For me, drugs and alcohol sit squarely in the center.
Picture a spider web and imagine the center, the most densely woven part of the web and the most difficult to get out of. My most destructive (and hardest to quit) addiction, alcohol, sits squarely in the center. Drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, smoking, anything that we are addicted to lives in this web. By addicted, I mean something we do on repeat that we don't want to do anymore, some behavior we feel we can no longer live with...or without. Something that is making us feel worse, even though we initially turned to it for comfort. In my web, alcohol firmly occupies the center. But there are other addictions scattered throughout the web. Those “lesser” addictions sparkle like drops of dew, beautifully backlit by the sun. They sing to me like the siren song in Homer's Odyssey. "Come to me." “You deserve it." "No one will know.” "I promise you won't get stuck, not this time." Keep in mind that in the book, the protagonist, Ulysses, has to be tied up by his crew so he will not succumb to the song. Sometimes resisting the call, the pull back into addiction, can feel almost impossible. But the battle to remain sober is worth the reward.
So imagine I get seduced by a behavior that sits on an outer thread of the web - one of my earliest "coping devices", bulimia. What if I engage in that behavior again in some misguided attempt at trying to soothe myself. I know it won't work. We use these coping devices to distract ourselves from what's really going on underneath. What's going on between our ears and in our heart that we just can't handle. I will engage in some self-destructive behavior just hoping to distract myself from myself. So I binge and purge and it fails to soothe me. Now I still have the feelings I was trying to escape from, as well as the devastating feelings around the bout of bulimia to contend with. A double whammy. I feel despair, and then profound shame and self loathing. And I believe that anything that causes shame, if left unexamined, will sooner or later lead us back to our primary addiction. So when I find myself stuck in the web again, I'm closer to a drink than I care to be. I believe that with all my actions I am either moving towards a drink or away from a drink. If I follow the thread from anything calling to me from that web it will lead me, very cleanly and very clearly, straight back to the center. The center, where addiction to drugs and alcohol sits and patiently awaits my arrival with its deadly, terrifying, spidery legs.
There are plenty of addictions that don’t seem nearly as deadly as drugs and alcohol. Infidelity, technology, pornography and food addictions are just a few. We allow ourselves these smaller, but still dangerous, permissions that more often than not will lead us right back to the center of the web. Once we begin to negotiate with ourselves we are in serious trouble.
We are kidnapper, hostage, and negotiator all at the same time and it is exhausting.
Life out of the web is the freedom to start your life over. Freedom from all your addictions. A life of rigorous honesty. A life where we don't need to constantly engage in self-negotiation.
There is a way out. There’s a way to live life that is infinitely more comfortable than being stuck in a web. For me, making progress is moving away from the center of the web and trying not to get spellbound by the other addictions shimmering on the outer threads, no matter how innocent they may seem. Even Netflix. I can hear the chorus from here. "Nooo! Not Netflix. Did you really just say Netflix?" Yes. I did. Because even that - even something as enjoyable as Netflix - I need to look at. Am I using it compulsively to check out of my life, or simply because I need an hour to relax at the end of the day? Which is it? At least now with some clarity I can watch my behavior, make peace with it, and hopefully make choices that make me feel better about myself rather than worse. And remember, we don't need to beat ourselves up. We are human, and as addicts we are extra human-y humans. So if I stumble, I get up and I find comfort in repeating one of A.A.'s most often quoted mottos:
Progress, not perfection.