What Addiction Feels Like
Do you remember that super groovy pinball cartoon that used to show on Sesame Street? Set to some booty-shaking funk, we roll with a pinball while it lights up the posts it hits then flips in the air, all while some kids count to 12. I fucking loved this cartoon as a kid. The song, the 70s animation, the way those posts burst into light. My little-kid imagination knew what it meant to get exactly what I wanted.
This is exactly what the addiction trance feels like to me. It starts with music that gets your shoulders popping, some feel-good jams that let you know good times are coming. Then we hit the track, swinging wide left then up, spinning in the air, only to drop back to our track, whipping around corners, plain kicking ass. More good times! And the compulsive counting. We don't stop at 3, we don't stop at 5, and we sure as hell don't stop at 10.
The Addiction Trance
Tommy Rosen of Recovery 2.0 has this concept of the trance of addiction. To Rosen, we don't need to draw lines between alcoholism, heroin addiction, or sex addiction. All of these stem out of the same frequency which enable the compulsive behaviors that destroy our lives. A food addicts drops down into the same addictive frequency as the heroin addict, and over time both rewire their brains to seek whatever compulsive behavior delivers our pleasure shot.
This concept of addiction makes complete sense to me. Before I ever touched my first glass of Wild Turkey or smoked a joint, I nibbled Snickers candy bars in the privacy of my bedroom so I could suck every speck of caramel and nougat off the peanuts before I chewed them. I savored Entemann's cheesecake with religious fervor and panicked at the thought of missing out on ice cream.
What feels so familiar about that video is the inevitability of the ball's progression forward. There is never a moment we believe the ball will be derailed and we won't reach the number 12. When I'm hitting my addiction frequency, I enter a trance that feels inevitably forward progressing.
Addiction in Motion
The first time I recognized this happening, I was a year sober from alcohol, but still taking Xanax under the care of my doctor. Like most people in early recovery, I discovered a treasure trove of shit I hadn't dealt with while using, including depression and anxiety. But, I was also getting to the point in which I wanted to try out breathing through my panic, using the tools I'd recently learned in therapy to work through the moment. I wrote down a list of coping strategies and packed my purse with essential oils.
When it came time to tell my doctor my plan, I froze . My need to have the Xanax as an option clamped my mouth shut. I got in my car and drove toward the pharmacy. I could feel that something profound had shifted inside me. I'd dropped low-level, my lizard brain turning the steering wheel, flicking my blinker, guiding the car to Walgreens. It was like being a passenger in my own brain, and my course felt as inevitable as that pin ball hitting 12. I obsessively imagined myself opening the prescription bottle, struggling a little with the pinch-and-push top, popping that teeny pill in my mouth, body releasing the tension I'd been collecting since my prescription had run out.
And that's exactly what happened. It's almost impossible to put into actual words. To relate the truth of this state. It's a trance, its outcome inevitable, and the concept of not completing the obsession is as absurd as sprouting wings and flying out of the situation. People tend to have an assumption that addicts can just stop. Why doesn't she go get treatment? Why doesn't she just quit? It's because of this trance. It's one, I believe, that exists in all of us if we examine ourselves closely. We all zonk out and let the lizard take over, devouring a whole bag of chips on autopilot, emptying the pint of Ben & Jerry's when we don't want to. This is the frequency of addiction, and we all have the capability of dropping down into it too far.
Labeling is Bullshit
Why is this important? Because labels like "alcoholic," "heroin addict," or "prescribed" allow us all to obscure a common reality, alienating ourselves from others or others from us. You'd think I'd be immune to this kind of judgment, but I often have to remind myself to be compassionate when a doctor prescribes my addicted family member yet a higher dose of opioids at their request.
Labeling, and prescribing treatment paths that don't intersect, also keep millions of people from ever asking for help. It places dangerous or unhealthy or regular shitty behaviors into a hierarchy, that dismissive belief that just because other people "have it worse" we have no right to feel our pain. As someone with a mother who is morbidly obese and almost immobile, Imma tell you: food addiction is as painful as alcohol addiction is as painful as prescription drug addiction is as painful as sex addiction, and they all, to one degree or another, result from the total domination of that lizard dude driving our meat sack.