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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Heart of Addiction, part 2

This is a bit rambly.  Perhaps I'll edit it into better shape later, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there while they're fresh.

As I mentioned in part one, HoA's first good point is that the relief begins when we decide to drink, not only at the first drink.  That's not relief from withdrawal.  It's also not the innate euphoria, of course -- everyone feels that, most don't become addicted, and we addicts felt something much, much stronger.  It's more than that.  HoA says that it's a "fuck it" to our problems and a decisions to do something.  It could also relate to giving up the struggle against the Deprivation Effect.

HoA suggests using the urge to drink (or whatever) as a signal to deploy another strategy instead.  One example was an overworked guy who felt the "fuck it" and did ignore his work, but went for a run instead of drinking.  That worked for him because he liked running.  HoA didn't go into this, but presumably that wouldn't work for someone who saw running as an obligation (e.g., "I need to lose weight and exercise more").  Another was a woman who didn't exactly do something for herself but did dodge a request -- her "fuck it" response to a last-minute dinner party order was to order Chinese takeout instead of cooking a fancy meal, and this allowed her not to take Percodan.

Three common threads are rage, shame, and helplessness.  Helplessness is probably the easiest to pin down.  The overworked guy felt helpless to keep the work from piling on.  His addictive response was to "fuck it" and ignore the work in order to drink.  I feel for him.  Drinking is great for that; nobody can expect us to work while drunk, and it's certainly a big F-U to the expectations.  The overworked wife felt helpless in the face of the high expectations of husband, children, and mother.  She wasn't truly helpless, and in fact solved her problem fairly neatly once she was able to do so.  One wonders about the overworked man who bailed entirely by going for a run -- did his necessary work ever get done?  If not, what happened?

I've paused reading to integrate this book's paradigm with my own thoughts, so I don't yet know how the author will incorporate old struggles, but I can't help observing that "helplessness" is a definite characteristic of anything in the past.  None of us can change the past.  Even if we had full control at the time, we can't go back and change it now . . . and yet, even knowing that, I find myself realizing that the most damaging situations were ones in which I was helpless at the time.  I've made some bad choices and regretted some bad decisions, but none of them trigger the same helpless fury as being victimized does.

This, in its turn, leads me to wonder what to do with these old hurts.  Since we can't change the past, we can't react differently to them.

I expect the book will get to this.  The author has begun talking about a man whose need to be a "winner" (leading to gambling) ties back to being ignored in a crowd of children.

HoA doesn't focus on compulsion.  One of its main points is that addiction can transfer from one object to another -- from pot to alcohol to gambling, new addiction targets popping up as old ones are shed.  This is certainly true for many things.  One thing HoA hasn't really addressed, at least not yet, is how we condition ourselves to one particular addiction.  If my alcohol addiction were still present, a night at a casino could not just be swapped right in.  We target one thing and focus on it, getting conditioned just as the lab rats do.

However, one thing TSM never addresses is how we get addicted in the first place.  Eskapa's book handwaves it as "a disease" and gets right to the conditioning process, never exploring why some people condition themselves and others do not.

Neither TSM nor HoA models addiction as primarily a pleasure-seeking behavior.

TSM tries to eliminate shame by treating it solely as a behavioral process.  HoA accepts the shame issue but treats it more gently, saying that we're all pretty screwed up and that addicts simply have a more obvious and socially-disapproved coping mechanism.

This ties in indirectly to my own musings that we now disapprove of behavior which was once normal.  Five drinks is a binge; it used to be a dinner party.  More direly -- a weekend bender was once a fun spree of irresponsibility for a young man or a sign of great stress in a mature man; now it's a sure sign of alcoholism.  In looking for early warning signs of problem behaviors, we've problemized behaviors which were once within the range of normal.

Are today's open acknowledgements of drunkenness (e.g., "the best part of waking up is vodka in your cup," a shower-mountable wine glass holder) a swing away from this?  Or are they just silly attempts to be edgy?

Again, HoA says that we all have psychological defects and flawed strategies -- the strategy of the addictive behavior is just a little splashier, making it more noticeable.  It's not inherently worse, nor is it a sign of a weaker person.

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