This post was originally published on June 29, 2015.
It’s 1 am and I am blearily cuing up yet another hour of House on Netflix. I am exhausted, but I have convinced myself that I must watch just one more episode. Perhaps this time Dr. House will break his crusty exterior, and then I can love him even more. I yawn. Littered in front of me on the coffee table is what looks to be about 200 chocolate Kisses wrappers, like endless silver confetti.
It’s been a bad day. The cat threw up on the bed. Our electricity bill is comparable to the national debt. The car is making a funny noise when I put it in park, and when I don’t. I have grimly recited the Serenity Prayer 50 times or so, and it did help. Also, I didn’t drink today. That, as we know, is a great victory.
Except for this: as soon as the kids were in bed, I dove into my bag of chocolate Kisses with as much alcoholic zeal as if they were large margaritas. And tomorrow morning, I will have the same sort of guilt that I used to have when drinking, not to mention a stomachache. Perhaps that is why I find myself postponing bedtime. It will only mean waking up with a grim realization: a sugar hangover can really suck.
But, as I eye the half empty package and all those flimsy wrappers, I shrug. I mean, it’s just food. It’s not tequila. And I want to laugh it off. Yet, tonight, I didn’t really even taste any chocolate. I simply fed an emptiness, and now I feel emptier than before. Sound familiar? It seems I have started down the path of transferring my addictions, and it’s nothing to laugh about.
Addiction transfer means, as you may gather, to swap one addiction for another. Often the replacement compulsion can seem innocuous, or even healthy. The first few months of my sobriety, I signed up for a half marathon and proceeded to whiz past all my old pre recovery times during my training. I would run at 4:30 am, up and down Main Street because that was where there was the best lighting, and I had to make my distance. There was a police car parked at the corner of Main, and as I passed him, 12 times, I would wave. He would wave back. The cop, I am sure, wondered about my sanity. I didn’t. I was sober, and running helped keep the demons away. This was all healthy enough.
Granted, I let go of my need for speed about one year in, and now am totally comfortable with a few runs a week at a completely unimpressive pace. I can safely say I am not addicted to exercise. But, yes, I am addicted to sugar. Additionally, I might have a problem with Netflix shows that star Hugh Laurie. And, also, there’s a bit of an issue with the “One-Click buying” option on my Amazon account.
All of this is pretty tepid stuff, I guess. I don’t see my sugar problems taking me into a diabetic coma anytime soon. I don’t really fear obesity or bankruptcy as a possibility here. And I’m still not drinking. So, I’m safe, right? The problem is that lately, all this transferring is causing me to feel emotionally bankrupt, and that is serious.
Mindless zoning out and filling the void is just another tipping of my hat to my addictive self. “Go ahead, addiction,” I say, as I open a package of Oreos that I fully intend to hide from my husband later so he won’t be appalled by how many are missing. “Go ahead and settle in with your shame and chaos. I’m transferring over to you now, and I am just hoping the pendulum doesn’t swing back the other way into drinking.”
It’s the same sort of behavior I had with the booze: the hiding, the rationalization, the mindless behaviors, the “I deserve this” mentality that ends up with me feeling pretty miserable.
What is the answer? Never indulge? Break up with Hugh Laurie? The rest of my life seems pretty bleak without Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Core.
In my hometown, mid summer is accompanied by the cicadas, a large locust whose drone forecasts hot temperatures. At first, the cicadas are welcome; their buzzing is nostalgic background music for summer nights. But, as time passes, the cicadas seem to increase their screeching. You can’t talk to others; the din is isolating and intense. The outdoors is blanketed in mind-numbing noise.
This is what transferring an addiction can be like. At first, we might find our new love to be a welcome change. But then, if we allow it to surround us, we find ourselves drowning in clamor and distraction.
That doesn’t mean that all my obsessions are unhealthy. Take, for instance, the fact that I have an entire shelf in my pantry dedicated to LaCroix sparkling water. Once I got sober, a fizzy drink at the 5 pm witching hour seemed the only way to survive. And so I created my pretty LaCroix shelf where I’ve lovingly displayed my large stash of slender, pastel cans with all their neato French names (there’s a distinct possibility that they are alphabetized). I make sure to keep The Shelf fully stocked at all times, and I often find myself gazing rather adoringly at them. “Hello, my pretties,” I coo as I ponder my nightly selection. Once the number of cans starts to dwindle, I find myself getting a bit twitchy. I must not be without them.
Now, is The Shelf a problem? Not really. Here’s why: I have absolutely no issue with anyone else knowing about The Shelf. In fact, I have recruited my husband on numerous occasions to restock for me, and he knows that purchasing any other brand is a horrible infraction of The Shelf’s rules. There is no shame emanating from my La Croix shelf.
When I first got sober, there were many nights paired with copious numbers of Oreos and Netflix marathons. These things felt necessary for survival. I did not hide the packages, and I certainly felt no regret. But now, some four years later, survival means putting the Oreos down after a while, and calling a friend, or writing in a journal. Or I just sit out on the front porch and listening to the cicadas—until, of course, they get annoying.
It’s a tricky thing, balance. We need to be kind to ourselves about the Oreos, or the cigarettes. We need to forgive ourselves for watching six hours straight of Cupcake Wars on Netflix. But also, I have to listen to the voice inside of me who is done with all the shame and guilt. That is my sober voice, after all, and it can be trusted.