On Becoming Less Addicted

leaving las vegas

Yesterday morning, while walking home after taking my daughter to our neighborhood elementary school, I watched 10 cars drive down our street. Of those automobiles, four were piloted by drivers with their faces turned sideways and downwards – completely glued to their smartphones as they were moving at speeds of at least 25 miles per hour. Typically this turns on my highly judgmental “rage cage” button. Instead, I decided to yet again revisit my thoughts about addiction.

Heroin, alcohol, lifting weights, love, sex, eating, kindness, anger, meth, pessimistic thinking, Internet, Facebook, work, television, news, Facebook, running, Facebook, complaining, meth, Facebook…

Aaaagh!!!

I wonder how blurry and ill-defined the term “addict” is. The first definition provided by Merriam-Webster? “A person who is not able to stop taking drugs : a person who is addicted to drugs.” And now let’s turn to dictionary.com: “a person who is addicted to an activity, habit, or substance: a drug addict.” I vastly prefer the dictionary.com definition as it is much broader.

That said, I know almost nothing about this topic. Please remember this as you read on. I am simply and ignorantly opining here.

Yes, people very close to me have suffered from alcoholism and are now…well…ummm…they are dead.

Yes, I’ve attended several AA meetings to learn more, out of fear I might be an alcoholic.

Changing subjects, yes, I’ve witnessed people at my gym who are ‘down to the bone’ emaciated and yet still spend two or more hours every single day grinding their bodies out further on elliptical machines.

I have far more questions than answers on this subject. But I have still identified 10 action steps that work somewhat — albeit not fully — for me.

ACTION STEP ONE: Conduct an addiction audit of your own life. What do you seem incapable of giving up? In other words, what are the areas in your life that cause psychological or physical pain if you attempt to let them go? Now, separate those areas into positive and negative. Here is a sampling for me:

Negative: Fear, anger, stress, alcohol, sweets, food, caffeine.

Positive: Exercise, music, personal development. There are many more here because I am so amazing.

Of course we can acknowledge that even our seemingly positive addictions can turn negative if taken too far, i.e., let’s say I love music so much I live in my own walled garden with a pair of acoustically awesome Audio-Technica headphones and isolate myself from society. Not good.

ACTION STEP TWO: Rate your negative addictions on a scale of 1 to 5. “1” means you believe the addiction causes minimal long-term damage to yourself and others. “5” implies the addiction is very harmful. Also consider how difficult it is to leave your habit behind for a day, a week, a month, forever. When I conduct this audit, alcohol tops the scale for me. How do I know that? Gee I don’t know, but 60 days in a row starting last November where I drank every single night, wistfully staring at the clock starting midday and waiting for 5 p.m. to arrive. To me this indicates the need for a pause.

ACTION STEP THREE: Resolve to only work on one addiction at a time. Perhaps you can group a couple of complementary addictions together. For example, you could abstain from alcohol for the first 30 to 60 days of a diet plan.

ACTION STEP FOUR: To strengthen your resolve, conduct a cost/benefit analysis and put it in writing. Example:

Benefits of boozing on up: Numbing, relaxing, I enjoy the taste, I feel more comfortable socially, I laugh more, I fall asleep faster.

Costs: It’s expensive, it causes weight gain, it reduces my physical energy, it harms my liver, it increases my risk of cancer, it increases my risk of heart disease, it increases my risk for experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it probably causes some form of brain damage, and left completely unchecked it can lead to an existence none of us want to experience.

ACTION STEP FIVE: Now that you’re focused on a single addiction and are convinced the costs outweigh the benefits, it’s time to identify the most frequently occurring adverse life situations that cause you to indulge. For example, it is the end of the day. I may be tired, stressed, scared, angry, bored, and/or indulging in self-deprecation. What do I turn to? A lovely bottle of IPA followed by copious amounts of red wine is a great short term fix and a sub-optimal long term one.

ACTION STEP SIX: Write down several healthy substitute activities, i.e., take a brisk walk, do push ups, read, laugh, spend time with your kid, work on a project you’re passionate about, and most importantly breathe deeply. To that end, mindfulness, and more specifically meditating, is pretty much the answer to everything in life. Learning to reduce the number of thoughts in your head by focusing on the now, and over time gaining an increased ability to consciously direct your thinking over prolonged periods of time can only be beneficial.

ACTION STEP SEVEN: Get stoic and just say NO. I mean seriously, billions of people are starving on our planet. Poverty is still so widespread. War torn nations? We’ve got ‘em a plenty. Therefore I think I can live without a fecking cocktail or four. 

ACTION STEP EIGHT: A classic AA technique is to chunk down: “One day at a time.” And you can take it further — one hour, one minute….To that end, earlier as I wrote this section I was sitting in a coffee shop in Redwood City, California staring at a slightly bearded dude who is one of the Dads in our Mom’s Group. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks. Before we engaged in a hearty and amicable (imagine that) conversation about politics, he casually mentioned how “the ladies” had consumed a few cocktails last night. And I self-righteously responded that I’m taking one of my several pauses from booze. He asked, “How long are you doing it, Steve — 30 days?” And I responded, “This time out I have no idea how far I’m taking this, but for today I am not drinking.”

ACTION STEP NINE: Practice the highest level of self love and self acceptance you can. Do whatever it takes to become more informed on this subject and live it. This is because there is no “perfect.” As a result the more you butcher yourself for your imperfections, the further away from perfection you will inevitably land. While I don’t subscribe to letting yourself off the hook when you fall down, self-loathing doesn’t work. In practicing self acceptance, honor your journey, your struggle, your challenge – whatever you’d like to call it. Find a positive meaning in what you’re doing. Don’t be glib, cynical or derogatory. Instead, try being grateful, which may start with thanking yourself for mustering the courage to give it another shot.

ACTION STEP TEN: Finally, and this is the area where I have the biggest opportunity for improvement: reach out for help. It’s interesting how in the personal development world, the term “accountability partner” is so prominent. These are the people who check in on you daily or weekly to ensure you are doing what you said you would. How many people do you know – and this could be you – who won’t workout unless it’s with a trainer because she or he keeps them on track. At work, it’s the daily check in meeting. Everyone is in some conference room named for a reptillian rock band (“Hey man, I booked us into Jefferson Airplane“) staring at the same Google Sheet projected onto a 60 inch Samsung LED screen. Your name is on each of the deliverables from Rows 37-45. Well, did you get ’em done? DID YOU?? You didn’t??? YOU. SUCK.

Go find someone to hold you accountable now — a friend, a stranger, a group, a cause, your spouse.

And to that end, thanks for supporting me honey. I love you! Yes, I remember last night when you suggested I not write about this topic. I just couldn’t help myself.

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