Another way of saying this is another thing they say:
If you do what you always did,
you’ll get what you always got
A lot of us wrestle with habits other than “drugs” or “alcohol.” We eat sugar. We shop online. We have sex. We smoke. We don’t think these are problems until we bump into walls.
Lots of people don’t think smoking is drug-use. It’s been well established, ever since Jeffrey Wigand testified against Big Tobacco, that cigarettes are nicotine-delivery devices scientifically crafted to maximize the effects of nicotine on the neurological system. Nicotine is an addictive drug.
I was at a meeting the other night where a friend of mine was talking about how she gave up smoking. She’d quit drinking and gotten sober and had changed her life, she said, and saved her cigs for the times when she really needed to control her “stress.” … I’ve heard so many people with addiction talk about how kicking nicotine was harder than quitting heroin or booze. My friend said she’d never thought that her smoking was a problem until her kid piped up one day:
Oh, look, Mommy! There’s the cigarettes you smoke when you’re mad!
She gave up cigarettes after that.
This made me think about the times I eat sugar. I eat it when I’m upset. I eat it habitually. I eat it because I’ve always eaten it. I eat it because it’s what I do. … It makes me feel good for a while, it comforts me, then it makes me tired; it gives me headaches. It makes me sad: classic sugar-crash. I could give you a technical rundown on what happens with the insulin overload, but it would be boring.
I have to give up sugar.
It’s the last thing.
It would be cool not to be a slave to anything anymore.
It would also be cool to eat real food. Not to hunt through the cupboards for “fun” trash all the time. It would require me to plan meals, to balance my life so that I pay attention to what I eat.
Mindfulness practice—meditation—brought me here… I’ll write about that next time.
This was a story I ignored last month, because I was like, Oh god, not another Teen Story about being Addicted To Love with Robert Palmer wearing his bad mullet-cut and droning his boring 1986 ditty in the background. It was in almost every headline or lead: “Might as Well Face It…”
Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, obsessed with each other behind Arthur’s back…
The operative word here is “obsession.”
The researchers interviewed 10 women and five men who had been rejected by romantic partners. And the ad the researchers placed on the Stony Brook campus asked, “Have you just been rejected in love but can’t let go?”
I think I hear Lucinda gearing up here…
The difference between these subjects and the ones who didn’t respond to the ad isn’t that the ones who didn’t respond hadn’t been rejected. It’s that maybe they were able to let go. Move on.
The ones who responded to the ad told the researchers things like,
I think about him constantly.
We try to be friends but it doesn’t work; I’m too attracted to him.
What’s the point, without her.
Substitute “alcohol” or “drugs” for “him” or “her,” and you’ve got what addicts say about their substances.
The findings were not just about cocaine, either. The researchers noted that “craving for drugs is associated with a significant increase of dopamine in the striatum,” a part of the brain where they found activation; that they found activation in another area associated with cigarette craving; and that
These previous findings suggest that the experience of romantic rejection involves the same neural systems that underlie various addictions.
When we get sober, it’s easy to substitute one addiction for another. I’ve heard people talk about it all the time. We get rid of the chemicals and start in on the behaviors: shopping, television, eating, Internet surfing, cutting . . . sex.
After the whole Tiger Woods Thing, my Gmail inbox was stuffed with notices: “Does Sex Addiction Really Exist?” Who knows? It’s all obsession. Obsession is obsession is obsession. The monkey’s inability to let go of, as it were, the banana.
When I first got sober, and the chemicals leached out of my cells and tissues, my body woke up. A cloud passed over the lioness who had been sleeping, forever it seemed, in the sun, and the lioness roused for the first time in many years.
For a while my striatum (or whatever) must have been flooded with dopamine, because I spent some months pretty distracted by all the activity that was crossing my field of vision. My radar hadn’t been so jazzed since I was maybe in my 20s. And since I was a lot more mature and experienced than a 24-year-old, I had more ideas about what to do with all that jazz.
It confused the hell out of me and I lost sleep over it, and I cried over lost time and opportunity and youth and being 44 and on the downhill slope, and like the students in the study I’d stand in front of the mirror and poke at my face and wonder “What’s the point?” and in general feel terribly sorry for myself that I’d “gotten sober too late.” As though I should have kept using, just because.
And then because all my negative feelings were too much for me, I’d make up whole scenarios in my head to get out of myself. I’d waste yet more time. And then beat myself up for wasting it. I didn’t know what to do to get out of this loop of tape.
This DOESN’T only happen to people newly sober. I’ve heard people with upwards of 25 years talk about using sexuality—whether real or imagined—to get out of themselves.
I was directed to write inventory about my sexuality and my resentments—against my mother for being the Thought Police and Sex Gestapo in my adolescence and early adulthood (the time of life when you’re supposed to experiment with sexuality and identity); mostly against myself for making “stupid” decisions, for “allowing” myself to become an addict, for being a Terrible Writer, a Failed Artist, a Bad Mother, a Weak and Compliant Daughter, an Exceptional Wreck of a Human Being. I am such a star at being bad. Ego, ego ego ego.
I even wrote inventory about my resentments against God, for making me an addict. For making addicts of so many of my family members, and “letting” them die.
(I still don’t know why God would make anyone an addict, btw. I don’t know why God would give my father-in-law dementia, or my niece Down Syndrome, or my uncle multiple sclerosis. One of my sponsors told me point-blank that God made me an addict . . . My ideas about God are still under revision and I don’t know if I buy that God made me an addict. If I stay with that thought for too long, I get pissed off at higher power, and getting pissed off at higher power isn’t good for me.)
But anyhow, writing inventory helped. My part became clear. My part—or part of my part—is to use my gifts productively and in service to higher power’s will.
And then I started meditating and praying. I’ve been meditating every day for the past six weeks, under direction of someone who has a strong meditation practice. I was directed to pray after I meditate… my own version of the seventh step prayer, asking higher power to relieve me of the bondage of self (helping me to LET GO) and build with me throughout the day. I’m still working on that version of the prayer… so I pray a half-assed spontaneous made-up version every morning, and it seems to be OK for now…
In terms of sexuality, I see mine as strong and beautiful and as a gift from higher power. I’ve relinquished the Catholic vestiges of shame that would make me view my sexuality or my body as “bad” or “wrong,” as long as I don’t hurt myself or anyone else with it. So … with all the soccer-dad lions that prowl across my radar these days … I allow myself to appreciate them. I let the saliva flow. And then I let them slink off into the desert and I get my roar out with the one I married.
Next I think these researchers should put addicts into functional magnetic resonance imaging and ask us to meditate on a gratitude list. I’ll be first in line. I want to see where all that dopamine goes when gratitude is applied to it…
Surfing over at Syd’s fine blog, I found exactly two posts tagged “sex,” and one of them, a lovely list of random observations, was about human sexuality.
Can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in at which I’ve wanted to raise my hand and bring up the subject of sex. One of my sponsors warned me, “It’s the kiss of death for discussion meetings. People Just Will. Not. Talk. About It.”
Maybe, maybe not. I’ve gotten good response over at Opiate Detox Recovery whenever I’ve written about sex (for example here and here), which is to say it seems to help people when sex is brought out into the open. People in this culture don’t get to talk about sex enough.
Gosh: where to start? Like standing at a smorgasbord.
Yesterday I was writing to someone trying to get sober about the benefits of sobriety. I wrote that I have less pain now that I’m off drugs; I sleep better; I actually eat; I work; I negotiate problems; and I have great sex. I was tempted to write, “Let’s be honest: any sex at all could be called ‘great’ in comparison to the sex I had while on drugs,” because the drugs I took—opiate painkillers—are well known for depressing the sex-drive. And so does alcohol.
But that wouldn’t be strictly true. Because like a true manipulator, here’s what I did: I’d figure out when I was likely to have sex (that’s the way I’d put it in my mind, “have sex,” not make love with my partner, get it on with him, but “have sex,” very clinical, very capitalistic) and I’d throw myself into a little bit of withdrawal so I could respond and look awesome for him. Also, maybe, enjoy myself a bit—but primarily, look OK.
I once read on a website somewhere that heroin addicts going cold-turkey experience spontaneous orgasms.What was I doing poking into stories of heroin junkies kicking dope and the effects of withdrawal on sexuality? Well, there you go.
This manipulation is what made the sex I had with my partner dishonest. I was having more of a relationship with my drugs than I was having with my partner.
There’s an interesting silver lining to this story though. My first sponsor used to tell me that my “higher power” would use every single mistake I’d ever made and bring good from it, if I asked for that to happen. I totally thought she was bullshitting me, of course, mostly because I didn’t think any “higher power” would care about the mundane details of my life. Also, I believed that my screwups were Special, extraordinarily fucked up, unforgivable, and the deeply Catholic part of me (the part that my mother brought up) still believes this on some level.
But here’s the silver lining: I learned during those times when I went through withdrawal that I could have multiple orgasms.
Multiple orgasms are seriously one of the most amazing gifts of the human race. To the female half, anyhow. Every woman can have more than one orgasm at a time—physiologically, it’s possible—but only 15-25 percent of us allow ourselves to, and the rest of us just figure we can’t, or don’t deserve to, or don’t know how.
I mean, I’ve always been a sexual person. Very strong sex-drive. It was one reason I drank and used drugs: I believed I didn’t deserve to be that sexual, to have that much pleasure and connection with another person, or with myself. I believed my desire to have it must mean I was Evil. It must have meant I was more like Eve (my grandmother’s name) than Mary (my mother’s name).
But once I got sober, and I could STILL have multiple orgasms, I thought to myself: If there is a god, and god cares about sex, then this must be OK.
I wish every woman could have the level of acceptance of her body that I’ve been given in my sobriety. I used to hate my body. I wrote about it in my first book. Now I live so comfortably in it… it’s almost like living in a different country altogether.
OK… so that’s part 1 of a continuing conversation about sexuality in recovery… expect some more where that came from.
"Already an award-winning blog, Guinevere Gets Sober is as good as it gets. As a professional with two degrees and a track record of success, Guinevere’s viewpoint reflects the reality that not all addicts fit the stereotypes. She has the guts to take a public stand for addiction advocacy and rehab success. She fights to reduce the stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment, and with a blog like this, she is surely succeeding."
When in 2008 I decided to recover from addiction, I started writing under the pseudonym "Guinevere." An ancient name meaning "white" or "fair," Guinevere is Welsh for my given name, Jennifer. And Queen Guinevere—though lovely, powerful, and rich—still lied and cheated to satisfy her desires.
A writer by habit and profession, I started this blog to examine issues of addiction in the culture. I'm especially interested in reducing social stigma that prevents people from getting timely help, and in supporting the many people who write to me looking for help in reducing their chemical load in life.
I love books, film, and art, and I review all of these here, along with the ongoing appearance of addiction and recovery in the news ... and of course I tell great stories.
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