A lot of people with bipolar, PTSD and/or anxiety have problems with addiction. I’m no different. It is something that I have struggled with all my life. I did have several advantages though that saved my life. I have a strong belief in God and the reality of His grace. I have a large, close-knit and supportive family. I am also told that I have extreme will power, but I think fear played more of a role.
Many people living with dragons find ways to self medicate in an effort to comfort themselves when the dragons are raging. This is a normal reaction to extreme stress, fear and feelings of helplessness. If you can numb the pain and distance yourself from the situation then it doesn’t seem as much of a problem and it is easier to ignore.
Alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), nicotine, food, gambling, shopping, stealing, sex and video games are the most talked about addictions. I was able to escape all but the food and video games mostly because of the fear of my parents and the decisions that I made when I was younger. I had decided to avoid the harmful and illegal activities and then just stuck with the follow through. As for the shopping, that wasn’t so difficult since my parents favorite phrase when we asked for money was, “Get a job.” Having to work for every penny of spending money I became something of a Scrooge with my funds. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have made an expensive compulsive purchase. The last I am currently fighting with a collection agency.
While I was able to avoid the more self-destructive addictions, I still struggle with my own addictions and addictive tendencies. I have cultivated addictions that can be carefully monitored and relatively easy to quit. Here they are:
This is a comfort thing. Food has been used throughout history as a means of social interaction and creating emotional bonds. Up until my early 30’s, when I started on my medications, I was able to eat pretty much what I wanted without weight problems. I did eat smaller portions, but I never denied myself a binge or a craving. Now that I’m in my mid 40’s and have been on medication for the last 15 years weight is definitely an issue. I still have cravings and binges but I have learned to make substitutions (dark chocolate for a Snickers) and give myself a designated time to eat. Often, by the time I get to the time I have permission to eat whatever I’m craving, I don’t want it anymore.
When I was really struggling with this problem Nintendo had just put out its first game system. You could not save your games so you finished it or started over. I included my children while I was in the midst of this addiction so they were not ignored or neglected. When it started to become a problem I made the act of playing very inconvenient. I let my children play first and I had the last turn (that put me 6th in line). I would often get skipped because I was purposefully busy in another part of the house. I had requirements that had to be completed before I could play (e.g. housework, errands, reading, etc.). It wasn’t easy and I often failed, but in time I was able to replace it with something more productive.
I have recently had to give up a game addiction. I was playing Farmville on Facebook. It started as something mindless to do in the evenings when I was tired and couldn’t sleep. After a while I began to take “breaks” during the day to play. I then told my youngest daughter (age 9) that I was addicted to the game and needed to quit playing. Everytime she found me playing the game, she would shake her head and remind me that I had committed to doing other things. I finally just blocked the game from my Facebook page all together.
I am currently addicted to jigsaw puzzles on my computer.
This is what I call my coping hobbies. These are activities that help me relax and keep my anxiety levels low. These are as follows:
I have spent hours playing the piano to work out my frustrations and stress. I start with loud, fast and energetic music and work my way down to softer, relaxed music. I have gained a skill that serves me well and provided enjoyment for myself and others.
This is a portable addiction I refer to as my security blanket. I carry a bag of yarn, hooks and other supplies where ever I go. This allows me to keep my hands busy while leaving my mind free to participate with what is happening around me. I have found that crochet is the best way for me to stay relaxed and pay attention during business meetings, church, social gatherings, etc. I have made and given away countless afghans, baby blankets, booties, hats, sweaters, shawls, doilies, curtains, hot pads and I don’t know what else. With each stitch I untangle my stress and lessen the anxiety I am feeling. At the same time I am creating something useful and beautiful.
This is my most challenging addiction because it will do so many things. I have weaned myself off of the Facebook games only to start a new addiction and return to an old. The old addiction is solitaire. This actually allows me to organize my thoughts and emotions as I organize the cards, but it is still something I am compelled to play. The new addiction is jigsaw puzzles. I have a puzzle program on my computer that allows me to make a puzzle from any picture and adjust the size of the puzzle piece for larger or smaller puzzles. While neither of these are actually “bad” addictions I am playing these rather than going to bed at night. This means that I’m not getting enough rest and that has to change.
There are addiction support groups everywhere for just about any addiction you can name. I highly recommend creating your own support group or attending one of the other groups. This is one thing that I had an abundance of and it has made a huge difference in my life.
I have a large family (grandparents, parents, 8 siblings, aunts, uncles and innumerable cousins). We are also a close-knit family and have done things together over the years. While we have fought and had hurt feelings like any other family, I have never doubted that when I was in trouble any one (or all) of them would come to my aid. They have proved this over the years in my deepest darkness and most stressful situations.
When I was in an abusive marriage my grandmother and mother started kidnapping me for a girls afternoon out. This weekly outing allowed me to rediscover my worth and extricate myself out of the abuse. These adventures have also become treasured memories of time spent with my grandmother before she passed away.
I have also had people pass through my life at just the right moment. Friends who have come into my life when I thought I was alone. While I may not stay in contact with them because our lives have gone in different paths, I will forever be grateful for their presence in my life.
Author’s Note: While I have been very lucky in the addiction department I know that there are many who have not been. If you are struggling, reach out for help. If no one seems to hear you, keep shouting until someone does. May God bless each of us in our struggles that we will have the energy to join the fight and take back our lives. And may the right people be in the right place and the right time.