Clean & Sober but “Getting Hooked” on Gambling, Overeating, Shopping or Romance!
(Published in Step 12 Magazine’s First Issue – Nov/Dec 2013)
Sometimes it seems like we’re never totally ‘out of the woods’ when it comes to the disease of addiction. We finally get clean and sober; we make friends, help others, make amends and are actually doing pretty darn good. Then we notice we’re starting to love eating just a little too much. Or we find ourselves shopping all the time – trying to make our ‘outsides’ look as good as our ‘insides’ feel! Or we find ourselves either bored or behind in our bills and get caught up in gambling. Or the most famous of all the “substitution fixes” hits us – the desire for Romance!
Unfortunately for us, the disease of addiction isn’t just about drinking or drugging. If it was, we would all be pretty much cured after a year or so of total abstinence. No, it’s about wanting too much of a good thing – the inability to live with “moderation”. Then you pile on our love of instant gratification, quick fixes and fantasy – add a dose of obsession and compulsion – factor in some denial and wishful thinking and you have a recipe for disaster. Not the exact same downward spiral that alcoholism or drug addiction produce, but a less steep yet still damaging switch of addictions.
Many people in recovery find healthy obsessions or new interests, hobbies, etc. God bless those people – this article is about the unhealthy things some of us find ourselves indulging in. Or over-indulging, I should say! Take overeating for example. It’s going to be perfectly normal for food to start tasting really good after years of not eating right when we were ‘in our addiction’. We find we are going to diners often as we fellowship and network before and after meetings. Now we also find that with work or extra meetings that we don’t eat home a lot – fast food becomes our full time meal source. Well, just add the old addict/alcoholic motto, “If one feels good, I’ll take 20!” Yep, we got trouble. It’s so easy for us to unconsciously rationalize or justify overdoing things. We already have been using those defects to continue outrageous behavior in our lives for years – so, just a little minimizing or denial isn’t really too hard to imagine when it comes to overeating.
Let’s take gambling next. I would venture a guess that almost every state in the U.S. has some kind of legal gambling. In the area where The 12 Step Gazette [Philadelphia] is headquartered, “forget about it”! There are many casinos; plus lottery drawings at least twice a day and a smorgasbord of the newest addictive gambling craze, scratch-off tickets. Maybe it’s just a big city thing in Philadelphia but I doubt it. Every Quick- Shop store has reams and rolls of endless varieties of colorful, interesting looking state-run instant gambling tickets flowing all over the place, it seems. They all seem to offer the possibility of an instant $50,000 win or more. They apparently are VERY addicting. Most people I see who buy them can’t even get out of the store first before they start scratching away to see if they won. Just like with food, shopping and other things that recovering people might get carried away with, gambling can cause a lot of unmanageability.
At first glance, this article might seem like we’re being a little “picky” – what, we can’t overdo anything anymore just because we have addictive tendencies? That is certainly not what our point is. Our message here is that any one or more of these things can become a real problem for those of us in recovery. Many of us have totally mismanaged our money and maxed out our credit cards and have gotten way over our heads in debt because of excessive shopping or buying things we can’t afford. Many others of us have endangered our health by gaining 40 or 50 pounds since we got clean and sober and now can’t even walk up a flight of stairs without almost having a heart attack.
We saved perhaps the most insidious recovery trap for last, in case you hadn’t noticed – our search for love and romance. How many broken hearted people have been so crushed by bad relationships that they have ended up “picking up”, we’ll never know. But we do know that it is very dangerous terrain. It feels so good when we start to feel attracted to somebody – and likewise when we think someone is attracted to us. That cute little smile or sparkle in their eyes can be equally or more intoxicating then any substance we ever used. Just like gambling, shopping and food addictions, love addiction is no joke! We all have to be very careful – make sure we share honestly with each other and our sponsors exactly what we are feeling and what we are doing. The last thing we want to do after having come this far is to find ourselves heading down another path that leads to pain and despair. How do we prevent that? By being smart and cautious.