When you get clean and sober and enter the world of recovery, you get this huge mental upgrade in terms of “obsessive relief.”
One of the problems though is that this upgrade does not kick in the moment that you put down drugs or alcohol. In fact, that exact moment is when your obsessive thinking is probably going to be at its worst. You will be craving and thinking of your drug of choice almost constantly in the beginning.
Over time this obsessive thinking slips away. If you do the work in recovery then you will notice that one day you are “healed,” in that you will experience that moment when you realize that the obsession has been lifted completely, that you no longer obsess over getting drunk or high all the time.
And all along, you thought that this was impossible! Or rather, I thought it was impossible for the obsession to leave me completely, because I was so thoroughly hooked on drugs and alcohol and I thought that “I loved to get drunk and high.” So I was frankly amazed when I managed to become free of the obsessive thinking about it.
The constant obsession during alcoholism and drug addiction is keeping you unhappy
The thing that you may not realize as a practicing drug addict or alcoholic is that obsessive thinking makes you unhappy.
When we are first getting sucked into our addiction it is almost impossible to see this. We see the obsession as something positive, it is like a nice little treat for our brains: “Oh, here is something to occupy my thoughts and keep me entertained! I can obsess over getting drunk or high all the time, how convenient!” It really becomes an excuse to take away the boredom or the responsibility of creating real value or purpose in our lives. The drug of choice becomes an instant substitute for any sort of purpose and it even replaces our spirituality. The drug or alcohol becomes our higher power and we start to think about it constantly.
If we aren’t drinking or using our drug of choice right now then we are thinking of how we want to get drunk or high in the future. We start to plan out ways and means to get more supply, or when we are going to purchase our booze. Then we are thinking about how we are going to consume it, where we will consume it, who we will do this with, and so on. Do we have the money or resources that we need to pull off this next high of ours? If not, then we need to obsess about that for a while, and devise ways and means to get the necessary resources.
So this becomes an endless loop….we are like a hamster stuck in a cage who is devising how to get his next dose of food delivered to him. That is all we care about. This is obsession and this is also addiction.
But stop and think for a moment what is happening on a mental and an emotional level when we do this.
First of all you squeeze out all of the available room for happy and contented thoughts. So on a normal day an average person in the world would probably have some happy thoughts, some thoughts of gratitude here and there. And when you are obsessing over an addiction you remove the possibility for those to even happen. It is impossible because your mind is preoccupied with the addiction stuff. So you miss out on a lot of potential happiness when you look at it from a long term perspective. Missing out on tiny bits of happiness every day adds up over time.
Second of all you are stressed all the time. It will get to the point where even after you score a big amount of drug supply or you have all of the booze that you need on hand, you still won’t be able to rest easy because you know that it will eventually get used up entirely. There is always this endless cycle where you know that you are going to have to get more, more, more. So you resign yourself to the obsessive thoughts that dictate that you have to find new ways and means to get more supply over time. It is a never ending battle and it will always be a source of stress.
When do you get to just relax and enjoy the buzz? Do any alcoholics or drug addicts allow themselves to really let go and enjoy the moment any more?
Probably not. When I was nearing the final stages of my addiction I was constantly obsessing over my next high, or about the way that I would get more drugs and alcohol and then use them. I was constantly preoccupied. I could not seem to relax and enjoy the moment. It had become impossible for me. Constant fear and worry and anxiety filled my life because I was always worried about needing to properly medicate myself in the future.
The anxiety seemed to stem from the fear of going without, the fear of being sober and deprived of drugs and alcohol. I was so afraid of that state of being that my mind would constantly obsess over how to procure more and more supply for myself. I lived in constant fear and anxiety of not being able to self medicate. Reduced to the level of the hamster waiting for the next dose of food.
So obviously this obsessive thinking in addiction is creating misery. But are we really that much happier just for losing the obsession? What does life in recovery become like for us?
Our natural state of happiness in life and how we attain that
As I mentioned before, when you first get clean and sober you are not instantly cured and healed of all your problems.
It takes time.
There is no easy shortcut around this fact. You are going to have to put in the work in early recovery and this will cause you to heal rather slowly. There is no way around this. The path to happiness and personal growth involves work and it takes time. Period.
The relief from the obsessive thoughts will come to you very slowly at first. This is because you are essentially still going to be obsessed on the day that you decide to quit drinking or taking drugs. The second day will be similar–still lots of cravings and thoughts of drinking or getting high.
But as you progress in your recovery, one day at a time, you may (or may not) notice that the obsessive thoughts start to become less and less. This assumes that you are actually doing the work in recovery and pushing yourself to improve yourself and your life. This assumes that you are getting honest with yourself and that you are working to fix the negative things in your life.
Personally I did not notice the obsession slipping away from me in recovery. I completely missed it until one day I realized that it was totally gone, that the obsession had been lifted completely. And I was struck in sudden amazement in that moment. It was like this huge revelation for me, a real miracle. Suddenly I was no longer obsessing over drugs and alcohol! Amazing. How did this happen?
But in fact it did not happen suddenly. It took real work. This was several months into my sobriety journey that this occurred. But I had been too close to my own journey to really see the progress, until one day it hit me upside the head.
Sometimes growth in recovery can be like that. We don’t really see it until we are looking back at it and have more perspective.
This is also why a sponsor or someone in recovery may tell us that we are making good progress in recovery, and yet we can’t really see it for ourselves. We may feel like we are floundering in our efforts and that nothing is really working out for us, but our sponsor thinks that we are doing great. What is going on? The sponsor has perspective that we lack. Later on we will be able to look back and see how the sponsor was right, how we really were making progress. Growth is difficult and it can be uncomfortable. We don’t like going through this discomfort and we secretly think that life should be easy and that we should be feeling great when we are making progress and achieving growth. But the truth is that personal growth is usually messy and uncomfortable when we are going through it ourselves.
Time traveling and not being “present”
What is “time traveling” when it comes to our addiction and our recovery?
This is what happens in your mind when you are not happy with the present moment. This is especially true during your active addiction when you are drinking or drugging.
The obsession comes in when we are hoping to get high in the future. Or at other times we may be regretting what we did yesterday in our addiction.
But in either case we are not living in the present. We are escaping through time travel, using our mental obsession to ignore the happiness that exists in the present moment to think about the future or the past.
When you are addicted to drugs or alcohol this happens quite frequently. We hang on to the idea that we can achieve that perfect buzz where we are completely happy in the moment, and we have the illusion that we can achieve that buzz and maintain it indefinitely.
As our disease progresses that perfect buzz “window” becomes smaller and smaller. You get to the point where you are only really buzzed and totally happy for a few moments each day. Later on it becomes a few moments each week. And eventually if you keep drinking or drugging that “happiness window” when you achieve the perfect buzz is pretty much gone forever and you are miserable all the time. But because of denial you stubbornly cling to the illusion that you can–at any given time–take the right amount of drugs and alcohol to be able to achieve that perfect buzz again. But this is fantasy because our disease has progressed and our tolerance has betrayed us. We can no longer stay buzzed and happy all day long, even though we tell ourselves that this is still the ideal that we are trying to achieve using our drug of choice.
And so we keep struggling to achieve that perfect buzz, day after day, and we keep falling short of it. This is addiction.
And because we fall short of it we are unhappy. And in this unhappiness our brain has to try to cope, it has to deal.
So we time travel. This is the only method of escape that is left to us. The drugs and alcohol stop working, so we start to time travel to a point when they either worked better, or in the future when we are hoping that we can use the right combination in which they will work better.
Alcoholics and drug addicts make excuses for their drug of choice all the time. We are comparing the current buzz we are getting (which is terrible) to the ideal buzz in the past when we achieved maximum happiness and pleasure. And we are miserable in the current reality so we say “Why are the drugs not working as well today as they did in the past? What is different?”
And so we make excuses for our drug of choice. We say things like:
“Well, if only I had more money today, then I could get more or better drugs in order to achieve that same buzz.”
“Well, my spouse nags me an awful lot today, if I could get rid of that nagging then I would be happy like I was in the past.”
So we time travel because of our unhappiness.
And when we are time traveling, are we happy?
When you are regretting the past or fantasizing about the future, are you happy?
No, you’re not.
You can prove that to yourself by doing some controlled experiments with it and journaling about it. You will realize that the more you time travel in your mind, the more unhappy you are.
And the less you time travel, the more you appreciate the present and experience gratitude.
Happiness is never in the past or in the future. It is always right now.
In our addiction we are forced to become time travelers. Because our disease progresses and the drugs basically stop working so well. So we have to mentally skip around to when they worked better for us. And this creates unhappiness.
Creating a foundation where happiness can exist
So how do you create happiness in your recovery?
First of all, you have to get clean and sober. The techniques outlined here don’t really work if you continue to self medicate.
Second of all, you have to stop time travelling. You have to stop regretting your past and fantasizing about a future that might not exist. You can still plan for the future, but you shouldn’t put conditions on your happiness based on a future event (Such as: “If I can get this perfect job and buy a house, then I will finally be happy.” This is insane and it never works. Your brain just finds another reason to be unhappy in the future again after achieving the goal).
And in order to do these two things, you have to create a foundation in your life where happiness can occur naturally.
The problem is that you cannot force happiness. This is really what addiction is: You found a loophole in reality and you found a way to force instant happiness. Just take your drug of choice, and bam! Instant happiness.
Only it stopped working. Thanks to the progressive nature of the disease, your drug of choice became less and less effective over time. It still produces negative consequences in your life, but it no longer makes you happy like it used to do.
And so eventually you work through this denial and you quit using it. You move on to recovery.
Now you are clean and sober and you have a new start in life. But is your life really a clean slate at this point?
Not by a long shot. We all have hangups and negative aspects of our lives that we need to address in recovery.
And the reason that we need to do this is so that we can create a foundation in which happiness can occur.
Does that sound a little clunky? A little roundabout?
It’s true though. Think about it:
If you have something truly negative in your life that is sabotaging your happiness on a recurring basis, how will you ever become happy?
For example, maybe you have this huge resentment buried inside of you against someone in your past. Without realizing it, you are using that resentment and anger to fuel a lot of your fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety that you feel each and every day.
And now let’s assume that you don’t really want to “do the work” as I am suggesting, but you just instead want to “be positive and achieve happiness.” So you ignore the “work” as I call it and you start setting positive goals for yourself. So you quit drinking, go back to school, get a great career, and travel all the time like you always dreamed of doing.
Are you happy now? Not necessarily. Because you did not do the work, you did not create a foundation in which happiness can occur naturally. Because you still have that negative thing inside of you, that thing that holds you back from achieving real happiness.
So meanwhile you are pushing yourself to achieve positive goals and you are chasing happiness, but you still have this resentment that creates anxiety and stress in your life.
This is why we have to do the foundation work in early recovery.
This is why you have to take the time to get really honest with yourself in early recovery.
And of course it is uncomfortable. No one wants to do this work. No one wants to admit that they have problems, that they have negative things inside of them that need to be addressed. But this is how we heal. This is how we create that foundation where we can then become happy.
What good is happiness if it is constantly tarnished by negative emotions that are holding you back? This is really no different than the roller coaster of addiction where we keep striving to achieve that perfect buzz but are constantly drowning in negative consequences.
Choosing happiness over obsession or unhappiness
In order to choose happiness you have to first set the stage. If you just tell yourself “be happy right now!” we all know that this probably won’t work too well.
The key is in building the foundation.
And this is counter-intuitive because you can’t just chase after happiness in order to build a foundation.
You have to get uncomfortable, do the hard work, and get really honest with yourself. This is the path to long term growth in recovery.
If you do the work and turn it into a daily practice then you will slowly build the sort of foundation that makes “choosing happiness” much easier.
What about you, have you found relief from your obsession now that you are living in recovery? Or do you still struggle with obsessive thoughts? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!