Shopping, video games, overeating, gambling, tattoos; what’s the harm, right? For someone who is in their beginning stages of recovery, these otherwise normal seeming activities can be detrimental.
Once someone finally ends the destructive cycle of using drugs or and alcohol, they have a tendency to view outside extremes, such as shopping, overeating, and tattoos as “not that bad.” This is our first mistake. These outside extremes can turn into substitute addictions, which can be just as harmful as our original addiction. The mentality and relationship between drug and alcohol addiction and outside extremes are strikingly similar. These behaviors can arise from a lack of internal growth, either emotionally or psychologically or both.
I spent the first chunk of my recovery searching for outside materials to make me happy. I heard sayings like, “Wherever you go, there you are,” and “You must fix your insides, not your outsides.” Being the stubborn person I was, I ignored what was being taught and continued seeking sources of instant gratification. I bought new clothes and the latest technology on the market, thinking that these fancy things would make me feel better on the inside. Although I immediately felt great once these new items were in my possession, soon enough I would feel the same as I always did: lonely, insecure, and empty on the inside. Considering my pattern of relapse, it was not a surprise that, once again, I was drinking and drugging. I never understood what these two had in common. How could my substitution of addictions correlate to my continuous relapsing? It is clear to me now, with over three years sober; I wasn’t allowing myself to learn how to love myself for who I am and to be content with what I have, rather than buying materialistic things to ease my struggles.
Addiction is the repetitive behavior of negative actions that affect our body, mind, and spirit. Outside extremes, such as gambling, overeating, and video gaming affect an individual just as much as drug and alcohol addiction can. I have seen friends in early recovery that became so consumed with their video game use, that they lost their social life. Playing video games can become an obsession very similar to the one they had with their drug of choice, to the point where video games develop into their new drug of choice. They do not leave their room for hours, sometimes days, and they become spiritually bankrupt. Isolation creates depression. When depression occurs, addicts have a tendency to lean toward drugs and alcohol as a solution to curb those feelings.
When I was new in recovery, one outside extreme I indulged in was overeating. I didn’t see the harm in this considering I wasn’t using drugs or drinking anymore. As they say, I ate my feelings. I began another cycle of unhealthy behavior, eating more than I needed to. I wasn’t sure what to do with my down time and when I got bored, I immediately resorted to eating. The problem with this is that I kick-started my recovery with a different unhealthy behavior. Once I had my feet well planted in recovery and began to take a look at some of my other destructive behaviors, it took me a long time to reteach myself healthy patterns.
Early sobriety presents an opportunity to soul search and heal our wounds so that we can find healthy outlets for pleasure. Unfortunately gambling provides a similar pleasure but it can be a destructive vice that takes us to a place of darkness. When I dove into the world of gambling, my addictive traits took over and I would find myself sitting at a card table for hours, gambling all the money I had and even resorting to finding more money in demoralizing ways a healthy person would never do.
I’ve not only had the ability to see how my addiction manifests itself in different ways, but also why it is important for someone in early recovery to focus on themselves without the false pleasure of outside extremes. Once we distract ourselves with things to make us feel better, rather than actually taking the appropriate actions, we will stunt our growth in our recovery. We put ourselves at risk, especially in early sobriety, because we haven’t accumulated the necessary tools to achieve long-term sobriety. These outside extremes, that feels so gratifying in the moment, can be our worst enemy.