Wednesday, September 10, 2003

In Which Our Addictions Rule Us

I think I may have fallen into what can best be described as a Dry Drunk... I have been avoiding feeling my feelings by indulging in my replacement addictions. I spent pretty much my entire income this pay-period on drag: aside from three gowns, a skirt, some necklaces, a handbag, a bracelet, a wig, and some makeup purchased in stores, I've also bought two tiaras (one is a gift, but nevertheless), seven evening gowns, a pair of earrings, and a fox stole from eBay... but more importantly, I have been trolling eBay relentlessly, for hours at a time, looking for things to buy. The money, though certainly a pressing problem, isn't nearly as much of a concern to me as the time spent obsessively searching and clicking online, to the exclusion of things I should be doing like going to the gym, talking to people, and writing my Ninth-Step letter.

This letter is becoming a bit of a bête noir for me. I realized recently that the reason I am avoiding it so strenuously is because I don't want to feel the feelings that I'm afraid will come up in the writing, especially if I am perfectly honest with myself when I write... I am simply terrified of tapping into a reserve of squashed emotions while detailing my past wrongs to my former best friend.

I've done this sort of thing before, been innocently minding my own business and thinking about something to do with my past wrongdoings, and I suddenly wander along a train of thought that erupts into a full-on emotional meltdown. It was extremely unpleasant last time it happened, which was some time ago when I was doing a Fourth Step, and the memory of that pain still echoes in my mind.

The thing that is frightening me now, though, is that the avoidance of feeling emotions is a particularly alcoholic behavior. I drank to avoid my feelings more than for any other reason... feelings of fear, of anxiety, of anger, of love, of happiness, anything strong and uncontrollable was damped down and rendered manageable by the alcohol. In sobriety, I have learned that the problem with replacement addictions is that they don't address the flaws in our personalities that lead us back into drinking... they're okay for a stop-gap measure, but they aren't a permanent solution.

So I have learned to distrust behaviors which seem to take me away from my feelings, because these are replacement addictions, and if not managed properly will become addictions of their very own, and might very well lead me back to the original addiction I was trying to replace.

Drag shopping is a perfect replacement addiction. First, it feeds my need to feel financially secure, a childhood thirst for material comfort that is common among people who grew up in squalid poverty; but the financial security of mad shopping is an illusion, as having the money to spend on frivolities of beaded gowns and dead animals is (in my case) contingent on putting myself into financial peril with my credit card and other debts. Second, it removes me from reality and into the dream of glamor that is Marlénè Manners; though my drag persona is so integrated into my personality that drag isn't as much an unreality as it used to be, planning my drag by shopping for new pieces is not part of Today and Today's grim emotions, but part of a Tomorrow that only exists in my mind's eye as I visualize myself garbed and jeweled in the articles in question. And third, the practice of online searching and bidding at eBay, then waiting for the items to arrive in the mail, occupies exactly enough brain-space to keep me from thinking about the reality of the situation, the limited finances and the avoided tasks and the ignored emotions.

There is a fine line between retail therapy and shopping addiction. And so now, along with my fear of feeling the feelings that I'm trying to avoid by shopping, I fear falling further into my addiction... because from there, it's a short step back to other addictions like overeating, smoking, and then drinking.

On the other hand, I am aware that my mental state is currently being affected by my physical state of depression, and so I have to be careful about pushing myself too hard and actually exacerbating the depression by punishing myself for not doing my step-work in a timely manner. When I'm depressed, the feelings that would come up in a Ninth Step would be unnaturally magnified, and so there's a perfectly good, practically medical, reason to avoid feeling the feelings.

And yet, at the same time, I want to get the damned step over with. I've been on this step for far too long, I have been putting off the writing with a slough of perfectly true but nevertheless lame excuses since March (I'm too busy, I'm too tired, I'm too sick, I'm too overwhelmed). It has been suggested to me that I need to revisit previous steps, particularly the Seventh and Eighth, in order to gain the willingness necessary to do this step.

It has also been suggested to me that if I am feeling unwilling to do my Ninth Step, it might be because I am still suffering the character defects I asked God to remove in Step Seven... namely fear. And that perhaps the reason I am still suffering those defects is because I don't really believe that God can or will remove those shortcomings. Which means I need to go all the way back to Step Three. I am perhaps experiencing a crisis in faith that is at the root of the whole fear and unwillingness problem.

Nevertheless, my plan now is to write the letter on Friday and give it to my sponsor on Saturday, when I will be seeing her in a social situation. Then we'll make a date to sit together and talk about it... but the main thing is to give her at least a complete draft on Saturday, and to tell her about it beforehand so she's expecting it on Saturday. That gives me a workable deadline... sometimes all it takes is a little pressure for me to get things done. If the pain gets too much for me, I'll call people and work through it, and/or suck it up and just do it. The rest of my plan is to stay off eBay until I finish it. And Amazon and HSN and so on and so forth.

So anyway, that's what I'm going through today. In the meantime, I just started a new book (reflected in the Cast column), put a different CD in the car stereo (ditto), and reinstalled my comments (now that YACCS is back! Yay!). I have to go work on a newsletter and a couple of other time-consuming tasks here in the office. Then I'm going to the gym for the first time in two weeks. And then grocery shopping with the Grandmother. And then, and then, and then...

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