Addiction is something I have always had trouble understanding. I have always prided myself on having control over my thoughts and behaviors, and I didn’t think my ability to control myself was extraordinary. I had always told myself that I could never have an addiction, because I am aware of my body and my behaviors and I would be able to stop it before it gets out of control.
The product of this, unfortunately, is my systematic prejudice of everyone who has an addiction.
Although I always thought I would never have an addiction, I am very prone to obsessive binges. If I find a new thing that I like, it is common that I go overboard and have this thing in excess until I get tired of it and find a new thing. For instance, I discover a new cheese I like, and I buy and eat this cheese every day for a week. I never considered this addictive behavior because after that week, I wouldn’t eat it anymore, or I would eat it in moderation. I am aware of this compulsion even when it is happening, and if it interferes with my life I control myself.
When I meet people with addictions, I try to understand that there is a psychological problem behind the addiction, and I don’t understand why they can’t get out of this problem. I don’t want to be so harsh, but I can only know my own thoughts, and I can never know how other people think, and why they cannot work through their problems.
I’ve always thought with enough self-control, one can give up whatever they want. I used myself as an example in my journey to give up all caffeine from my diet. When I was 19 I started to get panic attacks and since then I have been searching to relieve myself from them, as it is a horrifying experience. I hated the side effects of medications so I wanted to try to find a natural way. From then I decided to start reducing my intake of caffeine. It was difficult at first and I relapsed a few times on chocolate binges, while deeply regretting it later. It took about four years, but I finally was able to say no to all coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda (I love sugar, and you don’t realize how much chocolate is used in desserts until you start to read all the ingredients!).
When I refuse any caffeinated product, I do it with pride. But looking objectively at myself, I never really liked coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate. How would I do giving up something I really love? Have I ever successfully given up something I really enjoy but that I can recognize is harming me?
There is a silly thing I do, that is always in the back of my mind: cleaning my ears with q-tips. I started to do this when I was a teenager, before I knew the damage it could do. I cleaned my ears so much, whenever I got out of the shower or felt any kind of dirt inside my ear, it would be unbearable until I stabbed it with a cotton stick. Sometimes I just wanted to feel the massage of the q-tip so I would clean two to three times a day. After many years of doing this I now experience extreme pain in any cool wind, and riding a bike on a cool day is a nightmare if I am not wearing ear muffs. Yet still, when I feel some water or dirt in the ears, or even just to relieve some stress, I poke my ears. So stupid! I recognize how ridiculous this is. When I have tried to stop, I last a miserable few days before going back on the ‘tip. It is especially bad when I am under stress and I need my moment of massage.
I try to rationalize by saying I haven’t dedicated myself to quitting, and if I did, I could stop. But something is preventing me from dedicating myself to quitting. The truth is, I don’t want to stop getting the nice feeling, I just want the pain to go away. But I know the pain will not go away. I guess the pain is not interfering enough with my life to give the issue a serious thought. Now the joy outweighs the pain. When I think of my life, I never want to be comfortable in my pain. I always want to strive to change things that are not good in my life. So why not the ears?
I am not so naive that I don’t realize my comparison of the urge to clean my ears is nowhere near a heroin addiction. But since I have never used hard drugs, this is the only thing in my life that I can use as a reference. Although it is a heavily muted desire compared to a hardcore addiction, I can possibly begin to understand the feelings of an addict, and why it is so difficult to stop doing something that gives one pleasure.