You have heard the jokes. Shopping addiction, chocolate addiction, TV addiction, shoes too. And they are jokes. But they are not. Twelve-step recovery has given the rest of the world and popular culture the idea of addiction and recovery, “ Hi, I’m Max and I’m a Shoe Addict.”
But stay in AA long enough and you learn that there is truth in every joke.
I’m re-reading “When Society Becomes an Addict” by Anne Wilson Schaef. Her ideas and concepts permeate our self-help vocabulary. One of her bold moves in this 1987 book was to describe Substance addictions and Process addictions. Substance—something taken into the body that is mood changing and almost always leads to physical addiction. Process--behaviors or interactions that can be used to change our mood.
We know this. Bill Wilson knew it too. In early recovery many of us read that little pamphlet from Hazelden called, “Transferring Addictions.” I remember being so mad when a sponsor gave me that one but it hit home.
Here are some of the things Schaef lists as substance addictions: alcohol, drugs, nicotineand caffeine, sugar, sometimes salt, (Betcha can’t eat just one.) and all food –which can be a substance and/or process addiction. And her list of process addictions includes eating, dieting, exercise, television, gambling, sex, work, religion, worry and spending or saving money. We can add Facebook, LinkedIn, IPhone, Words with Friends, Angry Birds and on and on and on….
Here’s the tricky part, and why I continue to need ongoing discernment with other people in recovery: the process addictions are often things that have very good qualities. Think about exercise. We get in shape, we get a good habit of running or going to the gym, but what happens when we miss a day or can’t work out for an hour? Are we furious? In a bad mood? Change our behavior with others to get that workout back? Are we afraid? I’ve been there with exercise.
Shopping? Who doesn’t want to look nice or wear clothes that are becoming? But do we obsess? Spend money we don’t have? Wander the mall in a trance? I’ve done all that.
Ditto with food and work and worry. Does the behavior help me to not feel feelings I’d rather not feel? Feelings that, if I felt them all the way through, would help me to grow? Keeping very busy is my favorite and longest lasting addiction. My friend Brigid likes to remind me, “Feelings can’t hit a moving target.”
Here is something that helps me with this discernment: Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and teacher said:
“The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.”
Much more on transferring addiction in my book, "Out of the Woods", published by Central Recovery Press.