The music must change! Obsesssion, compulsion, shame an guilt in addiction

Guest co-author: Jeff Brandler from

The nature of addiction is one of obsession and compulsion. Regardless of the substance, behavior, or process, the addicted person will continue to obsess (countless and endless thoughts) and have compulsions (repetitive actions). They will repeat this obsession-compulsion ritual over and over.

music-sheetImagine a radio station that plays the same song over and over. Imagine that song being a steady diet of thoughts, and feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing (GSRSL). Imagine an endless supply of obsessive thinking and compulsive replays of the thing(s) that the addict did to start the song playing.

People get involved in all kinds of self-defeating/self destructive behaviors. There are numerous reasons for this. The top ones that I see are: addictive disorders, mood disorders, self-sabotaging behavioral and personality traits. The GSRSL is a constant loop. It never stops. The problem with it never stopping is that it creates more GSRSL. The more GSRSL, the greater the need for the behavior. The more behavior that happens, the more GSRSL that you need and so on and so on. Does your head feel like it wants to explode?

Obsession and Compulsion – An example

Let’s say I had a fight with my spouse. I decide to smoke a joint in order to relax, escape, or unwind. Afterwards, I feel a lot of GSRSL. I have guilty thoughts, feel embarrassed and shameful. I have remorse for what I did, and beat myself up unmercifully. So what do I do in order to stop this behavior? You got it, smoke another joint, or maybe have a drink, only to feel more GSRSL. In doing so I then have the trifecta GSRSL of before, during and after-The music must definitely change!!!!

Or, imagine an alcoholic who receive a 3rd DWI citation after finally getting his license back following a 2 year suspension for his previous offenses. That’s some serious GSRSL. I have the most recent driving incident plus the 2 years where I lost my license swirling around my head like a blender. Talk about a bad song!!!! Please change the music!!!!

How does a person change this music?

It’s easy to change a radio station, but something that is so ingrained, so obsessive & compulsive is going to be much harder to change. Part of stopping this music is recognizing: 1) this is going to be hard to do 2) that I have been doing this for a while, and 3) it’s going to take some time to stop it. The key word that describes this is permission – I have to give myself permission to take the time that it’s going to take to make this major change. I’m also going to need to use a variety of approaches to change these thoughts and feelings (i.e. thought stopping, disputing irrational beliefs, identifying affirmations, (and using them regularly), and finding gratitude despite the pain).

Using this total package will be a first step towards change. It begins a long process of turning down the GSRSL music . I may need to also speak to a therapist to examine why I do these behaviors and what they are “wired” to. If in fact there is something biologically based, there may be a need for medication to “tune” these thoughts/feelings into healthier ones. Yes the music can change– It can go from “Comfortably Numb” to “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The process of change is possible, but it’s going to take time and hard work.

Is anonymity the final shame frontier in addiction?

I’m a drug addict and a sex addict, and as far as I’m concerned, staying anonymous let’s me remain buried in shame, and a double life, that keeps me always one step ahead of those close to me. Did I say too much? Did I give away my secrets? None of those  questions matter when everyone knows everything there is to know about you. For a disease couched in anxiety, obsessions, and compulsive behavior, there’s very little that can be more triggering.

The difficulty of confessing addiction

Obviously I’m not naive to the consequences of confessing to others, and I’ve had a few very uncomfortable conversations that ended in people losing my number or superiors telling me they didn’t need to know. When it comes to the former, it’s their choice, and it might be a wise one, but having those who stay close to me know my truths keeps me safe by making me accountable and protects others from being hurt. And I can hurt with the best of them. Maybe that’s why when it comes to physician treated addicted physicians, there are no secrets, no anonymity, the family and employers are made part of the process. Some notable addiction providers (like Journey Healing Centers and others) have programs that explicitly involve the family in the treatment process as well. Getting the secrets out works to break away from the shame.

We’re only as sick as our secrets, even together

On an organizational level, I understand the need for anonymity to avoid having any specific member represent the group. But that logic only holds when everyone is told to remain anonymous. Otherwise, the entire group represents itself, which is, if nothing else, truthful. If one person slips, relapses, or goes into a homicidal rampage, it only makes the rest of us look bad if no one knows that millions others are “the rest of us.”

Over and over I hear people talk about the secret of their addiction and the lies they have to tell to cover up their shameful acts. Unfortunately, that only contributes to the stigma of addicts and makes it all the more difficult  to get some perspective on the actual problem: We do things we don’t want to over and over regardless of how much they hurt us or those around us

If you’ve read anything on this site, you know that I believe in many factors that contribute to addiction, including biology, environment, experience, and their interactions. Still, when it comes down to it, the misunderstanding of addiction is often our number one problem. And anonymity does nothing to reduce that misunderstanding.

How we can make a difference

Media portrayals only exacerbate the problem as they show us stories of addicted celebrities who are struggling but then leave the story behind before any recovery occurs. That way we only get to see the carnage but have to look pretty hard to see anything more.

But we can change all this with a small, courageous, action. We can let those around us know that we’re addicts, that we’re doing our best to stop our compulsive behavior and that we want them to hold us accountable. If we slip, we can get back up because we don’t compound the shame of a relapse with lies we tell, and those around us know that even a relapse can be overcome because they’ve seen those examples over and over in all the other “confessed” addicts around.

It’s time to leave the addiction “closet” and start living. We may not be able to change who we are easily, but we can change the way we go about living and make it easier on ourselves and on others. By breaking our anonymity, we can help assuage our own shame and let everyone know that addiction is everywhere and that it can be successfully overcome.

Just a thought…

About addiction, my self, and the fight to be altruistic

One of the core personality traits that many addicts, including myself, eventually identify in themselves in a strong streak of selfishness. The question is: What do I do with this insight once I’ve gained it?

I’m starting to come up with my own answer and hopefully my solution will help others find their own.

The beginning of my efforts

Since my arrest, incarceration, and rehabilitation for my own problems with drugs, I’ve dedicated my life to the study of addiction. My hope was that through my knowledge, I’d be able to finally figure out what happened to me. As I continued learning, I began seeing that I could offer some real help to others who are still suffering, stuck in their own, or another’s addiction.

That was how All About Addiction, and its parent company, California Treatment Services, came to be. I wanted to share the knowledge I was gaining with others, hoping that like me, they would find relief in understanding the disorder that has so profoundly messed-up their life.

The All About Addiction experiment

When I started out, I knew nothing about the craft of writing an online blog. I called every post a blog, I wrote like I was trying to get another academic paper published, and no one came to read my boring, overreaching, dense stuff.

My first month I barely broke the 5 reader mark – I was discouraged, but soldiered on. Month after month, post after post, I kept writing, editing, rewriting, learning more, and gaining readers. Since that humble beginning, with the help of some great mentors, help from other bloggers, and good old experience, I improved. As of right now, All About Addiction, is read by about 13,000 people monthly and we’re trying to expand our efforts to give actual real-world help to readers with our recent Free Treatment Contest.

Nowadays, I get dozens of emails asking for specific help, letting me know how much people appreciate what I write, and yes, even the occasional online fight with a reader who disagrees with me. I finally feel that what I’m doing is making a real difference in the world. But that’s where I’ve run into a little unexpected snag.

My fight with altruism

One of the greatest gifts I received when I first cleaned up my act was some relief from the constant noise in my head about my relationship with everyone around me. All the people that owed me money, all the people I owed; the fights with my “employees” and the constant struggle to rationalize my life; the girls, the sex, and the constant mistrust, stealing, and betrayal. It was exhausting, and even though I’d found myself broke for the first time in 5 years, I was more relaxed than ever. There’s no doubt that the people I associated with when I was using were, for the most part, not good for me. Being a student allowed me to take a place back in society and be invisible for a little while. But not for long.

It all started up again when I excelled in my Masters program at Cal State Long Beach. All the accolades and praise made me feel like I was somehow special and better than others. Getting into UCLA’s doctoral program despite the incredible odds (thank god they don’t ask about a conviction record) only made things worse. Now, with thousands of people listening to me on a monthly basis and a consistently growing body of work, my big head and ego are back full force.

I wake up in the morning and rush to my laptop to check on my visitor counts and the most recent comments. I do this at least 100 times a day. I’m obsessed. When people fail to flock to a recent post, I feel down and when they come en mass, I am joyous and feel redeemed. I’m no longer relying on drug deals and money to keep me feeling worthy, but the reader count is my new drug. I have a problem.

Once again, my self-worth is tied up in others, and that’s not a safe place for me to be. If I’m relying on you to make me feel worthy, I’m setting myself up for failure. This is especially true because of my perfectionist, obsessive, personality. Nothing is ever good enough and I won’t stop until everything is perfect. Seems like a trap, doesn’t it?

My solution, for now

My solution isn’t going to involve my not writing anymore. I think it’s helping people and I want to help – I just want to remove my own self-perception from the equation. I’m also beginning to realize that my obsessive nature is never going to go away. It, along with my inattention, is going to remain a lifelong challenge that I will have to learn to live with.

This is tied very closely to my struggles with addiction. Every time I think I have it beat, the same tendencies pop-up somewhere else, reminding me that this fight isn’t going to be won easily. I haven’t used meth in over 8 years now and hopefully I never will. Still, the same obsessions, discomforts, and personality traits that kept me using for so long are here, and they’re not going anywhere. And that’s without even mentioning that randomly inserted cravings that can take over my mind at any minute.

So for now, I vow to do my best to write without concern for what others think. I will write, as best I can, to help others through encouragement, tips, and education. The results, any prestige or acknowledgement I may get? Those are out of my hands and none of my concern.

Top ten list of things I’m grateful for – Recovery gifts in my life

Hi everyone,

The wife and I are taking our honeymoon trip for the next two weeks, which might slow down my writing a bit. Still, in appreciation of the life I live now, and in anticipation of the new year, I’ve compiled a list of things I’m grateful for right now:

Top ten list of gratitude

10 – Every night of rest that isn’t followed by obsessive thoughts about the money I owe, the money owed to me, and the endless drug runs I have to go on that day.

9 – The knowledge that every one of my friends is in my life because they appreciate who I am as a person, not for the money I have or the drugs that I’m holding.

8 – The talks I have with my parents – no longer weighed down by lies, half-truths, and manipulations – full of life, love, and appreciation of one another.

7 – Being there for my father as he struggles with cancer. Not looking to get anything but simply helping because I can.

6 – Getting close to finishing my Ph.D. and finally achieving the goal I set out for myself when I left jail, and with it my old life, behind.

5 – Helping others, who are struggling like I used to, to find the life they are looking for.

4 – Finding the love of my life and being present enough to know it.

3 – Understanding that life isn’t always easy, but that living properly and acting in a way that improves my life and that of others is the only way to get through it all.

2 – Being able to admit when I’m wrong and take in the guidance of others who love me.

1 – Spending most of my waking hours guilt free, appreciating what I have, and dreaming of where this wonderful journey is going to take me.

They’re not all monumental, but they’ve made my world what it is, and nearly all of them were missing from my crystal meth addled life.

As an exercise, you may want to try writing down your top ten list. It might be easy, or seem impossible, but when completed, it will bring clarity, that I guarantee.