Using Love as a Drug

Using Love as a Drug 1

I used drugs and alcohol to control my feelings and gave up on relationships early on since people are harder to control than substances. As I felt the other person pull away, my urge to control increased.

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a little over two years sober, feeling completely insane. For a few months, my moods vacillated between elation and utter sadness, complete faith and deadbeat nihilism, raging excitement and total fear. I was leaning into the program of AA more than ever. I was attending meetings every day, sticking to my spiritual practice, sponsoring two women, and regularly checking in with my sponsor. Even so, I wasn’t able to find any middle ground. The emotional chaos raging inside me was very reminiscent of active addiction. I felt so twisted I asked myself: Am I even sober?

I googled the word “sober” and found a source that defined it as “being unaffected by alcoholism.” Fuck! I’M NEVER GOING TO BE SOBER, I thought. Over two years without any mind-altering substance in my body and serenity felt that far out of reach.

You hear about people feeling messed up and hitting bottoms all the time in sobriety. But there’s a flip side to that: you can feel just as good in sobriety as you did in active addiction when the drugs and alcohol were actually working. At its best, it’s what the Big Book calls “being rocketed into a fourth dimension.” In my experience, the highs in sobriety get higher and so do the bottoms. Even so, feelings can come as quite a shock in early sobriety since they’re no longer being regulated or masked with drugs or alcohol.

They say that for real alcoholics, the problems really begin once the drink is removed. My obsession to drink and do drugs was removed through working the 12 steps in AA (a few times) and the idea of picking up a drink or drug rarely, if ever, crossed my mind. This in itself is the ultimate miracle.

But alcoholism is a beast that will show up in many forms. Once the obsession is lifted, the addict/alcoholic mind will quickly move on to other things: coffee, cigarettes, shopping, gambling, sex, eating disorders, social media, take your pick. In my case, it shifted towards arguably the greatest drug of all time: love.

“Love” can mean different things to different people and our understanding of love has been shaped by what we saw growing up and our past experiences. As a point of reference, I use renowned spiritual teacher and physician David R. Hawkins’ Map of the Scale of Consciousness, which categorizes every level of consciousness a person can experience into levels of falsehood and levels of truth. Shame is the lowest energy field in falsehood where one feels hateful towards themselves and views a Higher Power as despising, and Enlightenment is the highest in truth where one feels completely attuned and at one with a Higher Power.

Based on this structure, I propose that love is an energy field in an array of consciousness that we can fall in and out of at any moment. In Hawkins’ scale, Love is sandwiched right above Reason and below Joy. So here, we see that love is literally beyond reason. According to Hawkins, it is here that a person experiences feelings of reverence and revelation before transcending into Joy where one views themselves as complete. Perhaps this helps explain why our culture is so fixated and obsessed with the idea that another person can “complete” us.

The process of revelation may come to an addict easily since, for many of us, any human connection at all in early sobriety is unprecedented and revolutionary. For years I used drugs and alcohol to connect with people around me. As I continued to develop a sense of belonging with others in sobriety, and saw it was possible that I could feel emotions of such a loving nature, I felt as if I had been “rocketed” into that fourth dimension the Big Book referred to.

In his excellent book Unsubscribe: Opt Out of Delusion, Tune in to Truth, recovered addict and Dharma teacher Josh Korda explains that feelings of attraction and infatuation create a neural surge of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is related to our rewards state and motivation. The same neurotransmitter that floods your brain after two drinks, that thing that makes you go “Ahhhh.”

As an addict, I was bound to chase that high. I was driven by an obsession of the mind and a phenomenon of craving. All I wanted was to feel that rush. Even a text message would send the dopamine levels up. It wasn’t long before this relationship dictated my every move, just like drugs and alcohol did. It was no different than when I chased one high to the next in active addiction, doing everything in my power to find relief and a sense of control. (For the sake of disclosure and to spare the theory of sex addiction, there was no sex involved.)

Without realizing it, I’d become hooked. And with every high, there comes a crash.

During the crashes, I found myself resorting to some lower-level behaviors I had not seen in a while. My behavior was extremely erratic, I couldn’t stay focused, and I was irritable unless my craving was satisfied. My addiction found its way into other areas of my life and unmanageability and insanity crept in once again.

Once someone becomes addicted, they lose their free will and will do anything in their control to satisfy the craving. Referring back to Hawkins’ Map of Consciousness, the addict falls into another state entirely: Desire. Often confused with Love, Desire is actually one of the states of falsehood, along with Guilt, Shame, Fear, and Hatred. Desire itself can never truly be satisfied, because it’s based in an illusion. One wants what they can’t have. It is here that nothing is good enough, everything fails to hit the mark, and any other place and time is better than the present moment. This conjures the state of restlessness, irritability, and discontentedness. This internalized state eventually turns so wretched that drugs and alcohol appear to be the solution again. My alcoholic mind took all its evil twists and turns so that once I exhausted all other alternatives, I “all of a sudden” had the thought, A line of coke and a shot would make all of this go away.

That is the insanity of drug addiction and alcoholism.

Naturally, there is an impermanence to all things and all states; a simple fact of life I could never easily accept and consistently fought against. Feelings ebb and flow, usually without any sense or rationale behind them. Relationships are not guaranteed. As an addict who is obsessed with control and wants to feel good all the time, these truths are not easy pills to swallow. I used drugs and alcohol to control my feelings and gave up on relationships early on since people are harder to control than substances. As I felt the other person pull away, my urge to control increased.

I tried to take control of my feelings back. I had no desire to pick up a drink or drug at the time, but my addiction manifested in my anorexia, chain smoking, excessive running, drinking too much caffeine. Meanwhile, I still attempted to control the course of the relationship. Even my participation in AA was extremely alcoholic in that I was using the tools to fix the way I felt, rather than simply living with it. (Yes, it is possible to do the 12 steps like a drug.)

It was suggested to me that I was perhaps a love addict, to which I countered: Am I love addict or am I simply an addict who now participates in relationships? I did attempt to dive back into the 12 steps yet again, but this time in the area of relationships, so I could just figure it out and then just not be that way anymore. It didn’t work.

One thing I’ve learned in recovery is that this is all super normal, human stuff. People meet other people, develop feelings and feel the adrenaline and dopamine rush of a crush and the heady feelings in the beginning of a relationship. Everyone experiences rejection and break-ups. However, my experience as an addict is that I did not thoroughly develop in these areas because I was never truly there for them. My emotional growth was stunted when I began to use drugs and alcohol, and sobriety is a big catching up game in terms of emotional intelligence. It’s how I cope with these normal life experiences that matters and what I found was that I was still living alcoholically, even without drugs or alcohol in my system.

Is all of this to say that addicts should shy away from connecting with others, initiating new relationships, and striving for new, unadulterated levels of intimacy? Am I doomed in every relationship because I’m an addict and alcoholic? Absolutely not.

One of the greatest things about recovery is its wide invitation to exist on this plane with other people, to feel things the way humans should. These developments can take years to even out. In recovery, we get to challenge our false belief systems and stumble around with everyone else learning how to care about each other effectively. Relationships are where we see our character defects in action, where we experience life, where we ultimately grow in the process. The longer I stay sober, the greater my capacity to connect with others and to be honest becomes. And it all boils down to this: There is no way to grow spiritually in isolation.

All I needed to remember was one of the simplest things I heard when I first got sober: The unmanageability would cease as soon as I relinquished control. Just as it did with drinking and doing drugs.

I was back at step one and had to get honest. With truth and reality can come a lot of pain and suffering, but it’s not the truth that causes it. It’s the extent to which and for how long someone lives in a false reality that perpetuates suffering. Not only was I driven by the same obsession of the mind and phenomenon of craving that drove me in active addiction, I was also driven by the false belief that people, places, and things are on this planet for me to prove my worthiness and to validate my experience.

The old ideas and beliefs that drive us in our relationships were constructed by years and years of living in falsehood. Now, in active recovery, we chip away at those old ideas and free ourselves from those false beliefs.

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