Good ole cross-addiction, the act of laying down one addiction and picking up another. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, toxic relationships, shopping, and even eating all stimulate the brain’s “pleasure center.” For most of us in recovery, we can all recall a time when we convinced ourselves we needed to take a break from our substance of choice and maybe check out another substance that perhaps wasn’t so “bad.” This method of thinking doesn’t leave our brains immediately when we get sober.
Once the human brain has crossed over the threshold from heavy drinking and drugging to full-blown addiction, our frontal lobe relentlessly pursues any substance or activity that will achieve the same desired effect. This process is backed by scientific evidence as not only substances, but reckless behaviors and certain activities trigger the same chemical response within our brains. In other words, there is a noticeable physiological shift that happens within our brains once alcohol and drugs are removed. In recovery, many of us often find our risky behaviors, sex drives, eating habits, and impulsivity at an all-time high as our brain desperately seeks anything to fill that once overly exacerbated the effect. As a result, what happens is that you may start replacing addiction with another.
My Experience with Addiction
I am not the exception to any of the statements I mentioned above. Prior to accepting that I was the “real deal alcoholic,” I was thoroughly convinced that I wasn’t like all of you – I was the exception. Oh man, what a delusion that was. I came down to South Florida surrounded by mostly Northerners, and I didn’t use like they did. I never used a needle. I never wound up homeless. I never did any prison time. Forget the fact I was mandated to provide hair follicle drug tests and continued using—disregard years of failed attempts to stay sober. Let’s not talk about my arrests or the things I stole from my family. I wasn’t like any of you – I was the exception.
I managed to accumulate ten months sober, white knuckling my way into convincing myself that I was only a “pill head.” I only used heroin twice when my dealer was out of my usual script, and I never really had an issue with alcohol. Again – I was absolutely delusional. My demise started with one harmless smoke sesh featuring my favorite plant medicine. How bad could it be? I mean, it’s just weed. That one sesh turned into vodka drinks at my friend’s work later that night, and it was only three days after that I would find myself crushing up opiates on the bathroom counter – right back to where it all started. It happened fast, so fast.
Any non-addict human reading this would assume I took the hint. That maybe after putting together ten months sober and relapsing, at risk of losing my son, that I would do everything suggested to me, and I’d never struggle again. Any alcoholic reading this knows that without a true spiritual awakening – it’s not possible. So, my journey continued – I stayed away from substances; however, I was subconsciously and desperately seeking anything that would bring me some relief. Then I met a boy.
Replacing Addiction With Another Addication
This next part of my story can really be described as a “did the chicken or the egg come first?” kind of situation. For as long as I can remember, my codependency raged inside of me. Long before I ever took a pill or smashed a shot of vodka – I was always desperately seeking validation, acceptance, and love from others at my own demise. Was my codependency my first drug, or is it because I was born an alcoholic that my brain began to cling to my codependency long before I was introduced to other substances? I don’t think the answer to this question is relevant, but I do know that the awareness associated with my inability to have any sort of balance in my life and accepting my spiritual malady is what has led me down the road of 5 years of continuous sobriety.
Once the drugs and alcohol were removed, I instantly looked for any person, place, or thing that would take me outside of myself. We all hear the old-timers reminding us that without a spiritual solution, we are defenseless. I can tell you, from my own experience, that my refusal to do what I had to do to find a spiritual solution led to years of chaos, abuse and almost cost me my sobriety. I found myself three years sober in a horribly toxic, chaotic, abusive, inconsistent relationship – and I couldn’t get enough of it. I was scared to stay, scared to leave. Does any of that sound familiar? Mimicking the soiled fruits of my addiction, my codependency led me down a dark, incomprehensibly demoralizing, and hopeless road.
Yet again, God graced me with the gift of desperation in the midst of my cross-addiction (replacing addiction with another). I knew I was either going to go back to opiates, or I was going to dive back into the spiritual solution that I was gracefully introduced to. Thank God I chose the latter. I made the decision at that moment that I would no longer pick and choose what suggestions I would take. It was crystal clear that I truly had no idea how to run my own life, and only a spiritual solution could grant me a life beyond my wildest dreams. I hit the ground running. I changed sponsors. I worked the steps – again. I got honest with other women in the fellowship. I’ve done the messy, hard internal work on myself, and for the first time in my life, I’m not looking for the next person, place, or thing to fill the hole in my chest that only a Power greater than myself can fill.
If you genuinely believe that you are a real alcoholic or addict – I beg of you to heed my warning. No person, substance, place, or thing can quench your thirst. “One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.” Alcoholics like me – we don’t understand balance. If something makes me feel good, then I want to do that and more of that and more and more of that. I will chase that desired effect into the gates of insanity or death. The only way to avoid replacing addiction with another is to maintain a path of spiritual growth and always extend a hand to help another alcoholic.