Years ago, when her children were in grade school, a friend of mine was going through a divorce. By the time she had clawed her way to the other side of it, and had purchased her own home, she often found herself alone at night when her ex- had the kids.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing after years of her husband’s long work days, which left her as the main caregiver, followed by late nights waiting for him to return from work or work parties, or card games, or whatever else kept him out. Now, at least, she was home alone enjoying the peace and quiet, as opposed to anticipating her spouse’s random return home. But it didn’t put an end to her anxiety or deep-seated need to detox from years of unhappiness and low-level depression.
At the end of the workday, she would open a bottle of wine and celebrate her gratitude for all she had accomplished. “I’m an adult and didn’t think there was anything wrong with having some wine with dinner,” she said. “That’s how I was brought up.”
She had learned that daily consumption was OK. She had watched her parents wind down with a bottle of wine every night at the dinner table. So what? Even better than just acceptable, it gave mealtime a more festive and rewarding experience than dinner without wine.
Surely, it had nothing to do with alcoholism, the disease. Nothing bad ever happened because of it. The bills got paid. The family was intact. No crisis was ever created between them or amongst the rest of the family. Wine was considered “happy juice” to be enjoyed both during and after dinner.
Now as an almost 50-something, my friend has dated a variety of men---some drinkers, some not. It hasn’t posed an issue until recently. Her last serious relationship was with a drinker, who worked hard at numbing his pain, both physical and emotional. It was an easy trap to fall into. But toward the end, too many hours clocked at the bar changed her mind about the entire relationship.
Her new boyfriend, a rather diligent recovering addict, who attends meetings and has been in counseling for years, doesn’t mind her having one drink with dinner, possibly even two. But the third one makes him wary.
She argues that she should be able to have the occasional drink or three because she’s not an alcoholic and has no other addiction issues. She stands by her beliefs and says, “I can stop whenever I want.”
Yet, she has also recognized the negative effects of alcohol. “I get really tired and it makes me cry,” she says. “It also makes me combative.”
Her boyfriend can even detect during a short phone conversation that she’s had one drink. “You remind me of the old me,” he’s said to her.
He, however, has replaced his less acceptable addictions with the mother of all vices---food. While he may not be drinking, his food addiction has picked up where his alcoholism left off.
According to Psychology Today, in an online story written by Dr. David Sack, “Addiction is more than a disease, it’s a lifestyle. Lasting change only happens when you address the core issues driving you to seek comfort or pleasure from a destructive source outside yourself. In some cases, the core issue may be an underlying mental health issue such as depression or anxiety that must be managed alongside the addiction (rather than treating each issue separately).” “Whatever the cause, figuring out your triggers, monitoring your emotions and taking action at the first signs of addictive thinking or behavior are necessary to prevent cross-addiction and relapse.”
The point is that overcoming addiction requires mindfulness, daily attention and sometimes, excruciating effort. But it can be done. My hope is that my friend follows her boyfriend’s lead and finds a new rewarding behavior that is less harmful and more nurturing, and that they both take food out of the addiction equation.