Choose your kink
There’s nothing quite like being told you’re “bodily and mentally different from [your] fellows” (BB, pg 30). The physiological aspect I can understand. “Countless vain attempts” have proven that my body just can’t get enough of a good thing (or a bad thing) once it’s introduced into my system. I have accepted this as an empirical truth in regards to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, caffeine, sugar… you name it.
Early in sobriety, it’s also easy to comprehend the mental difference between an addict and a “normie” as addicts have a tendency to spend a large majority of their first year sober still obsessing over their drug of choice. For me, at right around two years sober, a new clarity swept in and revealed just how asinine my thinking process had become. From what I read (about 8 years ago, so I’m sorry that I don’t remember the source) this is common of heroin addicts, specifically, as it takes this long for the body to completely adapt to life without the drug. It felt like a light switch when it happened – or perhaps a series of them. I would just catch myself at times and ask “Why am I doing this like this? It doesn’t make any logical sense.”
It is hard now to explain what it was like to have that fog of addiction lifted off my thinking mind because it is hard for me to remember what it was like when it was there. Of course I can remember events, interactions, emotions, even the obsession of when I was active in my addiction. But when one is in that state, it is impossible to remember what “normal” life is like on the outside of it; and those on the outside can’t possibly fathom what it is to be trapped in that life. The frames of reference in the two worlds are just so completely removed from each other. It is as if someone overlaid the real world with a sick, twisted funhouse world where the floors are all weirdly tilted and the walls move and Pennywise is lurking around every corner. Such is the level of anxiety and fear and paranoia that dominates the thinking process of an addict. Or at least that’s what it was like for this addict. And I lived in that world for another two years after I got sober, before the fog lifted.
So, when we talk about being “bodily and mentally different from [our] fellows,” I get that we are talking about the physical craving which comes on and takes over whenever I take a drink or a drug into my system. I get that we are talking about the mental obsession which says that any time I feel restless, irritable or discontented I need to drown that feeling with booze or drugs or sex or a tub of ice cream and a Netflix marathon. I get that we are talking about the difference between seeing life as some sick, twisted funhouse world and seeing it for what it truly is. What always surprises me is that today, in recovery, in fit spiritual condition, I am still mentally different from my fellows.
In class yesterday, we posited what the world would look like if everyone was able to be exactly who they really are, if we would still need to construct extreme scenarios in order to express the parts of our selves which we keep repressed because of societal pressures. In this instance we were specifically speaking in terms of BDSM dungeons, but…
[at this point in the writing of this post, I realize (like I so often do when writing here) that this thing has taken on a will of its own & is veering off into a different direction from what I had intended. However, I don’t want to lose my original thought either, so I thought I’d make this a choose your own adventure kind of post. If you would like to venture off down the new, as yet unexplored path, continue reading at the 1. below. If you would rather stick to the original script, skip down to the 2.]
1.) … we could very well have been talking about the world of addiction. What’s a leather-clad woman in stilettos wielding a whip and a strap-on in comparison to a 24/7 experience in some hellish combination of Alice in Wonderland and Trainspotting. With Pennywise. The simple truth is, if you are unable to accept yourself fully then there are always going to be these parts that you cannot reveal to the world. Sometimes you are able to briefly expose those parts in some conventional or unconventional way (nowadays, more traditional therapies are generally less Freudian than those in the dungeon). In this way you can release pent-up tensions from time to time.
If you are unable to do that or if this is not sufficient, then this is when we start to take more drastic measures to hide those parts of our selves which we find unfit for public viewing. What results is any number of unhealthy and/or compulsive behaviors with varying degrees of social acceptability. My personal favorite include turning on the TV and my laptop and spending whole days agonizing over what I need to be doing while I am watching some idiotic show that I hate and playing a stupid game with no objective. It was morning when I started and now it’s 10 pm and I haven’t eaten all day! Spend a whole weekend doing that and I get to have a full blown panic attack Sunday night! It’s been a few months since I’ve gone that far with it.
Obviously, people drink or use to escape (I mean, come on, this is an addiction blog). Eating is a big one because so many positive memories from our childhood are associated with big meals. Of course, that can go the opposite way as well with more anorexic food control issues. I’ve heard tell that there are those who become workaholics, but that has never been a problem for me since so many of my psychological issues are wrapped up in my non-existent work ethic.
Whatever our vice, it will get persistently worse the more we find those aspects of our selves unacceptable. The best thing we can do is find a constructive outlet where we can be free to express our true selves safely. Fifth step is wonderful for this, as you walk in with so much guilt and shame, ready to be condemned, only to have your sponsor say, “So what? Now pick up & move on.”
But then we have to follow that up with consistently living out that true self, at least in one relationship in our lives. We have to be authentic somewhere. We have to have a home base where we can feel free from judgment. For healthy, well-adjusted children it could be their own loving parents, but I don’t believe such mythical creatures truly exist (well-adjusted children, that is, not the parents). For the rest of us we have to recreate those relationships elsewhere. For those of us in recovery, it’s our home group or our sponsor. Apparently, other people end up with a close friend or something? I don’t know. I have never been very good at the whole social aspect of life. Whoever it is, just find your tribe and be free to let your freak flag fly.
2.) … that is largely irrelevant. The point is that I could not wrap my mind around this idea of a world where everyone could fully be their authentic self at all times. And more importantly, why everyone was so fascinated by the concept. A world like that would be complete and utter chaos. There would be absolutely no social order whatsoever. And there we were, a room full of burgeoning sociologists and not one person pointed this out. I would have, but I was simply dumbfounded over the conversation at large.
You see, I know very well what it is to not be able to be my authentic self. It’s a common refrain in the rooms – that feeling that you don’t belong, that your skin doesn’t fit. There’s a Hozier song I love that has a line, “But you don’t know what hell you put me through/ To have someone kiss the skin that crawls from you.” I can feel the sinking feeling in my gut remembering back to times when I knew I was living a complete lie, yet I allowed someone to love this fictitious image of me anyway. It literally made me sick to my stomach to think of myself acting out in this emotional manipulation, but so starved for affection was I that I allowed it to happen anyway.
I always felt I had to be something else or do something more; prove myself or completely change everything about me in order to simply be accepted in society, let alone to be loved. And so that’s what I did. For about thirty years, I set about changing everything about myself time and again. I remade myself over and over and over, each time hoping that this would be the one that would work. I had no true identity. I had no idea whatsoever who I was. I had no sense of self, period, let alone an authentic one. It’s no wonder I’ve chosen to focus on social identity theories in my research career.
It was only after I came into recovery that I began to learn what it meant to be real – to be authentically me. The first time I was able to feel remotely comfortable in my skin and accept myself just as I am was after my first full fifth step. I sat with my sponsor, a woman who loved the holy hell out of me, and shamefully presented her with my list of sins and disclosed “the exact nature of my wrongs.” As I shared with her all the gory details which accompanied the repeated lowering of my moral standards, she just sat there happy and laughing as always saying, “Oh, that’s no big deal!” and “Oh my God! I did the exact same thing and had completely forgotten about it until you said that!” I kept frowning at her, thinking, No, you don’t understand! These are horrible things and I am a horrible person!
I went through my list with her and when we finally left, I felt like I had been cheated out of a real fifth step experience. My sponsor clearly didn’t take this as seriously as I did. I sat with my list and went back over the exchange in my mind. I mentally checked everything off again. Yes, I had gone through everything with her (and being a perfectionist, I was very thorough in compiling my fourth step) and she didn’t bat an eye at a single thing I’d said. There were a couple of things she told me that we may have to get creative with the amends process because of what I had done, but she still loved the holy hell out of me. It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t get that big weight lifted off my shoulders like some people talk about. For me, the relief of the fifth step came on a little bit at a time as I was slowly able to accept for myself the same things that my sponsor had accepted unconditionally.
It took probably another four years before I was able to find an acceptable balance between withholding and disclosing my authentic self in public. I still have a bad habit of oversharing quite often. At the beginning, I was insanely honest with absolutely everyone. And with my history, that’s not terribly socially acceptable. At the same time, die hard sports fans and cosplayers and even proud grandmas have to keep it under wraps in order to keep from alienating themselves in most social situations. We simply can not live balls-out in polite society. We have social roles to perform and so we must don our masks and do our work.
This does not mean that we deny our authentic selves or try to hide who we really are, but that we just put things on mute for a while. Yesterday, my grad school bff, who is huge into DC comics, wore what she called her “hidden cosplay.” She had a green dress and hat coupled with question mark jewelry. Everyone complimented her on how nice she looked, while she was secretly living out an alternate identity as the Riddler. When she’s with her tribe, she flaunts her inner villain proudly. And when I am with my tribe, I can break it all down to the nuts & bolts of what makes me me. I am able to exhale all of the social pressures of life and really settle into my skin.
And this is really what we need. I never want to see a world where everyone feels free to live their most authentic self all the time. There are just some things I would rather not see! I mean, nudity is great, but keep it in your house could ya? There’s kids outside! (Not to pick on the nudists – it just lends a very specific visual). But we all need to be able to have a place where we truly can go balls-out, whole-heartedly authentic. We need our tribe, those people who understand us and lovingly accept us without judgment. And we need to be members of our own tribe, as well, accepting and loving ourselves for who we are right where we are.