You may find you spend hours each day, or lie awake at night, worrying about your situation. This may take the form of fantasies in which drinking becomes physically impossible for the alcoholic, or you may scheme about techniques to avoid drinking situations. Or you may rehearse your lecture to the addict. You may torture yourself worrying where that person is, and with whom. You are afraid the addict will get killed on the highway and yet you are afraid he or she won’t. You may go over and over the past, reminding yourself of the pain. Or you may project horrors into the future, as if you could solve problems before they happen. You may be quite aware this sort of thinking does you no good and wish you could stop it.
You may question yourself, analyzing your behaviour, past and present, as to how it might affect the alcoholic. Living this way can be a form of addiction. Addiction has been described as an experience that blocks our awareness, fills time and occupies attention, and has an overwhelmingly compulsive quality. It also is a relationship to an activity that thinking and behaviour, revolving around another person, is indeed addictive.
Kinds of obsessive thinking and addictions
There are other kinds of obsessive preoccupation. A spouse may become overly involved with work and begin to use it as the only source of good feelings. Or the spouse’s energies may switch to the children, so there will be the kind of emotional involvement more appropriate to a marriage, plus an engulfing kind of control. A teenager may obsess about collections or sports to block out negative feelings, or use compulsive achievement as the connection with life. If you can’t get good feelings from relationships, you may work all the harder to feel good about accomplishments.
Obsession does serve a purpose. It gives an illusion of power and control over life. Some people even experience worry as an accomplishment of a task, and have a worry quota, whether the problems are large or small. Obsession gives a sense of movement, though there is no change, so that it is an ‘action’ that fills the day, whether it is scheming, actively rescuing the chemically dependent person, or blocking out awareness by endless, pointless tasks. From the fear of loss of control and the feeling of omnipotence comes compulsive behaviour, which helps you feel you are doing something, and covers the feelings of helplessness. Obsessive thinking may allow you to blame all your problems on The Problem, which releases you from the effort to solve them. In this way, it blocks out solutions and creative problem solving. If you were freed from the fears that lead to obsession, you would have the serenity in which you could identify choices and options. What, for example, would you be thinking about if you were not thinking about the alcoholic in your life? What would you be feeling if you were not using activity to block your emotions?
If you did not have a compulsion to play counsellor to the alcoholic, if you stopped helping and watching, what would you be doing with your life? A grown daughter looks back on her adult years with her alcoholic mother: “My sisters got as far away as they could but I got stuck. I still spend too much of my time checking on her, thinking about her, and helping her solve her problems. It’s kept me from ever having much of a life of my own. In a way, I guess I’m living hers.” Obsessive thinking and behaviour serve to block out anxiety, which many feel overwhelming. This may be a fear of abandonment, of being alone and unsupported. These fears may have a traumatic origin. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent. If you were raised in an alcoholic home it’s very likely neither parent gave you focused attention. Your chemically dependent parent was unable to be emotionally close, or to put your needs first. Your other parent was usually too absorbed in the problems created by the chemical dependency to have energies for you, either. You have felt emotionally abandoned. Now, in your adulthood, these fears of still another abandonment can be so intense you will do anything to avoid that terrible feeling, even to living in a toxic, chaotic environment. This is a very normal reaction, but you stay in pain to avoid pain. To survive you will do whatever ‘works’, even if it means walling off your feelings by compulsively focusing on something outside yourself.
Other people may think it is remarkable that you will cling to a painful, abusive relationship. That is because they can’t understand your terror of being alone and abandoned is far stronger than the pain of the current situation. On the emotional level, you may even believe you can’t survive without the alcoholic in your life.
What You Can Do
The Truth shall make you free – but first it shall make you miserable – proverb
It’s hard to let go. We hang onto habits, relationships and defences long after they stop being good for us. It’s natural to ignore what we know, hoping that if we don’t notice it, we won’t lose what we thought we had. But as Freud commented, “Much is won if we succeed in transforming hysterical misery into common unhappiness”. It is very sad to face the reality of our powerlessness over someone else and the uselessness of obsessive behaviour, but it will release us from hysterical misery! The First Step, as Al-Anon states, is to admit the situation to yourself: you are powerless over alcohol and your life is unmanageable. Your thinking and feelings have become obsessive. The alcoholism is not the problem you can solve; it is the problem that lies before you. The chemically dependent person needs help, but so do you. To admit powerlessness is to surrender to a new way of looking at your life. Many people equate surrender with defeat and humiliation. They are like the alcoholic who chooses death over admitting the self-destructiveness of his or her lifestyle.
Yet those who have made the choice to let go of a drug or another person have found that surrender was liberation. You can’t stand guard over someone else without losing your own freedom.
You can make a decision for acceptance, and live through that pain until it is finished, rather than staying in pain for a lifetime. Today you can decide to learn how to feel better, by changing your own thinking and actions.
For more help with Obsessive thinking and help for addiction start a course in recovery today. firstname.lastname@example.org or CALL 0824424779