Sober Living: Facing Your Other Compulsions

Sober Living: Facing Your Other Compulsions |

Just because you’ve given up the one compulsive behavior that was causing destruction and despair in your life, doesn’t mean you’re not compulsive in other ways. Although sober living has finally brought a degree of serenity, you might notice yourself being obsessive about other things.

For instance, in the beginning, you’ve got all your attention, energy, and focus on one thing: getting sober. You changed your schedule to attend AA meetings, you moved into a sober living home, you cut yourself off from negative influences, you made amends with those you’ve harmed, and a host of other changes to clearly and quickly get on the path to recovery.

Eventually, after awhile, the schedule you’ve created for yourself to support your long-term sobriety, becomes automatic. You’ve made new friends, you’ve got a network of support, and you’re on that road to recovery, just as you had planned. Now, somehow, it seems you’ve got more space in your mind to obsess, worry, and notice your other compulsions.

Most recovery men and women can be fanatical in their behavior. They are fiery people with a passion for life and all that they do. This is not only true about their addiction. Because of this it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors and any activity that become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling, having the same high, or rush in the brain, similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create. In this way then, it is easy to develop addictions to work, sex, food, gambling, and other sources of pleasure. The pattern of compulsive behavior can manifest in other areas of life, not just an addiction to drugs or drinking.

One woman in her 30’s an ex-model and recovering heroin user, admits that she struggled with addictions to sex, food, and modeling. She had to prioritize the healing of those addictions according to which ones were killing her most quickly. Obviously, she had to recover from her addiction to heroin first, then the others. She noticed too that she could be compulsive about shopping and staying thin.

In recent years, the APA provided a new definition of addiction indicating that it is really the underlying cycle in the brain that defines the addiction and not so much the behavior or substance that one is addicted to.

In May 2013, the APA published a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized text and clinical reference used by psychologists and therapists across North America to diagnose their clients. The manual includes the names, features, symptoms, and demographical information on all the recognized mental illnesses, including addictions. The DSM, fifth edition, published in the Spring of 2013, twenty years after the first edition was published in 1994. The new version of the DSM, the fifth edition, includes a non-substance addiction diagnosis, for gambling, but also for any behavior that an individual has lost power over.

According to Guy Kettelhack, author of Sober and Free: Making Your Recovery Work For You, writes that compulsive behavior stems from a fierce attachment. Holding onto something with that level of ferociousness, in turn, stems from a fear of losing something, whatever that is. Kettelhack suggests that if there’s any magic key to lessening the grip on a compulsive behavior, it’s releasing the fear of what might happen. Certainly, any cycle of addiction is rooted in fear and anxiety — sober living is a great place to kick other old and bad habits; in fact, it’s encouraged to do so!


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