A Social Shame)
I’ve already talked about our tendency to minimize our addictions, and I have encouraged all to bring their full resolve to addressing these “minimal” issues, so that they may quickly ascertain how “minimal” they really are. At the end of my last post, I suggested that even if one discovers that their vices are not a matter of choice, but of compulsion, they might still be reluctant to call their situation an addiction.
There are a few reasons why this might be, let us first consider that the person might have an aversion to that label due to social pressure. Most of us are blind to just how much we are molded by the society around us, so our addict-in-denial probably doesn’t even recognize this factor in his life at first. Through introspection, he may realize that he has always heard of addicts in association with murderers, liars, the homeless, and thieves. He has considered anyone with that title to be hopeless, broken, and perverse. In short, he views the label “addict” prejudicially.
He might express a fear of how others will view him if he labels himself as an addict. He knows that the label is stigmatized, for he has held that same stigma, and he is terrified that others will assume all manner of perversions about him that are inaccurate. He, himself, remains suspicious of addicts as a whole. He views them as an unpredictable group, and he only meets with them while inwardly pinching his nose. Frankly he believes that he is better than them. Thus, he would rather find a term that tells gives people a more favorable view of his problems.
And while that may sound terrible and judgmental, it is a completely understandable place for one to begin their journey. So many of the very people in the twelve steps started in just the same way. We have all had many years to reinforce the stereotypes of what an “addict” is, and it is going to take some time for us to broaden our perspective. We have to learn to let go of our bias and see things with more honesty and nuance.
Not That Bad)
But ignorance and bias are not the only possible reasons why one might be averse to calling himself an addict. Another reason might be that our one genuinely doesn’t think his problem qualifies under the category of addiction. Most of us feel that only certain sorts of actions can belong to an addiction. And maybe this is accurate, and maybe it isn’t, really this is merely a matter of semantics.
Some, for example, feel that an addiction must involve some sort of foreign chemicals. Thus, they would say that one could not be addicted to overeating. Others say that it doesn’t have to be a chemical, but the taking in of some substance must be involved, which would rule out being addicted to pornography or gambling.
There are also many different opinions as to how afflicted one must be before their situation can be considered an addiction. There is a sense that there is a quota of suffering and senseless behavior that must be met before the addiction is official.
But frankly, in this case arguing semantics isn’t very meaningful. So long as one realizes when and where they are powerless over their behavior, and acknowledges that they need drastic changes and external help, then who cares what they call it?
I have my own issues that fall into this gray area. One of them is my seeming refusal to get to bed on time. Every day I tell myself that I’m going to, I know that I am going to suffer if I don’t, yet night after night I find myself making the same unhealthy choice to stay up too late. Does that really qualify as an addiction? Even by the most broad and inclusive definition of the term, it seems a bit of a stretch. But I don’t care. If someone decided to call this problem of mine an addiction, I would feel absolutely no need to correct them. My addictions and my compulsive negative behaviors still live under the same umbrella, and I still need to work on each of them in the same way. In all cases I need to identify my triggers, discover my underlying mental and emotional states, seek support from understanding friends, and surrender my failings to my Higher Power.
“Addiction” or “compulsive negative behavior?” It just doesn’t matter. That which we call a thorn, by any other name, would pierce just as painfully. So long as we are no longer in denial about our affliction and our powerlessness, we may call it whatever we will. If you feel reluctant about labeling yourself an addict, I would simply encourage you to consider what the reason for that is. Is it due to some social bias, or have you become hung up on semantics? In either case, can you set aside the periphery and deal with the problem honestly and wholeheartedly? Are you humble enough to get the help you need?