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Addictions Anonymous, 10: Dark Feelings

 article about feelings of depression

This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.


Euphoria is a good word that today has a negative meaning; it is often used to describe the artificial high or altered state of mind produced by an addictive trigger. It's earlier meaning was joy, excitement, enthusiasm, and exhilaration. Euphoria derives from a Greek word euphoros, a word that refers to healthy elation. I like to use euphoria to refer to a natural joy in living, its original meaning. This normal, day-in and day-out happiness seems to be missing in people vulnerable to addiction. Most addicts simply don't know how to have fun. We should be able to get up every morning looking forward to the day's activities. We ought to be able to take pleasure in the simple acts of daily living, from our friends and from the work we do. You probably know people who are like this even if you are not.

When simple joy in living is missing from daily life, it can be recovered though abstinence and by following a selfish program of personal growth. If you are an addict, I suggest you set that as your ultimate goal. Learn the skills and attitudes that will afford natural relief from the dark feelings described below. Learn how to practice the ordinary euphoria that is your right. This will take time, but keep the goal in mind.

 article about feelings of depression
So far, we've covered three of the necessary factors leading up to addiction: triggers, risk factors and attitudes. This article considers another broad range of important human behaviors that I call dark feelings. These, too, seem to be a necessary part of the chain in the development of any addiction.

Addiction begins with a risk factor and becomes a reality when an effective trigger creates the addictive altered state or high. A lot happens in between a risk factor and the trigger in order to make the person vulnerable to the mind-altering effects of the trigger.

People who are likely to become addicted seem to be unhappy and emotionally miserable much of the time, and seeking relief from depression through addiction is not the same as having real fun. The addictive trigger relieves this chronic discontent almost immediately, but, of course, the cure is temporary and the price is high. The trigger produces a strong contrast effect, an elevated mood or altered state of mind making it seem as if it was a miracle cure or wonder drug.

The discovery and use of a trigger, whether a substance or an activity, is an honest attempt at self-medication. We all want to feel good; our United States Constitution tells us that the pursuit of happiness is a basic goal of democracy. Unfortunately, deliberate mood changes obtained by addiction are a false happiness.

When it comes to the chronic unhappiness that dark feelings create I again ask the reader to think in the broadest possible terms, to lump very different looking emotions together because they have a common element or role to play in the development of an addiction. And the range of unpleasant human emotions is huge. Once more, not every addict shares exactly the same emotions just as not every addict shares the same trigger or the same risk factors. What addicts share in common, what makes them all brothers and sisters together, are risk factors, dark feelings, self-defeating attitudes and triggers of one kind or another. No two addicts are exactly alike and yet they share the same general patterns. They can also, by the way, come to share the same recovery program.

The part emotions and unhappiness play in addiction is important for two reasons. First, emotions can change, transform themselves and morph into different emotions. Anger, for example, can turn into depression, and depression can lead to feelings of persecution. Jealousy can turn into anxiety, fear can turn to anger, and boredom can change to frustration and yearning.

The second reason for taking an inventory of feelings and being able to recognize various kinds of emotional misery is simply that it doesn't have to be that way. Once recognized, dark feelings can be changed. Emotional suffering is unnecessary. And this is a primary characteristic of a good recovery; one is no longer a victim of ones own feelings, one becomes a master at controlling them and limiting the damage they can do.

Many research people who study addiction have talked about depression, a mood often relieved by a trigger. For years, alcoholics were treated for depression without dealing with the dependency on alcohol. Sometimes this helped, and sometimes it created an alternative addiction to tranquilizers. But the addict is not psychotic, not legally or medically insane. Alcoholism is not usually a symptom of some severe underlying mental disorder such as schizophrenia or manic psychosis. We have learned that addiction is a problem in its own right.

We need a more general word to describe the background mood of the addict, and mental health professionals use words like dysphoria, dysthymia and negative affectivity. In common language, and as a more useful general term, I prefer dark feelings. Such a term includes the wide range of unhappy feelings with which the potential addict lives day by day, but it does not imply some kind of psychiatric diagnosis.

We humans, often the victims of our emotions, do have a capacity for controlling them, but it is a skill that has to be learned. Recognizing and describing your unhappy moods is a first step in learning what you can do about them in an addiction-free life. As you know by now, I like lists of possibilities. I believe in the importance of taking a personal inventory. Below you will find a list of moods that are often mentioned by addicts as their common, enduring feeling over time. Such dark feelings are relieved temporarily during use of the addictive.

Reminder: this is not a test for which some overall score is important; this is simply an inventory you can use to pinpoint various moods. Check only those feelings you experience all or most of the time and which are affected by using an addictive.

_____Feeling tired, worn out and discouraged

_____Haunted by bad memories

_____Feeling blue, tearful or sad most of the time

_____Irritated, feeling hassled

_____Bored, empty, seeing no point in most activities

_____Guilt

_____Pessimism

_____Expecting harm and danger

_____Feeling like a failure

_____Hopeless, without confidence

_____Expecting disappointment

_____Hating to depend on others

_____Constant self-criticism and self-doubt

_____Uncomfortable and self-conscious in the presence of others

_____Doubt about ability to deal with difficult situations or people

_____Doubt about your physical appearance

≠≠≠_____Doubt about your skills

_____Feeling like you might harm others

_____Anger at being criticized, fear of criticism

_____Feeling unappreciated or unrecognized for what you do

_____Angry because the world owns you more than you get

_____Alienated from others and lonely

_____Fearful of exploring you feelings

_____Unable to express love or tenderness

_____Anxious most of the time

_____Fearful or phobic of specific things

_____Struggling with impulse

_____Resentful of any authority

_____Feeling driven

_____Tormented by the negative judgments you make

_____Always wanting to be in control or on top if things

_____Feeling helpless and ineffective

_____Everything seems good or evil, black or white

_____Unable to let go of details

_____Rage, anger or deep resentments

_____Feeling pushed or controlled by circumstance or by others

_____Tormented by automatic thoughts that pop into your head

_____Inability to predict how others will respond or behave

_____Taking everything to the extreme

_____Anger at the limits others set on your behavior

_____Always on the defensive

_____No one sees you as you think you really are

_____Always being blamed by others

_____Having no clear goals

_____Being too suggestible

_____Too devoted to work

_____Others do not trust or love you as they should

_____Lack of self-discipline

_____Constantly yearning for what you don't have

_____Always finding fault with people, places or things

≠≠≠_____Financial insecurity

_____Angry all or most of the time

I am sure there are lots of other ways of feeling discontented, and perhaps you can write down some that are problems for you. It may help to write a detailed description of your background emotions as an artist would paint a landscape. Share that with a counselor or group sponsor. Avoid anyone who will argue with you or who is likely to say that you should not feel the way you feel. Snap judgments are not what you need. Of course, you should not go through life feeling miserable, but for now what is important is a complete inventory of feelings.

The picture of how addictions work is now almost complete. A risk factor somehow gets translated into dark feelings, and dark feelings set you up for the emotional impact a trigger may have. The final factor that creates this vulnerability is thinking, discussed in the previous chapter. Ideas, beliefs and values can create and intensify your dark feelings to the point as which some action, any action, seems absolutely unavoidable. Sadly, that action is often ends up being the use of a trigger or addictive.

One the positive side, healthy and realistic ideas, beliefs and values can be the solutions to the problem of constant dark feelings. Overcoming addiction involves one of the most difficult and unlikely things we can do for ourselves, yet it is one of the most obvious things we can do. You can simply and literally change your mind, and only the owner can do that. Get professional counseling if you think that will help, but remember that you are the one who has to make the changes. Yes, medication may help, but while it may relieve some of the feelings, it will only make you ready to work on personal growth and change.

Next, we'll put things together: risk factors, attitudes, dark feelings and triggers to complete the picture of the chain that invariably seems to lead to addiction.



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