Confessions of an Anxiety Case Part Three: Anxiety and Addiction

This particular post is difficult for me. It involves some deeply personal topics on which I have strong opinions that I am still only on the outskirts of beginning to work through. While I am always open to discussion, I am considerably less open to criticism on this one. As a result…I’ve been sitting on it for months. But I think it’s about time I got on with it.

I have a family history of addiction and drug/alcohol use and abuse. Despite being raised in the same home and going through the same family-related issues as the same times, the experiences of my siblings and I were inevitably different. I was born into a middle class family, on the lower end of things. We moved to Rhode Island in 1989 and the move was a good idea. For a good portion of my time at home, we were comfortably middle middle class. Things happened. Some were family deals, some were inevitably personal and as a result I’m not privvy to all of them.

Whatever the case, of the four of us, I am the only one of my siblings to have finished high school. Drinking, smoking and whathaveyou played a distinct role in each of my siblings, and whether they were prime drivers in each situation or not, they were involved.

I have to say, though, that 2 of my 3 siblings went on to get their GEDs, and both of them have enrolled in college. One has her associate’s and is pursuing her PhD in psychology.

Anyway. I don’t drink or use any kind of drug.  I drank in high school, but haven’t since 10th grade. My brother got me started nice and early. Fortunately I lost interest. I now have a straightedge tattoo.  I got it for my 21st birthday.

Anxiety, though. It often makes me feel like a hypocrite. Anxiety almost feels like an addictiton to addiction. I’m not drinking or smoking or rectally absorbing anything.

But do I hear the TV on while I’m going to sleep?

Can I find a more comfortable position to lay?

Will I become uncomfortable and have to move and wake my partner?

Will I find a better job?

Will I fail at it?

Do I hear the wrinkle shield setting on the dryer?

I mean. Everyone might wonder this stuff. But this is the type of stuff that creates burning anxiety for me. And I mean burning literally. My stomach has such a feeling of anxiety that it’s not butterflies, it’s burning.

…Because I worry I might eventually be uncomfortable and have trouble falling asleep.

Somewhat recently I was talking to my friend about drinking/whatever. She was saying how given her own family history, she worries about that stuff and remains mindful of it. I told her that I worry about it in myself.

She commented that I don’t drink at all.

But it’s more than that for me. Anxiety leads me to be addicted to things I avoid. Or rather, addicted to the avoidance. Anxiety about the thing has me so focused on the thing it becomes all encompassing in ways that maybe would have been better off being that thing in the first place. Except that the anxiety isn’t really ever sated.

I mentioned my straightedge tattoo. Time for some context. It’s three X’s on my left wrist. In the 80’s, punk band Minor Threat coined the term. Traditionally, it refers to drinking, drugs and promiscuity. In their song Out of Step, there’s a line “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t fuck. At least I can fucking think.” That’s where the three things come from.

I'm sorry I was using a Windows computer at the time...

I’m sorry I was using a Windows computer at the time…

But they also go on to say that their focus on those three things is kind of arbitrary. “It could be fucking or playing golf.” Really, the unhealthy fixation on anything that so consumes your mentality that your life is sort of objectively suffering is what the philosophy is trying to avoid. A friend of mine described it as “an avoidance of excess.” I think that sums it up.

The XXX has pretty straightforward roots. Underage kids going to shows with drinking got an X written on their hand. As they came of drinking age, if they still didn’t, they just kept getting the X. The three of them each signify one of the three things abstained from in the song Out of Step.

To me, though, it’s also a constant reminder of anxiety. Of the days I spent laying on the floor unable to move hoping that I would hear from someone. Or of wanting to read a certain book but being afraid I wouldn’t understand it. Or of a million different things that have paralyzed me, physically and emotionally.

I’ve lived in constant fear of not forming my own identity and of adpoting those of others for want of safety. And I lived in constant fear of finding that identity and alienating those in my life that I care about but who don’t relate…before ultimately failing.

But despite not being addicted to substances, those kinds of addiction have been particularly hard for me. From a very early age I was surrounded by it and more and more lately it’s harder for me to cognitively separate use from abuse. I experience anxiety in every aspect of my life, but in every aspect except this, I can exert some control over triggers. And that’s been very tough. My friends and family don’t seem to quite get it. I mean, they do to varying degrees, but it isn’t easy to articulate.

It gets to the point where I don’t want to go out. If I know or expect that I will be the only one not drinking, I don’t have an interest in getting together with people. Sometimes I don’t want people over for the same reason. More than 9 times out of 10, if I’m the only one not drinking I would simply rather not be there. That can change (strangely) with a bunch of things, mostly tied to how I’m treated or how present triggers have been lately.

But sometimes it doesn’t trigger me. Sometimes wondering if it will trigger me triggers me. Sometimes it triggers me. And sometimes I wonder if in the long run I want or can handle any direct presence of it in my life.

And honestly, part of me doesn’t WANT to be comfortable with it.

Aside from the anxiety triggering aspect of it, I don’t find it appealing. I don’t find it attractive. Stories about how cool so and so is for getting however fucked up don’t feel to me worth glorifying and bragging about and I just don’t understand. And I contextualize it within society as a whole. Alcohol is present in about 50% of all sexual assaults. That’s fucking huge. That’s not to say that a rapist would pass if it isn’t involved, but it’s an undenyable correlation. Similarly, a recent study conducted over the course of 30 years concluded that for every 1% increase of gun ownership within a state, there is an increase of violent crime of .9%.

There is a big chunk of people who oppose the prevalence of guns in our society. I’m not here to comment on that. I have my own feelings but for this post, they’re irrelevant.

What is relevant though is that there really isn’t a similar resistance to drinking. Other substances have a greater stigma attached even though they’re not necessarily worse for the user.

But really, with alcohol it’s like when you here about a drunken frat party at which there were like 8 sexual assaults in one night. The school somehow doesn’t really react and somehow works it out so the chapter of the frat can continue. Like it’s just an isolated incident…every time.

Scale that to the size of the country (or to the size of western society…) and that’s kinda how I see it.

Anxiety has made me struggle to find identity in a world that I pretty much simply cannot identify with. Of struggling to find a voice, to assert myself, to find legitimacy and validation when everything about the wiring of my brain tells me I am insignificant and irrelevant. It has left me compromising how I feel before even considering it. For my entire life.

And I’m tired of not relating to anyone. I have one friend–one person in my life–who consciously abstains in the ways that I do. For different reasons, but it’s the same mentality. She lives over 1,400 miles away.

I’m tired of feeling like the only one who’s not in the club. I’m tired of being asked, “So what DO you do for fun, then?” I’m tired of feeling like an asshole when it makes me uncomfortable and now some drunk prick is uncomfortabble because of it.

I’m tired of thinking about things like being either the only one not drinking at my own wedding or of having everyone at it all jerked off because it’s a dry wedding, even though it would be my (our) day…because as a society we just can’t seem to function without alcohol.

Alcohol (and any kind of drug) is not a source of merriment for me. It’s the source of probably 99% of every legitimately awful thing that has happened in my life. I’m 32 and for more than half of my life I’ve seen drugs and alcohol destroying the lives of my family and the people I care about.

I don’t want to ban it, but dont expect me to be into it. Don’t expect me to be comfortable around it. I don’t want to hear about how people can be responsible about drinking. I’m tired of the memories and feelings conjured up when I see it or hear it glorified or smell it on the breath of someone I care about. A sexual assault survivor may have analogous triggers and associated difficulties and we are understanding of them and try to help. Being one, I see it as pretty psychologically similar to how I react to drinking and drugs. I’m tired of being lectured by people who think their idea isn’t something I’ve already considered.

Sure. It’s something I’m actively trying to work on and obviously still have to. I don’t want to be so triggered. I don’t expect everyone on my life to stop what theyre into for me. I don’t expect to be eager to be around drinkers, I don’t have any interest in that lifestyle. But it would be great if thinking about people in my life drinking didn’t keep me from being able to sleep. Or eat. Or read. It’s not always, but it’s not seldom. Just like every other aspect of my life that has anxiety triggers (read: all of it), it’s something I’m going to spend my life working on it. But that can’t happen until I can have some kind of control over my triggers.

And that hasn’t happened yet.


About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 06/08/2015, in anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, Health, introspection, mental health and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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