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Obsession in Sobriety.

29 September 2014

Alcoholism is a disease of obsessions. It’s a disease of many things. I guess what I really mean is, “I’m about to talk about obsessions in alcoholism.” Because alcoholism is also a disease of isolation, of depression, etc.. It’s impossible to lay alcoholism at the feet of any one descriptor. But one powerful characteristic that nearly every alcoholic I know shares is obsession. And it may manifest in a million ways.

Some of us (though not me) are diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive. That’s a serious mental illness about which I know little and can offer no insight. I suffer from any number of mental illnesses, but thankfully, that isn’t one of them. However, I am familiar, at least, with the sense of being obsessed with something, to the extent that it dominates my thoughts, and I find myself arranging my life around the object of my obsession.

For a very long time, that was alcohol. But I was obsessive long before I began drinking alcoholically. In seventh grade, I memorized 150 digits of pi. I would become fascinated with various hobbies, and learn everything I could about them. I would be incensed if others didn’t share my interest: it was like a personal rejection for someone to be less interested in a topic than I was. This was especially problematic when, from about age 14 to about age 23, I was obsessed with religion. I was properly insufferable.

And then, of course, I was obsessed with alcohol. Not just with getting and drinking alcohol, but with learning about it. I brewed beer. Good beer! I was good at it. I bought a CO2 tank and a pony keg and a refrigerator and brewed beer and had excellent home-brewed beer on tap on a regular basis. That fell off, of course, as I grew more indolent and decided that purchasing alcohol was far less labor intensive than making it.

My obsession with alcohol increased, until it dominated everything in my life. If you’re reading this, you probably know the story.

In sobriety, my fundamental nature has not changed. I continue to obsess. I find it strangely soothing to discuss the same concepts over and over. I continue to get deeply interested in topics of questionable value and invest time, and effort, and money in learning and studying them. Lately, my obsessions have been men’s fashion and fitness/running. Luckily, these are complementary. As I run more, and lose weight and change shape, I have to buy new clothes.

It’s pretty common for sober alcoholics to be runners. I have known many. Some who ran before quitting. Some like me who began after. Running is deeply satisfying for obsession. It provides endless metrics to consider. Speed, distance, events, equipment, how to train, how to eat, everything. And I think it’s reasonably productive.

Obsession can be a negative even when it’s focused on something positive. Fitness is great, but if working at it causes me to neglect other things in my life, or results in serious injuries, or costs too much money, then it’s not constructive for me. So far, other than annoying people on twitter and at the office with too-long discussions of running, I think I’m still on the “healthy” side of my fitness obsession. I aim to stay there.

I’m grateful that I have the capacity to channel my obsessive nature into things that are positive now. Steps 6 and 7 of the 12 are about recognizing one’s character defects, becoming willing for them to be removed, and asking for that to happen. If you believe in God, then that’s generally what you do. My spiritual concepts are less concrete than “God”. So I find that to accomplish step 7 in a way that’s meaningful for me, I need to make regular efforts at diminishing and releasing my character defects with the help of others.

When it comes to obsessions, that means either recognizing them and trying to accept where I am and how I feel (like about my house), or channeling them into positives (like running). Focusing my obsessions on constructive things, or at least on non-harmful things, it crucial to my continued sobriety. When I fail to do that, I can spin in circles, frustrated and bewildered, until relief from that awful state seems to require anesthesia. And then, drinking might seem like a good idea. By focusing on fitness and health, I think I’m helping to buttress myself against that: I know how bad for me drinking is.

So yes. I know I talk too much about running. I know I’m focusing on it and jabbering and bothering. That’s for me. I’m kind of a nutcase, dear reader. But this is a kind of madness that builds me up, I think, instead of dissolving me away.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. akismet-6f040d95a215ed01ce2553f524bc1ecb permalink
    29 September 2014 11:37

    An interesting tidbit…

    My father had OCD, and I learned a lot about it by watching him. He was a wonderful guy, and I was crazy about him, but wow, did the OCD have an impact on him.

    What I learned from him is that OCD isn’t what most of us mean by obsession. I’m an obsessive person. I can spend hours and hours in the kitchen, pushing to perfect a recipe. I’ve learned *hundreds* of programming languages. I’ve got a collection of dozens of musical instruments. Those “obsessions” are more of a sort-of driven fascination – an intense interest, and a desire to know more, and do more, out of a joy or satisfaction in the target interest.

    The obsession of OCD, though, is something different. It’s not conscious obsession. It’s a deep, dark *need*, a sense that there is something wrong which you need to fix.

    My father couldn’t go to bed at night without doing dishes. If someone tried to help him by doing the dishes for him, he’d wait until after they went to bed, and then take random pots and pans out of the cabinet, and clean them. He couldn’t go to bed without doing that.

    He’d go to the grocery store, *every day*, and walk up and down every single aisle, checking every single shelf, to see if there was something there that he needed. And then he’d frequently end up going back to the store later, because he’d discover something else that he needed – and he couldn’t wait until the next day to get it. Once he knew there was something, he couldn’t rest, couldn’t bear to *know* that there was something he needed at the store, and not go to get it.

    In his last few years, after he retired, he’d get up at 5 in the morning, and he’d be doing things all day, until he went to bed at 11pm. Most days, all of that time was spent satisfying those obsessions.

    I wonder if an alchoholic’s need for alchohol is more like my father’s OCD than like my obsessions.

    • 29 September 2014 11:47

      As I said, I can’t compare alcoholic obsession to OCD, because I don’t know. I can say that there is a deep, physical need for alcohol. It felt like it was centered in my skeleton. In marrow, there was need for alcohol.

  2. 30 September 2014 16:51

    I am interested in this idea of obsession as I have always been obsessive ( in the “driven fascination” sense someone refers to it as). I wrote on my blog about it and linked to Richard Harris & Anthony Hopkins both talking about the same as it relates to alcohol obsession.
    Something of great interest to me though is how my obsessions nearly all die down eventually – could be days, months or years. I may stay interested but the ‘driven fascination’ where I need to know everything and be engulfed by it is suddenly no longer there. I wonder now at around 250 days sober after 30 yrs of drinking if my obsession with alcohol has in some way fizzled out. It feels that way. OR my interest in sobriety is my new obsession.

    • domc777 permalink
      20 October 2014 08:58

      This describes me to a tee. I often latch on to things and become really good/obsessive at it. I sang for a popular punk band and played a ton of shows up and down the east coast. My interest fizzled out and then I got into soldering my own synthesizers and guitar pedals. I got great at it, spent a ton of money on test equipment and parts… and then my interest dropped and I stopped completely. I wrote a 700 page book (unpublished. It is thorough, but not good imo) on Victorian Horror literature, and now I hardly read them. I’ve been a published poet… I don’t write them anymore. I’ve ran a record label that got popular in it’s genre… and then on to the next. I’ve been paid for my photography and stopped when my interest waned. On top of all that, I was a destructive alcoholic (9 months sober today) who loved researching craft beer and small batch scotch and all that. I’ve seen therapist and psydocs hoping for a bipolar diagnosis or something, but no dice. My current recovery counselor says that all the bouncing around is a symptom of my addiction, as well as having a traumatic and abusive childhood. He says that it will calm down, and it has, to be honest. I guess it’s just an addict quirk or something.

  3. 1 October 2014 07:35

    Relate so much to this. Luckily I’ve sidestepped the exercise obsession… I’m just too lazy 😉

    But I do obsess – I can’t help it it is in me. And I know it – music, guitars they are very high up there, but they are I hope not too dangerous and I try to just go with it as a “good” one rather than fighting it and then developing an unhealthy one to replace it.

    • 2 October 2014 06:37

      Your guitar making is exactly the type of “good” obsession I was trying to talk about. Should have linked.

  4. Syd permalink
    15 October 2014 21:18

    I am not obsessed about much anymore. I used to have obsessions about books, art, riding, etc. but now I am just happy to be mediocre at what I like to do. It is too much trouble to obsess over something. Instead I just prefer to enjoy what I am doing. Makes life easier.

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