Obsession in Sobriety.
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.