Chasing Highs & Lows

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 08-21-2020

“The one thing that saved me and gave me hope for many years, is also what’s slowly destroying my body and mind. And now, I am forever torn.” -EaE

     What’s your poison? Have you figured it out yet? Do you still believe drugs are only injected into the body and only dangerous if society says so? People tend to want to feel comfortable while in a state of mental and physical equilibrium, unfortunately we stray away from that as life hits us with a tremendous number of tiny blows, repeatedly. How much can the mind and body take before it craves something other than what its getting? There are a few reasons I believe we must destigmatize self-medicating and drug addictions.

  1. Everyone (literally everyone!) self-medicates with something
  2. Addiction is a high indicator of emotional distress/ mental illness
  3. Lack of talking about it = lack of education = lack of insight = you will be rendered useless in how to solve the problem
  4. Sometimes self-medicating is better for us than sobriety (Yes, I said it)

Here’s the issue, before mental health education was mainstreamed, we had a very odd way of dealing with substance abusers. They were to be highly shamed, highly pathologized and pressured from everyone around them to simply cure their issue’s as quick as possible. They were made to believe that sober meant happiness and normalcy. However, for them, quitting cold turkey meant… misery. They were pressured into sobriety and social norms while being rendered useless, as they could not find any other ways to cope. They were always told to quit, but never told what to do with themselves after. Then life moves on, the family members in denial get to live happily knowing their family reputation can be saved, they won’t have an ‘awful addict’ in the family. Then, when inevitable relapse happens, they may cut off the family member completely. It’s unacceptable to poison yourself with these things and if you continue to do so, do stay away! It could be contagious…

     Don’t get me wrong, I for one know on a personal level, it is extremely hard to live with a chronic substance abuser/ addict. It was hard and confusing, and then heart breaking all the more when she chose to give up on us. All that was said to me from my family about my mother was “She cannot take care of you because she does drugs”. That was the explanation I got since I was 6 years old. Nothing further about her mental or physical state, well being, trauma history, nothing. It would take many painful years before I discovered her story. For the longest of times, we have lived in a world where people could not, or would not piece together this simple pattern: 

A Trauma/ grief/ mental illness = B chronic, distressing symptoms = C temptation to self-medicate said symptoms = D self-medicating gone haywire = E possible addiction

The list of activities we can use to self-medicate are endless:

TV & movies/ Games/ stimulants/ cannabis/ hallucinogens/ caffeine/ food/ anxiolytics/ alcohol/ sedatives/ shopping/ gambling/ opioids/ sex/ exercise/ driving/ cuddling/ listening/ writing/ inhalants/ social media/ tobacco/ stealing/ burning/ cutting & other forms of self-harm/ reading/ socials/ problem solving/ working/ fighting etc

     Read the list carefully and remember, you are not above self-medicating, no one is. The questions are 1- What symptoms are you trying to medicate? 2- What’s your ‘drug(s)’ of choice? 3- How does it help you and how does it harm you? 4- Are you capable of self-medicating in moderation or has it gotten difficult to regulate/ control?

     Are you using alcohol to counter anxiety and insomnia? Are you using a stimulant to decrease depressive symptoms? Are you excessively eating because it’s easy access and life is miserably boring? Is the cannabis helping your otherwise explosive anger? There are many different reasons we self-medicate, we must address the imbalance that may cause us to spiral, very noticeably, out of control. Phase D (Self medicating gone haywire) is typically the phase in which our family members/ friends start to notice our ‘shameful’ habits. They then induce more shame on something we are already feeling shameful about.  This will lead to more distressing symptoms, and then, more self-medicating to make up for it. Hence, when we try to pressure our friends/ family members to quit the ‘drug’, we often unintentionally push them further into it.

     Despite popular belief, we don’t necessarily have to quit self-medicating. As many can see from the list above, it is impossible. It’s human to self-medicate and we are surrounded by a stressful society with many things to medicate with!  Quitting may be counterproductive to our mental health (depending on our drug of choice). I have known clients to say that if they did not continue smoking or drinking, they would likely kill themselves. I very well, then, cannot tell them to quit just because ‘it’s bad for you’. Obviously, society is worse for them than the drug, if they cannot tolerate it in sobriety enough to want to continue dealing with it.

     So, what helps reduce compulsive self-medicating & addictive behaviors?

     My big answer: MORE COPING OUTLETS & LESS SHAME.  I recommend we all have five or more outlets.  Example:  cannabis, martial arts, reading, writing, Netflix, social media, walks.  This is a pretty damn good list!  Another example:  Yoga, baking, meditating, psychedelics, singing, shopping & social events. Well balanced, and many options to choose from. When we have only ONE coping outlet, we are more likely to abuse that coping outlet. Once upon a time, I had only one coping outlet: food. So, every time I felt depressed, lonely, bored, anxious, stressed, fearful etc, I went right to… food! Then, I gained weight. Then I received societal shame. Then, I developed an eating disorder. Then, subsequent symptoms followed such as increased depression, hypersomnia, fatigue, issues with concentration. Then, I ate more food to counter increased symptoms. At that point it was a vicious counterproductive cycle. I tried all diets possible until I realized dieting won’t ‘cure’ an eating disorder or food addiction. Literally, the only thing that helped was increasing my coping outlets while decreasing shames. The more coping activities I did outside of food, the more I was able to experience a positive world outside my ‘drug’ of choice. Then, the less I was tempted to eat all my feelings away. The more I countered shameful thoughts with positive affirmations, and the more I placed boundaries on those that shamed me, the less likely I would experience distress and temptation to continue excessive self-medicating.

     It’s funny, really, how I strived to be nothing like my alcoholic/ meth addicted mother, but then turned to food instead. We may try so hard to not become an addict, but then become an addict. No one’s goal is to be heavily addicted to something while flushing the rest of their life away. It starts small and subtle. A pain; then a pleasure to counter the pain. Chasing equilibrium, chasing the things that will get us back there again so that we may tolerate the wounds of internal and external triggers. Racing and chasing our way to ‘normalcy’ or ‘happiness’ with highs and lows. Be aware, be vigilant and most importantly, be honest and kind with yourself.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

4 thoughts on “Chasing Highs & Lows

  1. I never thought of TV or Movies as a drug of choice before now, but that is my drug of choice. When I’m feeling lost or in as you put in another blog a nightmare, I find myself snuggling in to my couch and watching movie after movie to escape into anyplace but the present only to find I lost my whole day or even more until I feel better again. Thanks for opening my eyes to this form of addiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very informational my drug of choice is food and tv to. Reading this makes sense and I need to find something else to thanks for the the insight. I never really thought of it like that.

    Liked by 1 person

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