In my last post I started writing about my own addiction and what personality traits I felt had contributed towards my becoming an addict. I wrote about greed, avoidance of problems, instant gratification and laziness. I’ve been thinking about this and there are a few more which seem relevant:
- Self obsession – this manifested in a number of ways of which extreme self-consciousness is the most obvious. I was always hyper-aware of what people thought of me and how people saw me – my ears stuck out, my hair was too fine – and, as a result of this, I developed a real phobia about people watching me doing things, particularly things involving using my hands. It started when I was about 16 and working in Heysham Village Co-op (long gone) at a time when, after serving a customer, you had to write out a little slip of paper showing what they had spent which they saved up to earn dividend (at that time 9d – about 4p in the pound). One day I became very self-conscious about a customer watching me do this and my hands began to shake. I made an excuse and went in the back of the shop to write the slip. This led to a long period where I tried to avoid situations where someone could watch me doing something with my hands – eating and drinking in cafes, writing etc. It was then that I discovered that drinking alcohol would reduce these difficulties. A couple of years later I was on the dole and had to sign on regularly at Morecambe unemployment office where, of course, I had to sign my name. Somehow I realised that if I bought a quarter bottle of vodka (and some mints) before signing on and drank it in one of the shelters on Morecambe prom, I could then go and sign on without any problem. Of course this is also an example of finding ways to avoid dealing with a problem, something which, in the end, leads to more and more problems.
- Selfishness – I suppose this is partly as a result of being indulged to such an extent when I was growing up, but whatever the cause, nature or nurture or a combination of both, I found it very difficult to deal not getting my own way. I learned how to manipulate people, especially my mother, so that I would end up getting what I wanted. This was a skill that came in very useful when I was drinking and using drugs. After all, addiction is the ultimate in selfishness, a me-centred universe there to look after my wants and needs.
- Inability to deal with feelings and emotions – This has always seemed a big one to me. As a child and teenager I would often be overwhelmed by fear, or excitement or sorrow. One of the ways I dealt with these feelings was through alcohol and drugs. It seems significant that the drugs I had the main problems with were depressants, drugs which depress the central nervous system – particularly alcohol and tranquillisers, rather than stimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine. I wanted to dull my feelings rather than stimulate them. Now my main drug is coffee (a stimulant) so it seems I’ve got better at dealing with my feelings and emotions.
- Dishonesty – I don’t think I was particularly honest even before I started drinking. This ties into the selfishness, if something would help me or give me pleasure then fine, as long as I thought I could get away with it. I didn’t get into any major dishonesty, not through any sense of morality, but rather because I was held back by the fear of what would happen if I was found out. Now I can’t even leave a shop if they’ve given me too much change without telling them.
- Sensation seeking – By this I mean always craving something new, whether that was new foods, new music or new sensations. This was never about taking physical risks (sky diving, climbing) but more about an overwhelming curiosity – “What will it be like?”, “How will it taste?” So the opportunity to change my perceptions was very enticing. I can remember pestering my mum to get me new foods; curry, yoghurt (remember this was the 1960s so a lot of foods we take for granted now were just arriving in the shops).
So that’s a bit about the person I was, the one who, it seems to me, was primed for addiction. That’s all for now but I have a lot to say on this topic and will be writing more soon. Let me know if you have any thoughts on addiction. I’m always interested in having my views challenged.
Just so you know, this is me now, with Matthew, number one son who, unlike me, is very keen on activities like sky diving.