Adrenaline junkie, self-saboteur, toxic lover, masochist: The addiction to pain has many manifestations, and the symptoms are commonly seen in alcoholics, both in recovery and out. In active addiction, these behaviors go with the territory; in sobriety, these same behaviors stand out and may even inflate into substitute addictions.
Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? If so, then driving drunk can provide the ultimate illusion of freedom: the sensation of total control and complete vulnerability. Self-sabotage is a way of life for many of us in active addiction. We numb sound judgment with throbbing impulse; we do whatever we can for our D.O.C., (Drug of Choice) and the consequences only serve as motivation for the next fix.
Intimate relationships in active addiction are often all-consuming. One partner can use the other’s collapse as a distraction, adopting the savior mentality. She will use a shattered wrist to pull him out of the quicksand. The attachment provides deluded security in the madness. Virgin hope becomes broken bodies writhing. The extreme, life-or-death nature of the beast has been tamed by rabid minds.
Outright masochism sticks out like an open fracture. The masochist derives pleasure from the infliction of physical damage to his own body. Most commonly discussed as an aspect of BDSM, masochism (the M) is viewed in a consensual sexual context, with the definition extending to forms of sexual humiliation or psychological abuse. A few of us who have suffered trauma feel drawn to such practices as bondage or suspension.
Others who would never consider such behaviors do nurture masochistic tendencies. These individuals might casually crave little jolts of pain, which briefly remove them from the suffering in their external reality. Still others find solace in the familiarity of trampled self-esteem in environments such as the work place. The pain might be seen as deserved, purely pleasurable, or even necessary depending on the individual.
As someone who struggles with chronic high anxiety, adrenaline rushes were never a primary fix. There were numerous short-lived relationships I had passed on as a result of my own self-sabotage and masochistic tendencies, the latter emerging most abrasively when I’d begin to binge drink.
Around my father, I’d practice “pain-threshold training,” which involved at least two bottles of hotel room service wine to the head, a Three 6 Mafia playlist to rattle the foundation, and my fists against the wall. My white knuckles would swell like black waves, and I never turned my back on the tide. I’d wipe the crusted blood off the wall with shaking hands and step out for a cigarette. I was on the receiving end of many a shocked look in the lobby; in return, I gave them an appreciative smile, thrilled to introduce nastiness to what I saw as a sterile existence.
On one unplanned occasion, I accidentally broke a wine glass while drunk. I proceeded to dig the shards into my flailing tongue, howling at my father’s wide-eyed fright. I’d let the blood collect and gargle, gleefully deranged. My father knew I had been drinking, but not the quantity. He seemed concerned, angry and ashamed. I could feel only a sliver of the hurt I had transmitted, like a dog bite through winter clothing. I informed him that the tongue is the fastest healing part of the body. I wanted to stitch back his severed hope, a drunken procedure. I spat blood in the toilet and dabbed my tongue with a cloth soaked in warm water, before throwing in the towel on our flat lined evening and deciding to go swimming. He accompanied me out of fear.
I still have urges to burn my knuckles with cigarettes. In sobriety, I’ve preferred having others do this for me. They would hold lit cigarettes to my skin and I would flash an unflinching smile. I somehow thought this total lack of self-respect was impressive— that I needed to entertain with self-abuse to counter my defective personality. I’m coming to see the good I have to offer, and the underlying motives behind my destructive behavior.
I am an addict through and through; my mind will justify even the most absurd decisions, which will become patternsbefore I even notice. Emotional vulnerability can be scarier than physical vulnerability, but its rewards are far-reaching.
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