I am an addict.
Managing my addictions is not quite as simple as managing my ‘drug of choice.’ I can turn anything into an addiction. Drugs and alcohol? Certainly. Been there, done various kinds of that. But I can turn anything into a drug.
It’s not an intentional thing, but I am vulnerable. I am blessed with a genetic pre-disposition for both addiction and mania. And even when I try to manage the known enemies — when I try to avoid excesses of drugs, alcohol, coffee, sugar — my brain has a way of filling that void. Of turning interest into obsession.
Anything to turn up the charge.
I am never clear on whether it is the mania that grows from the obsession, or whether obsession breeds mania. I only know that the second I become immersed in a thing and once it captures my undivided attention, there is no turning back. I become consumed. I cannot pace myself. I can’t not do it. Time away from that thing is an irritation and makes me anxious.
I do it with people. I do it with activities and projects. Until the inevitable day that I crash and burn.
Some of these episodes are short-lived, like the time I pulled an all-nighter in my early 20s determined to build a scale model of my boyfriend’s motorcycle for his birthday.
Others can go on for months: What started out as a half-hour on my exercise bike a few times a week rapidly became spinning for 5 or 6 hours a night, anorexia and a 30-lb weight loss in the space of a few months. And then there was the time I renovated a rental house from top to bottom, including ripping out all the carpets, tearing down wallpaper, refinishing the floors and ripping out the kitchen cupboards. I was also rescuing, (hoarding) and refinishing furniture at the same time as part of what I imagined to be my way of making the world more beautiful and solving the landfill crisis.
I have done this with people too, and it’s one of the things that keeps me from forming close friendships. Whether romantic or platonic, when that rush of adrenaline starts, I am prone to go to extremes. I struggle to hold back my feelings. I have made mix tapes, sent flowers, bought gifts and written long elaborate letters. In my overzealous determination to get to know everything about the other person and drink them in, I can be (I imagine) quite intimidating.
And so I have to take care. I have to take care not to take notice. Not to over-examine. I struggle to remain casual about things. Not to check my weight on the scale. To move, but not to exercise. To be crap at housecleaning. To let people take the lead in relationships. To not keep lists. Because focus becomes hyper-focus and it tips the scales into obsession and mania. And mania can kill.
There is always a but.
Writing is an obsession. And it’s when it becomes obsession that I get results. Where I suddenly have drive.
I don’t know how to resolve those two things.
I know that mania is unhealthy. I know that obsession breeds mania. But the high that comes from writing is what keeps me going. Writing gets me high. Writing is the high.
And it’s more than that. Writing at this point is both necessary and inevitable. I have been writing for decades even when I wasn’t writing. Even when I resisted putting my thoughts down on paper out of fear and some misguided deference to my journalist father, the words were still writing themselves in my head.
The obsession was still there. It didn’t disappear or waver. I wasn’t controlling anything by locking it inside. The dam had to burst sometime.
So now I write, and play a dangerous (and dangerously satisfying) game of control — letting the stories out one-by-one, controlling the rate of flow, so none of us drown.