Addiction is a selfish disease. Addiction is indiscriminate in its victims. Like a tidal wave it appears, often without warning or provocation, and destroys everything in its path, leaving its victims bewildered and never quite the same. This indiscriminate disease is also a selfish one. Important for us to remember as it is, the fact that ‘addiction is selfish’ is not as easy thing for anyone to accept. It may not be even be obvious, but it is true. It affects not only the user, but those around us. The selfishness of this disease leaves us incapable of caring for others while we are also incapable of caring for ourselves, or even being cared for at all.
The Oxford Dictionaries defines the word ‘selfish’ as follows:
“: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘selfish’ in another way:
“: having or showing concern only for yourself and not the needs of other people.”
We put our addiction above all else. We may take care of our personal obligations, but these obligations are only fulfilled after our primary goal has been reached. Ironically, addicts have very few goals, and often, just one: to use. Before we can do anything else, we must use. Using takes up all of our time. We may need to use in order to feel ‘normal’ enough to complete our obligations. We may need to meet up with someone to whom we owe money. We may need to work an extra shift to make up for money we spent. We may be sick, and waiting for relief, and therefore we are late for our obligations. Before we are concerned with anything else, we handle our desire and our need to use. This is the way addiction works. However it presents itself, addiction comes first. For many of us, it has taken up many precious moments of our lives.
Something takes us away from our families, our friends, our jobs, our schools, our entire lives. Something requires our time and attention. Something takes away our free time. We become unavailable to the people who love us, the people who need us. This is selfish. The irony of the selfishness of addiction is that we are not concerned with ourselves; we are concerned with feeding our need. In sobriety, I take care of myself far more than I ever did when I was using. Ironically, I am a far less selfish person. This is the irony of the selfishness of addiction. When using, I selfishly focused on my own desire and need: the desire, and the need, to use. Even when I didn’t want to use, I had to use, and I took care of that before anything else. Before I looked in the mirror, before I took care of my own real basic needs: food, shelter, income, love; before I took care of myself, I took care of my addiction. Those who love me could not understand how I could be so selfish, and I did not understand how they couldn’t see that I was the farthest thing from my mind. It was the drug, only the drug, always the drug. That was my only concern. I had no hobbies, I had no free time; my hobby was using, and my free time was spent the same.
While using, we may not give our attention to friends, loved ones, a job, school, or other venues. We are busy caring for our own wants and needs: using. When we are addicted, using is our only true want or need. We need to pay our rent. We need a new coat for winter. We need food in the pantry. We need to spend time with our loved ones. We need to clean our house. We need to bathe, do laundry, feed ourselves. But none of this is taken care of until we get our fix, and in this way, we are selfish. Those who love us want us to be ourselves, be the person they know. Those who love us want us around and want us to be the person they love, but addiction robs us of everything, especially of ourselves.
For the addict who has found a new way to live, rebuilding relationships is a difficult task. Many who love us feel we have not been present in their lives for so long, other than when we have caused pain and disappointment. Some may have resentments and feel bitter towards us for our selfishness. Recovery has provided an opportunity for many addicts to care for themselves in ways we have never known. When we care for ourselves, we are more capable of caring for others. The watermark of addiction may still be visible in our lives. It is the point where the tidal wave crested, and then flowed back to sea. Let this be a reminder of where we never have to go again, and how things never have to be.