The addict’s dilemma (or Cinderella booted from the ball)

I don’t know if Cinderella (or her creator) was an addict, but there are enough similarities between her story and the typical addict’s to make me seriously wonder.

I once heard an alcoholic describe his addiction like this: When he drank, he said, “I get tall and good-looking instead of short and fat; the people around me who were all looking disdainfully at me just a minute ago are suddenly attracted to me and interested in whatever I have to say. My surroundings, which are usually washed-out and gray, become vibrant, colorful, and alive.”

I don’t know of any fairy godmother that could do better with her magic wand than that. And I don’t know why someone like that – a (self-perceived) shy, ugly, ennui-imprisoned, social outcast – would ever want to give up drinking if it provided almost instant miraculous relief.

Because, you see, an alcoholic’s problem isn’t alcohol.

A drug addict’s problem isn’t drugs.

A compulsive eater’s problem isn’t food.

And a gambling addict’s problem isn’t gambling.

In fact, in no addiction is the substance or behavior the addict’s problem.

They are his or her SOLUTION.

Someone who drinks (or uses drugs, etc., etc.) because they find it fun, cool, or exciting, even if they do (and overdo) it often, may be substance ABUSERS, but they are NOT ADDICTS.

If the stakes get high enough, if the consequences get bad enough, they can, and generally will, stop and go on to live essentially normal, contented lives without it.

NOT so for the addict.

The addict uses because life without it is just too painful to bear, and if forced to stop, life without it can eventually become too uncomfortable to continue.

How can this be?

How can alcohol/drugs/food/porn, or what-have-you take such a grip over someone that they literally can’t live without it?

Because these things do something, not TO the addict but FOR them, that they don’t do for the rest of us.

Without it, they feel trapped in the life of a scorned and slaving Cinderella, tied to a fetid mop and bucket while everyone else is going to and having a ball.

Using or acting out (each in various ways, according to the particular addict’s physical and psychic nature), relieves, anesthetizes, or outshouts a chronic acute emotional, existential discomfort and/or dissatisfaction with life that non-addicts either don’t feel, or feel at a level low enough that their default coping tools easily overcome it.

By engaging in their addictive substance or activity, they too are swept away in a horse-drawn carriage to the grand ball of life – and may even become its belle. (This too, is something non-addicts don’t experience.)

This ‘CINDERELLA EFFECT’, as I call it, is a common thread – although with different manifestations – to virtually all addictions.

Of course, the problem is that the Cinderella Effect is only temporary, and the addict soon feels ‘the clock strike midnight’ and gets booted from the ball and flung back down to his unbearable old self. So, he drinks (uses, etc.) more and more, desperately trying to recapture that sweet spot like a drowning man grasping at straws, but almost always misses the mark and overdoes it, with all the self-and-other destructive consequences along the way.

Yet the addict’s no fool. He realizes what it’s doing to him and vows never to do it again.

This may work for a while. But eventually, inevitably, his somber, sober, Cinderella existence becomes just too much to bear, especially as he knows – from EXPERIENCE – that salvation is only a drink or two (etc.) away.

Then the fairy godmother comes knocking and he doesn’t say no.  This time it will be different, he’ll rationalize (= rational lies). This time I won’t lose control.

And the vicious cycle begins yet again. The addict can’t reliably STOP ONCE THEY START, and can’t reliably STOP FROM STARTING – and there’s no way out.

At least until Cinderella discovers that she’s really a princess – and always has been.

That’s where spirituality, and the 12 Steps of recovery come in…

About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.