Addictive Demand: Addicts Taking Up Too Much Space

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Fifty-Three

Addicts take up too much space. I have this exercise ball in my office that I do sit ups and exercise. If somehow you could take that ball and blow it up so that like an expanded balloon it took up all the space in the room, that is what an addict can do. If you can envision his family in the room and his addiction is that exercise ball, his family would be smashed against the wall because the addict would take up all the space and all the air with addictive demand. Addicts have this mentality of I want what I want when I want it. They allow their egos to dominate and take up too much space. Addicts can be that way before treatment and after treatment. Some of the biggest egomaniacs I have met have been in a 12-step room for recovery. The idea that you are what you have or do comes from ego, and it distorts much of the everyday experience of the average life that we all share. Fame, attention, and possessions trigger drunken distortion about life values and intoxicates our importance. It promotes prima donna lifestyle and undermines finding the brilliance that is present in average everyday living.

The dynamic of addictive demand reminds me when my youngest son, Sam was playing summer baseball for his high school.  His coach became annoyed about the umpire’s calls. The tipping point came when the umpire made a controversial call that Sam’s coach did not agree with. He ran out to the umpires to protest. The coach ramped up, and things got pretty heated. The coach just wouldn’t back off after the umpire gave him plenty of opportunity.

After sufficient warning, the umpire threw the coach out of the game. Here’s where things went awry: The coach stepped back, folded his arms across his chest, and expressed his ego: “Look I paid you both to call the game. No, I’m not leaving—you guys are leaving because I am firing you both!” With that said, the umpires gathered their equipment and left. The coach appointed his assistant coaches to finish the game as umpires. He made a complete ass of himself in front of the kids and parents. After the game, he gathered the kids in the outfield to go over the usual debriefing. During the short talk, the coach made a few statements about players who played well and key mistakes but didn’t say a single word about the umpires. He missed a golden opportunity to cultivate the inner brilliance of humility. It would have been a teachable moment if the coach apologized to the kids and parents for his behavior toward the umpires. He could have demonstrated that even if you are the coach, it’s not okay to act egotistical, but when you do, the sensible thing to do is to apologize. He could have shared that he would make amends to the umpires and pay them double for their embarrassment. Instead, he acted with his ego, and the kids walked away with the lesson that it is okay to break the rules and be a jerk to protect your ego if you’re the one in charge. 

As an addict, if you are honest, there have been numerous times that you missed golden opportunities and teachable moments. Rather, with your addictive demand, you made an ass of yourself and took up all the space with your ego wanting what you wanted when you wanted it. This is classic addict behavior. Of course, addicts are not the only people who can possess an asshole mentality. Many of you had a mother or father who acted this way. In truth, if you grow up with physical or emotional deprivation, then likely at some point you will be an asshole with your addictive demand. Deprivation always breeds entitlement. 

Addictive demand is a characteristic that you learn in early recovery to pay attention. First step stories always highlight the insane behavior and the length you are willing to go to get an addictive rush when you want it. Addicts do unbelievable things to satisfy their craving for their drug of choice. Once, I was hiking the Grand Canyon, rim to rim with a small group of hikers. One was an alcoholic. He woke up in the middle of the night craving a drink. He told me that he was going to hike out of the bottom of the Canyon in the middle of the night to get a drink. He took off and I never saw him again the rest of my life. I hope he found a drink! Yet the truth is that the mentality of addictive demand shows up in many other ways than craving for your drug of choice. Sometimes we can act like an idiot by insisting that we have it our way in personal relationships. There are many addicts in recovery that display very ugly self-absorbed behavior in business and personal relationships. They are sober but the only way you would know it is that they haven’t used their drug of choice. But they can be disrespectful, haughty, and totally insensitive toward others, particularly a committed partner. With addictive demand, these people insist on having it their way no matter what. If they do not get it their way, then they make sure there will be hell to pay. I have observed people who are addiction experts lecture on sobriety and serenity and then go nutball over some experience that they believed they were treated unfairly or without dignity. Their protest was embarrassing and indignant. At the time, I wondered how this person could be so opposite from what they just talked about.

Even in recovery addicts can resemble the same ego shortcomings as they do in active addiction. During days of addictive act out, families walk on eggshells trying not to trigger an addict’s wrath and rage, never knowing for sure what might trigger a chaotic episode. So, everyone in the family tries to take care of the addict so that they don’t go off. In recovery, I have observed family members again walking on eggshells, doing everything they can to make sure the addict remains sober. The addict is treated with kid gloves. In both scenarios, the addict, again, takes up too much space. Family members need to be able to have a life of their own, not always caring for the addict. 

Isn’t it true that even if you are not an addict or egomaniac that you tend to expect way more from your committed partner than you do anyone else?  I have heard many share that they have been with their partner for so long that it is expected that the significant other should know what is needed without ever speaking the request!  There is the tendency to presume on your partner. We tend to take up too much space with addictive demand with those we love the most. We expect them to put up with our insensitivities. When they don’t or shoot back defensive comments or set boundaries around our demands, you feel wounded. Recovery and adult maturity require that you take up less space and not more. Here are some suggestions to consider about addicts who take up way too much space:

1. Practice Detachment.

When you are a family member and your loved one is an addict; the healthy response is to detach from the addict’s behavior. While it is easier said than done, nothing about addiction recovery is easily done. Do the mature hard work of letting go. Your efforts will never end your loved one’s addiction who must want recovery and take initiative, meaning to embrace a mentality of practicing whatever it takes to stop acting out. Short of that your efforts will be in vain. Even, when a loved one demonstrates this important attitude you must let go and allow them to figure out their own healing. You will only be able to do this with detachment. 

2. Detachment won’t work without boundaries and boundaries won’t work without consequences.

Boundaries are mere requests unless there is a consequence when the boundary is not respected. This will require that as a loved one you will need to follow through with the consequence when a boundary is not honored, no matter what! Short of that you will lose your way with your loved one. 

3. As an addict in recovery you must practice taking less space not more.

Addictive demand requires humility. It will necessitate you practicing sensitivity and engage listening skills. It means that you won’t always get it your way. Rather than manipulating and verbally mauling your way to what you want, it will be necessary to practice letting go and prioritizing someone else’s needs. Think in terms of selflessly giving up your space for the betterment of the team- your partner, your family, even the team at work. There is a beautiful paradox experienced in recovery when an addict practices taking up less space so others might have more. Their heart expands and with less space taken, more satisfying experience is realized.

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