Dancing with Addictive Intrigue

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Fifty-Eight

“Intrigue is a drunken dreamland- with bewitching charm — 
It fades connection—
pushes peace so far away-
Ecstasy eats at reality —
Undaunted enchantment numbs with empty possibility
Playing charades all over again—
drags me back to where I started my day.

Like a hard-nosed hound, the lion never ends its chase
It lures me to the dance, as I look to hide my face 
The monkey’s talkin’ trash in his deep clear voice
He talks about a paralyzed paradise– I quickly lose my choice”

—Stalking the Lion King- KW

I grew up in central Illinois.  In the block we lived there were right around 15-20 kids to play with. We would usually play different sports, depending upon the season. When football season was in, we would play 2-hand touch below the waist football in the street, utilizing the manholes at the end of the block as the goal line and the drive ways on the right side of the street as the first down markers. If the game was close and it was a critical time of the game, we were known to make the traffic stop until the play was over before we would step aside and let traffic proceed. There was a kid named Kurt Beason. When it came to football, he was a real rah! rah! type. Once, my brother Steve caught a pass and immediately turned to run up field. Except he forgot it was a street and not a field. He took 3 steps and ran smack into the grill of parked Studebaker. It knocked him flat on his back. He saw stars. Beason ran up to him hollering “didn’t you see it or didn’t you care”. He was a little over the top to say the least! 

I have been thinking of Beason’s remark “didn’t you see it, or didn’t you care” as it relates to the intrigue and temptation of being an addict. Addiction recovery and maintaining sobriety is a lot about caring about what you see. It’s about not ignoring the “Studebakers” in your recovery. Cause if you do, they always knock you down. Sometimes you forget where you are at and who you are as an addict. Like my brother who lost sense of not being on a football field but on a city street, addicts can forget the reality and limits of addictive terrain and run smack into the “Studebaker” of addictive intrigue. 

Let’s talk about intrigue for a minute. The dictionary defines intrigue as “to arouse the curiosity or interest of by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities”.  You don’t have to be an addict to be buffaloed by intrigue. How many times have I listened to clients defend their relational intrigue as simply “friends”, “boys will be boys”, just “getting away from the kids for a little girls time”, etc.  The intriguing lure to escape frustration, stress and fatigue is real to us all. 

There is a bewitching quality to intrigue. I can be sharing in a 12-step meeting about my determination to remain sober, only to fall prey to the bewitching quality of wanting to use before I leave the parking lot or even the 12-step room! Is this true of all addicts all the time? NO! Can it be true of any addict sometime? Yes! Can this dynamic of addictive intrigue be controlled by a 12-step group, a sponsor, a partner or friend or family member? No! It can only be managed by the addict her/himself. It is the addict who can transform the bewitching intrigue from a luring curse to a bulwark and blessing. How?

Let’s look at a common sexual intrigue for an addict. An attractive person walks by on the street, in a mall or wherever.  Immediately, interest and intrigue are triggered. Intrusive thoughts ensue. The temptation to lear and linger is strong. Now, it doesn’t help the situation for the one triggered to get lost with guilt and shame about the intrusive thought or to go deeper and get lost with the intrusive cognition. Everyone, addict and non addict alike, gets triggered by the intrigue of someone else, sometime. For an addict, it can be habitual. A helpful intervention for intrigue is not self condemnation. Rather, to accept the reality of the intrigue. Intrusive thoughts invade every mind. Not always sexual. Yet, if we all put our intrusive thoughts on the wall for everyone to see, at times, we would all look like monsters!  

Working with intrusive thought beats denial or trying to ignore. Allowing focus on intrusive intrigue for a short period of time allows one to be human and then to shift from intrusion to other interest is necessary. It is commonplace to utilize 3 seconds to make this transition. Occasionally, I hear addicts say, “1 second is too long”. It may be so, but it is human. It has been my experience that addicts who fight being human usually struggle longer with the intrusion of intrigue. It isn’t helpful to be legalistic either. An addict who spends the entire day lost in her mind with intrusive intrigue but learns to intervene and stop anywhere from 3 to 20 seconds has demonstrated great progress from being stuck with intrusive obsessive thought. 

Once an addict identifies and intervenes intrusive intrigue, then comes the transformation work. It’s important to explore what is going on underneath the addictive trigger. This is the way we transform a desire to ogle, lear and linger with intrigue from a curse into a blessing. The intrusive thought, the craving to linger can be framed as a message to the individual that there is a legitimate need that must be met in a healthy self-caring manner that lies underneath. This is true for everybody, not just addicts.

Now timing and priority in action is required. If I were sitting in the middle of an intersection in New York City and a city bus was barreling toward me, it would be first important to get my ass out of harm’s way before contemplating how did I get in the middle of danger. I have listened to many addicts philosophically pontificate about why and how intrusive intrigue has besieged them at this time.  Some get lawyerly and argue that “sitting in the middle of the intersection with the bus barreling toward them is OK”. Usually, these folks get run over with addictive intrigue. 
I like to frame the intrigue as the “voice of God” communicating the need for self-care. Some people misuse the intervention of “90 in 90”- (going to a 12 step mtg every day for 90 days), praying, fasting from food, and other religious rituals as a way to “white-knuckle” their way through these intrusive thoughts. Yet, I have observed that when an addict learns to identify emotional needs from thoughts of intrigue and then goes about meeting those needs in healthy ways, she has discovered the secret of transforming a curse (intrusive intrigue) into a blessing of healthy adult self-care. When an addict can accept this process and focus on developing healthy self-care tools, she will create harmony and integrated living. No longer or at least a lot less will she be in conflict with her commitment to recovery and her reality of experiencing the intrusion of intrigue. Dr Suess said it very well “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” Don’t allow intrigue to become a drunken dreamland.

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