Dealing With My Addiction

April 07, 2003

I have an addiction, one that is damaging and hurtful to me and those who love me. It is hard to write about, hard even to think about, but unless I can bring it into the light, repeatedly, it will continue to rule my life.

I avoid responsibility in situations where there are penalties and punishments. For example, for years I delayed paying my bills until I got phone calls or disconnect notices. Eventually I started having services turned off for lack of payment. I believe that we do things because we get something back from them. Not paying my bills was getting me attention, negative attention, but attention none the less.

Part of my personality is an inability to see or accept praise. I see my self as not okay even when everyone around me is saying otherwise. I am much more likely to hear and respond to a negative message than a positive one. While I hate to admit this, a part of me craves getting slapped with negative messages. Not paying my phone or electric bill was an easy way to generate a negative message. I hated getting the phone calls, or having my services turned off; and at the same time I repeatedly caused that very situation to happen.

When I was single I was able to keep my little problem hidden from view. There were times when I felt like everyone knew, like when my work phone would ring and the creditor at the other end wanted their money right away. I always felt as if there was a large neon sign flashing over my head broadcasting to the whole world that I couldn't pay my bills on time. But then people would continue to treat me as if I was normal and had it all together. How could I be so bad and still have people think I was okay?

Over time this difference in my view of myself and the view the rest of the world seemed to have bothered me. I knew I wasn't a good person because good people didn't have trouble paying their cable bill. Only bad people had to stand in line with the other deadbeats and pay their past due electric bill plus a deposit to get the lights turned on again. My addiction became worse as I tried to reconcile the loathing I had for myself when friends or family would praise me when I knew in my heart I wasn't worthy of their friendship or love.

After getting married my wife and I struggled with the debts I had incurred and continued to incur. Eventually we used Consumer Credit Counseling Service to assist us in paying off our credit card debt. It took over 2 1/2 years but we managed to wipe out all our outstanding debts. All we owed money on were our car and our house. Now I wasn't a bad person anymore because I was paying everything on time, so I should have felt okay when people praised me for being a good man. Only it didn't feel good. I still felt bad about myself, as if I wasn't deserving of any good.

I graduated to blowing job situations out of proportion so that having to leave the job and move was the only solution. We lived in Portland where there were dozens of technology companies and I refused to allow myself to switch jobs when my contract ended. Instead I felt I had to pursue another position using the same technology 3000 miles away in South Carolina. I couldn't allow myself the good of a new career direction in order to have the good of not moving from a beautiful city. Instead I forced us to make a major move to a town we ultimately hated, and a job that fell apart in 9 months.

I managed to hang on in Charleston long enough to setup a independent contractor position for myself, which was letting me have some good. But it had to be 1100 miles away requiring another major move. On the surface this was all to the good as I now was working for me, with people I knew, with my favorite technology. Underneath however, my old demon was still there, still refusing to accept that I was worthy of this kind of lifestyle. This time I went for the big time, this time I managed to create problems paying and keeping up with my taxes.

Until just a couple of days ago, when Michele had the courage to face all my evasions and subterfuges, I was slowly digging this hole deeper and deeper. If not paying my bills wasn't going to show people I was bad; and if having to move cross country 3 times in 4 years wasn't going to prove to people I was bad, then, by golly, not meeting my tax obligation ought to show them.

The worst part of my addiction is that not meeting this obligation in a responsible way seemed to make sense. Finally I would be able to match my internal view of me with the world's ~ both would be bad. Only it doesn't work that way in the real world. With Michele's love and support I was able to finally break through and vocalize my addiction. For the first time I was able to say that a part of my wanted to fail at paying bills or taxes. A part of me wanted to have to change jobs and move. As much as I dislike saying this, a part of me likes the pain and anxiety this lifestyle creates. When I type it here, or say it out loud I realize just how destructive this behavior really is, and I want to be rid of it. Where I get into trouble is not talking about it, for then it can quietly whisper in my inner ear and lead me towards destruction.

Now you all know, now Michele knows, and most importantly I know. This isn't hidden away in the dark corners of my mind anymore. I have owed that I have an addiction and that it is running, and ruining, my life. I need to keep admitting it while I start the process of altering my personality.

Hi, I'm Mark, and I have a destructive addiction to negative feedback.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.