Written by NHA

 

ADDICTION, PART 1:

“You’re an addict,” said my daughter, with a mischievous smile.

I shuttered. Does she know? I played innocent. “An addict? Yeah right. Of what?”

“Chocolate. You couldn’t go a day without it.”

Whew. Chocolate. Yeah, okay. I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Actually, almost anything with chocolate. Cake, brownies, donuts, Twix, Godiva, nuts, raisins. Everything tastes better with chocolate, right?

Am I an addict? Ha! Not remotely. If a doctor said I would die in six months unless I gave up chocolate, then I’d quit chocolate in a heartbeat.

I learned what an addict is from the movies. It is someone who has lost touch with reality. A mean drunk who turns into a monster. Someone who says and does terrible things to people he loves.

The movies showed me an addict is someone who does drugs in secret. Who has a little bag of pills or powder in their pocket or purse. Everything revolves around the glassy-eyed, fumbling addict getting their next hit. The addict is often in a stupor, either hyper-nervous or way too calm, unable to hold onto a job. An addict pushes their family, friends, and coworkers away one by one as he or she slips away from reality and responsibility until they take up residence in a dark alley covered by rags and cardboard, smelling of urine, incoherent.

The movies showed me there are exceptional addicts, those who don’t end up in alleys. Addicts who manage to control their behavior enough to keep their jobs. They are control freaks, ordering everybody around. They are tightly wound tops spinning chaos wherever they roam. They are selfish, shifting from one lie to another, using one person, then another, until there are no bridges left to burn. To the addict, people are a means to an end; getting their next escape concoction is what it’s all about. An addict is terrific at making you feel like you are the greatest person alive…until you get in the way of them getting their fix.

I can’t be an addict. I am nothing like those in the movies. Still, something told me I might be thinking conveniently. Isn’t it convenient to categorize people in such a way as to disassociate yourself? I obviously am not like those addicts in the movies…

Any suggestion that I had the slightest hint of an addictive tendency threw me on the defense. I prided myself on discipline, sticktoitiveness. I wasn’t weak and subject to an addictive lifestyle. “Me? Hardly. I’m cognizant of myself and my ways. I am in full control. No addiction going on here. No, not even for chocolate— I love it, but I could stop cold any time, no problem. Remember Benicio Del Toro in ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’? Now, there’s an addict.”

Nonetheless, something gnawed at me. I was being easy on myself, not giving due diligence in defining addiction. I took a deep breath, bracing for a slap of honesty and googled “define addiction.” I learned that addiction is more pervasive and broad than the examples I’d seen on the big screen. Addiction is a coping mechanism, and if you’re human, you’re coping with something. We live in a fallen world. Things go awry by nature. I learned there are healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It’s not just drugs and booze that provide escape. The “drug” of choice may not be chemical at all; almost anything can mislead and assuage the senses and the mind to an imaginary reality. It could be what we see, read, listen to, eat, do. It can be food, work, sex, romance lit, romance itself, gambling, shopping, hobbies, clothing. Anything which a person lacks control over doing, taking or using.

I discovered that most addicts look nothing like those in the movies. Addicts can be the nicest people you know. They have steady jobs, happy families, and don’t necessarily push people away. Addicts can be gentle, kind, patient, loving, selfless, faith-filled missionaries, deacons, pastors, mentors, volunteers. They are therapists, professionals, athletes, chefs, homemakers, public servants, bakers, policemen, and Marines. They can be successful yet have an addiction they can’t shake. An addiction that fills a need it will never satisfy nor will never be satisfied by.

I didn’t realize I was an addict. Not for decades. No. This little side hustle, this crossdressing, wasn’t an addiction. It was, um, just this little, manageable thing. Doesn’t harm anyone. I could stop anytime. It’s merely a hobby. Yeah, that’s what it is. A hobby. A fun escape from the daily grind.

But secretly, whenever I felt small and wanted to crawl away and hide for a little while, I was easy prey to the addiction. Just because the times I felt this way and succumbed were few and far between didn’t mean I wasn’t prey. No matter how many times I tasted the guilt and swore to never again, my susceptibility remained. The whispers nudged the desire from their deep slumber to the surface. The embers of desire never truly were extinguished; a lonely breeze, a desire to feel, and no one home…soon the desire was aflame. Go on…just try it on. Feel what it’s like to escape from being responsible, being the initiator, the always-strong man. It must be nice to be a woman and not have a care in the world other than feeling sensuous, relaxed, free… So I would slip on something that defined feminine. Something silky, soft, delicate. Something opposite of a man.

The desire arose periodically. Not often, but often enough to interrupt my thoughts. Often enough that escaping was on my list of options of what to do. At first, it was a curiosity- “I wonder what it feels like…” Then I discovered there was an edge to the action, kind of like when someone dares you to go a step beyond the norm, beyond your comfort level. The adrenaline fires up and a sense of excitement enters. This is nice. I feel…different. Different is good.

Then different became an escape from the humdrum and the pressures of life. Did I feel a need to feed the desire every moment like in the movies? No. This was just a sort of treat now and then to add a little spice to the ordinary, right?

Frequency is not the determiner of addiction. But I did begin to recognize that the desire crossed my mind more than every few months. I noticed that the desire consistently arose as the first option for a diversion when I felt overwhelmed with all that was on my plate with work, family, schedules. Steadily, the desire inched toward being a need: I need this.

Then a scary shift started taking place: the desire to crossdress invaded my sense of identity… Is this who I truly am? Am I really a woman in a man’s body? Would I be happier if I was a woman?

Still, I doubted. Me, an addict? It was only a passing thought now and then, right? I got this. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark,” wrote God, via James. Ah, God is in the picture now, is He? That meant that I had a serious choice at hand: do I trust what He has to say to me about this…this hobby?

Desire and failure to resist are two indications one may be an addict. Yes, I had a desire to stop giving in, but that desire was no match for the desire to be satisfied. Wretched man I was.

I had a decision to make. What narrative was I going to listen to? My mostly ignorant rationalizations? Society’s? (I found plenty of resources that told me to celebrate this secret me). God’s? Dare I explore what God, the one whom I deem is sovereign, all-good, all-loving, has to say?

I grew confused- who was I, truly? Sex with my wife became a convoluted mess of self-talk. The desire to feel effeminate slowly and steadily prodded me towards thinking about my sexuality. What does being a man or a woman mean? Did my definitions line up with reality? That much I knew- no, they did not. Not yet.

That little spark of curiosity had indeed set a forest aflame; my thoughts were consumed by the question of my identity. My focus on present responsibilities was infected by my unsettledness. I wondered what my future looked like…would I make choices that would alienate me from all that I have known and loved and been loved by?

It was a long, tiresome, yet productive road to climb. I eventually broke free from the addiction. Crossdressing is an addiction. It is an addiction that is more than a fix, more than an escape. It messes with your identity, which messes with your past and future. I have been free of its grip for over two years now. What I have shared here is a preface to the story of my journey to wrenching free of the shackles of crossdressing. The journey was not just about identifying and overcoming an addiction; it was about finding the most stable ground to stand upon in terms of identity and purpose. In the next few posts, I will share the details of what I have learned and the steps taken. If you’re struggling with an addiction, with identity, with purpose, or know of someone who is dealing with these things, i.e., with coping in a world full of challenges, I hope you’ll tune in.

NHA