"My first addiction was ...
On a semi-regular basis I hear people in meetings describe some early coping mechanism as an addiction.
Far be it from me to pick a nit, but when I was new in AA this used to trouble me, and now ... well, it still troubles me, but in a different way.
In my early sobriety, sitting in meetings and literally drinking in what was said, when people described these other, somewhat benign things as "addictions" it actually used to frighten me a little. Although I couldn't have expressed it at the time, looking back I see what troubled me was that it seemed as though calling these other things addictions softened the whole concept of being an addict. Like it undermined the gravity of what I called myself (and of course I must pause and point out that it is the consummate alcoholic reaction to think that what those kind souls described about themselves was in any way a comment on me. In fact, I can remember bristling when people would identify from the lectern, "I'm so-and-so, and I'm a real alcoholic." From my gut I would react, "Oh, what, and you're saying I'm not?" NO, Mr. SponsorPants, they're not saying anything about you, they're talking about themselves. Ego ego ego).
Now when I hear people speak in these terms, I'm troubled for a different reason: Clarity.
I understand the spirit of what people are saying, when they describe (for example) their childhood fantasy life as "an addiction," but I think they would be better served -- and be more accurate -- to call it a coping mechanism. An escape.
I do not presume to know what their truth is now or was then, but from what most people describe I think I'm not far off the mark.
For me, the reason it's important to be clear is because when I call myself an alcoholic, or when someone describes an addiction they are suffering from, it is not an idea so much as it is a diagnosis.
That's the point, right? Every time I say "I'm Mr. SponsorPants and I'm an alcoholic" I am reminding myself that I have a disease (and letting other people in meetings know that I have traveled the same road they have). I am stating my diagnosis. And the reason it's important to remind myself of that is not some twisted "look how badly damaged I am" way, but because a chief symptom of the disease is the patient's ability to forget/deny that they have it.
Again, I don't think this is about playing a word game, or people not using the "right" words so much as it is keeping ourselves on point in terms of what we face, and presenting AA's idea about what alcoholism is as clearly as possible to the newcomer.
If people call every escape or habit they have an addiction then I believe it dilutes the important truth that, while I may use some things as an escape more than I should, or some habits become deeply ingrained and require a hard fight to break, addiction is something that I alone, cannot resolve. I might (for example) have a very hard time stopping biting my nails -- it may be a real challenge to quit, but on my own I can do it. But a (self) diagnosis of addiction is the admission of powerlessness (on my own) and is the final surrender to the idea that there is no possible way I can stop using/drinking/whatevering without some outside help. I need medicine for my sickness (disease/addiction). In this case, I need spiritual medicine for what the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) calls a "spiritual malady."
The first time I make that self diagnosis -- and fully believe it -- is the beginning of being able to hear someone else's suggestions as to how to treat my disease, in the important -- life saving -- progression of admission to surrender to willingness to recovery.
I guess for me it comes down to this:
All addictions are certainly a form of escape, but not all escapes are also an addiction. Being clear about what is what helps people new to the 12 Step world identify -- or not. (After all, we're not selling anything.)
That's been rolling around in my head all week -- just needed to get that out. For the Big Book's discussion of some of these ideas -- basically I'm just riffing on the whole 'real alcoholic' thing -- read around page 21 in Chapter 2, "There Is A Solution."