Chaos Addiction – Avoiding Drama in Early Recovery

chaos addiction

When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.” – Eckhart Tolle

For the average addict, chaos is comfortable.

Many of us grow so accustomed to living amidst dysfunction and disorder, that imagining a life of peace and serenity is all but unfathomable. Without even recognizing that we are doing so, we abandon our newfound sense of comfort and safety for a swift return to the drama that gives us purpose – that allows us our false sense of identity.

In his 2007 book ‘Addicted to Chaos: The Journey from Extreme to Serene’, Dr. Keith Lee examined the psychological makeup of individuals who had become all but dependent upon intensity and disarray.

“In a culture where the ‘extreme theme’ has become the norm, people are increasingly seduced into believing that intensity equals being alive. When that happens, the mind becomes wired for drama and the soul is starved of meaningful purpose. This type of life may produce heart-pounding excitement, but the absence of this addictive energy can bring about withdrawal, fear, and restlessness that is unbearable”.

An online article titled ‘Addicted to Chaos’ written by addiction specialist and counselor Rita Barsky explores the relationship between chaos addiction and dysfunction within the family of origin. When we grow up feeling unsafe and unprotected, never knowing what is liable to happen, we come to understand that the only thing that is certain is that nothing is for certain. We become used to living amidst chaos and confusion, and eventually develop a tolerance for it. In many cases, dysfunctional families will strive tirelessly to appear normal and operative to the outside world. While our lives are truly in a constant state of upset, they appear, to our friends and acquaintances, to be relatively perfect. We learn to keep up appearances, and over time, we become psychologically addicted to the insane and exhausting pattern of feigning perfection while internally destructing.

Consistency Is Abnormal – At First

Once we begin the recovery process, our lives slowly begin to gain some consistency. Life becomes far more manageable, and chaos becomes far less prevalent. Within the newfound safety of sobriety, we find that we feel rather uncomfortable. We have become so prone to living amidst madness and mess that any feeling of calm or serenity induces extreme anxiety. We may begin to feel as if we are relentlessly waiting for the other shoe to drop – for shit to hit the fan. And then a crisis occurs (real or perceived). Our housemate steals our peanut butter, or we find out our best friend has been getting high and lying about it, or we get sexually involved with someone who is still deep in the throes of their sickness. We feel exhilarated – alive. We feel ourselves again. Once we engage in chaos, we are well on our way to relapse. Even if we choose not to pick up a drink or a drug, we are far from living in a sober and serene state of mind. In most cases, it is only a matter of time until we do pick up.

Involving ourselves in chaos once we decide to get sober can be extremely damaging. It is in our nature, sure, but this does not mean it is right or healthy. In order to maintain fulfilled, long-term recovery, we must adapt to calmness, composure, and authentic serenity. We will often involve ourselves in the chaos of someone or something else, inadvertently abandoning ourselves in the process. The focus is ripped from our own healing and placed entirely into something external. Often, we will develop deep resentments as a result of this chaos – especially if it concerns someone we love or are close to. We tend to get involved in family chaos whenever we can, because it is so readily available and effective. We really get off on diving back into family dysfunction headfirst – we really do. Our false sense of identity comes rushing back. We feel the need to take action, to take on the burdens of others, and to stay deeply entangled no matter how much pain or anxiety it causes us. What is more difficult than staying involved or becoming re-involved in the drama, however, is truly detaching with love and grace. Though once we do this, we will be able to comprehensively recover, and grow comfortable in and accustomed to self-possession and harmony.

Many newly sober individuals truly believe that they do everything in their power to avoid drama and chaos, somehow winding up (victimized) at the center of one tumultuous circumstance after another. In reality, these individuals have perfected the art of creating chaos in order to trigger the physiological stress response, which provides a rush of endorphins somewhat comparable to a high or a drunk. The denial surrounding chaos addiction typically runs just as deep as the denial surrounding any other form of chemical or behavioral dependency.

Are You a Chaos Addict?

Dr. Phil McGraw, former psychologist and current host of the television show Dr. Phil, developed a quick test geared towards determining whether or not an individual is unwittingly addicted to creating chaos in his or her life.

* Do you usually yell and scream to make your point?
* Do you ramp things up to win every argument?
* If you get sick, do you feel that EVERYONE should know about it?
* When you argue, do you ever break things or knock them over?
* Does being calm or bored sound like the worst thing to you?
* Do you ever yell at strangers if you feel that they are in your way?
* Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention?
* Is there usually a crisis to solve in your life?
* Do you break up or threaten a break up with a mate often?
* Are you usually the one who starts fights?

Answer each question ‘true’ or ‘false’. If you answered ‘true’ to five or more of the above-listed questions, you may be a drama-seeking chaos addict. While we may not consider Dr. Phil to be the most reputable psychologist to date, his study definitively proves that unrelenting drama is attractive to some – especially, it has been found, to those who have grown up in harshly dysfunctional households, and who concurrently grapple with substance dependency issues. Take an honest look at your relationship with unnecessary dramatics, and if you feel you are clinging onto chaos because of the relief it provides, it may be time to work through some deep-seated, unresolved issues regarding your family of origin.

For more information, please feel free to contact us today.