Self-medicating is the way in which people use mind altering substances to manage anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Schizophrenics smoke cigarettes at much higher rates than people without mental illness and have a harder time quitting. Let's face it; most of us have sub-par coping skills and need something to help us through the scary bits. This doesn't have to be getting high, getting drunk, or smoking. It can be religion, relationships, sex, food, shopping, or gambling.
I have a long history of getting involved with men who are addicts. They had the easily recognizable type of addictions: mostly alcohol and prescription painkillers. We'd do the usual codependent dance before I'd get dizzy and nauseous and then I'd be surprised when the relationship ended in disaster. I've been trying to sort out the reason why this particular cycle keeps repeating itself. It's because relationships and sex are my addictions. They are the way that I cover up the anxiety I feel, the darkness of loneliness and my fear that I won't be loved. That I'll die old and alone and my fifty german shepherds will devour my corpse because no one will notice that I'm gone.
One of the first things that a person who is self medicating has to do is stop doing what she's been doing because it isn't fixing the problem. The solution is making the problem worse. Then she needs to address the underlying damage, the "why". The why is low self esteem and fear. The real solution is love.
I'm not talking about more relationships, more sex. I'm talking about loving yourself and recognizing the love that's already there under our noses. Our friends, families (as dysfunctional as they are), our pets, your particular version of divinity. These are all sources of brilliant, warm, unflinching adoration and love. Holy cow! Most of the time we don't even recognize how lucky we are. It's an embarrassment of riches!
The other major part of recovering from addiction is abstaining from the thing that has been covering up the fear in such a self destructive fashion. Alcoholics have to stop drinking. Drug addicts have to stop using. Relationship addicts have to be single. We all have to go through a period of detox in order to deal with the frightening darkness. There's no way to deal with the darkness without the light of love.
I'm going to keep working on this. I'm no longer willing to do the codependent hokey-pokey. I'm going to learn some new dance steps.