Addiction vs. Obesession

Posted: September 15, 2013 in Lifestyle
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I love me my crap television.  There…I said it.  Of course, I still tune in and avidly follow a few popular television shows with Kelly.  As many couples do I suppose, our day typically ends with us cuddled up in our comfy chair with a big bowl of popcorn and the cat watching the latest episode of ‘The Amazing Race’, ‘Big Brother’, or ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’.  It’s the perfect end to an otherwise perfect day, particularly if I’ve had to endure a long workout (or two) throughout that day.  However, on the few occasions I do get the television all to myself I prefer to watch me some crap television.   What can I say?  I like those rare opportunities to simply turn off my brain and enter into a blissful vegetative state.

It was during one of these solo vegetative states that I happened to end up watching an episode of ‘My Strange Addiction’  on TLC.  What a complete freak show.  Don’t just take my word for it:


Yeah, like I said:  f-r-e-a-k show.

So, as I sat there I became mesmerized while watching stories about a girl who eats chalk, another who has to sleep with her hair dryer, a guy who insists he has a romantic relationship with his car and some other total wacko who prefers blow-up dolls to actual women.  I know, right?  Anyway, the last case they brought forth for our scrutiny was the story about some guy who – *gasp* – likes to run.  Yeah.  Apparently, his addiction to running qualifies him ‘insane’ as his girlfriend was very vocal in venting to the cameras.  Get this:  he runs marathons and is even preparing to run an ultra-marathon.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I also think that this whole ‘Ultra’ thing is slightly nutty, well, just a bit nuttier than Ironman competitions anyway.  But still?  Since when does running qualify as an ‘addiction’?  Or it is?

So in a way, my interest has now been piqued in that I am now wondering if I am in fact an addict.  I mean, I run.  I swim.  I bike.  A lot!  So this must make me the complete epitome of extreme wackiness in the eyes of this shows producers, right?  But do other people think that too?  How do other triathletes view their hobby?  I wonder.  So I started doing some research on the differences between Addiction and Obsession (Addiction’s gentler, more stable step-brother).

>>For those of you who might like a little background music before you read further click HERE<<

On the surface, obsession and an addiction can very similar but the root is very different.  For instance, you can gamble every week spending approximately $100 on lottery tickets; gambling in this example is your behavior that can be obsessive, addictive or both.  The obsessive part of your behavior is gambling at the same store, on the same day, at the same time, with the same numbers and while wearing the same favorite purple Hawaiian shirt you haven’t laundered in years, and if it’s not done in this manner then you genuinely believe you cannot win.  It doesn’t matter if there is evidence of past wins or not; it only matters that these things be done a certain way.  The addictive part of your behavior is dreaming of how that money will be spent, what will be bought, and who will benefit from the winnings.  The dreaming is active and an entire day can be spent just thinking about the possibilities (Lord knows I have).

Swimming, biking and running is very similar in that it’s something I do, like, every day.  I have my preferred routes for particular days, I have a schedule I try to maintain without fail, there are certain times I prefer to take advantage of the lane swims, heck, there are even specific clothes I like to wear given what I’m planning doing so, yeah, I guess I am pretty obsessive about it.  But addicted?  I’m not so sure.  Addiction would come with the absolute need to feel the endorphin rush that follows a hard workout, or the endless visualization of my crossing the finish line in first place to the cheers of my adoring fans.  You get me I’m sure and, hey, I might experience a little of that visualization too.  Uh-oh!

When you obsess, ritualistic routines are part of your everyday life.  Perhaps you comb your hair the same way you did as a teenager, you recheck all of the doors at night even though you have been told it is already locked, you replay the same conversation over and over again just trying to figure it out, you wash your hands after anyone touches them, you clean with bleach because that is the only way to get things truly clean, you straighten things up and like things in neat rows, or you count the number of beeps on your car door lock before believing it is locked.  In my case, I make lists…lots of lists.  All of these behaviors have roots in fear.  Fear that if you don’t follow your routine you will get a headache, fear that if you don’t recheck things the house will burn down, fear that you will miss something important if you can’t figure out the conversation, fear that you might get infected and die, fear that if things aren’t clean someone might think badly about you, fear that if things aren’t straight your whole life will be out-of-order, or fear that if you don’t hear a certain number you will lose the car.  I make lists for and of absolutely everything for the fear that I might forget something important.  Fear, either real or imagined, leads to obsessive behavior.  Maybe I work out then because I fear being sick and helpless.  Heavens knows I’ve spent a good portion of life feeling that way and I never wish to reopen that chapter of my life, like, ever.

However, when you are addicted, you never feel satisfied unless using the substance.  Perhaps you drink alcohol to relax, take prescription drugs to numb the pain, shop for clothing to feel better about how you look, gamble to earn quick easy money, look at porn to feel desirable, smoke to unwind, watch soap operas to feel romantic, play video games to feel successful or eat sugar to get energy.  All of these behaviors have roots in escaping from an undesirable place to a desirable place and in fantasy living.  Fantasizing about a life without stress, fantasizing about a life without pain, fantasizing about a body that you want, fantasizing about having lots of money, fantasizing about being desirable, fantasizing about less anxiety, fantasizing about a romantic relationship, or fantasizing about never having to want for anything.  Your fantasy life, either from real experiences or imagined, leads to addictive behavior.  On that token, maybe I work out because I don’t want to be mediocre and have lived this life having accomplished nothing significant.  Triathlon gives me that sense of purpose and direction in that I am working towards achieving something more than just mediocrity.  And, believe me, when my sole accomplishment used to be simply getting out of bed before noon, the workouts I’m doing now are nothing short of miraculous.  Now it feels like I’m striving to be great and do great things and I enjoy the feeling I get from that.

You're fucked.Now, when you put obsessive and addictive behavior together it intensifies both the desire to avoid fear and the desire to escape.  While you may clean with bleach because you fear that someone might think you are dirty, you can also become addicted to the smell of bleach and fantasize about living dirt free.  Or you can fantasize about being the best video game player and insist that you can’t be successful at video games until you reach a certain level three times.  This is precisely why it is hard to recover from obsessive and addictive behavior because they can be co-mingled rather easily.  I might swim three times a week because I dream of one day completing a lake crossing, or some other long distance swim event of great significance, but in doing that I also get addicted to the smell of chlorine or the feeling of a latex swim cap on my head, whatever.  Perhaps I cycle because I dream of successfully competing in a challenging bike race one day, but then end up addicted to the feeling of chamois cream smeared over my ass.  Maybe these things have happened already and I’m just in denial.  Who knows?  The main difference between an obsession and an addiction is pleasure.  This is because an obsession usually refers to compulsive behavior that the individual feels driven to do. Even though the individual may know that engaging in this behavior will not benefit them, or may even be causing them suffering, they feel compelled to do it anyway.  With addiction the individual always believes that they are seeking pleasure. The individual is deluded into thinking that these substances give them joy long after the cons of taking them far outweigh and pros.  One of the biggest delusions held by addicts is that the more enjoyable early days of substance abuse will one day return.  So, maybe I am a little addicted in this regard.  Double uh-oh!

Oh God, maybe I do deserve to be on this show right after the crazy hairdryer lady.  But, hey, what about ‘Passion’?  Where people can be either obsessive or addictive with, say, food, others can simply be passionate about it too, right?  The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once stated:

Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.


The word passion  comes from the Greek word ‘paskho’  which, quite literally, means “to suffer”.  Yeah, now we’re talking.  It is now used to refer to an intense emotion that involves a desire or enthusiasm for something.  To say that somebody is passionate about something is often meant in a positive sense. In fact, lack of passion can be a common reason for why people will fail at a goal.  When people are passionate it means that they are motivated and willing to go the extra mile to achieve their goal.  If people feel a lack of passion for any activity they will usually find it to be dull and tedious.  If the individual has a passion for food it does not mean that they are doing anything wrong – they are engaging in something that is bringing them pleasure.  Okay, I like where this is going again.

One of the key differences between passion and addiction is the presence of guilt. When people feel passionate about something they have an inner conviction that they are doing exactly what they should be doing at that moment.  The addict does not have such certainty.  Even when they are in the depths of denial they will still feel guilty about their behavior.  This is what drives them to attempt to hide their addiction.  If they didn’t feel guilty they would not feel the need to become defensive when their behavior was challenged.  Is this how I feel about my compulsive work outs?  After all, it’s hard to hide away from society when you’re running down the middle of the road in a neon top and stretchy shorts, and I certainly don’t feel ashamed about it either.   Maybe drags up a whole other host of questions about me, but an addict I am definitely not.  Perhaps a little south of total moron, but I’m not bat shit crazy.  Whew!

So what am I?  Am I obsessive, addicted, or just passionate about triathlon?  Maybe I’m just a smidgeon of all of them together?  I dunno really. I probably exhibit tendencies from all three categories. But that’s not altogether surprising given that most other triathletes I know are also a little, well, nutty in their own forthright.  So I am definitely in good company whatever it is I am, although, for the time being I am going to go with ‘passionate’ as it’s the least nutso of the bunch. Thank God, as I’m definitely not ready to be ‘guy-with-the-blow-up-doll’ kind of crazy…yet.


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