by Dale Wolery
Preoccupation, distractibility and unmanageability are words any addict could use to describe some of the particularly baffling symptoms of the addictive process. All addicts pay attention to their drug of choice. And all addicts fail to pay attention to the things that really deserve attention. In time, our serenity is swallowed by the power of the addictive process. Manageability submits to loss of control. Addictions disrupt life. The same thing happens to people struggling with attention deficit disorder (ADD). A life full of preoccupation, distractibility and unmanageability is something that addicts and people with ADD share.
ADD in adults can have the same personally cunning and baffling feeling as addiction. People struggling with either problem find that “normal” is difficult to describe or enjoy. The distortions caused by the disease too often become the only definition of “normal” the ADD sufferer knows. It is especially bewildering for someone battling both addiction and ADD. This issue of STEPS addresses adult ADD, its impact on life, its interaction with addiction and the hope for recovery that is available.
Having intimately known preoccupation, distractibility and unmanageability, I found it necessary to begin addressing these issues in my own life. I experienced the thought that I might have ADD as nothing more than a friendly way to poke fun at my foibles, until a medical doctor friend gave me a copy of Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey.1 She suggested I look closely at the possibility that ADD is a very real part of my life. I read the book and experienced an old familiar feeling that the authors knew me far too well.
I’m not far enough along in understanding ADD to conclusively make my own “professional” diagnosis of myself. Though the authors warn against such self-diagnosis, they do list characteristics, describe real-life ADD stories and hold up the mirror for such evaluation. So far, lousy medical insurance, not enough time in the day, and the central importance of working my addiction program have been my excuses for avoiding professional help about this matter.
So why am I prematurely telling on myself? I’m doing it because even my initial examination of adult ADD has been personally enlightening and encouraging. Perhaps you can identify with and be helped by my early musings on this issue.
I started reading Driven to Distraction on an airplane. I was less than ten pages into it when the young professional sitting next to me pointed at the book and casually asked if I were a doctor or “one of them.” The two options he gave me felt a bit confining, but I answered honestly, “I’m not a doctor, but a doctor thinks I might be ‘one of them.'” I was immediately aware of the feelings inside me. Shame and a tinge of anger emerged with the “one of them” comment. How could this be? Me feeling more shame? I’ve been working on shame reduction for a long time. Enough already!
With addictions or ADD there is always the accompanying self-perpetuating shame. I get weary, full-of-shame weary, about the possibility of carrying one more label, admitting to one more dysfunction, working with one more problem. Do I really have to recover from everything ever invented in the history of humankind? I suspect this shame is one of the reasons I haven’t yet made the appointment with a professional.
It’s strange, though, that in telling you the truth about my embryonic journey toward a possible ADD diagnosis, I feel the shame being reduced a bit. It works that way with addictions, too. Telling the truth reduces the shame. Reading more has helped me as well. I learned that bright, competent, creative, wonderful people wrestle with ADD. In addition, I was helped by another discovery on the plane. I discovered that although my fellow passenger was a psychiatrist, even he couldn’t tell whether I was a doctor or someone with ADD. I was relieved to realize that ADD may not be obvious, even to those trained to recognize it.
Shame is powerfully enslaving. We must not let it block us from the help we need. If we are wrestling with ADD, there is no shame. Just reality.
I’ve been feeling some renewed hope about possibly having ADD. If I am “one of them,” the diagnosis explains for me and others in my life what is real, what I am really up against. That knowledge and my appropriate responses could enable me to get beyond some of the mysterious maladies I’ve wrestled with. Realizing this gives me hope. And hope spawns other advances.
Also emerging early in this journey is a renewed interest in structuring my life. I don’t find it as scary or as discouraging as I did a few months ago to think about planning, scheduling, and working a program of structured recovery. It is somehow friendlier to invite discipline into the unmanaged portions of my life. For me this is a breakthrough.
Without even being diagnosed, I am dealing once again with shame. And yet I am gaining some hope and creating necessary structure in my life. Not bad. When—not if—I obtain a competent professional evaluation, the work will not be over. I will have certain tasks to do even if medication is prescribed. Keeping hope alive, creating innovative personal structure and reducing shame are likely to be lifelong tasks for each of us in recovery from addiction, ADD or both.
What if a skilled professional says I am not suffering from ADD? If that’s true, then I am just a recovering addict learning to trust his Higher Power. One who has more compassion for and understanding of the powerful and baffling disease of adult ADD. One with more hope, more structure and less shame than I had before.
Dale Wolery is the executive director of the Clergy Recovery Network
1 Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey (Simon & Schuster, 1995).