Enjoy reading through the chapter on Fantasy from the new release, ‘Love, the Drug’ which is available now on Amazon.ca
“I’ve been coming to the same coffee shop for the last year. Most mornings when I come in, Kelly is there making beverages. In my mind, Kelly is outdoorsy, has a large family, and a great sense of humour. I remember the first time I saw him – it was love at first sight. I knew he was the right person for me, inside and out. We have so much in common as I also love the outdoors, family values, and a good laugh. Our relationship isn’t perfect but it’s great. It’s nice to have someone to spend time with. Getting engaged, married, having kids, and growing old together – I can’t imagine doing it with anyone other than Kelly. I can also remember some of our bigger fights, like about where we would live as we had different ideas about what neighbourhood we preferred and what type of house would best suit us and a growing family. I was also upset when Kelly didn’t have any interest in hanging out with my friends, who are important to me. Some of these issues we still need to resolve. I find myself thinking about them often in my head, what I will say and how I can make the situations okay for both of us . . .
As I do every day, I take my tea, smile shyly at the barista, and leave the coffee shop. Maybe one day I will have the courage to talk to Kelly the barista; at least I think that is his name. I’ve never gotten close enough to see the name tag to know for sure. Until then, the relationship with Kelly continues in my mind.”
Fantasy as a Symptom
Fantasy is often one of the earliest symptoms of Addiction that people can identify, as the world of imagination is an option for escape, reward, and/or relief long before substances like drugs and alcohol enter the picture. Fantasy may coexist alongside other acting out behaviours, like food or media, which may also be used from young ages for escape, reward, or relief.
What does it mean to live in fantasy? People automatically assume fantasy is living in a desirable imaginary place, but fantasy can also mean living in catastrophe and worst-case scenarios. Fantasy is living in a realm that is not real, often with scenarios that are highly improbable.
Logan’s story is a great example of this. It is highly unlikely he will begin dating the barista that he thinks is named Kelly and marry him if they have never even had a conversation. In Logan’s mind, he knows Kelly very well from some brief observation. In reality, he does not know him at all, and his brain has made up a story about who Kelly is, including his personality and interests. While it may feel appealing and rewarding for Logan to live in this fantasy, there is a lot of pain associated with it. Every time Logan sees this barista at the coffee shop, there is likely shame, sadness, and loneliness triggered, as he is reminded that he does not have a romantic relationship, has not had the courage to speak to the barista, and is unsure about the future of his romantic relationships.
Addiction thrives in this scenario as it creates the illusion of relief and escape when Logan is drawn into this fantasy world (it feels comfortable and soothing to be in it); meanwhile, there is a lot of pain and uncomfortable feelings activated that get covered up by living in the fantasy. Logan may not even be aware of these feelings and, hence, they stay buried. As they remain buried, they grow each time he sees the barista, as well as during other interactions he has in life that are related to similar feelings of shame, sadness, and loneliness.
For example, when Logan attends family events and is asked about his dating life, shame gets activated and he starts to run the familiar scripts in his brain of “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have a partner?” This is uncomfortable, so in the pursuit of relief, the fantasy of Kelly comes back in and soothes these feelings. It acts much like a Band-Aid covering an open wound, however. The fantasy does nothing to heal the underlying injury, merely covers it up so that it is easier to pretend the wound is not there
The Physiological Impact of Fantasy
Acting out in fantasy provides a dopamine release. Even if the fantasy is rooted in painful imagination, it still takes one out of reality and provides a dopamine spike. Anything that is different or emotionally activating releases dopamine, which tells the brain it needs more of this and to remember to do this again. This builds over time and as Logan encounters new environments and situations where shame, sadness, and loneliness are triggered, his Addiction covers it up using fantasy, which stuffs the feelings further under cover where they continue to grow. This is another example of how Addiction operates as a self-perpetuating cycle. Sometimes fantasy is no longer sufficient to keep these feelings at bay, so the disease will turn to other acting out behaviours, which may include anything from food to gambling, work to exercise, media to sex, drugs to alcohol, or it will ‘up’ the fantasy, moving along the tolerance-intoxication spectrum to something that does provide a dopamine release.
The Emotional Impact of Fantasy
There is the saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ and many believe that those who are living in fantasy and disconnected from reality and their feelings are in a state of bliss devoid of suffering. This is not the case. People who are caught in fantasy are suffering greatly as there are moments where reality pokes through – no matter how strong the fantasy and delusion – and with it the crushing weight of the pain associated with avoided reality. Fantasy is turned to in greater quantities and extremes to avoid this building pain. While difficult to face, however, reality truly is preferable to fantasy.
The brain with Addiction will go to amazing lengths to protect its fuel and continue to find outlets to generate activity, which is where stashes can come into play.