Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
Dedicated to all those of you scared of losing MD.
If someone were to give you a pill that would cure MD, would you take it?
Would you end this?
You could call this a typical dilemma that eventually slaps every addict in the face and keeps them in maddening state of duality, yet this is such a sly question to ask oneself because you can’t answer it before answering another question first:
What is a ‘cure’ to you? What is your definition of life without MD?
Based on how you answer this one, the entire process of overcoming MD becomes preshaped in your head, paved with obstacles you expect to encounter, sacrifices you expect to make, side-effects you expect to suffer. If, to you, losing MD is like seeing all books burned is to a writer, will you be eager to overcome it? Of course not. If your idea of recovery is flawed, if your final destination is supposed to be a throne built on self-sacrifices, you will subconsciously do everything to never ever arrive there – even if you are consciously headed that way. Overcoming MD is a bit like intentionally walking into fire, and your instincts are programmed to make you hesitate.
But what if there’s no fire at all? What if it’s just our fear of fire and being burned that is holding us back?
If fantasy is the stubborn art of holding on, letting go is its opposite. By letting go, it’s almost as if you are committing a metaphorical suicide, a sort of self mutilation, where you give up bits of yourself embedded in a daydream in return for something that is supposed to be freedom, hoping the world will someday make sense but never being convinced of it. A part of you is terrified of overcoming MD because to you, somewhere at some tucked away part of your mind, there is a hardwired, irrational belief that overcoming MD means losing yourself. And if recovery is only a compromise where you have to choose the lesser of two evils, where being free of MD means losing feelings or creativity or oneself altogether, you will instinctively sabotage all your conscious efforts centered on quitting – which is expected, and maybe, the most human thing to do after all. Reluctance to overcome MD is based on this very belief that one excludes and nullifies another – and yet, this happens to be a fallacy. Do you in your hearts of hearts really believe that in order for this to end you have to make such a bargain? If overcoming MD means losing what makes you human, would you settle for such a compromise and go as far as to call it a cure? Is that supposed to be freedom?
It may seem counterintuitive but, while overcoming MD does involve an immense, insane fear of letting go, it ultimately does not involve losing or giving anything up because there is nothing to give up in the first place. Everything was and will always be yours and the only problem all along was you not realizing this.
Fantasy is a canvas onto which you paint and project what was already inside you. When you lose fantasy, it is canvas you lose, not your creativity or the colors or your feelings. But without the canvas, without something through which your passion materializes and becomes (elusively) tangible, your true colors are never shown and your feelings never come alive – and right here you falsely come to believe that it is your passion and creativity that are gone. They are not – you are just missing a canvas to paint them onto. Without the canvas, they go inexpressible, indefinable and hidden from you. But they are still there.
The fleeting feelings that come with fantasy are like radio waves to your mind that is an antenna and a receiver, where signal is always there but without the antenna and the receiver, waves are never converted to music and in turn, music is never heard. Likewise, without MD, you only lose that temporal, fleeting access to your feelings but not the feelings themselves. How many times have you heard someone saying that they won’t give up MD because it would take away their imagination? The problem here is, MD does not make you more creative or imaginative, it does not make you a potential writer or give you any particular talents. If you are creative, you were always creative and MD was merely giving you a chance to express through fantasy what you always carried inside you and what could have been expressed in myriads of different ways had you been more confident of yourself. Your feelings, your imagination have always existed and will exist regardless of MD. But these traits and feelings all need a healthier platform than fantasy, a canvas through which they can be materialized and observed, through which they can be truly experienced: you – with a healthy sense of self, self that allows itself to experience entire spectrum of feelings, without diverting and changing them so that they hurt less. How can a daydreamer’s broken self that runs away from itself host feelings when it can’t even handle itself?
By overcoming MD, you are not overcoming imagination or fantasy but your addiction to it. Don’t be afraid. At the end of the day, the only thing you are letting go is a false sense of comfort and the urge to censor and always be in control of your feelings. Everything else is still there, awaiting for a healthier canvas, awaiting for you. Surrender to the feelings as they really are and see where they take you.
– Characters and Attachments –
Daydreams are not so much about your fictional lovers or friends as about you. You are projecting what little is left of your hopes to the characters you dream of being emotionally involved with so when you lose them to reality, you are also losing the image of yourself where you have finally reached self-acceptance and that frail, fleeting sense of belonging. Fantasy is made of metaphors where your unconscious doesn’t always pick the most explicit ways to talk back to you but when it does speak, it is telling you something big and your daydream characters are its expressions. They are not randomly invented or picked up personas or identities, they are mirrors and personifications of unresolved issues that are bothering you, they are feelings that slip in and out of selves. Your feelings. That is why abandoning them feels as if your soul got torn off – because in a way, it did. It is specific emotions you crave to experience and, with characters being embodiments of those emotions, your craving automatically extends to characters and you are caught in a web of dangerous attachments. And if your insatiable attachment to characters originates from attachment to your own dissociated feelings, then you are virtually attached to something that was rightfully yours all along and you were elusively reclaiming it back through MD.
Most of us think of these characters, i.e. feelings as something separate from ourselves, something that came as a gift when we first plunged into MD, and consequently, something that will have to be taken away from us once we let go of MD – and it is from this construct that the pain and unhealthy attachments originate – from never really recognizing that they were always supposed to be yours. This is the crux of dissociation after all: inability to recognize parts of yourself as your own, falling for your own illusion of separation over and over again. You mistake the part for the whole and then wonder why you feel so incomplete.
Analyze your fantasies and characters and when you think about them, think in terms of feelings. If one daydreams about being a singer, it’s not the role of a singer that one craves and that creates the high – it’s the feelings that come with it, the confidence, the effortless flow of emotions. People don’t get addicted to drugs. They get addicted to feelings that drugs trigger in them. When one gets addicted to benzodiazepines, it’s the feeling of calm and spontaneity and absence of anxiety that is the main catalyst for both creating and reinforcing addiction, not the chemical formula of the drug. It’s the feeling of calm that one is always returning to, not the drug itself. Same goes for you. While the narrative content of your fantasies does give you incredibly important cues on where your issues lie, it is not being a hero or having the adventure of your life that you want – it is the feelings these situations and scenarios awake in you.
Fantasy is a bit of a non-self state. Just like in dreams, identities gets muddled, you change forms and selves, you experience emotions through other people and it becomes hard to tell where you begin and where the others end. And yet, all your characters are you in a way – they are vessels into which you incarnate bits of yourself and pretend they are someone else, they are personifications that go beyond the self and identities, they are manifestations of your ability to receive and give love, of your spontaneous self, free from inhibitions and anxieties of your current self. Even if you daydream about real people, there is no reality other than that inside your heart and everything else is just a projection canvas for it, even other people.
No other drug or addiction will give you as much information about what is going on beneath the surface as fantasy. For example, in third-person fantasies involving love between two characters, sometimes, love is just love and sometimes, romance has absolutely nothing to do with romance and the two characters can represent two conflicting views or beliefs that the mind is unconsciously trying to consolidate. Every character in your fantasy is there for a reason. They are riddles to be cracked and translated to a feeling that needs to be dealt with, which eventually makes the attachment to that particular character or fantasy resolve on its own and takes away the feeling of duality.
It took me a lot of pain over the past few years, a lot of internal struggles to be able to write what I just wrote. I don’t even know if these conclusions make sense to someone who hasn’t felt at least once that they have the right to the feelings experienced in fantasy. It’s a tough road ahead, probably with more failures than victories, but if you focus on strengthening your sense of self, there is a point where duality slowly starts breaking and feelings from fantasy start to bleed in the real self. It is in daydreamer’s nature to engage in a dangerous self-negation, becoming lesser so that fantasy can become greater because to us, for one to become stronger, the other indispensably has to become weaker. And so you learn to toss yourself aside, convinced that you can only have one at a time, never quite knowing that this split is reconcilable.
Thank you so much for writing this! And for all of your writings, really. I actually completely changed my way of thinking about MDD after reading your post from last year that you titled "Yes, you can overcome Maladaptive Daydreaming." I have even shared the link with other MDDers! :) Your conclusions do make sense, even if they sometimes seem hard or impossible to accept because it's just easier to keep delving into fantasies than to try and stop. But reading your writings is what convinced me that I need to stop, so thank you for that. :)
Thanks for your comment, Jenn! And that's exactly why I wrote this. Fears of quitting are merely fears, with no actual danger around and it's such a waste of time and energy to be held back by expectations of something bad that's not even there.
I already described my approach here. :) Long story short, having a particular daydream is just an indicator that a certain part of you is suppressed. When there's a certain type of energy, like a particular feeling (anger, sadness, whatever) that you crave to release through that part of the self that's suppressed, the feeling cannot be expressed since what's needed for its expression is blocked. Feelings cannot be released raw and hence they become a craving, a daydream. So you fix them using the same logic. When you start to speak up your mind, idealized daydreams stop. When you learn to deal with helplessness and became more assertive, daydreams focusing on you having control stop. When you overcome fears of intimacy or whatever is causing them, romantic dreams stop and you can focus on real people, etc. So it all comes down to identifying underlying problems and dealing with that. MD is not really your enemy. Which means overcoming it depends wholly on overcoming what lies beneath. While one person for may have MD because of excessive shyness, another may have it because of severe depression or PTSD, so recovery will work so differently for these two cases. It's all completely subjective. I don't get cravings anymore because I always try to release this energy raw, without needing to distort it. Have I overcome MD? Yes, I can say so. It doesn't bother me, I don't get cravings, there's no reality vs. fantasy split in me anymore. Have I overcome all the things that caused it in the first place? Almost. I can say I'm winning. My original problem was dysthymia, the low-grade depression, and whenever there's still something in me that needs fixing, I don't try to self-medicate through MD but try to release raw whatever feeling is bothering me and then deal with it for what it really is.
You're welcome. I hope you'll find it useful!
Cann C said:
Thanks so much for the link. I will definitely be spending some time reading through it all. I definitely see myself in what I have read so far. Great info!
Thank you for the beautiful post! I've been trying to overcome MDD for many years now, and your post just gave me an extra kick of motivation. From the last few years of my experience, I've noticed how as my daydreams decrease, my fulfillment and ability to create in life increases. I completely agree that daydreaming is merely a canvas for the colors we have inside of us, and that although it may be difficult, we must learn to project those colors onto a healthier medium (real life). Thank you so much!
Thank you guys. ^^ Good luck both of you!
Nope, not a professional.
That's something only you can answer. My own answer would be that as long as the tendency to isolate yourself in order to act out particular emotion exists, then you are indeed having difficulty expressing said emotions in normal social situations and there are parts of you that are still buried.
I think you can easily answer it by tackling several other questions. What emotions in particular are you coming in touch with when having an episode of MD? Can you experience these emotions in normal waking life when surrounded by others? If no, why not? What prevents you? If yes, then why aren't you doing it? What stops you? If daydreaming that you're jogging gives you high but jogging itself bores you, try to find a reason why this happens. If you had the same skills as James Bond in an environment that's identical to his environment while you remained your real self, would you still get high from it? You can also always force yourself to stop daydreaming. If you feel like crap after abstaining, then you have a problem.
MD exists to help us express what we otherwise have difficulty expressing. Some have it bad while it's rather mild for the others. Addiction doesn't have to originate from severe depression. It can originate from simple shyness that is preventing a person to communicate their own values.
I've always thought that if someone stripped away my MD, I would be brain dead. I've been MD-ing since I was 6 years old; I can't imagine how I would process information without MD-ing.
I don't know if I need to give up MDD 100%, but I do know how to not let it get to 'dangerous' levels and I do have a number of rules in place that stop it from going bad. And i know I've got issues, MDD only helps somewhat, but I'm getting better.
It's a bit like drinking. Some ex-alcoholics never touch a drink again. Others have the occasional drink. Others go onto another addiction. Some have functional lives, some never do. But some non-addicted people have dysfunctional lives too!