We are all addicted, just in different ways.
Are you conscious of your addiction? Refuse to be defined by it? Are you drawn to more profound meaning and purpose and believe that it’s possible to grow through your addiction? Well, welcome home! Let’s share the journey from addiction to freedom.
Addiction in the general social psyche gets looked down on. It’s almost spoken about like it’s a disease that a select few people get. It’s widely believed that only a minority of people have addictions.
This is not true. Some addictions are debilitating, detrimental, and destructive, like smoking and drugs. Yet, these same mind patterns exist inside us all and manifest in different ways.
1: Defining Addiction
One of my ongoing contemplations is the definition of addiction, and I recommend the one from Dr. Gable Maté. He is a renowned expert on addiction. He explains that any destructive or detrimental behaviour that produces cravings difficult to stop is an addiction. These addictions are relatively easy to spot, such as smoking or other substance use. However, it’s less easy to spot with more subtle addictions.
2: Subtle Addictions
Addiction can be far more subtle than most people expect. For example, I would call negative thinking an addiction. It’s a behaviour that can become a habit very quickly when a challenge arises. If someone has that negative thinking, there’s a fear that pops up. They start to think, ‘What if I can’t do this?’ and then they begin to imagine all the negative possibilities out of fear and, therefore, get blocked from moving forward. I see that as an addiction, but on a more subtle level, like a mental addiction.
You could also consider some emotions addicting too. Emotions are natural things, but I think you can learn to recognise when a feeling comes up as to whether it’s healthy to respond in that way or not. For example, let’s say someone flies off the handle or gets angry. They have the right to be angry; of course, it’s only natural, but how they respond could be seen as addictive. You can get a rise out of people when you say certain things. If someone has perpetual anger issues, it can become a bad habit that develops over time into an emotional addiction.
3: Identity Addiction
Let’s go back to the angry person. They might have a powerful protective mechanism causing these outbursts because whatever happened touched on something painful, shameful, or embarrassing for them. They attack back to try and create safety, to balance the situation. I don’t believe it’s a conscious thought, however. Some people might be consciously trying to preserve their pride.
An example of this would be surfing. If someone’s already on the wave, you don’t drop in because the other person could crash into you. If this angry person dropped in on a wave, all you would hear is swearing. According to surfing conventions, the angry person was at fault. However, that person needed to keep their status intact, so they lashed out even when they were wrong to preserve their identity.
I view this as an identity addiction. The other person publicly called out their behaviour, and they viewed it as a threat to their identity. There is a lack of understanding about who they are since they have this constructed view of themselves and feel they need to be tough enough to threaten the other person.
4: Finding Balance
I worked as an acupuncturist for fifteen years, and Chinese medicines have a way of thinking that’s very different from Western thinking. One of the core principles is Yin and Yang, the two opposite but harmonising polarities like activity and rest. No matter what’s happening outside, everyone is trying to balance these inner forces on the inside.
There is no defined answer to finding balance within yourself, but there are some things I’ve noted that can help.
We are continually trying to find a solution to be happy and balanced within an unhappy environment, so some of the behaviours we fall into are destructive and addictive. When most of our experiences are unhappy, we’re more likely to become addicted to things that can bring us happiness. If we can keep replacing temporary happiness with another, that becomes an addiction.
External experiences come and go, and to break the cycle, we have to search for true happiness. It’s about finding peace, a stable equilibrium, inside and out, despite the external events. To do this, we need to look at who and what we are. It is essential but challenging and goes against what our brains do best.
5: Fight and Flight Survival
The brain has survival instincts hardwired into it to avoid pain. When there’s danger, you either run and hide, get away from the threat, or stand and fight. This technique helped us survive, but we’ve now applied that unconsciously to every day of pains and sufferings.
Many addictive behaviours end up having this fight or flight built into them. When they try and break away from that behaviour and change it, the fight or flight rears up with fear, anxiety, and irritability, bringing you back to the addictive behaviour.
6: Trust and Addiction
I work with many people trying to quit smoking, and this vicious survival cycle becomes obvious. They want to stop, but the fear of not having what makes them happy in itself is so stressful that straight away, there is that fight or flight. It’s a miserable state to be in, so if you’re not aware of being in fight or flight, I can imagine that the first thing you would do would be to go for what makes a quick fix. Whether it’s a Netflix binge, using drugs, going back to bad relationships, or staying in a bad job. You go back to what you know and what feels safe.
With addiction, trust is an essential factor. You need to trust that you can combat the fear. You can write down that things will be okay. Trust yourself with a form of gratitude by writing a list of what you are grateful for and remembering that the inner and outer selves are the same, like waves and the ocean. A wave has its ripples, rises, and falls, but looking a bit deeper into what it’s made of, you know it’s the same water to the ocean. It can look and feel choppy on the surface, but trust that underneath there is a calmer sea. There is no wanting that deep down, no craving. There will still be some currents, but the deeper you go into the ocean, that is yourself, you can find peace.
Listen to the whole podcast here: https://lnns.co/ANyadxie0kM. For more information on Dr. Maté, visit https://drgabormate.com.