We are all addicts, in some way.
There are theories of addiction that explain its cause as chronic social isolation, an insecure attachment orientation, an addictive personality, a lack of coping skills, a bad habit that gets worse with added stressors, early childhood trauma, organic brain chemistry wired for addiction, and/or genetic predisposition. Researchers have been puzzled about what the true causes of addiction are, and why so many of us seem so gripped by it, in our own lives. They have attempted to justify that chronic and destructive addiction as simply a phenomenon that will naturally occur in a certain percentage of the population, while others can and will find ways to curb addiction in their own lives, and minimize the effects of it.
Through my work with addicts (and alcoholics) of all level of severity, and with many manifestations of varieties, I believe we are all addicts.
We are all addicted to something or someone, whether we are willing to admit it. Most of my work with clients centers around this fact, even if the client didn’t initially enter treatment thinking they were addicted. To heal, we always end up addressing these addictions in their life.
Neuroscience also confirms each human’s tendency towards addiction, as we are certainly hard-wired for it in the pleasure center of our brains, and through the signalling of our neurotransmitters, within our dopaminergic system.
What is addiction, according to the scope of this article?
I have come to define addiction as an individual’s attempt to solve a problem within them, externally, through the use of substances, behavioral patterns, experiences, or others. In addiction, the problem, and associated feelings that arise from this internal issue, are temporarily quelled, satisfied, soothed, or avoided through this external process. However, the effect is not lasting, and thus the addict must keep going back to this external source, or multiple external sources, to keep feeling “better”.
Often addiction, at the surface level, appears to be a desire to feel less stressed, more focused, more functional, more confident, more worthy, more attractive or social, to feel good/blissful, or to check out from life. But, in reality, there is something deeper than these impulses and the feelings associated with them, that causes this pain we seek to remedy through addiction. In essence, there is something lacking from within, that the addiction is a misguided attempt to replace or fill up, from an external source. The addicted person will never get a supply that is lasting, because they are attempting to fill or replace something that needs to be built, cultivated, filled or replaced internally.
What is being filled or replaced with addiction? What is being remedied?
I believe that a lack of source of Self, is what is being remedied with addiction. When we lack this Self, as a source of our own worth, approval, self-validation, (self-)love, survival, peace, and well-being, we have thus lived a life learning to seek these things externally, as we have never formed these capacities internally. When we lack this Self, at some level we are aware of how painful it is to live life with this void inside, and thus are on an endless search to remedy this pain, and use (external) things or people to give us what a source of Self should have been providing all along.
Unfortunately, everything external is conditioned, impermanent, and comes with consequences, in some way.
What we use externally, to remedy our lack of Self, is problematic.
Using alcohol and drugs provide relief, under the condition that we accept they also make us feel unstable and/or depressive, they destroy our physical health and well-being, they disrupt our relationships, and are substances that eventually wear off. One could perpetually use substances, but their effect decreases over time, and also long-term, intensive use will literally cause severe mental illness, kill someone, or cause them to accidentally kill someone else.
Using love, sex and relationships for this source of Self, comes conditioned by the fact that the other person has wants, needs, and desires, that we also need to meet, and they may also be upset or hurt when feeling used to help you make yourself feel better. Additionally, if using an abusive person as a source of Self, one is signing up for dependency and trauma, where we must tolerate being harmed, for the sake of getting the high of the reunion, the loving part of the abuse cycle, and the parts of the relationship that make us feel good.
If using work, or staying “productive” as a source of Self, this comes with the conditions and consequences that there is always “failure” (things not working according to plan), someone who will be better than us, the vulnerability and added complexity of popularity, visibility, and success, plenty of harsh critics, and that we eventually must rest, as our body cannot handle working, and being productive all the time.
Even in this day and age, with the amount we spend on our cell-phones, texting, scrolling through social media, watching Netflix or other entertainment media, and getting lost in the land of the internet, though it may benefit us greatly or help us feel more “connected”, we are engaging in addiction to remedy our lack of source of Self. We give so many hours of our day to these habits, which help us block out the stress, help us “veg out”, inspire us, relieve pain and loneliness, and quell the difficulty/void we experience within our self. But, when we engage in this addiction, it also causes us to lose large chunks of our time in life, to being in this world, rather than exercising and taking care of basic self-care, pursuing nourishing connection, and engaging in exploring creative and expressive interests that may lead us to feel more connected to our self and our spiritual purpose on this planet. Eventually we feel tired and bored, or overstimulated from this addiction, and we are hit with the pain of pulling our face from the light of our phone, computer, or television screen, only to wonder where these minutes, hours, and days of our life went, feeling un-grounded, and despairing due to a lack of meaning. We may go back to the instant gratification of our phone, computer, or television to get a hit of Self, but ultimately we need to search for more to continue to create this feeling.
How does one develop Self internally, to heal addiction?
- As with all addiction recovery, we must first acknowledge we have a problem, and that we must commit to ending the addictive pattern.
- Then we must develop the courage to overcome the tendency to avoid pain and discomfort, and commit to sitting within our feelings and sensations. There will initially be a huge rush of agony for most, when they give up addictions. Most will feel an intense agitation, anger, despair, hopelessness, powerlessness, anxiety, and panic, at first. This is a good sign. You are now dealing with what you have been avoiding. Believe it or not, the very act of sitting in feelings and sensations, IS the process of building source of Self. These are the building blocks of Self. Having the willingness to be present, honest, and willing to be with your Self, builds the scaffolding to a source of Self.
- Seek support, help, and guidance from others who have worked on building a source of Self. Sometimes this means seeing a healer who can help you work through emotions, and also address the traumas associated with these feelings. It is important to surround yourself with people who will be non-judgmental, and also see the path forward, who can also help you build hope, and gain greater self awareness, and commitment to the process.
- Simultaneously, challenge yourself to distance yourself from those who encourage an existence based in avoidance or Self, and seeking source of Self, externally. This is challenging to do, as most people are engaging in some form of addiction. At least attempt to be around people whom show humility, have self-awareness, recognize they struggle in this way as well, and are willing to grow with you. At a bare minimum, those who have the same external addiction patterns as you, who are actively and unconsciously engaging in their addiction, are probably best to avoid.
- Develop a spiritual and self-care practice where you are connecting to yourself deeply, in a transformative, enlightening, and healing way, every day. Or, build up to this daily practice. This might mean learning to meditate. This might mean doing energy healing and trauma processing work on yourself each day. This may mean journaling. There are many, many practices that we could term “contemplative” that encourage you to go within and begin to transform your relationship with yourself, to a more patient, self-compassionate, connected, mindful, and aware way of relating internally.
- And lastly, assess the basic ways you take care of the foundational areas of your life, then go about giving your energy and attention to consciously managing them, in pragmatic and self-loving ways. If you put in effort to improve in all of these areas, this is also effectively helping you build a balanced, empowered source of Self.
These areas are:
a. physical hygiene
b. emotional hygiene
c. hygiene/cleanliness/tidiness of your personal and work spaces
d. physical health
e. relationship health
g. spiritual/life purpose OR assessing your alignment with values
h. creative expression time
The end result?
With the work in all of these areas, we effectively change our orientation to healing our self, developing a core Self. We develop the capacity to self-validate, feel love from within, feel strong, secure, and stable, and feel a sense of satisfaction and happiness with being present within our Self, independent of what is occurring externally.
You will find as you keep practicing all of these steps, the desire to be addicted melts away, and you instead focus on developing a life based around what makes you feel connected, passionate, excited, and inspired. You will embrace thriving and being vibrant, rather than your old pattern of simply surviving and coping with how challenging life has felt.
I wish you the best on your journey!