Food, sex, relationships, gambling, drugs, money, cigarettes, work, alcohol, shopping… Anything can be the object of an addiction. It can affect all of us because it is much more a part of our daily life than we think.
“You are sitting and smoking; you believe that you are sitting in your pipe, and that your pipe is smoking you; you are exhaling yourself in bluish clouds. You feel just fine in this position, and only one thing gives you worry or concern: how will you ever be able to get out of your pipe?” Charles Baudelaire – “Artificial Paradises”
It affects us all
Addiction takes place in the space between our use of substances and our way of dealing with emotions. We have all experienced things like getting fired, receiving bad news, being left by someone or feeling alone.
All these events create an emotional reaction in us and as a result we often seek refuge in overeating, smoking cigarettes, surfing on the internet, drinking alcohol and so on.
All these behaviors are just a momentary compensation for a stressful situation, but when these emotional reactions are not reintegrated into our system, they can turn into an addiction.
Use, abuse and addiction
We start by discerning the three main behavioral and mental patterns about consuming substances: use, abuse and addiction.
› We define use when we are still the “Captain of our ship”; we use a substance in a conscious way without abusing it nor being used or abused by it.
For example: “Today, I drank a coffee.”
› Abuse: when we use a substance in an exaggerated way during a relatively short period of time. We allow it to become “captain” for that period, but then we take back control. For example: “Today, I drank 10 coffees.”
› Addiction: when the substance rules our life permanently and we become its servant! We are not using the substance anymore, instead the substance uses us. The addiction might be associated with a behavior of abuse or use.
Some examples are:
– Addiction + Use = “I cannot drink less than one coffee per day.”
– Addiction + Abuse = “I cannot drink less than 10 coffees per day.”
The root of addiction
According to my experience as a therapist (and human being), I can say that the root of any addiction is the presence of emotional pain within us. It creates stress and we suppress it in order not to feel it.
Emotional pain can be more or less intense and usually comes from trauma, abuse, lack of love and unfulfilled emotional needs. The emotional intensity of the pain depends on the severity of episodes and when they occurred.
If they happened during childhood – a period of great physical, emotional and psychological vulnerability – the emotional pain has a stronger impact on our psyche.
Why do we have addictions?
An addiction is a compensatory mechanism for emotional pain, a stress reducer and, simultaneously, a seeking of pleasure. It creates a sort of “time zero”, a cut, a break between us and the perception of emotional pain. It is like a container that isolates and keeps the pain at bay.
Addiction is also a compulsive repetition of a pleasurable experience, which works as a painkiller. Bodily sensations and chemicals, released during an orgasm for example, are a great antidote to emotional pain for the sex addict. Just as overeating works for the bulimic, ecstasy for a drug addict, money for the gambler, and booze for the alcoholic. An addiction is also a sort of distorted way to express the presence of emotional pain within ourselves.
“I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything…”
Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt”
How to break an addiction
The first thing to do is to have awareness of our addictive behavior. We need to slow down and understand how our addiction works in order to be able to drop it. It is a deconditioning process, from automatic to manual.
We need to gradually create gaps between ourselves and the “weapons” of the addiction. These could be thoughts, nervous impulses (anxiety) and negative feelings that push us into the addictive behavior.
We need to stop giving so much attention to such weapons and, at the same time, let them play their game without engaging or repressing them. We need to tolerate anxiety and recognise that negative thoughts and feelings don’t belong to us but to the addiction.
Even if the addiction seems strong, it is just a learned mechanism, therefore it is possible to get rid of it. Of course, the level of difficulty of this process depends on how much we are attached to the addictive behavior, how long we have already been addicted and how much we really want to change.
Taking care of ourselves
As soon as we give up an unhealthy behavior, we begin to release ourselves from the grip that pulls us back into addiction. In this way there is space for the emotional pain to express itself. When the pain is not isolated, but integrated in our system, a real and profound healing begins.
Allow others to care too
Overcoming addiction is a gradual process that finds a balance between the dynamics of taking care of ourselves and letting others take care of us. It is important not to isolate ourselves in a selfish attitude of control, by insisting “I can do it all by myself!” In this way we serve the addiction. An attitude of total delegation: “Take care of me,” is also unhealthy because we give our personal power away.
We need to open up to people who love us and/or professionals in order to overcome the layers of shame, guilt and fear that protect the addiction. At the same time, we need to take full responsibility of our problem and use our inner strength in order to be free.
Let it be and let it go
Once we let our emotional pain exist unrepressed, we need to let it go. It will not be pleasant because memories, feelings and emotions return to the surface and we have to deal with them. But emotional pain is not infinite and, like all emotions and feelings, is something which by nature moves. It is not meant to stay. Paradoxically, it stays only if we repress it, but if we let it be free, sooner or later it will leave us.
When breaking an addictive habit, the addiction may use its nervous impulses, negative feelings and thoughts to give us a taste of its power. We may feel totally lost in it, have the impression of going crazy, and even have the strong temptation to give up.
This is a trick, because the addiction is actually losing power and is just trying to bring us back to our dependent and addicted state.
Pleasure, the last stepping stone
Each addiction is based on the compulsive repetition of an experience of pleasure, and this is definitely the last attachment to drop. To remove it, it is necessary to replace the fake and artificial pleasure of the addiction, with a real and nourishing one. Experiencing a “true” pleasure gives us a greater and purer satisfaction.
A client of mine was addicted to porn and, after some therapy, he found a far more profound pleasure in the recovery of his relationship with his wife. A relationship full of love, mutual respect, good sex and complicity. If things between them turn bad, he may feel the need to use porn again to reach another “artificial paradise”. But now he’s capable of managing his addiction, he will be able to recognise the falsity of this need, tolerate the tension and share his true feelings with her.
The great trick
We need to root ourselves in the understanding that an addiction cannot exist without us, while we can exist without it. This awareness reveals the power relation between ourselves and the addiction, and finally puts things in order.
We are the true source of energy that feeds the addiction. Without us, it dies! The addiction itself is dependent on us! It‘s a lie that we wanted to believe in.
Once this trick is deeply understood, our investment in the addiction vanishes and it has no reason to exist anymore. The pain now has the possibility to be gradually reintegrated in our system, and finally a new life can open up ahead of us.
“With gentleness and love,
I let go of all that is not quite me –
trusting in the truth
of who I truly am.”
Published on Iamexpat.nl
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Author: Somesh Valentino Curti
“Beside my work as psychologist I like to write articles for my website and other online magazines like: Iamexpat.nl and Expatshaarlem.nl
In this way I can share my experience on valuable topics which might be useful for you if you are in a therapy process or if you are simply wondering about them. My wish is that these articles can add insights and a deeper understanding about your life”
To contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org