Addictions are distressing to most of us for the ways in which we feel beholden to them. Whether your "drug of choice" is alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or food, addictions are a double-edged sword. They offer a reliable form of comfort that unfortunately, does not last and often leads to pain and discomfort. If we know this, then why do we continue to repeat harmful actions over and over again, and what can we do about this?
Addictions serve many functions: (1) They provide a reliable place where you can get some temporary comfort while you try to deal with life; (2) They provide a sense of control since you don't have to rely on people to feel good; (3) They provide an outlet when none other may exist; (4) They provide a place where you can pretend that mortality does not exist -- there is a sense of immortality in being addicted in that you never move on; (5) You can hide in the familiar and the old. These and a myriad other reasons are why people are addicted. But aside from detoxification programs, and step-wise attempts to give up an addiction, both of which can be very helpful, what are some of the deeper psychological issues that an addicted person needs to face? And what can be done about this?
1. Self-judgment: Addicted people often suffer not just from their addictions, but from a hatred of their addictions too. What started out as a way of getting control ends up being completely out of control. As a result, addicted people judge themselves for not being in control, and because the intoxicated mindset compromises control further, the addicted person may feel shame about not having control. What to do? When you examine your addiction, examine it as though you are looking at a geometry problem. Ask yourself what this judgment is serving. Is it a way of understanding yourself, or a way of keeping yourself down? What if you stopped judging yourself and instead, observed yourself to find solution.
2. Self-hatred: The hatred often arises from a profound state of loneliness, which leads to disconnection from the self and others. This is not about learning to love yourself. I have yet to discover anyone who truly loves themselves. Sure, sometimes we feel good about ourselves, but self-love cannot be assumed to mean the same as other love. A feeling of comfort with yourself arises from slowly coming to terms with who you are and finding a way to express this in the world. While the process of self-discovery is lonely -- lonely enough to perpetuate the addiction -- those who have given up the addiction have come to accept, understand and integrate some very important aspect of themselves, whether it is about anger, sexuality or love. Self-acceptance can also be achieved by taking an observing stance toward yourself.
3. Loss of self-control: Addicted people often feel they have no feeling center. They are lost to the world of their addictions, and they effectively have no say in their own destruction -- or so it feels. To regain control of your life, recognize at first what level of control you want. If you want the control of a figure-skater, then you will have to train to get that control. Just as a figure skater makes art on slippery surfaces, the addicted person can also do the same. "Letting go" is not just about not being responsible; like the figure skater, letting go involves practice, discipline and control. For it is only in our disciplines that we find freedom. As an addict, the first discipline is to think of restraint as self-service. Motivated restraint is much more effective than forced restraint.
Thus, one answer to addiction is to provide a higher level of service to yourself. If you can use this to motivate yourself by truly understanding why this is a higher level of service, you will be in a much better position to begin to lose your addiction. As a matter of principle, recovery is also not the best solution for an addicted person. Re-invention is more likely. For if you merely recover you often put yourself in the same position that you were in just before your addiction. Fun is rarely prescribed. So remember to make your plan uniquely yours.