Countless times, clients have told me they are fine to smoke marijuana or cigarettes, or consume copious amounts of coffee - because their drug of choice was alcohol and these other drugs are not a problem for them. I have made the same rationalization to myself, as I sip a coffee in the afternoon and hide chocolate from my family in little corners of the cupboards. The truth is, our problem is not the particular drug of choice, be it sugar, chocolate, heroin or gambling. It is addiction that is our problem and until we disrupt the cycle of highs and lows, we will not recover.
Gabor Mate says addiction is about pain management. Often times addiction starts with an attempt to feel better or avoid the pain that comes from social anxiety or worse, trauma or abuse. The nature of any addictive drug is that it initially causes a sense of pleasure or high, followed by a negative experience of depression or anxiety. Chemically, we are throwing the system out of whack and it is desperately trying to come back to homeostasis. We cannot handle the hangover or the withdrawal that follows after taking our drug of choice and then we seek out the pleasure feeling again, this time just to help us return to feeling close to normal - not even to a sense of pleasure. Once we are in this loop it is difficult to get out of it. Physically it hurts to go through withdrawal; socially and emotionally we have repair work to do because inevitably we sacrifice our values and priorities, while riding the addiction roller coaster. It can seem overwhelming.
So instead of doing the hard work to overcome the problem of addiction, we just take another ride. We start to lean on other drugs or behaviors to help us escape pain, and avoid our problems. We are creatures of habit and even if the pattern is killing us, we choose to keep going instead of face the fear of change.
Johann Hari did a fabulous Ted Talk about addiction, in which he suggests that the opposite of addiction is connection. He claims that people need support and connection with others (and themselves) to thrive in a world instead of suffer with addiction. I agree that part of the process of healing addiction involves connection, but it is not the opposite of addiction. I think the opposite of addiction is stability. When we are in the addictive loop we are lost in a never-ending pattern of ups and downs - physically, mentally, spiritually.
To heal from addiction it requires firstly an awareness that you have been a slave to addiction. Do you start your day with coffee and end it with alcohol? Do you eat junk food or energy drinks all day? Do you lean on carbs for energy? Maybe you are hooked on social media, gambling or video games?
Maybe you consider yourself sober, like I do (used to). Are you sober from alcohol or cocaine, but still smoking like a chimney? Some people call this ‘dry drunk’ syndrome, which is to have kicked one drug but not addressed the issues behind why you did the drug, thus continuing with negative patterns of addiction elsewhere in your life. Are you a dry-drunk? Have you simply transferred your addiction?
Certainly it is an achievement to kick a bad habit and you will get all kinds of praise for me for doing so, but i invite you to join me in taking a good look how addiction has manifested in our lives. Are you still an addict? In what ways do you still need to stabilize your life? When you are honest with yourself you can identify the work that still needs to be done and take the next step forward in your recovery.
Recovery is an ongoing process of healing your life. It is never easy to overcome an addiction, but it is always worth it!