: Trying to be in control can ironically spiral your life out of control. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net
Addiction is a taboo, but though unspoken, ravages and wrecks countless of lives. Money wasted. Health damaged, whether through liver problems with alcohol, lung cancer from smoking, hepatitis and even HIV from intravenous drug use. Then there are the more subtle, “socially acceptable” obsessions like internet addiction and workaholism.
Many people smoke a little, drink a little – but these are not the addictions which really damage lives.
It’s when a person finds it almost impossible to pull away from a mental obsession because it provides mental comfort for them, and the overwhelming fear of the feelings that may over-run if they could choose to pull aware defines addiction that becomes a disorder.
Because addiction is not a choice. This is the defining part of what makes an addiction what it is – it controls you. I believe it is also diagnosable by the common ground that despite what kind of addiction the person has, they are afraid without it, they will be out of control.
For example someone may believe without compromise, “I need this drink. (As opposed to one or two drinks, say at night but with no desire to have more: just as an example.)
The person fears without the alcohol, gambling, drug, work addiction, their lives would be out of control. The addiction provides a sense of safety. From a world and feelings they fear would otherwise control them. However, by the very perception that we are running away from being out of control, we already ironically admitting we already are vulnerable.
The irony is that the addiction controls the person. When a person absolutely cannot break away from a behaviour, because they feel they can not cope without this positive reinforcement, they are in an emotional prison. They no longer have a choice.
An addiction defies logic, rationality and what a person ‘should’ do. Unfortunately, instead of attempting to seek what lies at the heart of the addiction, fear of being out of control (the only thing they feel they can control in their lives may be self-destructive), there is also stigma and shames that also entangles the victim.
So firstly, the addict is obsessed in the sense they cannot rationally explain why they must do something and secondly, it is shameful for them, and thirdly it more often than not can be a downward spiral.
For example, the gambler gets deeper into debt. Feeling despair at the situation they are in, others and the addict shame themselves further as they seem to fail to be able to ‘learn’ from the situation. They feel at just as much a loss to explain their destructive and out-of-control spiral.
The smoker or the drug addict may face health problems, yet the desire to chase happiness is mainly defined by more is never enough.
Another common finding in addiction is trouble with connecting with people. People may hurt, leave them, the person may not have social skills – but the addiction is like a safe relationship.
Like Golum in Lord of the Rings the “precious” is the addiction. And also like Golum, ultimately and inevitably, self-destructive. For psychological studies demonstrate we need connection with living beings: pets, nature, family, friends, communities and social groups. This provides the emotional validation and fulfilment that the addicted person tries to fill.
Subconciously the fear of breaking away from the chains that bind a person can be so overwhelming that attempts are not even made. For example, suppose someone is addicted to gambling. How would they cope with their feelings, with their lives without this ‘safe’ and inanimate ‘relationship’.
Another common ground with addiction is that the pleasure it gives is always greater than the pleasure the addicted person feels would be possible otherwise, or pain that might be anticipated. In simple terms it provides positive re-inforcement - short-term.
To make the condition more complicated, because of this rewarding effect, emotionally vulnerabilities also make the ditch of addiction harder to climb out of. If it literally stops someone from severe depression which incapacitates, it might seem like the only alternative to the person.
However, the irony is the presence of a substance or activity that the addicted person believes they are in control of, actually controls them.
The gambler who walks away at first may walk away feeling ‘empty’.
When the addiction reaches the nadir of the greatest hopelessness that relief can be found when the person realises what is most important to them. That they don’t have to be in control all the time. When the gambler can’t feed the family who they love ultimately snaps inside and the person rushes back to what they truly value.
When a person can say I don’t need this, the chains that bind the addicted person slowly start dissolving. Ironically, they are now more in control of their lives.
At first it is hard.
The first step is a sense of freedom when the person realises ‘they have a choice’ – they don’t have to be controlled. Something that can help someone could be to ask ‘if a person controlled you, or you were in jail, how would you feel?” Trapped? Well, it's a jail being bound by an addiction.
Suppose a drinker cuts down on one drink per day. At first emotionally, it may be extremely painful, such is the soothing panacea of whatever it is that is provider a band-aid to a gaping emotional wound underneath. However, suppose at the end of a week they have achieved a gradual reduction each day.
So after freedom, there’s a feeling of relief. They have survived!
Then there is a feeling of strength, the feeling that there is something in them that is stronger than the addiction.
Following this, self-esteem,self worth and self-respect grow. They took the first steps, and demonstrated healthy self-love to see they deserved better than this. That they had had enough and a better life was possible.
Then, true connections with people or pets in their life%% are possible. There were valued connections in their lives, it was a dog that was waiting at home, missing them, wanting food. Even if it’s a pet, the absolute unconditional nature of a love for the person or pet recovering from an addiction can be the loudest wake-up call to what’s important. Meaning** has now been found
This is why developing connections to valued people or pets are so important, especially family. To have someone who needs you, more than you need the addiction is often the wake up call that leads to this stage of recovery in the first place.
Following this, better mental, emotional and physical well-being are a natural result. The chains have snapped one by one. The person ironically feels more in control, when they realise they have a choice, they have the say in what behaviour they engage in. Or in the case of those believing in a higher power, that a loving being is in control.
A persons true values then naturally emerge. Freedom emancipates them. True joy and peace emerge