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On Addiction

I was struck by something I read today, which spawned a conversation with a friend where thoughts poured out of me, and some of them are conveyed here. My views on addiction have changed significantly in the last two years, and I believe for the better. If you disagree, that is fine; I know I don't have everything figured out, and I know I still have an immeasurable amount of personal growth ahead of me. I wanted to share in case there is someone in a similar place to where I was a few years ago who would benefit.

When someone no longer desires to act out their addiction, they have "defeated" it. More accurately, they have moved on from that portion of their life. They have decided to stop hurting themselves and others because they no longer believe it's worth the payoff. Further, they find the idea of their self performing the addictive behavior again to be unappealing. This happens all the time.

If you still desire to act out your addictive behavior, or you still are acting it out, why hasn't this change happened for you? Why are you not ready for your pain, caused by your own actions in this area of your life, to be over?

A few possible pieces of the puzzle...

  • You are avoiding dealing with unanswered (perhaps even unanswerable) questions about yourself, life, your past
  • You prefer to be a victim to a disease than a responsible person who has matured beyond certain destructive behaviors
  • You do not have enough positive things in your life that you find more fulfilling than the actions you take in your addiction
  • Addiction gives you identity and purpose you would not otherwise have, so you cannot let it go

The last one on the list struck me freshly today. I spent several years in addiction counseling, 12-step, group therapy, and treatment. After being away from all those activities for the last two years (I'm still in counseling, but not addiction-focused), reading some comments with addiction-recovery language today was a bit of a shock. It is intense, deep language, and it provides a level of connection you can get nowhere else.

In the "beginning," unanswered questions of identity and purpose create a gap within a person that needs to be filled. Addictive behaviors attempt to fill the gap, but cannot. For many addictions, people get into groups with others that perform the same actions, which creates a comradeship and connection. The purpose becomes to get the most enjoyment through that behavior as is possible with the people associated with. The identity is associated with the group and the activity.

Others' addictions may have more to do with loneliness, and are more isolating. The identity might be "I am alone," or "I am a failure." (Personally, "I am a failure" was a belief I held and still do hold in many ways. I acted out my addiction in isolation, but I proved I was a failure by disappointing people I told about it).

In my view, connection to other people through the shared experience of addictive behavior and its fallouts is another way to attempt to fill the same internal gap. The identity becomes "I am an addict" and "I belong to a group of addicts who also don't really like their addiction" and the purpose becomes "to avoid my addictive behavior" (though this is usually termed with much more beautiful language). This answers deep questions, and deep connection comes about from relating to others with the same experience.

Some people in this situation get identity from being the teacher, the has-it-together, others the frequent relapser (what I was), and variations thereof. Whatever the identity within the group, the desire to perform the behavior is still there, the person is never relieved of the desire, and the person is taught to believe it is impossible to be relieved of the desire ("once an addict, always an addict"). Therefore, the person is trapped in a new addiction for the rest of their life.

For me, rejecting the idea that an addiction is guaranteed to be with me for my entire life, was extremely empowering. Imagine for a moment that you truly believed these two things:

  1. Your addiction has no power over you; you have complete power over your addiction.
  2. "Addict" is just a word used to describe a person involved in a pattern of behavior. It is not an entity within you, and it is not who or what you are in the present. The label of "addict" can be dropped in the same sense that the label of "bachelor" can be.

If you really believed those things at your core, would you continue the behavior you know is causing you pain? Maybe, maybe not. But you'd also be able to say, "I choose to continue to do this because I want to" rather than offsetting even a tiny bit of the blame on a disease. And then maybe you can start finding connections in healthier places. Who knows?

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It's all in your head

Well, no, that's not completely true, just ask anyone has ever been addicted to a substance that if taken away will suffer withdrawal symptoms (from mild to intense). that is called physical dependence. the two together are hellish, the latter however is time limited, and a taper will make it more tolerable. once clean, the person previously addicted still is strongly tempted if he/she hasn't changed their thinking about addiction and the substance/behavior at the center. one must learn techniques on how to dispute irrational thinking, and how to turn it into rational thinking. one can learn this method from a REBT or cognitive therapist, the books of Albert Ellis or SMART recovery meetings.

Also worth noting is that some people are perfectly okay with being dependent for a variety of reasons. you rarely hear about these people but they have always been around, perfectly functioning doctors, artists, writers, scientists, grocers, cab drivers, and so on and so forth. they are not addicts. addiction is repeating something that you know is bad for you, that you don't want to do anymore, yet you do it anyhow.

Addiction: The Disease That Tells You....

...You Don't Have a Disease.

Maybe if I just:
Move....find a different neighborhood, things will get better.
(aka "Geographical Cure")
or...Only drink/drug/whatever...on Weekends, I'll be OK.
(functional addict)
or...I'll smoke herb/pot instead of coke/heroin.
or...I'll go to those Court-Mandated Group Therapy Session/AA Meeting,
Counseling session..but I'm NOT like THOSE people, just look at
them..they are such losers.
(Denial, taking the focus off yourself)
or any one of many "activities" that one pursues, in order to escape the real problem, which is one's actions in addictive behavior.
The key word being "escape".

People hold onto their addictions, even when they have been cast off by friends and family....that "stuff" only "gets in the way", so relationships are nonexistent.

Emotions become hard to genuinely feel...and at the onset of any emotion, or any type of stress/stressful situation; the "natural reaction" is to suppress it by more addictive behavior.
There is no room for love, fear, guilt, shame....a zombie-like existence ensues...the main purpose in life is to keep the addiction supplied....from the moment of waking.
.....to the moment of falling asleep/passing out.

Life on Life's Terms Becomes:
unbearable...a struggle...frightening...impossible.
And any attempt to live a Life is met with fantasies...never any action of measurable consequence.
(if I could just get a break, things would be ok)

The addict looks in the mirror everyday and becomes victim of his/her self loathing and/or self pity.
There is no Love, either for oneself or others, they are simply manipulated to get what is "needed".

His/her "fix" makes him/her feel better about themself.
...but this soon wears off...more "fix" is needed....
And a general feeling of helplessness, and hopelessness ensues.
...He/she is reduced to a state of feeling "Sick and Tired".

And when he/she become sick of being "Sick and Tired", that is when they may seek help, and may be open to suggestions.
This is known as hitting "Rock Bottom", where there is only one other way to go....that is to go UP...there's nowhere else to go.

Getting help is only the beginning.
The hardest cases are those who, having become addicts at a very young age, simply do not know what it is to live life any other way.
The older ones at least can remember when life was better.
No one can "label" anyone else an addict...that is something that the addict must address themselves, and openly admit to.
It requires a degree of surrender.
A surrender to honesty and painstaking, somewhat painful self inventory.
The "Disease Concept" is never meant as an escape from personal responsibility, but more of an approach towards long term maintenance.

Once free of the addiction, maintaining this freedom is on a day-to-day basis....If one was in remission from lung cancer, smoking cigarettes would be foolish, hence the "actual" meaning of the disease concept.
With the maintenance, may come newly found feelings of wellness, and prosperity, which often are labeled "The Pink Cloud".
The addict may feel tempted to revisit or participate in past behaviors again, due to this renewed self confidence.
That is when the danger of relapse is most prevalent.
.....the disease that tells one that they don't have a disease.

"Beyond the blackened skyline, beyond the smoky rain, dreams never turned to ashes up until.........
...Everything CHANGED !!

Well said, Danton.

You nailed it! The addict points fingers in every direction, except to him or herself. It's beyond pathetic. There comes a time when loved ones realize they can't get through and so choose to no longer watch that seemingly endless downward spiral into the abyss and walk away, brokenhearted. It always has a tragic ending for all concerned.

“It is the food which you furnish to your mind that determines the whole character of your life.”
―Emmet Fox

The exact stuff I read,

The exact stuff I read, heard, and believed for years. Ironically, I do agree with one important part of it. You are the one who gets to decide to call yourself an addict. I'm glad I have decided to reject that label as it's understood in recovery programs and empower myself instead of empowering a disease.

Thought I'd "Share" This Also...

...I give you John Bradshaw.
Take a journey:


"Beyond the blackened skyline, beyond the smoky rain, dreams never turned to ashes up until.........
...Everything CHANGED !!

Thanks Danton

That was exquisite!

Strong subject.

I was a heroin addict for two years,(no needles) and pain killers for about 8 years. (I'm 29)

You're exactly right. It stopped when I decided to stop. I was just killing myself as slow as I could. I seen myself as a failure.(When I told this to my family they cried, saying they always thought I was the one to make it, and I just gave up on life.) 12 steps are a cult and nothing more. Plus it's ironic when they say ditch your past friends and drug friends so then you're surrounded by nothing but people that are ex-druggies. Many of whom are there by judge orders.

I found god, I made amends, I apologized to everyone I had hurt and I moved on. (Didn't attend NA/AA- I found god when I feel over from over-exhaustion and was left for dead in a ghetto- my muscles siezed up, and I collapsed completely, then woke in an ambulance) Since I got clean I decided to become a cyclist.I was clean for a year before anything spiritual happened. I was an atheist crusader for most of my life.

I destroyed my life, and those drugs made me feel ok while doing it. It wasn't fun, it wasn't nice, it was actually hell.

Long story short - the only thing that worked (2 years clean) was suboxone. It blocks the very receptors that cause relapse, and the senses to get heightened when you think about using. It will block any other opiate drugs and help you if you want to help yourself. I have never even had a craving to go back once. (Cost 40-650$ a month)

cheers for your post

I have a porn addiction, although I've been off porn for awhile now, it takes me a long time to get back to ground zero if I relapse. Its an itch that can't be scratched, a rabbit hole with no end, a prison for the mind. I have such a soft spot for woman in real life, but there is such a disconect when everything becomes pixalated on a computer then realize these are precious precious human beings, there are no winners when it comes to porn.

I know your struggle. It has

I know your struggle. It has helped me to take a less black-and-white view of that industry. I don't think anyone in porn is living a lifestyle I'd be comfortable with, and I wouldn't feel happy if I had kids and they went into it, but they are consenting adults. I hate the idea of women being hurt in porn, too, but they are responsible for their decisions (except in situations where there's abuse going on, which is abhorrent).

For me, it's been helpful to consider what things within porn I morally object to or find to be disgusting when I'm not in that zone, and I've just decided not to view those things anymore. My attitude has been, there's plenty of stuff out there to view, so why should I have to look at anything I'm not okay with?

But I understand that's not necessarily where you're coming from, so I don't know if that would be usable for you at all. It's just the more practical approach I've decided to use, and has been helpful for me. My life does not feel out of control anymore because of this.

Thank you for your post. I

Thank you for your post. I think to no longer desire to do something is a spiritual experience. To be a spiritual person is to have self-control, one of the fruits of the spirit along with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. This truly was why I turned to God, I already had believed in God, but ignored him for selfish reasons. If you want to know about power to overcome something you need the power that comes from the source, which I believe is spiritual (God is spiritual in nature). In practice, I turned to God in humility saying I cannot change myself but I want to change and I can't force myself to change. I can only believe something about the character of God and trust him to do something in me. Allowing the Spirit of God in begins a process of transformation that has lasted for 7 years for me but I'm pretty sure continues throughout ones life and beyond. I do believe in taking responsibility for the choices I make, I think every choice you make is an evidence of the power in you. For someone who does not believe, I have often wondered how they could experience changes in desires without spiritual help. If God does exist and that God loves his creation and wants to help them but that creation chooses not to be helped, that is their choice, but how can you do it on your own? You do not know the secrets of life nor do you have all the answers. The essence of the gospel is simply God came to earth, taught us, sacrificed himself, and told us to believe in him and receive his Spirit. This spirit is the same that enabled Jesus to work miracles and control his own destiny, even after dying physically, by being raised. His raised body was different in that people didn't recognize him if he didn't want them to and he could walk through locked doors, but he could still be touched. So I assume this deals with some of God's laws we are not familiar with but are given to those who receive the spirit.

You're several years into

therapies so you seem well-prepared to address those big questions. I don't think people at rock bottom are prepared. Those big questions are part of maturity and some people never reach that level of maturity in their lifetimes, addiction or not. I think every moment you've spent in those therapies and fighting hard has brought you to this maturity level and now this maturity level is going to help you succeed in the rest of what you need to accomplish.

Defend Liberty!

for smudge

jscs therapy comment was directed to your increasing pain levels...
look into it, it is the real deal for chronic pain


is necessary with chronic intractable pain -

Please look up Jones Strain Counter Strain. There are qualified therapists in practice in the PNW. It works underneath the surface of your skin on your fascia system, therefore all the muscle that covers your; lymph, vessels, nerves, organs, muscles, brain, etc. These muscles when injured can go into shock, and then constrict the organ, vessel, lypmh, nerve, muscle etc.

We all suffer.

Some more than others. Suffering is supposed to teach us Humility. To acknowledge our frailty. To Understand we are all hurting in some way. He who makes himself least is first in The Kingdom of God.

i don't wanna contradict what you wrote

but perhaps I am in a different category. I have this disease, it's lethal and it puts me in increasing levels of pain. The cure is PHENOMENALLY EXPENSIVE. Just so far out of my financial reach it's not even worth thinking about.

So I drink. And it's so far from a real solution but right now I don't have a better one. At lease I'm still effective in my job (technology development) and incredibly most days I wake up happy. Still in pain but happy. And what I have isn't like a bruise or a shoulder ache, it's very sharp and severe pain that drives me right down to my knees.

If I didn't have a fantastic woman in my life I would have wimped out and self terminated. And dig this, I used to counsel people in substance abuse. Now I'm a substance abuser.

I'm gonna try to live as long as I can because I don't want my woman to be alone. I'm just having trouble finding other options.

(updated to include) and I am not a stranger to beating addiction, I used to be a stone cold junkie and one of my old friends from back in that day? We cleaned up. We kinda have a committment to each other to not readdict. But there is no better pain reliever in this world than heroin but unfortunately it's hard to be productive. And it takes over your whole life. At least with booze I have part of life. And the final stages of this disease are said to be so aweful that I will resist as long as I possibly can but at the very end I'm gonna try to found a MOUNTAIN OF SMACK and I'm gonna "white out".

And then, finally I will be free from pain.

I know that sounds so incredibly lame. Just trying to be honest.

Bless your feet as you walk through life.

Most of those who think so actually don't and most of those who think sew actually rip.

deacon's picture

Hey Oyate

Check this site out,might be worth your while
Best of all,your home computer can duplicate it


Listen using your headset,the frequencies the answers

Let it ever not be said,that I never did not do nothing for you.

More information might help, Smudge.

The owners of an all natural shop here in NJ (http://giftsofnatureorganics.com/story.html) might be able to concoct something for you, if you tell us what it is that is causing such pain. They have helped so many people who were resigned to live in perpetual pain, who now are pain free.

I'd be happy to pass on the info to them and if they can formulate a salve for you, I'd be happy to buy it and have it sent to you, as a gift. Then, if it helps you and you cannot afford to purchase more of the (hypothetical) salve, maybe Michael will allow the community to help.

“It is the food which you furnish to your mind that determines the whole character of your life.”
―Emmet Fox

My hubby

My hubby is on a few natural meds for Fibromyalgia and Lyme's. He also has had great luck with these meds repairing some connective tissue. Let me know if I can send you some for free. I'd love to help!

Michael Nystrom's picture

Smudge, how expensive is expensive?

Is it something we could raise?

Sounds awful man, I'm sorry.

Sounds awful man, I'm sorry. I hear marijuana helps quite a bit for pain management, maybe that would be a healthier option that wouldn't destroy your liver? I'd have a hard time saying you have a "drinking problem" if that's the truth of the matter. You're aware of why you're drinking, and I hope you're not ashamed of it if that's the real reason. I have no reason to doubt you.

I do.

I completely believe those two things. And yet.....
Even the fact that I was completely free once. Completely free.
I think that my hang up right now is that to fix this I have to reveal myself. Like to be finished, I have to be transparent.
This is impossible. That might just as well be the end.
Thank you for the insight. I will print it out and think on it.

Oh and I do not find identity in it.
Unanswered questions, un-answerable questions. Yes.
Fear, no fulfilling options, ok.
I CANNOT get cut off from those who I am hurting, they are currently unaware of the pain I am inflicting. Though I could just stop. That is good but it doesn't repair anything. So I quit and "get better" but when the predicament is revealed, then my world ends. How do I stop and move on with the threat of terror hanging ever before my eyes?
So then....

"I will print it out and think on it."

Go ahead and print it out, but don't "think on it" too long, please. Burn it!

"How do I stop and move on with the threat of terror hanging ever before my eyes?"

So then...

The last thing you need right now is something more to think about. If you are like me then all thinking eventually leads to "the threat of terror hanging ever before my eyes".

I've experienced addiction to more than a few things in my life. My big daddy was a little thing called tequila. Drinking tequila was not my problem. Suffering induced from obsessive thinking was my problem. Drinking tequila was my solution. It worked really, really well for a while to relieve me of the pain of my own stressful thinking, but lo and behold just like any other chemical solution it provided a Cinderella story. I'm still amazed by how long I lived in the illusion that others didn't know how much [or that] I drank, as each day upon waking I would walk out my door to find blue ribbons pinned all about my pumpkin coach. "That's odd. I don't quite recall having stopped by any county fairs on my way home, hm."

I remember living in relatively constant fear. Believe it or not, much of that time in fear was spent relatively "sober". Truth is, I wasn't actually sober in that time but simply not drinking. Those who aren't smiling are confusing "sober" and "free" with that which is truly not.

"Even the fact that I was completely free once. Completely free."

You say that with conviction, and I believe you. Whatever you did to become "completely free once" you need to do again. Whatever that was it no doubt sacrificed a bunch of thinking about stuff for doing a bunch of stuff. The closer I get to doing stuff the more intensely my thoughts seem to paralyze me. That is the worst hell I've ever known, trapped at the precipice. It's always taken a great push to loose me from that precipice, but I have witnessed many who have done it with a leap.

After years of semidrunken hell [and even worse, my time of not drinking at all] I finally broke free as I found someone who had experience with my kind of hell and asked him, "Hey mister, what did you do to get such a smile on your face?" Then not only did he tell me, but he helped me do that stuff. Not once did he ever ask me what I thought about it. He already knew anyway, because that was how he used to think, just a bunch of stressful crap!

I have no idea whatsoever if your becoming free from your addiction reads anything whatsoever like mine, but to be frank I don't really care. I also don't care if you've paid any attention to any words I've written up to this point, but I'm about to shift gears toward what it is that I would like to impart to you. Here we go... I was quite happily tequila-free for six years. In my seventh year for whatever reason I drank a beer. The beer just made me feel tired and stupid. Some people drink it for that particular effect. Not me. I like alcohol to lift the fog, not to bring it on! It didn't take long for me to switch to tequila. It took only about a month for me to realize that I was in full blown addiction and having extreme difficulty not drinking.

The saddest thing about relapse [alcohol, cocaine, food, gambling, sex, whatever]...

is our degree of shame. The fear of "revealing ourselves" is somehow greater than it was. It seems a bigger hurdle in re-entry than it was in our initial entry to recovery. Get over it!

It's a scarier leap than it once was, but the relief from touching ground on the other side comes more quickly. :)


What I did before to become completely free was to expose myself. This time....I can't even imagine. The degree of shame??? How about my entire life dissolving around me. The relief from touching the ground on the other side is a beautiful daydream. I wish. The fire I would have to walk through first would be unbearable. As far as a lesser addiction, I have tried wine (puts me to sleep), although, my kids think I am a better parent on one shot of rum. Better in the sense that I release my mind from the demons that plague me, I relax, become funny, witty, at ease. But I cannot add one shot of rum to my breakfast routine, what am I teaching my children?
Thank you for your encouragement. I agreed with your whole post. I want to STOP THINKING. There is horror in my thoughts. Sometimes, I feel a moment of peace, joy, love, contentement and POW the truth of my reality storms in and terror reigns once again. I remember when that wasn't true, ahhhh the blessing of peace. But now, I remain on high alert.
Thank you for putting into words things I could not speak. I am very blessed by the DP family. I may not be active much but I read the DP religously, and I have drawn much strength from all of you.
I cannot say thank you enough.

Hmm, transparency. I wonder

Hmm, transparency. I wonder if complete transparency really is required, whether you really do need to reveal yourself to another person. In my experience it has certainly helped with some things. It has helped me to feel more acceptable as a person, or at least like I can be accepted by another person. And I always struggled with how much transparency is too much when I was married, or with other partners. Those are tough calls, especially in existing relationships. It seems to be easier to build a new relationship from scratch with the appropriate amount of transparency as things grow.

Sounds like you're pretty stuck. So you're causing secret pain to these people, and believe that revealing the secret would sever your relationship in an irreparable way. I think you need a solid plan. One you truly believe in, with realistic expectations, and one you can be content with.

I've been a dreamer my whole adult life, coming up with business ideas and inventions, and imagining how much I could make off these ideas. They've all been unrealistic or very unlikely ideas, though. Until just recently, I came up with a simple plan: buy houses over time, paying them off as quickly as possible, and not buying a new one until the previous one is paid off.

Over time, I'll acquire several houses and collect rent on them. I probably won't get filthy rich, but it will provide a safety net for if I'm unemployed, and I can expect to have a good deal of equity built up in these houses over the next 20 to 40 years, providing for an adequate retirement. I'm really excited about this idea, actually, even though it's way less glamorous than other things I've dreamed up. I'm excited because it's real :).

That's probably the kind of plan you need. You know your emotional needs and what would meet them adequately. What would your relationships need to look like, and how could you get there? How could you mend things without revealing "too much"? I feel like if you could find a way and believe you can and will achieve it, the desire to repeat your destructive behavior would drop significantly.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Powerful insight!

Very, very powerful, and timely for me as well.

"Addict" is just a word used to describe a person involved in a pattern of behavior. It is not an entity within you, and it is not who or what you are in the present.

Very profound. I will be thinking about this more over the coming hours and days.

Thank you.

My initial comment to this post goes here,

just because you plucked the quote that was to be my toe in the water of overall comment here.

"Addict" is NOT just a word used to describe a person involved in a pattern of behavior.

If "addict" were just a word used to describe a person involved in a pattern of behavior then the term would have no meaning beyond pointing to this or that behavior being a bad behavior.

In the circles of recovery...

"Addict" is a word used to describe a person trapped in a pattern of behavior.

An addict is one who despite newfound, conscious, or even massive desire to cease such behavior cannot succeed in long term cessation on his/her own. To achieve success the desperate addict learns a thing or two that even the less deperate types often ache to learn.

This answers the question to why you once in a while run into a recovered or recovering addict that claims to be grateful he/she is/was an addict. In facing their addiction they have learned in general how to stop resisting or ignoring, and to recognize and humbly accept the help all about them. Give and take evolve into sharing, and that provides the foundation of all that is truly joyous in this life.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Yes, that is an excellent distinction

Trapped. Nicotine had me trapped for 13 years, and after I thought I was out of the woods and done with her, she came back to trap me for a couple more.

I see the distinction. Somehow I was able to escape the trap, and for that I am thankful, for I know others who cannot.

Good point. Thanks.

So glad you got something out

So glad you got something out of it :)