On AddictionSubmitted by BStep on Sat, 08/23/2014 - 14:30
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:
- Your addiction has no power over you; you have complete power over your addiction.
- "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?