What does treating addiction mean?
We often hear people talking about treating addiction as if it were a specific thing. A tangible set of symptoms. Mainly we talk about it as if it were separate from ourselves. I am in rehab for addiction. I go to AA or NA for addiction. Of course, it’s a question of language and semantics but language matters.
When we talk about addiction outside of ourselves or separate to ourselves, in some we way cause a split inside of ourselves. We can choose to engage with addiction in a healthy way when we are feeling resourced and supported. And we can choose to literally disassociate from the ‘alien’ addiction and then act out when things are not going well.
Addiction is not separate to us.
It is not an entity or a beast that we need to exorcise or expel. Even though it can feel like that (bigger than us). Our particular way of self-sabotage or self-harm is an exceptionally complex web of past pain and often trauma, that is triggered in the present. We have learned to self-sooth, self-calm with our particular strategy. This strategy often feels like a ‘safer’ option. Safer than the perceived and believed annihilating pain – which can often feel like death.
So, we drink alcohol, take narcotics, inject opiates, give ourselves away with sexual obsessive acts, over eat, become anorexic, bulimic, smoke way too many cigarettes, stay in abusive relationships … no matter what our ‘drug’ of choice we make that choice believing that we are ‘taking the edge off’. The flip side of taking the edge off feels overwhelming and devastating. No wonder in this extreme state we feel we would do anything to numb the pain.
The three most important elements needed for recovery are kindness, safety and honesty – in that order. You cannot be brutal with yourself. You cannot take risks that put yourself or your loved ones in danger. And you cannot continue in denial.
Addiction is part of your very complex make-up. It is something that has developed over time. The good news is that it is absolutely possible to track that development, to understand it with kindness, safety and honesty. It is possible to really get to know it and replace the negative enemy into a positive friend. There are thousands of stories in the world that speak of adversity becoming the making of people.
It’s possible to eventually speak of our self-harming behaviours and patterns in this way. It’s possible to make friends with the very part of us that is in the most pain, that needs the most help and that feels the most unreachable. Not simply offer a quick fix remedy but truly help with the correct, tailored and individualised balm. The balm that supports recovery, self-realisations and a healthy future filled with the tools and resources to engage with this life … the good, the bad and the ugly.
Try something new
Try playing around with the language you use around your self-harming behaviours. The older ones might work for you – then stick with them. But it’s still good to try new ways and to re-choose.
I am an addict. My addiction is Alcohol.
Try on: I am doing my best. I’m human. Sometimes I avoid my pain by drinking too much alcohol.
My addiction is bigger than me. There’s no way I can beat this.
Try on: My addiction has developed over time. And overtime I can understand it and learn new strategies to support my overwhelm and choose healthier options for self-care.
My name is John. I’m an addict. I will always be an addict.
Try on. My name is John. I have difficulty choosing self-nurturing options. Some days are better than others. With kindness, safety and honesty I will always have hope.
Collectively we are beginning to understand the nature of our inability to say no to self-harm and yes to self-care. We have science, we have tried and tested methods, we have empirical evidence, much of it based in neuroscience, and we have an evolving understanding of the biology and chemistry of the brain and gut.
In short … we have evolving HOPE.