A Work in Progress
(There's always a positive path forward.)
Once again, I'm veering away from small-scale gold mining to submit another pathway from the self-help book I'm writing titled, Positive Pathways: a Basic Guide to a Better Life. I do believe that what I have to say in this book (a work in progress at present) could help people turn their lives around for the better, but ultimately that's for folks like you to decide. Anyway, here's Pathway 14 from the book. It's lengthier than most posts you're familiar with, but if you read it in full you may come away with some new and potentially valuable conclusions.
Dealing with Addiction
“There are all kinds of addicts I guess. We all have pain. And we look for ways to make the pain go away.”
This pathway is not an easy one for me to write and for some of you it won’t be easy to read either. Addiction has had its way with me and my loved ones. I lost my only brother to drug addiction and I’ve had to battle my own demons with regard to alcohol, and to a lesser extent, drugs as well. Personally, I don’t care much for the tendency in today’s society to separate drug addiction from alcoholism. Saying that someone is a drug addict and then tagging another person as an alcoholic is, at the very least, dismissively inaccurate. It implies that alcoholics are a different breed than drug addicts. In my view, nothing could be farther from the truth. Addicts are addicts no matter what substance they abuse. This may sound simplistic to some, but as an addict in recovery with 21-plus years of sobriety I speak with some measure of understanding and authority on the subject. In fact, I’ll take this last statement a bit farther. It’s my belief that only addicts themselves truly understand the nature of their addiction, no matter how much they are in denial of that addiction. Sure, there are many fine psychologists, psychiatrists, and addiction counselors out there trying to save people from themselves, but if those trained professionals are not recovering addicts themselves they will NEVER fully understand the true nature of addictive behavior and what it means to take that sort of self-destructive path. I don’t care how many academic papers or therapy books someone has written. Only addicts fully understand other addicts. You may agree or disagree with what I’ve said in this paragraph and that’s fine. But I owe you the truth as I see it.
Addiction encompasses a vast array of substances and behaviors, including tobacco, drugs, alcohol, sex, overeating, anorexia…you name it. Virtually anything and everything has the potential to become addictive if we pursue it in a compulsive or obsessive fashion. Remember those two words. Compulsion and obsession. Why? Because in most cases they are the primary external drivers of addictive behavior. Notice that I used the term “external” here. Compulsion and obsession are simply the external manifestations of the complex inner drivers that create and fuel addictive personalities.
Here’s another way to look at this. If a healthy adult without an addiction feels a bad headache coming on he or she simply takes a few aspirin to ease the pain and then moves on with the day’s tasks. There is no obsessing over the substance (“I have to have more;” “Where can I get more?;” “Will I have enough to last me through the weekend?”; etc.) nor is there any compulsive component (“I took two aspirin but I’ll take three more to feel even better;” or “I took five aspirin an hour ago and I feel better so if I take three more now I’ll feel better still,” and so on.). In Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) and Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) this obsessive-compulsive trend in addicts is presented this way: One drink or high is too many and a thousand are not enough.
Therein lies the heart of the matter. Addicts can’t control themselves when it comes to self-medicating. One injection of heroin requires another and another and one drink of alcohol requires more drinks. It’s a downward, out-of-control spiral of self-medicating that only worsens with time.
Everyone feels inner pain at some point or another. Some of us are also betrayed, abandoned, or unloved by those we feel closest to. Yet not all of these people become addicts. In that regard they are doubly blessed. As Sherman Alexie says in his quote on the previous page, “We all have pain.” The pain he is speaking of is not physical in origin but emotional and psychic pain. It’s this sort of pain that fuels most addictions, if not all of them. Addicts abuse substances, or food, or sex, or whatever their choice of poison is for one reason and one reason only. To assuage the pain they feel deep inside. For most addicts it’s easier to self-medicate than it is to reach deep within and face their demons head on, no holds barred. I know this firsthand. Yet I made the choice to face my demons in the bright light of day as have many other addicts. And it is those demons, those core inner drivers that lead us to addiction in the first place. It is nearly impossible to quit drinking, or drugging, or overeating, or anything else of an addictive nature if you don’t deal with the drivers that caused that dysfunctional behavior in the first place.
Those inner drivers are the key to understanding addictive behavior. They usually include things like:
- · Deep-seated emotional pain;
- · Significant loss or abandonment as a child;
- · Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness;
- · Simmering anger or barely controlled rage; and
- · Narcissism or suppressed feelings of superiority, among others.
Although the last item in this list may appear out of place, trust me…it’s not. I’ve been around enough addicts (myself included) in my lifetime to know that many of us are arrogant thinkers who believe that, in many cases, we are smarter or more creative than others and deserve more than those around us. Stripped away of all its false components, this sort of addictive arrogance has at its heart self-victimization, nothing more and nothing less. This self-aggrandizing form of self-victimization creates a certain amount of internal pain, which in turn, provides “just” cause for the addict to pursue his or her addiction as a means to soothe the deep frustration and pain he or she feels over not being lauded by others, recognized by them, or cared for or loved.
Yes, some people can put a halt to their addiction out of sheer will and focused determination. I’ve actually known two addicts in my entire lifetime who were able to pull this act off. More power to them since they managed to avoid the three end paths of addiction: imprisonment, insanity, or death. Here’s the deal, however. These same individuals were (and are) the unhappiest people you could ever cross paths with. Why? Because they directed their egos and their wills toward the goal of sobriety without ever once reaching deep within to address the real drivers of their negative or self-destructive behavior. So that’s one reason I place little faith or value in the lasting power of an unchecked ego or will. Yes, you can accomplish the near impossible at times using the ego and willpower. But at what cost to your greater good in the long run? I’d rather be sober and reaching for contentment, peace, and happiness than being what is called “a dry drunk” in the A.A. rooms.
That’s what’s so powerful about 12-Step programs like A.A., N.A., and Overeaters Anonymous. They direct you along a path that essentially forces you to examine yourself in total, including your lies and deceptions, your untrammeled ego and will, and your self-serving, arrogant behavior. The 12 Steps also teach you that you are a person of value but in order to reach that truest value and your fullest potential you must concede your innate weakness to your higher power (what I call the universal source), make amends to those you harmed, and most importantly, remain sober from drugs, alcohol, or whatever other substance you were abusing. In other words, you must humble yourself before a power greater than you. After all, those years and decades you spent operating like you were the center of the universe only brought you lower and lower, not higher. Another remarkable insight that’s passed on to addicts in 12-Step programs is that there “is NO easier, softer way…half-measures availed us nothing.”
What this potent quote is saying is that there are no easy ways out of addiction. You can’t go at the process of healing yourself from addictive behavior by telling yourself you’ll ease out of your addiction bit-by-bit. It doesn’t work that way. An alcoholic or a heroin addict or an overeater can set well-intentioned parameters for themselves like only drinking so many drinks a day, using smaller amounts of heroin, or eating less on a daily basis but this sort of “half-measure” is doomed to failure, usually sooner than later. Since the inner drivers causing addictive behavior haven’t been addressed, it doesn’t take very long for obsession and compulsion to take charge again. Oftentimes this results in the addict abusing his or her substance of choice to even greater heights…or should I say lower lows? I’ve seen these attempts at half measures in A.A. rooms and tried them myself when I was still drinking and drugging and guess what? Those half-measures didn’t work and I sank further into my addiction. I’ve also seen the results when addicts think they can do it “their” way. Inevitably it all ends in tragedy.
Am I saying here that a 12-Step program is the only true path to kicking addictions? Of course not. There are many fine detox and rehabilitation facilities and clinics out there who use only parts of the 12 Steps or no steps at all. Some have worked up their own unique approach to treating addiction as have many capable and caring professionals in counseling and clinical psychology. But again what I need to stress here is that treating only the symptoms of addiction accomplishes little in the long run. You can use behavioral modification techniques to change just about anyone’s behavior just as Pavlov found out with the dogs in his laboratory, but that doesn’t mean those lessons will remain effective over long periods of time without additional “treatments.” However, once the inner drivers for addictive behavior have been revealed and examined, and there is a genuine effort to effect positive life changes, there’s hope for addicts everywhere.
For those of you dealing with addictions from a second or third party standpoint, your main goal is not to play a co-dependent role with the addict. What’s a co-dependent? Someone who contributes to or facilitates the toxic behavior of another person. Co-dependency ensures that the addict will continue to progress farther into the darkness that will eventually envelop him or her, all the while dragging the co-dependent along for a very destructive ride. Above all else, co-dependency is a failure to love yourself enough to emphatically say “No!” to addictive behavior and the myriad negative effects that behavior has on you or your loved ones.
Never act as a co-dependent to an addict. Never. You may think you’re helping them and doing the right thing, but in truth you are creating far more harm though your acceptance and permissiveness of their addictive behaviors. When dealing with addicts tough love is needed, not facilitation. You must be able to set firm behavioral boundaries in your home that don’t allow the addict to manipulate you, either through guilt, intimidation, threats, lies, or any number of other negative ploys meant to bring you to their terms, not yours. If your situation with an addict has reached unmanageable proportions (and it will eventually), perhaps an intervention is necessary. Nearly every 12-Step program has the capacity to run an intervention on your behalf, usually at no cost. On the other hand, many facilities, hospitals, and individual counselors can effect an intervention in your home or elsewhere. These sorts of interventions typically cost a significant amount of money, but saving your loved one’s life is at stake here. So is your peace of mind and that of your family.
I personally believe in divine intervention, although others may think me deluded for saying that. That’s their prerogative, but without some measure of faith in your heart I think all that’s left is bitter cynicism and a sense of futility where life is concerned. I fueled my own addiction for 30 years, allowing the great pain I held within me to act as the main driver of that addiction. My thinking was dark and negative and my feelings generally coincided with those thoughts as they are wont to do. What saved me from insanity, or imprisonment, or death from addiction in the long run was 1) I had reached my personal low point; (2) I felt the universal source’s presence in my heart, mind, and spirit; 3) I realized there was another way to cope with the pain I felt; and 4) I needed humbling for my greater good.
There is always hope for those of you who may be addicts and for those of you adversely affected by addictive behavior. Never give up that hope. The universal source doesn’t want you or your loved ones enslaved by toxic substances or behaviors and all the pain that form of bondage generates. Nor does the universe wish for your premature demise. Your path is clear and bright should you choose to follow it. There’s no need for the type of pain that drives people to self-destruction, no matter how difficult things might seem at present. So, raise up your face and bask in the light of day. Leave all that pain and darkness behind you.
After all, your very life or the lives of your loved ones may depend on it.
“I refuse to give my life over to addictive behavior.”
“I never act as a co-dependent.”
“I choose feeling good over feeling bad.”
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016Questions?E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org