“Many of the “experts” I quoted seem to be pointing to the idea that our addictions are a response to our thoughts and feelings. For example, Washton and Boundy said that a “faulty belief system lies at the root of addiction” and that when we hold contradictory beliefs like “we are not enough and that we should be perfect,” it sets the stage for inner conflict and struggle. Dr. Glasser said that when we don’t feel love and worth, we give up, act out, experience depression or use addictions to relieve our pain and feelings of failure. Stanton Peele said that addiction is a way of “coping with life and artificially attaining feelings.” John Bradshaw wrote about our inability to face and deal with our emotional pain. And Lee Jampolsky described the “addictive personality” within us that continually tries to avoid pain and make ourselves feel better.
So how do we make sense of these ideas in our own lives? For example, what’s the connection between our own thoughts and feelings? Where does the pain come from, and why does it lead us to our Addictions? Here are some of the connections I’ve made for myself and how I made them.
Working with People with Socially recognized Addictions.
After years of taking other addicts through the 12 steps and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I coached hundreds of people one-on-one, spending 40 to 60 hours of intimate time with each person, going through the steps of “recovery” and applying them to many different kinds of addictions. (Note: That’s my 12 Step background speaking again. Thanks for understanding.) And during our time together, they would tell me how it all started.
People consistently told me that, before they began doing their habits or became addicted, they believed that something was wrong with them. In other words, they had this core belief, deep down inside, that they were somehow bad, broken or not enough. The language they used was different for each person, but the theme was always the same. And I understood – because I remembered having that same kind of belief before I began my addictions too.
For me, it was a belief that I was not fully loved. To make a long story short, my father left our family when I was very young. My mother later began dating a man I didn’t like, and then moved us away from my childhood home to a different city. In my new school, I became an outcast from the other kids, and even from teachers I’d begun to trust. And that was when I began sniffing paint and varnish remover to make myself feel escape my feelings.
I’m not saying that these events “caused” me to become addicted. In fact, I choose to see that it’s the destructive meanings and interpretations I made up about myself (in response to what happened to me in life) that drove me into my addictions. I’m the one that created the beliefs that “I’m wrong”, “bad”, “unlovable”, “a mistake”, “I don’t deserve to live”.
Now of course there is a paradox in what I just said. This is not about blaming me for becoming addicted BUT it is also not about blaming my circumstances, parents, or anyone else for that matter. This is simply a perspective that empowers me so I use it. It’s a perspective I created by obsessively asking myself this question. “What is a possible way of looking at my past that, if I had looked at life that way back then, I might not have become addicted?” And more importantly, if I looked at my life that way, and taught this perspective to kids I’d have the greatest chance of preventing pain, suffering, addictions and suicide?”
Perhaps if I had been taught this Power of Choice interpretation as a kid, the idea that, no matter what was going on around me, I always had the power to choose my thoughts, meanings and beliefs, I might not have chosen to hate myself. For me, I think this single message has the potential to move us in the direction of transforming all addictions on the planet.
From the book Addiction & Choice, by Scott Gallagher
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