Let’s define addiction as behavior you cannot stop doing, even when you want to, despite negative consequences. We could all benefit from looking at our behaviors through this lens and realizing that just because we’re functional members of society who don’t smoke crack doesn’t mean we don’t suffer from addiction.
What are the things you tell yourself you do too much?
I work too much. People-please. Stress myself out. Say yes to everything. Procrastinate. Drive too fast. Overeat. Mindlessly scroll social media. Say sorry all the fucking time for no good reason. Oversleep. Pick at my skin. Show up late to basically everything. Buy frivolous shit I don’t need.
Really, take a look at your life. What are the things you wish you could stop doing but obviously can’t?
Most people call those “bad habits” because it sounds better than addictions. But, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, a turd by any other name is just as shitty. Let’s go ahead and call it what it is for the sake of being honest with ourselves, shall we?
Why Can’t I Stop?
All human behavior serves the biological imperatives of getting our needs met or protecting ourselves. It doesn’t always appear this way, but I assure you, every behavior is a cog in the needs or protection machine. And just as sure as we must continue breathing, this machine must run interrupted. And therefore, you cannot remove a cog — you must replace it.
For example, I’ve got to stop doing everything for everyone! (This is codependency, by the way). Well, you can’t just stop cold-turkey because that is how you have adapted to meet your need for human connection.
Someone like this was probably abandoned or neglected as a child, even if only emotionally, and subsequently believes in some dark crevice of their mind that they are not lovable or worthy of connection. So they make themselves “helpful” or “needed.” The helping professions (teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, etc.) are full of such people.
This behavior could double as a protection strategy as well. Helping or giving to someone is often one-sided human connection. It does not require vulnerability by the helper, who maintains control over the relationship and the interaction. It’s definitely a “playing it safe” way of relating to others.
Replacing The Addiction
Since every addiction is a botched attempt at self-regulation, the obvious solution is to practice healthier ways of managing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The problem is, people are so completely oblivious to what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. And they’re enslaved to an incessant stream of dysfunctional thought patterns and self-centered fears that they identify as “themselves.” What a completely fucking insane way to live, huh?
So the recovery process involves learning and practicing wholesome skills for connection and protection and identifying and removing the things that block you from actually adopting those skills. In most cases, it is suppressed childhood trauma trapped in the body as a deep feeling of shame, unworthiness, resentment, helplessness, or the like.
Suggestions for Healing
I’ve been working diligently at healing myself for over thirteen years now, and I’ve still got some work to do. So know that the following suggestions are just a starter kit. No five-minute article is going to lift the burdens from your soul, patch up your childhood wounds, and transform your life. But these three tips will pack you a lunch and put you on the bus.
- The Center for Nonviolent Communication provides a list of feelings we feel when our needs are satisfied and a list of feelings we feel when they are not. Bookmark it or print it out. They also have a needs inventory that you should study with equal fervor. Learn what your feelings are telling you and how to get your needs met. If you don’t even know what your feelings and your needs are, you have the emotional intelligence of a jar of mayonnaise. You can do better than that.
- Read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle to find out how your mind is trying to assassinate you from within like a double-agent. Also, start meditating regularly to increase self-awareness — an absolutely essential component of healing. You can download Insight Timer (Sarah Blondin is my favorite teacher on there) or any meditation app, or google meditation, ask a friend, whatever. Just do it.
- Get support from other human beings who have experience with what you’re going through. This could be a relationship coach like myself, a therapist, or a 12-step recovery group, of which there are many (Debtors Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, etc.).
Do all three of these and continue to pursue other sources of education, healing, and support. Make it a way of life.
Calling for Backup
If you’ve already done a ton of work on yourself, read the whole internet, have been in therapy for decades, and you still feel completely powerless to change, there is a 100% chance that you have unhealed trauma, which doesn’t live in the part of your brain that speaks in words. I recommend finding a trauma therapist trained in EMDR, RTT, SE, or some healing modality that goes beyond just talking to you about stuff.
Liberating your soul from the mental prison of addiction is not easy. But it’s a freedom worth fighting for.
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