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Changing the Voice of Addiction
Years ago, I headed up the stress management department in the pain unit at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. My first jaw-dropping exposure to addiction came when a diabetic patient communicated her doctor’s warning that if she didn’t quit smoking, she risked having her legs amputated. A few days later, she was discharged from the pain unit. Three months later, she returned to the hospital, this time with heels for her legs. Yet she continued to smoke…
Addiction is prevalent at all levels of society and is linked to a wide range of disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, certain types of cancer, anxiety, depression and many stress-related illnesses. For example, women who remain in unhealthy relationships and resort to food, cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol as coping mechanisms, often find themselves not only psychologically impaired, but also physiologically impaired.
Interestingly, addiction extends far beyond toxic substances like drugs and alcohol and can include food, shopping, work, gambling, sex, pornography, television, perfectionism, or pursuit of a youthful appearance, money, or the ideal relationship. Each of us longs for pleasure, comfort and inner peace. When one achieves a choice addiction, the goal is to reduce stress, discomfort, and suffering and to self-soothe.
Eventually, these pleasure-seeking (or pain-reducing) behaviors can take on a life of their own and a vicious cycle emerges that ultimately results in more pain than pleasure. For example, if you smoke a cigarette, you may temporarily reduce your level of anxiety, but the ensuing self-mockery, guilt, or shame can potentially create more suffering, which may lead to the impetus for a another cigarette…
Scientists don’t yet fully understand what happens in the brain that ends up causing addiction in some, but not in others. However, in an extensive study led by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, they found strong evidence that children with negative childhood experiences were at significantly higher risk of developing self-destructive and compulsive behaviors over time. adulthood, including drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, eating disorders, and depression.
When basic needs are not being met, even in the absence of trauma, children and adults can use creative outlets to calm themselves down. Healthy relationships and maintaining a strong inner core are the best antidotes to combating addictive behaviors. Strengthening our relationships and our inner well-being requires practice and often the learning of certain key strategies.
When practices such as meditation, breathwork, and connecting with trusted friends are incorporated into our daily lives, the propensity for addiction can eventually begin to subside. In other words, we start looking for the thing we really want, rather than the silver bullet.
Any behavior you engage in engages neural circuitry and burns into the brain. Behaviors that are repeated over time generate strong neurological patterns that are either destructive or beneficial to our well-being. Repeating the practice of meditation reinforces certain pathways in the brain that are self-reinforcing. Likewise, repeating the practice of overindulging in negative behaviors such as chronic overeating also becomes self-reinforcing. However, meditation, when practiced regularly, reduces anxiety and enhances a genuine sense of well-being; while a negative addiction can temporarily reduce anxiety, it also diminishes a genuine sense of well-being and self-worth.
Change Dependency or Dependency Model
Change begins with the ability to observe the destruction associated with a certain behavior and to realize that a behavior no longer serves you. Knowledge is power and developing the most accurate understanding of addiction or addiction aids in recovery.
In most cases, the medical model treats addiction as an acute problem rather than a chronic, recurring medical problem. This is why medical interventions often do not work, or if they do, the positive results are only temporary.
Alcoholics Anonymous (or OA, GA, NA, SA) has proven effective for those who wish to build their lives around “recovery.” These programs work, although unfortunately more than 80% of people identified as struggling with addiction do not participate in programs or receive any formal treatment. I have also observed that programs like AA work for those who attend regularly, but their dependencies or dependencies are transferred to “the program”.
Counting 1 year, 2,321 days, 22 hours since his last drink or cigarette seems to me another form of addiction. Learning to authentically self-soothe and connect with others seems to be the most rewarding and long-lasting tonic of all. The benefits of AA and similar programs come in the form of newly nurtured relationships with fellow meeting participants and sponsors.
Fighting addiction means you are in recovery and have reason to hope. The harder you try to break free from an addiction, the more likely you are to succeed. Learning and internalizing strategies that help you feel more comfortable in your own skin, such as in mindfulness practices and relationship building, are the most promising avenues to follow in a recovery program. These are skills that take time and practice to develop. When one slips or fails in recovery from this chronic condition, the key is to return to its practice to build core strength and healthy relationships.
Keys to change the dependency model
• Realize that this behavior no longer serves you.
• Commit to changing the behavior, knowing that the choice is self-defeating.
• Forgive yourself for your past behavior so you can move on with your life.
• Get help as you go through the “recovery process”, which means building healthy relationships that last.
• Commit to communicating with others when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, sad or lonely.
• Practice mindfulness exercises like meditation, prayer, affirmations, abdominal breathing, etc.
• Set clear intentions for the future that support your goals and dreams.
Take action every day to reach your potential, while practicing your mindfulness strategies and relying on the support of others. This is especially necessary when you have slipped back into the addictive behavior.
Know that reverting to old patterns of behavior is often part of the process. However, the harder you try to change or turn off a behavior, the more likely you are to succeed. Find activities that engage your mind and body in a compelling way. Above all, surround yourself with people who support you in your efforts to improve the quality of your life. Remember that fostering healthy, authentic relationships with others is the best antidote to the need to pursue the illusory, unreliable, and unpredictable balm found in the addictive object.
Have you ever personally struggled with or known someone who has struggled with addiction? Feel free to share your experiences.
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