By Scott Kiloby
Don’t you really want to know if you are addicted? Ever convinced you are not? Depends on how you define addiction of course. But let’s say that addiction is the compulsive use of something (as a way to avoid feeling something painful or uncomfortable) in a manner that creates harm in one’s life. Healing addiction starts by turning away from stigmatization and toward unconditional love. Check out this list and see if you experience any addiction under this definition:
- Illegal drugs
- Prescription medications
- Working out
- Feeling accepted (belonging)
- Resisting life
Addiction as a Survival Mechanism
It doesn’t matter what object or activity is involved. Addiction is one universal mechanism. In a sense, the most fundamental addiction is to surviving. In fact, some theorists posit that addiction is simply the way our species has survived. How else could our ancestors have survived without the capacity to learn how and where to repeatedly find the berries and the meat they needed to sustain their lives? Without some compulsive movement behind the thought to pick berries and hunt meat, the motivation just wouldn’t have been there.
Motivation is a big part of addiction, as is memory and learning. In the beginning, our ancestors’ brains learned to associate that some things carry a payoff or reward, which created the motivation to find more of those things. The payoff was strong enough to motivate them to take actions to find those berries and that meat again and again and again. The problem is that the brain doesn’t have a built-in shut off valve, at least for those of us who have a genetic predisposition for addiction. It doesn’t seem to know the difference between the berries and the other things that carry a pleasurable or pain-relieving payoff such as those listed above (e.g., drugs, helping, etc). As a result, those goal-oriented behaviors become less and less able to provide the original utility that motivated them in the first place.
What is the Payoff?
There’s a payoff in each of the addictions listed above. Sometimes the payoff is obvious. For example, drink a beer and the payoff is the buzz. But different kinds of addictions have their own payoffs. For example, a mother may suffer continuously through helping her son (unsuccessfully) get off heroin after many failed attempts. At first glance, what is the payoff for mom? Isn’t she just suffering? Isn’t she just the innocent victim here? The payoff for mom more often comes from her own deficiency story, which may be something like “I’m helpless.” Deficiency stories are mental stories of lack such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable.” She is addicted to helping. Her son is the “drug.” Every time she is helping, she is receiving a payoff. For a brief moment, that gaping emotional wound of lack/deficiency is medicated. Although the mother may get her fix via helping, the relief is only temporary, as with any drug or other addiction.
What’s the point of all this? We are in this together, truly. None of us lives in a glass house, so no one gets the license to beat anyone else up for an addiction. Look at the log in your own eye before you get too focused in the splinter in the other’s eye. Many of us, if not all, are experiencing addiction to some degree. Healing addiction applies to us all.
It’s time we begin evolving beyond the old ways of thinking about addiction and recovery.
That may mean even dropping those two terms completely.
Why drop the terms? Why evolve? Because no matter whether you call it addiction or something else, addiction is a type of slavery. A person has no access to real and true freedom when he is enslaved.
Come join us in the new model of recovery, which discards everything that hasn’t worked in the past, and cherishes only what works to deal with the underlying pain that drives addiction. Healing that pain is all that matters. Healing addiction comes through unconditional love and inquiry. The rest of the benefits of recovery come naturally from that healing.
To learn more about mindfulness based addiction recovery, call the Kiloby Center today at 833-474-4064.