If you are addicted to alcohol, drugs or some other substance or activity, is the answer just to stop or is there some other recovery or transformation that is needed in order to truly heal ourselves?
Addiction is like a coping mechanism. For whatever reason, something we are experiencing feels like “too much” and so we learn to cope by self-medicating. The “too much” could be anything. Maybe the stress of a job feels like too much, maybe a relationship, pain from the past (including trauma), ongoing boredom, the feeling of not belonging or a story of being unloved.
At addiction progresses, the coping mechanism itself begins to create pain and suffering. Life becomes unmanageable in our addiction. Maybe the substance or activity stops working. Maybe the addiction starts having damaging psychological, physical, relational or emotional effects. But at this point, because addiction is a learned process, it is often difficult to unlearn it. Even if we try to abstain from the substance or activity, the underlying psychological and emotional forces that first drove us to the addiction can still be operating. Whatever we were trying to cover up with the substance or activity often doesn’t just go away when we stop using.
Recovery is a process of first stopping the use of the substance or activity and then learning to allow and heal the underlying thoughts, emotions and sensations that drove us to use in the first place. This is important to understand in order to avoid the confusion and frustration that sets in when we try to stop using on our own only to find out that stopping is not enough. Relapse often happens without some intervention by a recovery center or program.
Addiction is primarily a thinking problem. The way we think about ourselves, others and the world creates the need to medicate ourselves in order to cope. We continue to use the same kind of thinking when we try to stop. We are using willpower and control through thinking. We try to manage how we feel through thinking. As long as we are trying to manage, control or stop our using by relying mainly on thinking, we are prone to relapse. We are stuck in the thinking problem. When we begin to see that the way we think both causes the addiction and keeps us from being able to fully stop the addiction, we begin to be open to questioning thinking itself.
At the Kiloby Center, we treat addiction by questioning our thinking through a process called mindfulness. In mindfulness, we directly observe thoughts non-judgmentally, allowing them to arise and then fall without needing to grasp onto them anymore. This reveals a deep peace within us, a way to center ourselves in the present moment instead of remaining entangled in the thoughts of past and future.
Through this process, we begin to feel directly into the underlying emotional pain that was driving the addiction. When we clear away the problematic thinking, we can finally begin to truly inhabit our bodies in a way that begins to heal deep emotional pain. Through this gentle and curious exploration of our bodies, we learn to directly feel and release uncomfortable emotions and sensations as soon as they arise. This relieves us from constantly trying to “think” our way through life. This is the deeper transformation that is needed in order to truly recover. Merely stopping the use of a substance or activity is not enough. The problematic thinking is still there and the underlying emotional forces will often drive us back, again and again, to our familiar coping mechanism.
Most people need help bringing mindfulness into their lives. They need the assistance of people who are trained in the approach and who have recovered through this process. If you are having trouble stopping on your own or navigating the difficult territory of recovery, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.