I don’t remember exactly why I started thinking about addiction last week, but over the years I’ve noticed that most people don’t understand it. Even addicts fail to understand it themselves, and spend years addressing the wrong issue.
Be aware as you read this that I don’t like the word “addict”, as I feel it’s a poor way to define somebody with so many other qualities. But I’ll be using it in this post to make it easier to refer to those with an addiction.
I’m not a professional on this topic, so if you’re looking for professional help please talk to a psychologist or somebody else who went to school for this.
However, I wanted to share what I’ve learned through my own experiences with addiction.
My hope is that this will help both those who know somebody fighting an addiction, as well as those who currently have an addiction themselves.
Most people who form an addiction do it as an escape. This isn’t always obvious to either the addict or those on the outside, as a lot of addicts have seemingly happy lives. However, regardless of how happy or miserable our lives appear, an addiction is formed as a way of escaping something that we don’t want to feel or experience.
Some things a person might want to escape are simple. These can include boredom, loneliness, and stress.
Others might be more complex, such as an abusive spouse or parent.
Regardless of what an addict is trying to escape, when we experience something that gives us a break from what we’ve been feeling we latch on to it.
Why keep feeling lonely or stressed when you can just stop feeling entirely?
Why suffer through the memory of past abuse when you can just forget it happened for a while?
Now, not all of these outlets would be considered “unhealthy”. Some people find an escape through food, books, or exercise.
However, others find an escape through drugs, pornography, or smoking.
Addiction is when, regardless of whether the outlet is “healthy” or not, it becomes uncontrollable. Using the outlet as an escape either becomes involuntary, or it becomes the only perceived way to manage whatever we’re feeling.
Eating is great. Overeating as an emotional escape is not.
Exercise is healthy. Obsessing over your body to the point of excessive activity and extreme dieting is not.
A person can become addicted to anything, or anyone, that offers an escape from an undesired feeling or situation.
Now, there are two incorrect thoughts people have about addiction that I would like to address in the rest of this post. These are ideas I’ve seen in those trying to help an addict, as well as in addicts themselves.
- To break an addiction keep us away from whatever we’re addicted to
- Once an addict always an addict
While addressing this first idea I’m going to be referring to both the “trigger” and the “outlet”. While they may have different definitions to other people, it’s important to know what I mean when using these words.
Trigger = The feeling or situation an addict is trying to escape. (ex. loneliness, stress, abuse)
Outlet = The substance, action, or behavior an addict uses to escape the trigger (ex. pornography, smoking, drugs)
Depending on how serious the addiction is, keeping us away from whatever our outlet is could be necessary and helpful…at first.
However, this is not how a person reaches long-term sobriety.
Remember that we’re using our addiction as a way to escape something in our lives. If you simply remove the outlet from our lives without addressing the trigger we’ll find a new outlet.
I spent years trying to address my outlet, and would constantly be discouraged that I couldn’t seem to make it past a few weeks/months of sobriety. It wasn’t until I finally identified what my trigger was (loneliness) and asked a counselor for help in managing that feeling in a healthy way that I finally gained control.
It’s frustrating for me to hear those who talk about addiction only speaking about ways to essentially create a bubble around the addict. Instead of addressing the trigger, they simply talk about ways to remove the outlet.
Well, guess what…
Either you create a perfect bubble and we find another outlet, or your bubble sucks and we find a way to get our original outlet.
The second idea I mentioned earlier, the belief of “once an addict always an addict”, is frustrating to me because people seem to think that we walk around like a zombie the rest of our lives only able to think of our addiction.
It’s as if you believe we constantly have the outlet in the back of our minds, and if given the chance we’ll grab on to it and never let go.
And at first this might be somewhat accurate. Until we learn how to manage our trigger in a healthy way we’re going to want to escape, and we’ve spent months/years/decades training ourselves to use our outlet as this escape.
When I didn’t know how to manage my feelings of loneliness all I wanted was to stop the feeling, and I already knew what could do that. But once I learned how to manage these feelings I no longer needed my outlet.
Most days now it doesn’t even come to mind.
On days when I do feel lonely all that really happens is I’ll remember how my outlet would make the feeling stop in the past. But I’ve learned that I don’t need to escape those feelings anymore.
It’s OK to feel.
The problem isn’t allowing yourself to feel. The problem is when you stop feeling…