Help for Addiction in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks, Crowborough, Forest Row & East Grinstead areas. Do you have an Alcohol or Drug problem, addicted to Gambling, to Work, have problems with Food or Weight, can’t leave the Internet alone? If so, you might find this outline of my approach to these problems of interest.
Firstly, my own experience of addiction has been mainly through a period in my early thirties when I was addicted to gambling, this is what made me start my own therapy journey. Earlier in my life I have had some issues with recreational drugs, but I have not experienced being chemically addicted.
Self-destructive Addiction – We all have many “addictions”; problems only arise when they have a self-destructive aspect to them. They come in all shapes and sizes from the slightly annoying to the full blown, anything goes, search for oblivion of severe substance misuse. Besides the use of substances which we take to change our state and escape from ourselves, there are also all the various problem behaviours like gambling, over-work, eating problems, porn / sex, the internet, self-harm, etc., which have essentially the same purpose, i.e. that of avoidance.
With self-destructive addiction it is obvious that there is a process going on that we don’t understand, that we can’t control and, especially to start with, that we are in denial about. So, the first step is always about acknowledging that a problem exists. This often comes after some crisis, from which we can see how the problem is causing more suffering and pain than the addiction was designed to avoid. But it can also come as a dawning realisation that the way we are living is not what we want for ourselves and that there must be some way out of our vicious circle.
What is going on that drives us towards self-destruction? What are the inner forces that are so strong that our capacity to resist them is so feeble? We carry on repeating what we know, in another part of ourselves, is madness?
Why am I here? – Any slide into addiction comes about from a gradual letting go of the self. Whether its alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other addiction, we let it happen. But why? One thing I am clear about is that we were not born this way, the forces involved come from our past and are the result of our conditioning.
This impulse to self-destruction comes from the part of us that believes that we are “bad”, not good enough, not worth caring about, or from the avoidance of fear. This in turn came from how we were treated. Sometimes it’s easy to see the history behind this, sometimes the past is harder to interpret with the injuries coming from a more subtle accumulation of negative forces. The point is though, that there must have been “trauma” of some form, to make us deeply internalise the view of ourselves as being bad, wrong, worthless, so fearful, etc.
Trauma happens when we are overwhelmed by difficult experiences. The self’s survival strategy is to bury the pain, to desensitise ourselves and close down. This happens through splitting the connections between our heart, head and body, which means that we stop knowing what we feel, we give up thinking things through and we ignore our bodies.
We then get so used to living this way that we think it ‘normal’. We resist looking too deeply at ourselves, denying the possibility of change, because at some level we intuit that this would involve facing the hurt, pain, fear that we buried and continue to avoid. In my experience there is nearly always some lack of love, some punishment / abandonment / neglect at the bottom of addiction.
So, what to do? – If we really want to change, the wish needs to have permeated deep down inside us, we need to really have had enough of living the way we are. Then maybe we are prepared for the work of facing what we’ve been long avoiding. If this is where you are then the next step is to find support to deepen your self-awareness and self-understanding.
How do we become more aware? – With support we can see more about what we are feeling, thinking and how our bodies are tense. With support to attend to our here and now experience in a new and deeper way, we can start to see how our thoughts are influenced by our feelings, our feelings by our thoughts and how our bodies hold all our tensions. Fear and anxiety are always instantaneously there in the body as tension.
As we start to re-connect our heart, head and body, it enables us to see a little more about what is going on and as this new awareness is digested and integrated, we become a little stronger, which supports more insight and understanding about our insecurity. This new “data” enables us to make sense of the patterns of our experience and see the logic behind our behaviour. As we start to understand our “story”, we start to understand the hurt, anger, shame, distress etc., that we’ve been living with, maybe for most of our lives. It’s by attending to this wounded ‘victim place’ ever more deeply that we can repair ourselves, and increasingly forgive and care for ourselves.
This awareness, understanding and self-forgiveness supports the other essential strand of our development, that of facing the reality of ourselves and of taking responsibility for ourselves and our choices. This is not about blame, which is not real or valuable and is just a projective process of making myself or the other “bad”. Blame does nothing to help, whereas taking responsibility for ourselves, however little we manage at any time, is always creative.
We can’t ‘do’ Change – Change is a paradoxical process, we can’t change by willing it, especially when there are lots of internal conflict. Life doesn’t work that way, it is life that governs these processes, not us. We notice afterwards that we are different and gradually the need for our addiction can naturally diminish. This approach is about enabling us to eventually leave addiction behind rather than being left with the sense of always having to control it. It is about our ongoing self-development towards living increasingly in the here and now with satisfaction and the sense of being the author of our lives.
First Steps – Starting to get help with addiction is obviously a tricky time. There can be a deep fragility and defeatedness, with lots of shame and deep feelings of inadequacy, either in the foreground or background. This can come with anxiety, depression and or a hyper-sensitive reactivity along with the real fear of being lost and out of control.
The first step in therapy is starting to understand that the way we are is not about being “bad”, it is about being a deeply wounded person. We need to re-frame our “story” by seeing how our addiction is about running away from the unbearable pain of this woundedness. Then we can start to separate ourselves from our addiction, we can start to see that, despite how it might feel, it is not the whole of us. Also, the pain is not totally unbearable, with support we can start to bear it.
At some point, early on in therapy we need to summon all our resources to commit to an ongoing struggle to try to stop. Using the knowledge of our woundedness, along with knowing that continuing with our addiction only leads to self-destruction we need to commit ourselves, right down to our depth, to keep trying. This is a tough place, of starting to take responsibility for myself, of stopping blaming others and the world for being wrong and starting to face the fact that the way I am living is only my responsibility. No one can choose for me; here we are indeed alone.
Understanding supports our choice, and by choosing we become stronger and therefore more able to face our pain more deeply, and thereby understand more. Always, it is the two separate threads of understanding and choice, that need to support each other throughout our healing and development.
With our almost inevitably relapses, we need to as quickly as possible re-forgive ourselves and get back on the program. Every relapse can be used to deepen and re-connect to our wish for our freedom, and a reminder that this is a fight for our life, a fight for our very soul. Then, patience and perseverance are everything, because change takes time and relapses are usually an inevitable part of the process.
Every effort, every inch of success is valuable, it accumulates towards creating something that become a virtuous circle. Using the analogy of “snakes and ladders”, it takes effort to climb and if we land on a big “snake” we go all the way down the bottom again. But we are never actually in the same place twice. If this happens, we have the experience and the bank of previous efforts to support us to climb again more quickly and efficiently. If we don’t give up on the deep trust that we can recover, we can keep trying. It is an extraordinary capacity that we have, of being able to keep hoping, to keep trying. Relapses, failures, reversals need to be quickly forgiven and moved on from, holding onto the knowledge that the nightmare of negative identifications around our worthlessness are not real, they are just nightmares. The only value in relapses is to remind us of what we don’t want and to deepen our wish for freedom.
It is by returning to the “here and now” that we can find support, and it is the only place where choice is possible. Here paradoxically we are not alone; we are connected to Life. This movement into consciousness of the fact of our existence, that we have this body, that we have our feelings and our thoughts, proves that our “self” is to some extent separate from our functioning, because we are able to observe ourselves. This is an extraordinary thing and the key to the door of our freedom. From the “here and now” we can see what is real. Yes, there can be lots of pain, but it is the only route to healing, growth and development.