The current view on Addiction
When we think of the word “Addiction”, we immediately think of the drug addict. Many consider addiction a dirty word, associated to people who are self- destructive, selfish, lack self-control and only interested in chasing pleasure via substances.
We (society) are stumped and mystified by what drives addiction and struggle to understand the addict’s motivation and actions even when the consequences may be apparent to all around them.
“Addiction is manifested in any behaviour that a person finds temporary relief in and therefore craves but suffers negative consequence in the long term yet can’t give up.”Dr. Gabor Mate, internationally renowned speaker highly sought after for his expertise on addiction
When we broaden our view on addiction, we begin to see how widespread it is. How else does addiction show up?
The high achieving CEO and entrepreneur who owns several businesses, works on holidays and has a schedule that is always packed; possibly craves power and the rush of success. The negative consequence could be chronic stress, an inability to be present with family and strained relationships.
The friend who is always there to support others. Always ready to lend a hand, polite, helpful and available; possibly craves approval and validation. The negative consequence could be fatigue and not prioritising one’s own time, space, self-care, and health.
From an addiction to busy-ness, exercise, netflix, food, gambling, social media, travel, gaming, dating, sex… the list goes on. Ultimately, they all point the same way: our addiction to distraction.
Why the need for distraction?
When we are not distracted, we slow down, become still, we are simply being in the present moment. There is nothing to DO. And when we are alone in this stillness and silence, discomfort arises, and our instinct is to immediately distract ourselves from it. The discomfort may stem from a problem that one is avoiding, painful memories or anxiety and fears.
Essentially, we are trying to take our attention away from the pain, problems, anxieties, and fears. We are trying to self soothe and comfort ourselves.
“The primary drive is to regulate your situation to something more bearable.”Dr. Gabor Mate
When we realise that people distract themselves as a means of self-soothing from anxiety or painful experiences, we can appreciate Dr. Gabor Mate’s compassionate take on addiction.
Instead of asking “why the addiction?” we should be asking “why the pain?”.
In Dr. Mate’s 2012 talk in Vancouver, “Who are we when we are not addicted: The possible human”, he explains how “there is no big mystery… the less your attachment needs were met as a child, the more attached you are going to be to getting it from outside.” The following points are extracted from his talk.
“As children, we have attachment needs. Attachment here, in the modern psychological sense means love, the drive to be close to somebody, to be taken care of. The less positive attachments we had when growing up, the more negative attachments we acquire, and all addictions are a way of us trying to solve our problems from the outside.”
“The degree of our wanting is related to the degree of emptiness we experience and the degree of emptiness we experience is very much related to what happened to you early in life. And the greater the pain, the greater the addiction.”
If we view addiction with a lens of compassion, we may realise the difference between the “hopeless” drug addict and the “successful” business owner is simply the level of pain they experienced in their early years.
What is the solution?
Summarising from Dr. Mate, whose words I absolutely relate to from personal experience. The solution lies in:
1) Accepting your pain as it is, to see it as a teacher trying to hand you a precious gift.
There are no solutions from the outside, no amount of distraction will make the discomfort and pain go away.
2) Looking into the root cause of the pain.
This requires an understanding of trauma, changing our view on trauma and deciding on the course of action to take for our personal healing.
3) Reconnection to Self
“The big thing is not to focus on what happened externally… but how do I reconnect to myself. The reconnection to self does not happen by thinking and through the mind. Thinking about it, talking about it, teaching about it does not get you there. You can only get there through the heart. You can only get there at the very core of your being. Others can only give you clues.”Dr. Gabor Mate
When we get out of our heads (and comfort zone) and into our hearts … that is when the magic happens.
Who are we when we are not addicted: The possible human, Dr. Gabor Mate