Yesterday I reflected on how long I have been struggling with alcohol. How sad I was when I realised alcohol abuse has been a part of my life for 30 years. I became even sadder when, after much research and soul-searching I realised the cause of this suffering.
Professor Lewis, (the advocate of the deep learning model of addiction) acknowledges that addiction is initially driven by deep despair and personal suffering. It is preceded by feelings of disconnection, alienation, despair and stress. My question is why are people feeling this way in the first place? I think if we can understand the answer to this question, then we can have a more complete pathway to treatment and healing from addiction. So, I decided to dig deeper, and had the very enlightening conversation with myself!
Why do people become addicted?
Because the behaviour becomes hard-wired into their brains.
Why does it get hard-wired into their brains?
Because they keep repeating the behaviour?
Why do they keep repeating the behaviour?
Because their systems of choice-making have been damaged?
Why have their choice-making systems been damaged?
Because they kept taking a harmful substance?
Why would they take something that harms them?
Because initially it helps relieve their suffering.
And there was the question that created my a-ha moment. Why were these people suffering? Marc Lewis suggests a number of reasons such as stress or shame, trauma, loss of a relationship or job, or societal oppression. Some or all of this may be true. But in my mind, there is one underlying reason that they are suffering because they have either:
· stopped loving themselves or
· never learnt to love themselves in the first place.
Scrape away layer by layer of the addiction effects and you come to this root cause — people become addicted because they don’t love themselves. It is simple and yet profound. But again, the question must be asked. Why don’t people love themselves? From the wisdom gained from so many inspirational thinkers and researchers, I have come to believe that people don’t love themselves because they:
· Have lost touch with their own unique and precious nature (what I will call spirit); and/or
· They are not able to live their true nature and so have lost a sense of meaning and purpose.
I have not come to this conclusion lightly. It has been informed by years of research into the physiology of addiction, but also into philosophy and spiritual traditions that provide great insight into human nature and the dilemmas of a human life. The first Australians have the word gulba-ngi-dyili-nya which means to know and understand yourself, to be at peace with yourself. Shamans in North America also practice ceremonies for soul remembering to help people reconnect with the gifts and strengths that they entered the world with but have forgotten. Since ancient times, Tibetans have also practiced soul retrieval as way for people to come to know their true nature.
Moreover, in the seminal work Freedom: The End of the Human Condition, biologist Jeremy Griffiths explains that with the arrival of consciousness, some of our human ancestors felt compelled to take unique and individual paths. However, those who wanted to do things differently were seen as a threat to the stability of the tribe, were made to feel faulty. And here is the result –
“naturally when we feel that we are faulty, we mistreat ourselves, and then we mistreat others in some way.”
So, if disconnection with the spirit (and thus loss of love for yourself) is the fundamental cause of addiction, we can just dive in and ‘fix’ it — can’t we? Let’s just dive into the spirit and get connected again! Well, unfortunately from my experience it is not that easy. There is no easy exorcism process or fast-train back to the spirit. This is because the addiction has been like a war, and there have been many casualties in every single area of your life. Bringing peace is a dedicated process of healing and rebuilding a life.
After dwelling upon the various viewpoints of what addiction is and contemplating its many physiological causes and effects, I have developed the following Addiction Healing Pathway.
I suspect when you first see this model you may be very disappointed. Were you hoping for something more complicated, more academic or more technical? Well, for those looking for more detail, this will be provided later. However, don’t mistake simple for easy. Just like a map is not a true reflection of the territory, this pathway is merely a guide. There are only five elements to this model, and yet each one of these in an intense process of investigation, appreciation and healing. It is a two-dimensional model of a very challenging journey, but without this guide, we may feel lost altogether.
More importantly, I have not developed this model to satisfy scientists or specialists. I have done this to help those addicted, their friends, and their families understand what is happening to them, and that there is a pathway to heal.
Reflecting back on my time in rehab, if I had this model in front of me, would it have made the journey any easier? Probably not. But would I have had a clear view of my destination and the pathway to get there? Yes. This model would have given me something to hang up on the wall, to track and trace my progress, and to understand the work that was being done at any particular time. It would have allowed me to see the connections between all the different activities. I may have given in to the process sooner if I knew the end-game. If I knew that all of those people around me were working together to reconnect me with my spirit, and allow me to be my true self, then perhaps I would have been more trusting of them in the first place.
Addiction is Driven Bottom-Up
It is the loss of connection to spirit, the loss of meaning and purpose in this life that begins the descent into addiction. You lose touch with your passion and your love for life. If you do come to know and seek to live by your spirit, then the tribe is very good at making you feel ‘faulty’. So either path creates a whole range of troublesome emotions arise including fear, anger, pride, shame, apathy and desire.
These kinds of feelings act as a huge negative force and threat upon a person and puts them in a constant state of stress, prepared either to fight to defend ourselves, or to run away. Here is the suffering from which substances and certain activities provide relief.
Even though we may know inherently what we are doing is harmful, or is becoming unhelpful, the call to relieve the suffering continues, and so our thought patterns and beliefs become altered to support continuing the behaviour. “I can’t cope”, “I deserve this”, “what’s the use?”, “I’m worthless” are all thoughts and beliefs that keep the person in the pattern of consumption. And finally, through continued behaviour, the addiction becomes well and truly ingrained in the brain. It has become part of the wiring of the brain, and removal of the substance or behaviour is going to create pain. As a result, the physical body is also damaged. Organs and muscles are destroyed, the body becomes toxic and malnourished and additional chemical imbalances may be have created in the brain.
Addiction is Treated Top-Down
What this model recognises is that the damage done at the physical, mental and emotional levels does need to be healed before the deep work of reconnection with and building love for the unique spirit can be undertaken. Let’s start with the physical body and brain. It is likely that through addiction it has become malnourished, and there may have been chemical imbalances created that are impairing your ability to think clearly, and deal with the withdrawal symptoms as they arise.
It is at this physical level, the body and brain, where medication may play a role. I know there is a lot of controversy around the investment that pharmaceutical companies have in addiction, but if you have found the right help, then medication can play a pivotal role in helping your get your head together, to begin to think clearly for the road ahead. With a clear mind you are able to become more aware of what you are doing and gain insight into how your thoughts and beliefs are driving your behaviour. You can gain some distance from your thoughts and, as Victor Frankl points out, begin to see that:
“Between the stimulus and the response is a space, and in that space is your power and your freedom.”
With awareness and insight you begin to bring back your ability to choose, which is your greatest power. However we are far from rational beings it is our emotions that drive our behaviour. Without learning how to deal with the distressing emotions of fear, shame, guilt and anger, we will never gain the courage to move forward on our spirit journey. When we are able to care for our emotions, and learn the messages they send, then we can build confidence through action, and begin to honour our true selves. Even more, we can begin to love ourselves, and show ourselves the kindness and compassion that is our essence. We can begin to shine, experience a clear sense of purpose, and feel real joy.
The Role of the Environment
Your environment can either help or hinder your healing and growth. Unfortunately though, one of the strongest beliefs that undermine progress in addiction is that:
“I should be able to snap myself out of this.”
It is this misguided belief that prevents people either seeking help or following advice that they think compromises their independence. I hope that this model shows the immense benefit of having a holistic support team behind you including:
· Psychiatrists, doctors and specialists — to help heal the body and brain
· Psychologists and counsellors — to help work through challenging thoughts and emotions
· Spiritual friends or teachers — to help you come to know your true nature and what brings meaning and purpose to your life.
At the same time as building up a healing crew, it is also necessary to dissolve relationships that are enabling your addiction and keeping you disconnected. This one act can be the ‘game-changer’ in terms of moving forward. It removes a huge barrier to your progress. Surrounding yourself with people who reflect your true nature, who share your dreams and passions then creates a community that will sustain you through the challenges ahead.
So, while I despair at the decades lost to alcohol I have come to realise that:
And it does not matter how long you have been in the dark, one spark is all it takes to light your heart again. This journey of discovery has led me back to my spirit, finally doing the work I love. Every tear, every failure, every loss has brought me here, letting you know there is a path to heal from addiction.
May you come to know the path of healing and embark upon it with great patience and compassion.
Find out more in the free Ebook — The Addiction Healing Pathway
 My definition of spirit is that part of us that has no physical location and yet it is our very essence. It calls us to be the best that we can be and life a life sharing our talents and passions.
This is an excerpt from the Upcoming Book: