We can be in such a rush to "fix" addictions that we don't take the time to figure out what an addiction actually is. Addictions are destructive and can sometimes be frightening, so it makes sense to want to move forward with it as fast as possible. The problem is that the way we understand an addiction directly connects to the way we will work with that addiction, so rushing forward too quickly can lead to addiction treatment that lacks wisdom and insight. This page provides details about how I understand addiction, and how that understanding turns into a way of helping.
The Parts of Addiction
There are two parts of addiction that I keep in mind while I work with clients. Each is a slightly different lens that I look through, with different goals and different paths to follow in our counseling sessions. Which lens I use in a particular moment is based on what we need to accomplish together right in that moment.
The first part of addiction that I focus on is the behavior part of addiction. This is the most familiar part to most people because we often understand our addiction by what we do; whether it is taking a drug, placing a bet, buying something, or going to a porn site. The benefit of focusing just on the behavior is that it makes things simple. We can make plans on how to reduce that behavior, or how to cope when that behavior is done. We gauge success by a reduction in that behavior and we know there is a problem if the behavior increases. There is no need to dig through complex personal history because when you focus on behavior all that matters is what has triggered the behavior most recently, what is going on in this moment, and what will be done in the near-future to improve things.
The second part of addiction that I focus on is the systemic part of addiction. A system is something made up of many different parts that are all connected together to make one larger thing. If you change one part of a system it changes the whole system. When it comes to addiction this simply means that addictions do not exist in our lives all on their own. Addictions are connected to many different parts of our lives; including our histories, our social groups, our brain chemistry, and the larger way we understand ourselves. The rule of a system also applies to addiction. If you change one part of a system it changes the whole system and all the connected parts, and so if we change one part of your life it will eventually come around and change your addiction.
One example of this way of thinking along the lines of a system has to do with the concept of "well-being." Some people have a theory that if a person does not have a strong sense of well-being, if they do not like their life or have anything going on in their life that feels worthwhile, they are more likely to have an addiction too. Likewise, if you improve someone's sense of well-being by making their lives feel more worthwhile and meaningful addictions can be reduced. It is all connected together. Change one part and it influences all the other parts.
A Gentler Way To Work With Addiction
With addiction there is always a struggle. Changing a behavior or changing a system in a positive way is not easy. But with mindfulness it is possible to change the way you struggle so that the struggle becomes something more bearable and even useful. This is what I mean when I talk about gentleness.
Mindfulness is a set of ideas and practices that can help to change your behavior. Many people who try to change their addiction behaviors will do things like yell at themselves, punish themselves, or hold on tightly to traumatic memories of how they have been hurt by their addiction. Mindfulness moves in a gentler direction. The focus is not on breaking your own legs psychologically (like those example strategies I just mentioned). Instead it is a process of learning how to coexist with your cravings, separating those cravings from actual behaviors. With patience and practice the addiction cycle is dissolved, and all without beating yourself up or shattering yourself into pieces.
Thinking about addiction systemically can also help along these lines. When you wrestle with anything it requires energy. Willpower is just another way to label mental energy. Therefore eating well, sleeping well, and exercise (all things that improve energy) can have a direct impact on your struggle with addiction. We can come at this from a different direction as well. Sometimes addiction is used to cover over traumatic memories or to drown out thoughts and emotions we don't want to experience. Processing that trauma together, or figuring out how to change those thoughts and emotions rather than trying to smother them, can have a lasting impact on addiction. As I talked about earlier, it is also possible to weaken an addiction by making your life feel more fulfilling. Rather than constantly focusing on addiction and behavior then we can look at other parts of your life, making simple changes or tackling bigger projects, and still be working on your addiction indirectly. It is all connected together. Change one part and it influences all the other parts.
If what I am saying makes sense to you, and you are thinking of working with me to unravel your addiction, you can click here to contact me. I'm also available to answer your questions or talk about your concerns.