Addiction: Regaining Your Power to Choose

Written by on February 21, 2013 in On Healing

iStock_000004737766XSmallAddiction: Regaining Your Power to Choose

Creation of an Addiction

Addictions are the result of a great longing inside of us. This longing happens when the soul is not nourished in childhood. Think back to when you were young. Was there something you wanted to do or be? Did you feel this something stirring deep inside of you? What happened to that? It was most likely starved. Sometimes this happens so young we never remember the stirring inside of us. But the hunger stays with us. The hunger makes us accept other tempting replacements as authentic. Sometimes the addiction is created when we are given a very strict ideal to become and we find that we do not fit the model given to us. This happens to most of us, which is why addiction is a continuing concern in our world. In some situations, such as belonging to a gang, the ideals that one must live up to are very specific and strict. Another example might be celebrity. Celebrities are supposed to live up to very narrow ideals of beauty, glamor and talent. When they find they cannot live up to such measures they often turn to addictive substances or relationships. For others, the ideals might be more pervasive, such as religious adherence or social norms required for acceptance.

Trying to fit to a mold or set of behaviors that does not come from our true authentic self, causes us to feel inadequate. We will then repress or destroy our own impulses in order to become that which we have been shown or told is ideal. This denial of the true desires of the self creates a hunger that cannot be sated. When talking about my own addictions I have used the term “caged and hungry tiger.” The consistent concept around addiction is longing and hunger. We seek out substances, stimulation, behaviors, or activities to try to fill that longing. But soon enough it takes over us.

Addiction and The Dancing Red Shoes

        The Dancing Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen can be used as an interesting metaphor for addiction. While Andersen’s story has religious overtones, (a common theme of his time) it can also be viewed as archetypal. The story goes something like this: A young girl who is very poor receives a pair of red shoes made by an old shoemaker, from odd pieces of red cloth. The girl loved her red shoes even though they were simple and unadorned. One day, the girl’s mother dies and on the day of her funeral a rich old lady takes in the poor child. She burns her clothes and her red shoes. The girl is saddened but embraces this new life where she must learn to read and sew and behave herself like all good girls should. The little girl was soon to be confirmed at church and the rich old woman who had taken her in, had the shoemaker in town make her a pair of shoes for the occasion. The old woman could not see well at all and the little girl chose a bright red pair of shoes to be made. She wears the shoes to church and everyone stares at her. Afterward, there is gossip in the congregation about the girl wearing red shoes. The old woman realizes the shoes are red and tells the girl she can never wear them again. She puts them in the closet and out of reach. But the next Sunday the girl sneaks into the closet and gets the red shoes and wears them to church. As she passes the threshold she sees on old soldier with a beard. He says, “What pretty dancing shoes you have there” and taps the soles. The shoes have been cursed. The girl begins to dance in the red shoes and cannot stop. The red shoes have complete power over the girl. The old woman and a few others help remove the enchanted shoes. The old woman hides them in a cupboard and tells the girl she can never, ever wear the red shoes again. But after awhile the old woman takes ill and dies. The girl takes the red shoes and puts them on her feet. This time she dances and dances and cannot stop. On her way down the road, completely out of her control she danced into the churchyard where an angel tells her she will dance in her red shoes forever more. She begs for mercy but the angel does not hear her because she has danced away. After sometime of this she meets the town executioner. She begs him to cut off her feet. He does so and the dancing shoes with her feet still in them dance away. She remains a cripple for the rest of her life.

  • My own interpretation is this: The red shoes symbolize the replacement for what was authentically ours. Because it resembles the original we accept it as a replacement. We soon fall in love with our addiction, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, control, work, video gaming, phones and other forms of addictions. We are tempted to wear the red shoes even when we have been warned against it. But the story is so much more than temptation, the red shoes are a replacement for the red shoes we had made for us from scraps. The red shoes that the rich old woman buys for the girl are substitutes for the ones that were burned. When we continue to wear them we are condemned to dance until we die or so it seems. But the girl does not die, she asks the executioner to cut off her feet which he does. Sometimes we completely cut off the thing which has had power over us and try to stay far away from the temptation. We become crippled. We may find a suitable prosthetic or learn to live without our feet. But I propose that we can grow new feet. Feet are good symbols for that which we stand for, our values and standards. The red shoes are the perfect symbol for addiction because addictions are about misplaced or misguided values. We grow new feet when we build a new value system for ourselves. There is no shame in addiction. Just as the girl in the story is innocent so too are we innocent until we find ourselves in the grip of the red shoes. The experience though, is important,  for it provides us with the wisdom and experience we need.

The War Against the Self

An addiction is, in part, a war against the Self. One part of us may want to be free of the addiction and the other part absolutely does not want to because the addiction is a replacement for our longing. In the story the girl goes back to the red shoes even after she knows that they are dangerous. We want it and we don’t want it. You want fulfillment and satisfaction for the deep longing and this drives you to continue the war inside. There is a deep belief that the addiction will eventually provide you with whatever it is you are longing for, whatever you are hungry for, but it never does.

An addiction represents the split of the self, the image of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. We first encounter this struggle when we confront addictions. Would the dark side have any  power at all if it were not alluring, if it did not promise fulfillment?  We believe that the authentic thing is lost, like the shoes that were burned, and we are seeking an alternative or a replacement for them. Before healing the addiction can occur we must first end the war inside.

Willpower

Willpower is not the answer when dealing with addiction. Willpower is no match for an addiction. This is why resolutions do not work when one is trying to overcome an addiction. You may find willpower has some success initially but it does not have the staying power required to keep the addiction permanently at bay. Using willpower to confront an addiction creates a war inside of the self or keeps the war going. Willpower is an excellent tool for developing discipline, for not giving up when you are tired, it is the drive that keeps us moving when we would rather stop. But when using willpower to confront addiction it is like trying to end a war by warring. It is fundamentally non-congruent and will not succeed long term, just as a war cannot bring peace in the long term.

The Prosthetic Life

When we discover the power the addiction has over us we try to find whatever means we can to deal with it. We find out that our willpower is not enough. What is there left to do? Just like the girl in the story we beg the executioner to cut off our feet. Yes, we will be crippled but it is better than dancing to death. By avoiding the source of the addiction one can build a life that is meaningful. Once we finally have the courage to cut off our feet we must then begin to rebuild our life using a prosthetic. We stop spending time with friends that are still in the grip of addiction, we stay away from any event that serves alcohol if that is our addiction, or we sell our TV and video games. We radically change our life to avoid coming in contact with the source of our addiction. Twelve step programs are essentially support groups to help us build a prosthetic life to replace the one that was destroyed. Twelve step programs have been very useful and effective for many people. They are a valuable resource for addressing the issues we face in our own addictions. They can help us gain the insight necessary for understanding the deeper motives of our addiction. They offer support and accountability and the knowledge that others are struggling too and understand. And for some of us, a prosthetic life is better than no life at all. But I deeply believe that there is more. I believe that while a prosthetic may be useful for a time, even perhaps a long time, that true wholeness is possible, that I or you can eventually grow new limbs. 

PTSD and Addictions:

I have recently come to realize that addictions operate similarly to post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Since I have experienced both first hand I have been able to see the connections and similarities. PTSD is caused by trauma of some kind that is stored in the tissue of the body as well as in the brain. These instincts are gifts of survival. PTSD rewires the brain to react in a certain way when a specific trigger is presented. For example, when someone comes up behind me I feel my heart rate increase and fight or flight response that makes adrenaline rush through me. Being struck suddenly and without warning from behind as a child, has hard wired this reaction. Certain sounds are unbearable to me causing my skin to crawl and my legs to run. The brain and cellular tissues in my body are responding to a programming that I don’t remember creating. I cannot rationalize it away, or repress it or pretend it isn’t happening. The physiological responses are too intense to ignore.

Addictions operate in the same way. The destruction of our values and the diminishing of our dreams causes us to have a longing that demands to be satisfied. When the right trigger is presented our physical bodies respond to it. Certain foods, when I see them, cause physiological responses like sweating, or nervous jitters. This has been an invaluable discovery for me. Understanding this connection has helped me to look at my addiction with less shaming and more acceptance and it has allowed me to see the PTSD as something that can be healed instead of feeling merely a victim to it. Recognizing that both addictions and PTSD are a blend of physical, emotional and psychological issues allows me to approach healing and treatment from more than one angle. Working with myself as a whole person instead of diagnosing fragments is an new way for me to observe my behavior and eventually overcome both my addictions and the PTSD. If I, on some subconscious level, was able to program myself then I can discover how to do it consciously.

Types of Addictions:

In my experience, there are many different types of addictions. One can be addicted to a substance which is most obvious but there are more subtle addictions such as compulsive lying. Below is a partial list of the types of addiction as I have named them. I have experienced these addictions myself or witnessed them in others. The terms used are not scientific but are my own labels. After the description of each addiction I have included a possible longing that is trying to be fulfilled through the addiction. It is my hope that it will help you discover what you are really longing for.

Substance addictions can include the following:

  • Alcohol addiction: all forms of alcohol including medicinal. (Longing to be yourself.)
  • Sugar addiction: includes chocolate which is almost exclusively eaten with sugar. (Longing for sweetness in life.)
  • Food addiction: includes overeating, binge eating and other abuses of food. (Longing for fulfillment.)
  • Narcotics addiction: Illegal drugs such as heroine and cocaine. (Longing to be who you really are.)
  • Prescription medicine addiction: Pain medications particularly. (Longing to feel good about yourself.)
  • Tobacco addiction: Cigarettes, cigars, snuff and tobacco chew. (Longing to matter to others.)
  • Caffeine addiction: Coffee, caffeinated sodas, etc. (Longing to be successful.)

Stimulation addictions: (While substance addictions are also stimulants I am making the distinction here regarding mental or visual stimulation.)

  • TV addiction: includes addiction to sports, movies and numbing out in front of the TV. (Longing for hope and the promise of a future.)
  • Music addiction: Constant need to be listening to music. (Longing to be connected to your emotions.)
  • Gaming addiction: Includes computer games and video games. (Longing for self mastery.)
  • Internet addiction: includes addiction to phones and devices that stream internet, web browsing and numbing out in front of the computer. (Longing for meaningfulness.)
  • Reading addiction: Using books and reading to escape reality. It is social acceptable to read a lot and may be difficult to spot this addiction. (Longing for possibilities.)
  • Pornography addiction: includes magazines such as Playboy, internet and pornography films. (Longing to be beautiful and desirable.)

Activity addictions or Doing addictions: (There are so many different doing addictions that the list below is only a small sample. Several of these addictions are quite socially acceptable)

  • Working addiction: includes the classic workaholic, being perpetually busy so that you have no time, creating a schedule that keeps you occupied at all times. (Longing to feel valued.)
  • Exercise addiction: includes making exercise overly important, exercising too much, using exercise as an escape. (Longing to be good enough.)
  • Sex addiction: Constant need to be thinking of, performing or planning sexual encounters. (Longing for connection esp. to the body.)
  • Gambling addiction: includes online gambling, betting on even small things as well as traditional types of gambling. Addicted to risks. (Longing to feel powerful.)
  • Shopping addiction: includes buying things you don’t need, spending money recklessly or feeling powerless in stores or online. (Longing to be self sufficient.)
  • Hoarding addiction: unable to throw useless objects away, collecting, gathering and holding onto things obsessively. (Longing to be important.)
  • Relationship addiction: expressed by needing to always be in a relationship, fear of being alone, constantly checking up and nursing relationships to the point of obsession. Constant phone talking, texting, emailing, etc. The object of the relationship is the source of the addiction. (Longing for self acceptance.)
  • OCD behavioral addiction: includes excessive hand washing, cleaning, touching or straightening items and other single-minded obsessions. (Longing to trust.)

Psychological addictions:

  • Complaining addiction: includes addiction to negativity and complaining. (Longing to be heard and listened to.)
  • Controlling addiction: Manipulating others, bossiness, a need to be in charge. (Longing to be of service.)
  • Depression addiction: While depression has real physical causes it can also be addressed from a psychological position. It can be an emotional state that we become addicted to. (Longing to feel whole.)
  • Lying addiction: Compulsive lying, especially when the truth would be more useful. (Longing for unconditional love and acceptance.)
  • Emotion addictions: addicted to intense feelings such as anger, sadness and grief. A need to manufacture these emotions by creating drama or feeding off of others’ suffering. (Longing to heal from traumas.)
  • Perfection addiction: (Longing to feel worthy.)

Denial Addictions: 

  • Starvation addiction: anorexia and the denial of health. (Longing to feel valuable.)
  • Cutting addiction: includes cutting the body or causing unnecessary pain. (Longing for strength and courage.)
  • Suffering addiction: Self flagellation, pushing past your physical limits to a dangerous degree or causing illnesses. (Longing for proof of worthiness.)

Take the time to discover what your longing is and how the addiction is creating a false sense of fulfillment of this longing.

The Stages of  Addiction:

In my own struggle with addictions, I have found that there is a process that I repeat over and over again. I call it the stages of addiction.

  • Temptation: I feel an irrational pull toward the behavior or substance. This is usually consuming my thoughts and distractions are ineffective.
  • Resistance: I try to ignore this pull. I fight it by telling myself that I don’t want it. I engage in the war by wanting it and not wanting it simultaneously.
  • Doing it in secret: Because willpower is no match for the addiction I eventually give in but I do so in secret. I will try to rationalize it or make excuses to keep it hidden.
  • Self reproach or Blame: I then deal with guilt, shame or regret. This is followed by either blaming others or blaming my circumstances.
  • Apathy: When nothing appeases the shame the next phase is apathy. Who cares anyway? Why try to resist when there can be no success? I stop caring.
  • Depression: Apathy often leads to depression. Despair, victimization, hopelessness and dark thoughts fill my mind. “You are worthless, you will never change and you don’t deserve anything better.”
  • Normalcy: Eventually, sometimes by sheer grace, I  finally pull myself out of the depression and try to live normally again. This works for a short time before the temptation comes again. The whole process repeats itself.

How To Spot Addictions

How do I know if I have an addiction or I simply enjoy what I am doing or consuming?

Some symptoms of addictive behavior:

  • I can’t stop even when I have the impulse to stop or it takes time after I want to stop, to follow through and stop.
  • I find myself doing it before I have made a conscious choice.
  • It is totally reactive with no time to consciously respond.
  • I feel guilt for doing it and wish I would stop.
  • I justify my behavior regularly and make convincing excuses.
  • I tend to do this behavior sneakily or secretly.
  • I experience getting high as well as some form of withdrawal when attempting to stop.
  • I feel empowered for a short time only to be followed by a sense of dis-empowerment.

The Stages for Healing Addictions

Awareness

Awareness and paying attention is key to addressing any addiction. Notice, notice, notice. Become  the observer and watch the addiction like a scientist observing a new species. How do you behave right before you pick up that chocolate cake or buy something you don’t need? What are your thoughts before, during and after? Notice feelings that arise before, during and after. Pay attention to the pattern. How long does it take before you need more? How often do you justify your behavior? What do you do secretly? Exploring the motives and drives of addictions is a powerful way to gain awareness.

The End of the War

War is painful. There is killing and fear and wounds. In wars there are soldiers who are required to follow orders. The addiction is your commanding officer and you must follow orders without question.But wars have consequences. Those who survive are often wounded mentally or physically. The war inside of us causes us to extreme behaviors, causes us to violate our consciences and leaves us with few if any choices. Addiction is being at war with yourself. You are your own enemy. Choosing to end the war in yourself can be a challenge because we feel like we have failed. But hurting yourself and being in conflict with yourself can never bring victory because there will always be a part of you that feels defeated. End the war and be a peace.

Values

What is really important to you? What matters deeply? What are you longing for? Discover what you really want and value. How is the addiction giving you what you want or value (at least temporarily). What does it provide relief from?  You really have to think outside the box. Your mind is a big component of addiction so thinking differently about it can help you see more clearly what is happening through the addiction. Understanding what matters to you will help you discover your deep longing.

Gratitude

Cultivate gratitude for the addiction. Pay attention to how it has saved you, guided you, taught you, and pushed you to new awareness and developed your inner muscles. Find everything that makes the addiction valuable. Gratitude is a powerful transformer. It brings light to every situation and can help you see what has always been there but has been obscured from view.

Acceptance

Completely accept yourself even if you are behaving in the addictive pattern. Accept the addiction, accept the truth, accept your journey. Accept what is, unconditionally. Acceptance is the birthplace of choice. Unless you can accept fully, your power to choose is greatly diminished. If you accept with gratitude not only will you have the power to choose again but options will become available that you were previously unaware of. But true acceptance requires you to become comfortable with discomfort. Draw near to the thing you would shun. This seems counter-intuitive but it is really the only way to change your perception of yourself. Acceptance does not mean settling with an idea you find repugnant but rather seeing the repugnant idea with new eyes. Acceptance means seeing value where before there was none. 

Choose

Keep your awareness sharp enough to always be able to choose what you will and will not do. If the addiction still has significant power then choose to let the addiction choose for you. At least you are choosing something. Choosing allows you to maintain awareness throughout the addictive process. Eventually you will have the power to choose more and more with practice.

A Personal Story

I am beginning to experience real success in overcoming my own addictions. It has taken years but the process described above is something I practice everyday. The power to choose again, to not feel overcome by the sight of food, has been a most liberating experience. To walk into a grocery store and not have the voice in my head telling me all the foods I want to eat; “buy this, buy that,”  is to finally have peace of mind. I still have times when I overeat but I have so much awareness of it that I can stay in the healing process rather than get stuck in the stages of addiction. I still feel the urge to hide my food, or eat really fast so that I can have more before I realize I am full. I still have thoughts that tell me I am ugly and unworthy and I don’t deserve to be loved. But I simply challenge those thoughts and realize how deeply connected those thoughts are to the food on my plate.

For years I was in denial. I didn’t want to own the addiction. I wanted to pretend that I was different, that diet and exercise didn’t have any effect on me. I finally accepted the hard truth nearly three years ago. Once I accepted the truth, that I had eaten my way to being fat and that I had an addiction that I could not control the door to my awareness opened. Suddenly I could see what I was denying, I could recognize my behavior as reactive. I simply began by noticing all the little things I had spent so much energy ignoring or avoiding. I noticed how fast I ate. I noticed how often I leaned over the sink to quickly eat something, as if eating it over the sink somehow allowed the calories to drain out. I noticed how often I waited until everyone was gone before sneaking another eclair or gulping down a piece of cold meatloaf from the fridge. It was really shocking when one day I found myself out behind the garbage eating a doughnut. But my job was simply to take note of all that I had been denying—not to try to change it. I made a decision to end the war inside of me, the war against the self.

The first thing I did was to get rid of my scale. This was scary because the scale had become the strict schoolmaster, shaming me into improvement when the pounds went up and modestly approving of me when the scale went down. I was worried about my ability to track my own weight. Then it occurred to me: I was in my body and my body would tell me if I was gaining weight or losing weight. Not only that, but my body could communicate to me about any and every thing that I ate. It seemed like such an obvious thing to know but I had disconnected from my body a long, long time ago. I had become so accustomed to using the scale just as an amputee becomes accustomed to a prosthetic. I promised to never get on a scale again until the day that I no longer cared what the scale had to reveal.

The second thing I did was make a promise to myself, one that I have at times nearly broken. I promised to NEVER diet again. This meant I would never make requirements such as calorie counting, low carb, low fat, low anything food restrictions. I would not read one more article in Readers Digest about weight loss. “Get that Summer Body Back,” or Ten Foods to Make Fat Melt,” were no longer temptations. I ended the war. I stopped resisting, fighting, dieting, restricting, shaming, blaming, fearing, panicking and forcing myself. This was a long process. I had been at war for many, many years. One does not simply come home and forget the war, forget soldiering. It took time to heal my battle wounds. I have been tempted, sorely tempted, when the old feelings of unworthiness rise up out of the shadow like monsters from the deep sea, to return to the war, to diets and restriction but it is too late and I know it. I have a new path to walk, the path of peace.

But I was afraid of ending the war.  I was afraid that without the scale and without a diet or exercise I would grow to be an 800 pound invalid eating stacks of cheeseburgers and mountains of fries everyday. I worried that I would find myself huge and prostrate on a special heavy duty bed, with empty doughnut boxes scattered all over my blankets. I imagined the sores on my body, the round-the-clock nurse that had to take care of me because I could no longer get out of bed and take a shower. I worried that once I took away the measures that held me accountable that I would run helter-skelter toward the nearest fast food restaurant and never stop eating.

I was wrong. I was wrong about all of it. When I ended the war, really ended it, I began to hear the whispers of my body again. I heard its voice like an old friend calling me after a long absence. It said, “enough. I am full.” It said, “don’t eat that, it won’t feel good in your stomach.” It said, “drink water please, take a walk please.” It taught me to listen again. It alerted me when I was eating fast and reminded me to slow down.  When choosing something from the menu at a restaurant my body helped me to know what I really needed and how to manage portions. I didn’t always obey the voice but I always heard it. I still don’t always obey the voice but I hear it loud and clear now.

The one thing I had been longing for was  freedom. After having experienced a restrictive and denying childhood I wanted nothing more than freedom. I ate and ate without restraint or wisdom just to show the world and myself that I could. I was free to do what I wanted, to eat what I wanted and no one could stop me. But the red shoes danced me to desperation. Once on my feet I couldn’t get them off. When I ended the war the shoes fell off of my feet. I have put them back on again but I have learned how to take them off again. I simply stop warring with myself. This on again off again process gradually shifted. At first, I found that I had a peaceful sense of neutrality toward food for very short periods of time, maybe an afternoon or one meal then it was back to the struggle. After some time I noticed the periods of neutrality becoming longer lasting a week or so followed by three weeks of struggle. Slowly the movement has shifted toward feeling neutral most of the time and the addictive pattern and feelings appearing less and less often.

Acceptance has been the most challenging part of the journey. I once had a goal to be thin. Sometimes I tricked myself by calling this goal of being thin “getting healthy.” It really just meant getting thin. But I changed my goal from being thin (which also meant being happy and having a fairy tale life) to accepting myself unconditionally as I was. To be fat and to accept my fatness with love and gentleness. To care for my body in the condition it was in with no intent to change it. At first I thought, if I accept myself completely then I might not care that I was fat. Then I will always be fat. After I got over that story I thought maybe if I completely accept myself then my weight will simply disappear pound by pound without any effort. But those ulterior motives for self acceptance were thoughts of non-acceptance. I wanted to be able to look at my body and not label it at all. I wanted to just see a person, a body, a being.

I had an epiphany about this one day while driving. I was winding my way down a path lined with wild trees. I noticed the trees in a new way. I saw them differently. Some trees were partially dead with limbs hanging down by a thin thread of bark, others were new and slender and seeking for the light. I saw one tree with a great gnarled trunk the curved out and then back on itself like something out of a fantasy novel. Another tree had such a wide girth and roots that spread out like snakes slithering across the ground. Some trees were growing quite crooked and at a ninety degree angle and others were bent and twisted. Some were tall, some were fat, some were narrow and some were strange. I found them all mesmerizing and beautiful. I thought of the great fat tree and I did not think it was wrong. I didn’t think it should be smaller. It was majestic and full. The narrow trees, the skinny ones were delicate and provided a nice contrast to the large tree. The strange trees all twisted and unusual were stunning in their uniqueness. The epiphany was this: I didn’t want to change them at all, none of them. I suddenly saw all the people in the world, the skinny ones, the fat ones, the strange and unusual ones; the ones with missing limbs and gnarled hands, the old, the wrinkled, the smooth the un-scarred and the scarred as so perfect, so riveting and full of beauty. It was such a stunning realization. It was my judgement that created the suffering and the not-good-enough feelings. I was tree and my size and shape as unique as any other. Why had I decided I needed to be different?

If I listen to my friend, my body, I will be alerted to what I need to change just as the tree’s body tells it how to grow, to best find the light above and the nourishment below. I can listen to my body and let it lead me to health. If health means losing weight my body will tell me and help me. There is nothing for me to DO except listen and respond. If my body needs movement it will guide me and motivate me to move. There is nothing for me to strive for but to be alert to my friend, my body. Most days I have found peace with food, peace with my body and acceptance of life as it is but some days I still struggle. Some days I wake up with the feeling of self-hatred and ugliness washing over me. I am learning to accept these thoughts as well. I am learning to invite them into the conversation too. Some days I overeat but those days are becoming more and more infrequent. I am barely beginning to realize that there is no longer a goal to be achieved, nothing to become and nowhere to be but here, right now.

The Gift of the Struggle

Addictions are real struggles. As I have wrestled with the destructive impulse of addiction, only to finally give in to its might, I can become discouraged and overwhelmed. But there is a gift in this struggle. The war inside is of value. The war inside of me keeps me uncomfortable enough to be willing to look at the changes I need to make. It pushes me, motivates me, challenges me and seems to have more stamina than I do. But there is a deep desire in my soul that doesn’t allow me to quit. This desire and the awareness of it is the gift of the struggle, the gift of the “great war” inside of me. I have learned that only I can end this war. The war ends with total acceptance. When I accept my addiction, the whole cycle of it and I do not resist it the power of it weakens. I may still succumb to the addiction but my awareness prevents the addiction from taking me over. The gift of the war is that I become so uncomfortable that I become aware of the inner conflict. This awareness allows me the opportunity to surrender and find the peace of total acceptance. Acceptance does not mean inaction or complacency; quite the opposite. It returns me to my source of authenticity where my actions have more power. Acceptance gives me the power to choose. Once you regain your power to choose, willpower and discipline are available again. A lot of energy is expended in the struggle. Imagine having all that extra energy for following through on decisions and using it for self discipline. Self discipline only works when it is in complete alignment with choice.

Honoring the Addiction

The addiction is the path to wholeness. The addiction serves as a catalyst for discovering wholeness and bringing the unwanted parts of the self back and integrating them. Honor the addiction, do not despise it. Hating it is part of the war. You don’t have to love it to invite it in and let it teach you its hard lessons. Be honest with yourself and others about the addiction. So many of us are struggling in the dark, shaming ourselves and hiding the truth. By speaking up about your own addictions and talking about them with respect and honor give others  permission to do the same. You can provide a place for others to discover the gifts of their own addictions. The journey of the dancing red shoes begins with innocence and desire. The addiction is only the painful part of the story where the way to survive is to cut off your feet. This is not the end of the story though. As you work through the process you will find that there is also joy, wisdom, awareness understanding and compassion. Your addiction may lead you to people and opportunities you would not have otherwise encountered. And at the end of the journey you just may look down to find that you have grown new feet.

Some good resources and books that might add to your understanding about addictions include:

Loving What Is by Byron Katie

Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

The Red Shoes by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

The film: What the Bleep Do We Know?

 

Disclaimer: This article was written ONLY as a support for anyone struggling with addiction. It does not replace the advice of a physician or other licensed practitioner. Many addictions have very real physical and genetic causes. This article does not deny this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Stephen P. Harris says:

    I am approaching 29 years of recovery and still I learned so much from this essay. I like the book pointer to Pema Chodron which I think relates to overcoming fears for undertaking the Hero’s Journey. She also wrote a book about the Green Tara initiation in which she revealed that “Green Tara” is not out there, but an archetype. The film “What The Bleep Do We Know” contributes very little to recovery; it’s mostly airy-fairy New Age of the _type_ which likes to namedrop the word “quantum”.

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