Sign up for The WellMind Method and get exclusive access to Dr. McGee’s Love Lessons, webinars, and a supportive healing community.
Freeing yourself of addiction is difficult, but possible with effort, support, guidance, and practice. It requires first seeing clearly how addiction harms you and others. Understand in your bones that addicting does not work. See that it brings suffering rather than happiness. As part of this, see that when you switch from one addictive substance or behavior to another, you have not yet healed the underlying problem. Healing and learning to manage pain resolves addictive behaviors.
With this insight, renounce acting upon your cravings and compulsions. Commit to finding other ways to feel OK.
Renouncing addictive behaviors does not mean renouncing the behavior. People need to eat, work, exercise, spend money, shop, and use technology devices. While one can commit to celibacy, it is possible to make love while abstaining from addictive sex. Renouncing addictive behaviors entails renouncing the addictive engagement in these behaviors. The agenda shifts from addicting to manage psychological pain to acting to savor and nurture life. You work to live and contribute. You exercise to take care of yourself. You shop and spend money to provide for your material needs. You eat to live. You have sex to give and receive love and sensual pleasure. You do not engage in these behaviors to manage the pain of existence.
Recovery from addictive behaviors requires that:
• You mindfully note your agenda, refraining from the behavior when driven by craving and compulsion to manage pain.
• You manage pain in ways other than engaging in addictive behaviors.
Understand that addiction is rooted in a false sense of helplessness over your internal world. See that your addictive behaviors are an effort to control your experience to maintain a stable emotional state. Realizing this does not work, manage your life by managing your internal emotional state. You can manage addiction once you realize it’s a symptom of an underlying problem. Addressing the underlying problem resolves “addictivity.”
See the automatic, often unconscious ways you manage fear, whether it be masked as anger, anxiety, hurt, or the need to control others. The habitual ways of coping with fear and its derivatives are sometimes called your defensive styles. Addiction starts long before you use or engage in addictive behavior. Addiction starts with responding in dysfunctional ways. Tune in to when you first feel distress. Note your habitual ways of responding to stress. Then nip your compulsive acting out in the bud. A therapist, recovery mentor, and your trusted intimates can help you understand yourself better when you share your feelings with them. They can then act as loving mirrors and give guidance on how to best manage your anxiety or other negative feelings.
Break free of addictive behaviors by identifying feelings of distress, pain, or helplessness. Then respond in more skillful ways. Learn to manage your problems and your emotions. Manage your emotions by:
• Adopting a friendly, accepting attitude toward your feelings;
• Dropping negative judgments of yourself and others;
• Problem solving;
• Practicing positivity. Putting things into their proper perspective, and;
• Honoring what cannot be changed.
If you are in a painful situation, first remove yourself and engage in problem solving. Problem solving requires several life skills:
• Asserting yourself;
• Resisting acting on impulse;
• Thinking things trough;
• Talking it out;
• Writing it out;
• Gathering information;
• Setting limits and maintaining boundaries with others, and;
• Asking for help.
Sometimes getting to a safe place where you have space and time either alone or with caring others is all that’s needed to soothe yourself and problem solve.
Addiction may arise out of the pain of allowing others to exploit or harm you. Or, you may have strict rules you impose upon yourself on how you should act. You may be vulnerable to neglecting your own needs or following restrictions imposed by others that prevent you from being true to yourself. Address your pain by being true to yourself. Claim your worth and right to be happy. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Do what gives you joy and fulfillment. Follow the dictates of your conscience. Never give away your freedom to others.
Knowing pain drives addiction, learn to express and accept your feelings. No feeling is “bad,” or “shameful.” You aren’t “supposed” to feel a certain way (as if you had control over your thoughts and feelings). Rumi speaks to this:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
— Jelaluddin Rumi,
Acknowledge and welcome all thoughts and feelings that arise within your mind. Bear painful feelings, knowing they are teachers that show the way to transformation.
When circumstances arise that are beyond your control, focus on your feelings, and not the events. By practicing this you get to know yourself. You understand what the events mean to you. You then can correct unrealistic beliefs about the world, others, and yourself. By knowing the feelings and beliefs that fuel addictivity, you can focus on changing your beliefs and expectations to be in harmony with Reality.
Learn to manage your experience of life. This is especially important when events are beyond your control. As the Serenity Prayer says, you change what you can and accept the rest. Acceptance is key to managing your emotions to reduce addictivity. Accept your distress and renounce acting addictively to relieve it. Accept the world exactly as it is without anger or resentment. Align your expectations with Realty. Stop expecting life to be fair. Stop expecting people to be honest, caring, and thoughtful always. This is not Reality. Stop expecting yourself to be other than who you are. Make friends with emotional pain. See pain as a teacher.
Part of healing requires you stop hurting yourself. Acting addictively may bring temporary relief, but at a great cost. Renounce compulsive self-soothing and destructive self-gratification. Bear the distress that arises so you can then discover and develop healthier ways to manage it. If you want to change, stop doing what hasn’t worked.
Image from: https://daniel.gd/the-math-of-freedom/.