Understanding and Safety: Distilling Addiction for the Sake of Recovery
Over the last week or so, I’ve recorded a number of videos that brought up a lot of passion for me… or was it the passion that inspired me to do the videos … who knows, and does it even matter. The truth is, the more I transparent I am with my experiences, the greater my desire is to help others prevent the same thing from happening in their lives. That said, I woke up this morning with the thought that it would be wise to clarify everything I’ve recently posted as well as add to it.
With that said, the first thing that came to mind was my theory regarding connection. What I want to be clear on is, ‘why and how’ people become involved in addictive behaviors is unique; meaning the reasons are different for everyone. At the same time, identifying a core component helps create a sense of understanding. In my head and heart, connection sources my life and when it’s not happening, I feel terribly out of sorts. This is why say what I do; it makes sense to me. Other people such as Gabor Mate’ refer to the root issue as pain albeit mental, emotional and /or physical. When I apply this belief to my own life, not feeling connected is excruciating. I don’t feel acceptable, worthy, wanted or appreciated. To sit in that space, even for a moment, is distressing. What’s worse is when these feelings are openly shared with another person. Some common replies are: ‘that’s ridiculous’, ‘get over it’, ‘why would you say such a thing’, ‘of course you are’ and so on, none of which help because when someone embodies these feelings, the feelings feel more real than the words coming at them! How can they believe something they can’t feel? Try to insert yourself into a scenario when someone tells you how to think or feel in a way that differs from your typical perspective. You might be able to go from one thought to another for a brief period of time; however, unless there is a relative feeling that supports this new thought, the chance of you slipping back into the old mindset is pretty. You see, each of us wants to be right about our beliefs and feelings. No one is immune to this; we each possess our own experience of the world along with the accompanying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That’s right, the feelings I’m referring to here are much deeper than the already complex emotions we manage on a daily basis. We may be angry about feeling unacceptable; yet, in order for it to have such a strong hold in our life, there must be an underlying ‘YES’ that activates the unacceptable behaviors. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change minds and adjust feelings; anything is possible … just not always probable. This even applies to people struggling with an addiction to pain medication. At some point they needed the prescription(s); however, besides alleviating the physical pain, the person taking meds discovered an even deeper, unexpected relief. Yes, these substances are addicting; yet the addiction isn’t due to emotional or mental weakness, it’s because an area of the brain is altered (feel free to watch my recent videos or read my post on When Essential Oils Don’t Relieve Stress) when exposed to at least one of a number of chemicals, including cortisol (that’s right … the infamous stress hormone). I probably don’t have to say this, but a variation in structure ultimately affects the chemistry, and, it’s THIS change within the brain that classifies addiction as a dis-ease.
This is what makes the body amazing! It’s in constant motion / communication, making the necessary modifications for the sake of survival. When it comes to the type of change related to addiction, more dopamine is required which then influences the release of other chemicals used in many signaling processes which includes the activation of the autonomic nervous system. in order to keep this reasonably simple, allow me to bottom line this right now …. stimulated autonomic nervous system indicates the body is on high alert which influences the way we respond to the world. Put another way, a change chemistry is going to impact the way we think, how these thoughts are processed as well as trigger an emotional reaction. This understanding alone leads me to believe that changes within the brain are occurring much earlier in life than we understand which explains why we’re seeing such an increase in mental health issues; not just addiction. Who ends up developing what depends on the individual genome. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting mental illness is hereditary; although, there is such a thing as being predisposed. That said, things change given the number of variables we are exposed to in every moment due to our uniquely wired genome; it’s as unique as a fingerprint. This would be why not everyone finds themselves addicted to the same substance or activity. Are they self-medicating … without a doubt, yes … at the same time, they’re unknowingly helping the body to self-regulate. As I previously mentioned, I believe the known neurological changes are actually happening far sooner than suspected; not unlike the effects of a cold or flu virus. These microbes silently attack the body, days before we ever feel the symptoms. It’s only when they flare up that we realize we’re sick. To me, addiction isn’t any different.
We’ve got an incredibly complex world that the human body is invariably a part of. This connection generates internal responses in order to maintain homeostasis. It stands to reason the biggest change takes place in the ‘command center’. Now, I know many people would take this a bit further stating that the world is f****d up a.k.a. toxic. Just know, I totally get it; yet, for now, I’m leaving that discussion for another time and place. The point here is that nature operates as a connected unit and even though we’re seeing an increase in illness, both chronic and fatal, the body is simply working in sync with the information coming in. Therefore, the first step is to recognize and understand ‘this’ in order to eliminate the stigma around addiction and other mental health concerns. To me, there’s actually some emotional and behavioral evidence that changes are happening a lot sooner in life, such as with the mood, attention, digestion / bowel movements, etc.; yet, we tend to view these as incidental, you know the belief that ‘it’s just a part of life’. However, the longer this goes on, the more unstable the body becomes. This is why symptom relief is temporary at best; even if the issue seems to disappear, other problems inevitably arise. And again, depending on the genetics of a person along with their life circumstances, these symptoms evolve into any number of health conditions i.e. anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, schizophrenia, sensory processing disorder, autism and, and, and. When it comes to addiction, all it takes is the ‘perfect’ opportunity or person to show up and present a chance for relief. It’s important to remember, if someone has felt anxious, agitated, depressed, uncomfortable and so on for most of his or her life, then comfort and ease are appealing. Whether or not they exercise ‘good’ judgment remains to be seen because if their experience also included a sense of feeling disconnected, unacceptable, unworthy, unappreciated etc. then what the activity is doesn’t matter, it’s the idea of being around other people that ‘get them’. In theory, everyone has a vice | addiction whether that’s with drugs, sports, exercise, food, shopping, online games …… the list goes on right down to stress and drama. Addiction is essentially on a spectrum like most illnesses, and depending on the intensity, it can be equaled to a cold, flu, autoimmune illness or cancer. In other words, addiction is a healing crisis and when someone is sick with any other dis-ease, we lend a loving hand.
This is why addiction is complicated and requires treatment that addresses every need … the physical, mental and emotional. Behavior and thoughts are part of the reward process; therefore, retraining the brain on a multiple of layers while helping the body to stabilize is essential.
So where does restoring connection and easing pain come into this? Well, as I said, the afflicted individual knows exactly how they feel and absolutely no one will be able to fundamentally change their minds; or for that matter, convince them of why they should. Connection is an inside job which is, again, why treatment and ongoing support is strongly recommended. In order to feel connected a person must reinvent their relationship with themselves. They, like all of us, have a set of filters for sifting through the incoming information. As long as a person is feeling disconnected, unacceptable and so on, the disconnection remains real and the heart struggles to hear the love. This, undoubtedly, makes life and recovery rough and why I am SO big on inner safety | inner peace for everyone; not just those struggling with addiction. In order for us to hear one another, we must improve our relationship with ourselves, first (the oxygen mask), before we can genuinely connect with others. I like to say, we listen with our ears and hear with our heart (as you can see, 'heart' has the word ‘hear’ in it).
All the kindness and positive efforts being directed towards someone in treatment | recovery will be thwarted by any underlying emotional instability. I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember. It’s not too terribly difficult to assist someone with wrapping their head around being loved and appreciated … as long as there’s evidence to back it up; however, one stressful moment could be all that it takes to undo the reassurance. Remember, words carry feelings and if the person delivering the message doesn’t feel unconditional acceptance or appreciation, or, or, or for the person they're speaking too, the message is meaningless as it falls on ‘deaf ears’ or in this case, a closed heart. This goes for family members as well. What’s difficult is professionals work very hard to help their clients identify the triggers; yet, there’s no accounting for the underlying, often unspoken, negative beliefs. These are only revealed during times of stress and upset OR when we’re deliberately paying attention to our self-talk and happen to notice them. The challenge becomes seeing these thoughts in a brighter light. Now, I’m not talking false positivity, here. Technically, negative thinking is based in fear while empowered thinking is rooted in love. That said, fear a.k.a. our ego is our survival mechanism which serves us well in times of need; however, there are two sides to every coin. Not every fearful thought is beneficial 100% of the time which means we must turn that coin over and see the light in our dark side. This is where I shift off the common path of recovery ….
One of the beliefs that come to mind is that people living with an addiction are weak. Truthfully, they are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Their systemic changes clearly led to a dependence which made the body vulnerable; however, vulnerability is an opportunity to ask for help. Whether you know it or not, the body is constantly letting us know what it needs whether it’s food, warmth, cooling, love, etc. We don’t put our bodies down for being too cold or wanting a hug; so, why judge any craving? You see, this is where it gets deep because so many people have issues around food, money, sex and, and, and,….. will argue that they’re addicted to sugar, caffeine, shopping as if it’s a bad thing. Is it? OR, are we literally self-medicating? In other words, are our behaviors stimulating the chemicals the body needs to survive? Please understand, my theories and questions are not suggesting that the use of illicit drugs and alcohol is a wise choice; I merely, use these examples to make a point. When we recognize fear for what it is and ‘make nice with it’, we give ourselves options. As I mentioned earlier, addiction is a healing crisis, and when we’re sick, we’re vulnerable; however, the difference between the dis-ease of addiction and an autoimmune disorder is addiction interferes with a person’s sense of self as well as their ability to think, reason and ask for help. Wait a minute …. I’ve seen the same thing happen with people experiencing chronic fatigue and pain ……… hmmmmm, what’s the difference? Oh yeah, the diagnosis! What makes it harder is that these mental / emotional effects remain intact even when the behavior has ended. This is why it is crucial for every family member involved with the recovery process to work on their own ‘stuff’ first …. it takes a shift in the collective mindset to be able to hear as well as be heard. In other words, we must create an alignment of thought and understanding which is very similar to the law of attraction. The outer world reflects our inner world. We attract like energy .. if a sustainable recovery is the desire then everyone involving themselves MUST commit to up leveling their vibe in order to be on the same wavelength otherwise, the work lacks integrity no matter what is said.
Honestly, talking about the importance of family and advocating for group recovery feels both awkward and excited Typically, when we think of addiction, many things come to mind including those of death and loss. In my case, I lost my family as I was disowned. And as you know, others lose their lives. While I am quite familiar with our current context around death, I propose that death and / or loss are neither bad or an ending nor does a situation ever have to go to an extreme. You see, I learned this the hard way; yet, the more I made peace with my situation, the bigger my heart grew (I sound like the Grinch) as did the possibility for others to have a better outcome. Through the darkness of my life, I discovered a love I never knew existed. Please know, this didn’t happen overnight and it involved a lot of healing and growing all of which was fueled by my desire for unconditional love. It also took the willingness to peel back the layers and remove me from certain situations in order to distill the essence of my existence and the people in it. Believe it or not, this included my own kids. While I was no longer using drugs or alcohol, I was actively involved with my eating disorder and coming to understand addiction like I did through my coursework, history had repeated itself under my roof. THIS is why I advocate for connection and family. The dis-ease had struck my household and the ONLY way to restore ease was to get right within myself ..... first …. then and ONLY then could I clean things up. I did this by demonstrating safety and transparency … this was an act of trust and through these actions, they reciprocated. Fast forward 6 years and I have a peaceful solid relationship filled with understanding and love for myself as well as with my kids ... and vice versa! What's more, it's perfectly imperfect, filled with ups and downs which are empowered as growth spurts. the biggest difference between 'me then' and 'me now' is the willingness to be the sanctuary I deserve....
AND, that's just it! We ALL deserve inner peace ... However, inner peace is not about fairy tale relationships. It provides clarity, personal integrity and above all choice. Once we've made peace with what our soul needs without external approval, our choices are empowered regardless of what follows .... we trust ourselves and understand our place in this world!