For the purpose of this post, I use the term “addiction” loosely to describe all behaviors that are compulsive, uncontrollable or unwanted. These behaviors are typically used to numb or avoid painful emotional experiences.
Working in the substance abuse field for many years, and having battled my own tendency toward addictive behavior, I have learned that at the core of all addiction is a split in the self.
What do I mean when I say that addiction is a split in the self?
This means that addicts tend to demonize, reject and push away, the part of themself that is addicted. The problem with this is that, what we avoid and reject, we unconsciously give power. Carl Jung talks about this concept, in Jungian psychology and Shadow Work.
Loving and accepting is not the same thing as acting out a behavior. I have found that with addiction, we cannot change until we learn to accept the parts of ourselves we have repressed. When these parts are left unconscious and rejected, they manifest as addiction. Addiction is like a rebellious teenager that emerges because their needs were ignored. “screw you! I do what I want!”
So let’s change our approach. Instead of beating our inner Addict up, lets listen to what they are trying to say. Let’s treat them with compassion. Here are some reasons to love and accept your inner addict:
Addiction serves a survival purpose
Your addiction may have caused a lot of pain for you in your life. But it is the same part of you that helped you to cope and survive, often at a point in your life when you did not have the tools to cope. Addiction almost always stems from some sort of trauma.
Trauma can be obvious like a near death experience, exposure to war or abuse, but it can also result from simply not feeling seen, heard, or understood in childhood. For young children, who are completely dependent on adults, feeling seen and heard = survival.
The part of you that learned to “check out” and numb from your feelings, helped you to survive, and may have eventually manifested as substance abuse or other behaviors. It may no longer serve its purpose, but let’s give it respect for how it helped you endure.
Your Addiction is asking you to take care of yourself, rebel and have a little fun for once
Many of us get stuck in the pattern of giving and giving, without making time for ourselves. We end up feeling depleted, resentful and empty. We lack boundaries and struggle to say “no” to commitments and those we care about. The shadow-side of these lack of boundaries can be addiction.
Your addict part is the part of you that says “what about ME?” It is the playful part of you that wants to have fun and experience pleasure. When you ignore and repress these needs, addiction can creep up. As you learn to listen and respect the part of you that needs to be selfish, practice self-care, and pleasure-seeking at times, the urge to act out addictively can begin to fade.
Your addiction is trying to help you feel loved and connected with others
Most people who struggle with addiction, also struggle with a lack of connection and intimacy in their lives. Addictive behavior serves a surrogate form of intimacy. In fact drugs often produce the same “feel good” chemicals that one experiences when they are cradled in their mothers arms as an infant, or that dopamine-rush of falling madly in love as an adult Social connection and a sense of community is a major protective factor against substance abuse.
Obviously, Addiction ultimately results in isolation and disconnection from others. But the need to use substances and “check out” emotionally, stems from a need to feel connected to others- to feel loved and accepted. How might your addiction be related to intimacy and connection?
Your addiction may be the beginning of a spiritual awakening
12-step models of addiction and recovery, highlight how spirituality, or the belief in something greater than yourself, is the cure for addictive behavior
Although the 12-steps may not be for everyone, this philosophy is on to something: your addiction is telling you that something about the way you are living your life, needs to change. The way you are living is incongruent with who you are. Your addiction is calling for healing, wholeness and a greater sense of purpose and meaning in your life. For some people, this greater purpose means spirituality.
Next time your catch yourself beating-yourself up for your addictive behavior, or the urge to act out happens… ask yourself:
How did this addictive behavior help me survive?
What is the underlying need and feeling behind my urge to use/checkout/numb?
How can I nourish these needs compassionately?
How can I forgive myself when a relapse occurs? How can I show up for myself?