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Fresh Thoughts on Addiction

Photo by Rohan Makhecha 

Along with my friend and colleague Barbara Sarah Smith, I have just completed a book about a very different understanding of addiction and recovery. It’s called Addiction: One Cause, One Solution. Based on the Inside-out Paradigm, it was published in early 2020. 

During the editing process I came across a piece I’d written which inspired the book – at least at my end. I thought it might be timely to share it here:

At the heart of all distress is misunderstanding. There is the false yet compelling belief that someone, or something, or some situation is causing me pain. There is an innocent ignorance of the fact that experience is always being created from within. Addiction is the ultimate response to the outside-in misunderstanding.

All distress is an invitation to wake up. Addiction is a perfect example of this. 

The journey from addiction to recovery is one of awakening. Everyone involved is invited to wake up. The addict, the partner, the family members, the helpers. We wake up from the misunderstanding about how life works.

The process of waking up is through insight. Sometimes it is one big transformative insight; sometime a series of smaller but equally powerful realisations. Through insight we can see that there is hope, that we are not broken, that we have everything we need within us, that life doesn’t work from out to in. And perhaps the most important insight of all: we begin to realise who and what we really are. We are not loose fragments wandering the earth. Rather we are an integral part of the whole, with all of the peace and creativity and love of the universe coursing through us.

In a sense addiction can be seen as a gift. Frequently the pain for everyone involved is so intense that the impetus to awaken is powerful. Other less toxic external goals such as work, money or status can be pursued for a long time before the call to awaken is heard. 

Even when someone has had the experience of awakening to their essence, it is human and inevitable that they will fall asleep again from time to time. Having had an experience of awakening, often the distress felt when we fall into misunderstanding is milder and more short-lived. We can’t untaste the peach of enlightenment which we have sampled. 

Let me illustrate some of these points with examples. 

If I believe that a lack of money is the cause of feeling insecure, and that more money can make me feel better, those beliefs are almost certain to influence the choices I make in life. Such beliefs are fostered in our culture. With the result that many people spend long hours working and commuting with very little time left to do things they love or hang out with the people they love. Because there is no amount of money which can actually create happiness or security, when a financial goal is reached and doesn’t produce the anticipated contentment, often a new goal of more is created. 

A woman in my neighbourhood who was comfortably off, but less wealthy than some of her family members, was so bitter about her perceived lack that she distanced herself from almost anyone she judged as being rich. She became a virtual hermit, oblivious to the fact that she was the only one defining her life as lacking in richness. 

Many people think of food as a source of comfort. If food solved problems clearly you’d be daft not to eat it. While food is essential, overeating is anything but problem solving. Even the temporary satisfaction that can occur, is more to do with fulfilling the false understanding than with experiencing genuine contentment. Just ask anyone who struggles with overeating how long it is before they start to regret the ‘comfort’ eating. The pre-existing problem is still there but now the person has eaten to excess (and seldom feels good about that).

In the same way, if I believe taking a drink – or even 10 – will make me feel better, I will continue to look to alcohol for relief. I will do so even after it has become obvious to everyone else that my quality of life is diminished by this habit. Each of us has an internal prover which proves what our internal believer believes. All of this happens invisibly, particularly to the person affected.  Awakening, or insight, is one of the ways this false belief is dissolved and the true state of affairs is revealed. 

The experience of insight, of a transformation at depth, can happen at any point. The Aha moment is an absolutely normal human experience. A completely new perspective opens up. It can be on anything, from what to cook for dinner to the meaning of life.

Insight usually occurs unbidden. Sometimes it happens when we are relaxed. But it is also common in moments of distress. In my experience the vast majority of former addicts or alcoholics in recovery have had a moment of insight when they reached an emotional or spiritual rock bottom. A moment of surrender or giving up on self will seems to be a particularly fertile ground for insight. 

Feelings of distress, whatever their flavour, are actually gifts from the true self inviting us to waken up from these false quests.

In addiction this realisation is often accompanied by complete clarity about what to do next to begin a new life. And frequently what had previously been an overwhelming need to keep drinking or using is simply dissolved. 

This phenomenon of insight is a natural human experience which has already been occurring for each of us. Yet the potential of insight is often overlooked.

To the back of my house is a nature walk. Over the years more knowledgeable friends than I, have seen and identified more and more wildlife in this area. The thing is the wildlife was always there, I just didn’t know how to distinguish it. So it is with insight. 

When I stumbled across the Inside-out Understanding I experienced three deep insights: 

  1. That I was both unbroken and unbreakable – at a spiritual or psychological level. 
  2. That I had access within to all that I needed.
  3. That it was entirely normal for all emotions to ebb and flow, echoing the ebb and flow of thought that creates feeling. 

It also began to dawn on me that I had experienced insights throughout my life, even if they were less significant. So I became more Insight-prone. This phenomenon which had been an occasional part of my previous life became an almost daily occurrence. If there is one thing I could share with anyone reading this it would be: start noticing where Insight shows up in your life, both from now on and in the past. Then notice what happens……

For more on addiction you can also check out an earlier blog:

http://elementsofwellbeing.net/rethinking-addiction/

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