I come from an extended family that has been inflicted with a broad selection of destructive habits or addictions. Within the wider family there have been issues with alcoholism, drug use, smoking, overeating and porn to name but a few. Some of the outcomes have been anything but happy. Suicide, attempted suicide, road accidents, early heart disease, diabetes, surgery related to obesity, separation and divorce are just some. My own challenges have been with alcohol, smoking and eating – fortunately in the past. So I don’t underestimate the problem. And I also know that it is possible for anyone to get beyond such conditions.
For over 27 years, since my own life began to turn around for the better when I stopped drinking, I have carefully observed what seems to work and what doesn’t.
Learning about how the 3 Principles are operating within each of us has added some of the pieces that were missing from the jigsaw of my understanding. In this blog I am sharing some of what I see as most helpful.
Most people have no idea where their feelings are coming from. They generally believe that painful feelings are coming from external events, people, places or things. Our culture is so entrenched in this belief that when people feel bad in any way and don’t understand it they will unconsciously search around for a culprit, such as parent, immigration or the government. Simply gaining an understanding that painful feelings are always coming from the thought which is occurring within, can lead to a degree of relief. Because the nature of thought is to change. We are pretty powerless to change external circumstances but thoughts about them are in constant flux.
When people are in emotional pain and feel powerless to change the perceived ‘cause’, they may look outside themselves for a solution such as a drink, a drug, a bet, or a cake. And It can appear that this substance or activity provides relief. But what is actually going on inside the brain, is that the thinking has changed. The painful thoughts which were behind the painful feelings have moved on. The person is now thinking thoughts of anticipation, which produce an entirely different feeling. Many recovering alcoholics describe the elation they felt as they were heading to the pub or off-sales, long before the alcohol was taken. Functional MRIs show the reward centre in the brains of addicts are activated when they just think about their habit of choice.
Unfortunately most people caught up in cycles of compulsive behaviour are unaware of this. It seems to them that the only way to shift feelings of discomfort is to indulge. And this sets up a neural pathway, which is reinforced every time the individual resorts to their ‘drug of choice’. It would be difficult to overstate how compelling the desire to act on a craving can seem. Subconsciously other thoughts are created to support the habit: ‘nothing feels as good as this drink/food/etc’; ‘without this I’d feel deprived or incomplete’. And the single most effective way to perpetuate a habit is to keep acting on a craving.
As if this weren’t all bad enough, willpower seems to be particularly ineffective at permanently halting a compulsion. Often effort and control actually seem to make things worse. This is because willpower involves adding even more ‘thought’ to a problem that is created of thought.
The good news is that no matter how compelling the craving appears it is actually made of thought, which of its nature is transient, even if it doesn’t feel that way. And craving can be trumped by a single moment of insight.
Understanding how the mind actually works can create hope and possibility for a person plagued by compulsive urges.
Realising that there is a ‘you’ who feels trapped by the cravings and compulsions points to the fact that you are more than your brain. You are more than your addiction. And no matter how far the habit has gone, nor what trouble has ensued, there is a core part of you which is intact and healthy. You are not broken, even if you feel like you might be.
There is also an innate human capacity for insight, present in everyone. Virtually everyone who gets free of problems like alcoholism or drug addiction has a moment of clarity that enables them to stop. And these moments of clarity happen a lot more frequently than you might imagine, especially if you are open to it. Of the millions of people who have recovered from serious addictions worldwide few do so by effort or cutting done. Rather, they have acted on a moment of insight. Sometimes that has occurred when they are at rock bottom. In an instant the mind creates a new possibility. Clarity appears and the desire to drink or use is dissolved.
Neuroscience confirms this phenomenon. In recent years it has been discovered that the brain remains plastic, or changeable for your whole life. So when a person stops performing a destructive habit, new neural pathways appear and the older ones fade.
If habits are making any aspect of your life unmanageable, or if you would simply like find another way to be, please feel free to get in touch for a conversation.
Other resources are Alcoholics Anonymous – www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
The Serenity Principle – Joseph Bailey
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Rr1sMDzqqQ&feature=youtu.be – Dr Bill Petit, psychiatrist