Why have you become addicted? This is the ultimate question. If we can answer this, then we have in our hands the heart of the problem, and the seed of the solution. As you may have read in my previous article (What Is Addiction), addiction is a symptom of an undesirable situation, but what was this situation that resulted in such physical, mental and spiritual trauma? What was the common thread that drove people to the self-harm that is addiction?
When I first began contemplating this question, I thought it was ridiculous. Every person suffering from addiction has their own unique situation, so it would be impossible to find one common cause. And each perspective of addiction would have its own view of this as well.
The choice view of addiction would argue that people become addicted because they are inherently selfish and weak.
The chronic brain disease view of addiction would argue that people become addicted because repeated behaviour gets hard-wired in the brain
The mental disorder view of addiction would argue that people become addicted because of an ability to deal with faulty thoughts and distressing emotions
The deep learning view of addiction would argue that people become addicted because they are striving for unhelpful goals, or the actions taken to achieve the goals is misguided.
People have also tried to explain addiction by genetics. And while there is some influence of genetic makeup there is not enough correlation to make a definitive link. There is not one gene that you can pin down and blame for addiction. Instead, there are a number of hereditary factors that play a part and which have a genetic link, including the predisposition towards impulsiveness, the vulnerability to frustration and sensitivity to rejection.
Given that some of these factors could be described as personality traits, there was also the theory going around for a while that there was such thing as an ‘addictive personality.’ The argument was that if you had a certain set of traits that you would be more likely to become addicted. However, as people dug deeper it was found that there was not one type of person that became addicted. In fact, people from each end of the personality spectrum were affected.
With inspiration from questionologist Warren Berger, I decided to dig further using a series of questions known as ‘the five why’s’. Here is how it played out:
Why do people become addicted?
Because the behaviour becomes hard-wired into their brains.
Why does it get hard-wired into their brains?
Because they keep repeating the behaviour?
Why do they keep repeating the behaviour?
Because their systems of choice-making have been damaged?
Why have their choice-making systems been damaged?
Because they kept taking a harmful substance?
Why would they take something that harms them?
Because initially it helps relieve their suffering.
And there was the question that created my a-ha moment. Why were these people suffering? Marc Lewis suggests a number of reasons such as stress or shame, trauma, loss of a relationship or job, or societal oppression. Some or all of this may be true. But in my mind, there is one underlying reason that they are suffering because they have either:
·stopped loving themselves or
· never learnt to love themselves in the first place.
I know it sounds like a naïve, and idealistic view, but why would people put harmful substances into their bodies in the first place? Why would they get stuck on the internet or gambling if they respected their precious time, energy and potential?
Scrape away layer by layer of the addiction effects and you come to this root cause — people become addicted because they don’t love themselves. It is simple and yet profound. But again, the question must be asked. Why don’t people love themselves? From the wisdom gained from so many inspirational thinkers and researchers, I have come to believe that people don’t love themselves because they:
· Have lost touch with their own unique and precious nature (what I will call spirit); and/or
· They are not able to live their true nature and so have lost a sense of meaning and purpose.
This is why I state that addiction is a symptom. I believe addiction is only one manifestation of the disconnect that so many people are suffering from. When people have lost touch with their spirit or are in a situation where they cannot be true to it, then we also see other evidence of despair including anger, materialism, depression, chronic illness. People lose connection with their life-giving force and passion which opens the door for diseases of all kinds to march straight in and take over. After all, if you don’t have any passion left of purpose in your life, you are not going to put up much of a fight are you? It is therefore, in my mind, this loss of connection to spirit that creates the inherent vulnerability for a range of diseases and disorders in the modern world, of which addiction is just one.
I have not come to this conclusion lightly. It has been informed by years of research into the physiology of addiction, but also into philosophy and spiritual traditions that provide great insight into human nature and the dilemmas of a human life. It has also been tested through almost thirty years of problematic alcohol use. It has been a long healing journey for me so far and I have further to travel, but there were three specific events to date that have confirmed this view in my own mind and heart. These are:
1. My discussion with a catholic priest.
Yes, I was desperate. I wanted to understand why this could be happening to me. I had a loving family, a ‘good’ job, a house and beautiful children. Why was I pushing it all away? Why was I jeopardising the health and happiness of myself, but also all of those around me? So, I went and asked a priest for his view of addiction. He described two perspectives being:
· Possession. Yep, that’s right. He did say there were some old school views out there that I could be possessed by the devil. Yippee I thought — who do I see about scheduling an exorcism? I was truly thrilled that it could be that simple. It would also relieve me of any personal responsibility. It was the demon’s fault! Of course while it was the source of a chuckle or two during the conversation it was not proposed as a solution for my plight.
· Separation from my spirit. The view here is that we are born with gifts and talents that we are to use in this life. We are endowed with qualities that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and to others. If we neglect these, if we ignore our true spirit, if we separate ourselves from our hearts then this creates an internal conflict. We are not living an authentic life, but feel trapped to continue living the one that is more ‘acceptable.’ WE begin to hate ourselves for neglecting our hearts but continue to do it anyway. It is this conflict, this self-hatred that was, in the priest’s view the cause of my addiction.
The more I reflected upon this latter explanation, the more it felt right. I could see how I had ignored many of the things I loved to live a ‘conventional’ life and to provide some stability and financial security for my family. But yes, there was no doubt that I had lost myself along the way. I mentioned it to a few other people in rehab and it also seemed to resonate with them too.
2. I came across the following quote:
“ It is the always soul that dies first. Even if its departure goes unnoticed. And it always carries the body along with it.
Humans are nourished by the invisible. We are nourished by that which is beyond the personal. We die by preferring its opposite.” ~ Lucien Jacque (French poet)
This quote was like a flash of light in the dark for me. Of course I was experiencing so much physical, mental and emotional suffering, but these were being driven by something much deeper. These were only the results of the death, or what I prefer to know as the disconnect from my spirit. It is not evident when this disconnect happens, but the outcome is very real, very painful, and all-encompassing. This quote spurred me on to investigate the soul element of the addiction picture, and how it fits with so many other modern theories.
3. I had my first ‘proactive’ check-in at rehab.
This was a real turning point in my healing. I had lost count of how many times I had been in rehab to recover from another bust. Until this point, my experience at rehab had been the process of detox, followed by trying to release some of the shame and guilt that cling tightly to a relapse. Then there was the inevitable ‘life’ planning to stay sober and to prevent another relapse. This pattern repeated until my first proactive check-in. I had heard the doctors say many times that I was welcome to come back anytime for a refresher, and then one day I took them up on the offer and spent one week reflecting upon all aspects of my life. This is when I knew the spirit link to addiction was real. The proactive action I was taking was showing a real respect and love for myself. Finally I was showing care for my potential and seeking a way that I could let it shine in the world. I was no longer powerless to the forces upon me but using my own power to fight for my spirit.
Since this time I have been blessed to come across the work of Dr Richard Davidson and the Centre for Healthy Minds. His team uses neuroscience to investigate the sources of wellbeing, This exciting work provides the scientific evidence of what leads to healthy minds and happy hearts. There are four key elements of wellbeing that they have deduced from their studies. These are:
1. Awareness — being mindful of and paying attention to what you are doing
2. Connection — having the qualities to support healthy relationships, such as appreciation, kindness and compassion.
3. Insight — into the beliefs you hold about yourself and your relationship with these beliefs
4. Purpose — having a strong sense of meaning and aligning this purpose into or everyday lives.
Each and every one of these four pillars of wellbeing is compromised or disappears all together in addiction. And more importantly, each support my opinion that addiction is caused, fundamentally by a separation from your true spirit.
1. Awareness — you have lost the ability to see and appreciate your unique and precious nature
2. Connection — you have lost the ability to show acceptance, kindness and compassion for yourself and your spirit
3. Insight — you have become hooked into destructive narratives of being stuck, powerless and unworthy of health and love
4. Purpose — you have lost your ability to let your unique spirit shine, and in doing so have lost your sense of purpose and meaning in the world.
My hope for the upcoming book — Addiction is a Symptom — is that it will foster greater understanding and compassion for those suffering through addiction, and help them connect again to these important pillars of wellness.
May you come to see yourself as a person worthy of kindness, compassion and love.
To Think About
On a scale of 1–5, where 1 is lowest and 5 is highest, how would you rate yourself right now on the four pillars of wellbeing?
Why did you give yourself these scores?
What if you were living as a 5 on each pillar of wellbeing?
o What do you think it would look like?
o What would you be doing differently then you are now?