Definition of Addict (transitive verb): to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.
Does this sound like you or anyone you know? How about everyone you know? I’ve been clean and sober for over 24 years and throughout my sobriety I’m often asked about addiction. What I mostly hear from people is that they just don’t have an addictive personality so they can’t understand how addicts think or why they just can’t stop doing whatever it is they do that is destroying their lives.
Now, this comes from people (assuming they’re people I know fairly well) who I watch on a consistent basis obsess about this or that. I watch them give in to cravings, worry compulsively, constantly look at their phones instead of engaging the person in front of them, desperately cling to old, wrong ideas despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or repeatedly read news flashes that appear on their phones, even though it’s invariably negative and upsets them (with the excuse that they should be well informed). They spend enormous amounts of time making excuses, rationalising their behaviour by trying to blame it on someone else, they create drama, gossip, smoke, berate themselves and bite their nails or other fidgety, compulsive habits. So this is what it looks like to not have an addictive personality?
As a self-confessed addict, let me share some of my addictive tendencies with you…. I repeat arguments in my head over and over and over again until I prove to myself I’m right, which includes negative self talk about my mistakes and failures. I will spend an hour looking for the smallest accounting error even though it doesn’t matter in the least. Once I get started on lollies and biscuits, there is no stopping me. In fact, you might lose a hand if it gets in my way. Then comes the self-loathing when I’m feeling sick to my stomach after. Why did I do this to myself yet again?? I pick my nail cuticles and obsessively write to do lists and even include things I’ve already done so I can feel the satisfaction of ticking them off. I run, even when I’m injured or sick. Sometimes I imagine horrible things happening to my husband and kids and am wracked with all the suffering and fear those dark imaginings bring, even though it didn’t happen. And I’m only scratching the surface, but I won’t bore you with all my crazy in one blog post.
I’ve spent the better part of my life researching, contemplating and meditating on why I do what I do. It all comes down to one simple reason. I want to move away from whatever stress, pain or fear I’m feeling in that moment. Not that I’m always conscious of any particular feelings, as I’m often on auto-pilot and just doing the habitual thing. But if I pause for a moment, after I’ve caught myself in any of the aforementioned habits, I invariably find that I am in a negative mindset. When I’m conscious, mindful and happy none of this behaviour surfaces. Simple as that. The irony is, in our attempts to move away from our discomfort, our habitual tendencies only enhance it.
I believe all human beings are addicts. We believe we are different than those “addicts” in the street because our habitual patterns play out differently, but we are all the same… seeking relief from suffering. That is all addiction is: the desire for something that will help us move away from an uncomfortable feeling, wherein the attainment of that something increases, rather than decreases the discomfort, leading to more craving for something to bring relief. It’s a vicious cycle. Pema Chodron, the Tibetan Buddhist nun defines addiction as, “Addicted to a firm and fixed view of ourselves (ego) and the world.” Whenever this fixed view is challenged, we cling tighter to our viewpoint, which only leads to more suffering. And in that suffering, we engage in our addictions, whatever they are.
I’ve found that creating space in my life makes me more aware of my negative patterns, or addictions if you like. This space allows me to do something different than my habitual thing. By choosing a new way of addressing my discomfort, I create new positive habits. It’s like the saying goes…. “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.”
I create space by being quiet. I meditate every morning, which helps me develop the habit of stopping the mental chatter and just listening. This is my sacred time to touch base with my mind and cultivate a loving kindness toward myself and others. I don’t look at my phone first thing in the morning. In fact, it goes on “do not disturb” every night at 7 pm until 7 am the next morning. Other people’s emergencies do not have to be my own. Believe me, if there is a true emergency, somehow I always find out. Setting boundaries is another way I create space. I don’t allow other people to fill my life with their drama. I take time to nurture myself by exercising, getting regular massages, meditating, doing yoga, eating nutrient dense foods and engaging in activities that fill my soul, like hanging with my family and friends, attending teachings, travelling, writing, reading, running and hiking, to name a few. When I get too busy for self-care, which I confess is far too often, I’m a big grump! Surprise, surprise.
So, go forth and get in touch with your own inner addict and see what he/she has to teach you about yourself and the universe.