Overcoming addiction is not an overnight, flip of a switch. Nor is it something you can take a pill for so that all the problems go away. As discussed in the previous article on addiction, when you’re dealing with a deep seated chronic pain, healing may take time.
Nonetheless, overcoming addiction is possible.
Commonalities in Addiction
Similar across all addictions (chemical or behavioural) is the pattern of compulsive engagement in the behaviour that one craves, finds temporary pleasure or relief in, but suffers negative consequences from. Also, many of the behaviours around all kinds of addiction, such as denial, are similar. There will often be dishonesty about the addiction. And shame is a common undercurrent, whatever the object of the addiction may be. Read more about Addiction here >>>
Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.
The other commonality among all addictions has to do with brain circuits. Whether it’s a chronic worker or a heroin addict, the same incentive and motivation circuits are activated, and the same brain chemicals are being secreted. Dopamine is the brain’s chemical for the hunt, the search, the excitement of the chase. And that has to do with the brain’s incentive and motivation circuitry, the availability of dopamine, which is also what cocaine and crystal meth and nicotine and caffeine elevate.
So on a biochemical and brain circuitry level, there’s no great difference between behavioral and substance addictions. It has to do with the brain’s pleasure-reward centers, pain-relief circuitry, incentive-motivation circuitry, and impulse-regulation circuits.
Overcoming your Addiction
The step-by-step process here is based on the belief that you can integrate your pain, retrain your brain, learn to regulate your emotions and live a better life.
Be willing to work.
To those who say “I’ve tried things like that and it didn’t work” – remember : it’s not “it” that needs to work, it’s you. If you want to change your life, YOU have to do the work. Overcoming addiction may take time, be willing to do the work, take the time, and prioritise the life you’d prefer to be living.
I’m willing to do the work, to acknowledge the pain, to become a better version of myself.
No one else is going to do this for you. And it can be done. Let Wholeness be your aim.
Pay attention. When your addictive craving appears, re-label the addictive thought for what it really is.
The feeling is of an imperative need. You feel as though you need to gamble. The re-labelled thought must be : I don’t need to gamble.
I’m only having an obsessive thought that I have such a need. It’s not a real objective need but a false belief. I may have a feeling of urgency but there is actually nothing urgent going on.
This requires conscious awareness, intention and attention not just rote repetition. Be fully aware of the sense of urgency that attends the impulse. Continue to label it as a manifestation of the addiction instead of something you must act upon.
You get to be the impartial spectator in this situation. Practise your capacity to stand outside yourself and watch yourself in action. This is mindful work. The point is to notice it without assigning the habitual meaning (that which you’ve always responded with before from your pain) to it. It is no longer a need, just a thought.
Learn to place the blame squarely on your brain – this is your brain sending you a false message. Assign the relabeled addictive urge to it’s proper source.
This is my brain’s program that it has been using for a long time. My brain is recognising my emotional state, and responding in the way it knows how. I do not have to respond that way today.
State very clearly to yourself, where that urge originated – in neurological circuits that were programmed into your brain long ago, probably even when you were a child. It represents a dopamine or endorphin hunger on the part of brain systems that early in your life lacked the necessary conditions for their full development.
It also represents emotional needs that went unsatisfied.
Have compassionate curiosity for yourself. There’s no need to blame yourself for having addictive tendencies. We have already established that these tendencies are a response to pain and stress. Calmly acknowledge why these desires have carved such a powerful hold over you.
The addictive behaviour is deeply ingrained in my brain and is easily triggered when I’m stressed or bored or fatigued or unhappy. It says nothing about me as a person.
The addictive compulsion is the effect of circumstances of which you once had no control. You now have some control over how you respond to the sensations in the present. You were not responsible for the stressful circumstances that shaped your brain but you can take responsibility now.
This re-attribution step puts the addictive drive into perspective. It’s a thought and belief. You can observe it consciously with attention and let it go. There are better sources of dopamine and endorphins in the world.
Give the sensation time to pass. It’s not how you feel that counts. It’s what you do.
Find something else to do instead of engaging in the addictive behaviour. Start with just 15 minutes – or if that’s too hard, go for 5! Find something that is enjoyable and doesn’t cause further harm.
I am going to do this other thing that makes me feel good to teach my brain that it doesn’t have to respond to the call of the craving.
If you can’t do 15 minutes, start with 5. Write it down in a journal. Then do it for 6.
Have actions in place so that you know what you will do ahead of time if the call comes. If you usually enter the mall in response to the stress, plan to drive a different way AND have a plan when you get out of the car eg. have a coffee with a friend.
You must stay present with noticing what you’re doing in this step. Celebrate it. It’s important and difficult for you even if it might seem simple to another. Acknowledge yourself.
Remind yourself why you’ve gone to all this trouble. The addictive brain will set a high value to the behaviour : It attributes a benefit to the behaviour, because it knows it can get it’s dopamine or endorphin hit when you do it.
You’ve been fooled by your brain to make the addiction your highest priority. Where love and vitality should be, addiction roosts. Devalue the false gold – assign to it its proper worth.
What has this urge done for me? Spent money, time away from those I love, waste energy, time, led me to lie and cheat and pretend. Left me feeling ashamed and isolated. Promised joy and delivered bitterness. The real value of my addictive compulsion is that is has caused me to betray my true values and ignore my true goals.
Write it out. Be specific. What has been the value in your relationships. What happened last week when you let the urge rule you. Pay attention to what you fell when you remember these events.
Do it without judgment. You are gathering info, not conducting a trial against yourself.
The more consciously and actively you come to revalue the drive in light of its influence in your life the more quickly and swiftly you can perform the other steps.
Life has been creating you by responding to the automatic mechanisms. It’s out of those that you’ve created your life. You can recreate it.
What would my life look like if I had One Perfect Day?
The bonus step.
Anticipate and accept.
Anticipate – the urge will return. Every moment you turn it away is a triumph and celebration. This is a process you will have to do again and again.
Don’t be frustrated when the cravings return, because they will.
Hello old brain circuits. I see you’re still active. So am I.
Accept – it’s a part of yourself that you are working on at this time. If it comes back with new force it’s not something to be disappointed about. It’s a provision of a new layer of curiosity for yourself.
You didn’t do this on purpose. It’s not personal to you. Millions of people have the same mechanism. What’s personal to you is how you choose to deal with it from now on.
With time the drive will be drained of energy if you continue the steps.
The step-by-step process for overcoming behavioural addiction is based on the writing of Dr. Gabor Maté in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
Work on overcoming Addiction with Hollie
I help people to overcome addiction and create a life that sets them free. Check out the Session Program or phone 0482 955 340 for more info.
For more on addiction as a response to pain and emotional distress, read the article A view on Addiction >>>
For more on down-regulating stress and pain, read about myofascial release with the YTU Balls >>>
The article Overcoming Addiction : a step-by-step process was published by Hollie Bakerboljkovac, for the Institute for Self Crafting.
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