By Claire Hudson-McAuley
Many of us have addictions. COVID has made all kinds of addictions more common. Often we can stop the addictive pattern for a while, specially after some sort of realization or upset. At this stage, we have hope and a fair bit of magical thinking about how easy it will be. We are probably in denial, expecting a quick fix.
Trouble is, addictions are often connected to long standing survival behaviours/patterns that need to be healed or resolved. Patterns such as avoidance of pain, sadness or anger. We may also be in denial about the severity of our addiction, and become angry when people suggest there is a problem, or believe “I can give up any time I want to”. Emotional maturity might not match our biological age, because addictions – especially long standing ones-stunt our emotional growth.
So for most people, taking shortcuts in recovery is like trying to build a new house without foundations. Unless we address the underlying needs or patterns, learn new ways to be and to cope with stress in the world, and change our behaviours….. our new house will fall over.
What happens next?
Ouch, this part hurts. Basically if we don’t do the work, especially the emotional work, we will most likely be miserable, stagnate or relapse. The relapse that follows after a period of abstinence takes us lower and shakes self confidence more than previously. It also begins to hardwire “hopeless” into our brain, and hurts important relationships.
Recovery is possible, simple even, but its not easy. It requires sustained effort to rewire our system or patterns. Many people go back to drinking or other addictive behaviours because they don’t understand the need to work hard for it. They try to keep the same social life, friends, and patterns of behaviour as before. And as for catching up on emotional maturity, forget it!
Typically, most people have many “experiments” before they figure out that they can’t build their new house out of straw and daydreams. Experiments in recovery are normal and even necessary, but still hard on you and those closest to you. In the long term, relationships often suffer, as the person with the addiction prioritises the relationship with the addiction more than the relationship with people.
How do I build solid foundations for recovery?
Addictions can be healed. They are the sign of an emotional wound, or a pattern of life that is not working. Follow the steps below, and you will make powerful progress.
- Stop using substances completely. Do whatever it takes. Your heart and mind need to be clear and unpolluted to do the real healing work.
- Address underlying emotional needs and patterns, especially those of “people pleasing”, rescuing, or trying to control others. Find a therapist or counselor with experience. This bit takes time. If you have unresolved trauma or other unfinished business, see a therapist who works with this. Join a group. Read books. Roll up your sleeves, this is where the real work and healing takes place.
- Learn how to heal guilt and shame through therapy (yes they can be healed)
- Cultivate gentleness and kindness toward yourself and others
- Become more authentically you
- Create meaning and purpose, and find a cause to believe in
- Become more innocent and humble. Accept support and help instead of trying to do it all alone or acting like you are the “expert”. Addiction is a social and emotional condition, you do need others. Let others know when you are struggling or having sneaky thoughts.
- Live more Mindfully
- Insist that your family members have the best available support and education too.
- Practice complete honesty with yourself and trusted others. Secrets and lies lead to relapse.
- Hang out with and seek out people who are like you want to be, they do not drink or use substances. Recent research shows this is one of the most important factors for success.
- Be open minded and willing to let go of outdated ideas that do not serve you any more
Some last words
Our brains are plastic. If you tell yourself you are hopeless, that is exactly what you become. So give your brain some hope, and some time. Remember that addictions are simply a sign that more healing is needed – for example, alcohol is only the vehicle you use to make depression and worry go away. For the first time in many years you have started to do something different, and expert help is here, right now.
Beating the addiction is simple but it is hard work. If you are reading this, congratulations, you have already taken the first step. Keep going, keep growing, and you will recover.
To quote one of my clients “Anne”“ Now, a year later, the quality of my life is so much better. Relationships, my job, are so different….. And to think that only a year ago I felt hopeless and desperate. Its amazing the difference a year makes!”