“I just can’t stop!
I’m smart enough to know what it’s doing me, but its grip takes over everything; relationships, responsibilities, my very being. I think about it all the time; how can I get it? what if I can’t get it? do they know I’ve had it? It damn tortures me! It’s a disease that I know is trying to kill me, yet I still do it.
I just can’t stop!
People don’t understand what I go through, daily. Some might suggest that I “just stop it” – but they don’t understand – if only they could try to…
Maybe then I could stop…?”
Anon. (Conversation, 2018)
I sat with this person recently as they shared with me the trauma and torment that addiction causes in their life. There was nothing that I could do to stop their trauma, that is their challenge to work on. All I could do was to be with them; not in judgment, but in brotherhood.
Please don’t misunderstand, this was not easy to hear; my instinctive response was to fix, not ‘meet’. However, I’m grateful that I (sometimes) am able to recognise the cues when I’m moving to ‘fixing’ and stopped. There is a good reason for this.
As Canadian addiction expert and medical Doctor, Dr Gabor Mate (see further details below), reminds us:
“Although we may believe we are acting out of love, if we are critical of others or work very hard to change them, it’s always about ourselves. ‘The alcoholic’s wife is adding to the level of shame her husband experiences,’ says Anne, a veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘In effect, she is saying to the addict, he is bad and she is good. Perhaps she is in denial about her addiction to certain attitudes, like self-righteousness, martyrdom, or perfectionism. What if, on the other hand, the wife said to her husband, ‘I’m feeling good today, honey. I only obsessed about your drinking once today. I’m really making progress on my addiction to self-righteousness.”
Source: In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts
Dr Mate provides a instructive introduction to his perspective on addiction in the video below:
One thing that stands out now that I am working more closely in the social services sector, is the impact that addictions have in our society. Whether they be addiction to; substances, exercise, gambling, work, sex, shopping, perfectionism or social media, they can impact on both our own and the lives of others in many ways. Addictions, just like many of life’s other ‘wicked problems‘, are challenging to firstly understand, and then tackle. This can be especially challenging when we are trying to understand them from the perspective of others.
We can learn a lot about addiction from social psychology, including the importance of language and semiotics. This seems especially true if we contemplate how easily we can be moved to label people (e.g. they’re just ‘addicts’). As my good friend Hayden Collins reminds us in this article:
“Labels or stereotypes shape how we see the world. They unconsciously affect our perception of objects, nature, individuals – including ourselves – social communities and cultures, and subsequently influence our relationships and behaviour. Labels simplify the complexity of the world through categorisation. Once a label is in place it is extremely difficult to remove. When a label is applied to an individual, they are seen as an object – something to be used, possessed, fixed or controlled. The uniqueness and humanness of the individual is lost – along with it the opportunity for building relationships based on care, trust and respect – and enables the exploitation and exclusion of the individual that has been labelled. Labelling affects everyone; even physicians who have taken the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ unconsciously treat their patients differently depending on the label and stereotype that has been applied. With kind and friendly personal treatment provided to those who are perceived as having no responsibility for the injury and impersonal treatment to those seen as negligent with no excuse.”
Source: Hayden Collins (2016) see – https://www.riskintelligent.com.au/
We may learn too from noted author on the topic of addiction, Johann Hari (further details below), of how critical our social connections are if our aim is to support people who are gripped by addiction. For example in his book Chasing the Storm, Hari offers that:
“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.”
Source: Johann Hari in Chasing the Scream
So what can we do if we are interested in learning more about, and supporting people with, addictions?
The following resources might be helpful in learning more about how we can support people who face the challenges of addiction. These include:
- Research conducted by those who have an interest in labels and words and the impact that these can have. One resource that might be of interest is Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing by Ernest Dempsey.
- Work by Zimbardo such as; The Lucifer Effect may also be helpful. It focuses on how easily we can move to ‘dehumanise’ others, including through our words, and the impact that this can have.
- Speaking of words, if you’re looking for a good introductory book on the importance of words and their impact on our lives, Andrew Newberg’s book Words Can Change Your Brain is a great start.
- If you’d like to learn more about semiotics, starting with the work of Dr Robert Long is a great way to “better understand how the unconscious is affected by social, visual and spacial arrangements“. This excellent article (https://safetyrisk.net/an-introduction-to-semiotics-and-risk/) includes a beginners guide to semiotics along with the informative introductory video included below:
- As noted above, when it comes to addiction, the work of Dr Gabor Mate is a challenge to the all who propose that the ‘solution’ is as easy as ‘make a choice‘ and “just stop it”. This is especially challenging for those who cling by the ‘medical model’ as a ‘fix’ for addiction. Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels in their book Selling Sickness remind us of such challenges in the medical industry, not that it doesn’t have it’s place in dealing with addiction. Rather than suggest a medical only approach, Mate (a medical doctor himself) proposes that addiction can be linked back to a painful experience in a person’s life:
“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”
- Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is an important read if you would like to understand this concept further. He also has a section on his website devoted to addiction that includes some insightful resources including videos and papers.
- Johann Hari is another who also offers some discerning thoughts during his TED Talk titled Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong (below). Johann suggests that connection and relationships are key if people challenged by addictions are to tackle them. This article provides some further thoughts on this idea.
It’s tempting to try to understand addiction through the lens (only) of rational thought, but…. how does this make sense? What does it say about us if this is the lens through which we seek to understand? Further, if we feel tempted to fix such challenging situations, maybe a question to ask is; does the dilemma lie with those who face addiction, or does it lie in us?
As noted above, it can be tempting also to simply see addiction as a choice one makes; e.g. between taking a drug, making a bet or buying that next item – or not. What does this simplistic thinking, as provoked in the video below, mean for those who suffer through addiction? Plausibly, rather than helping, instead it may be harmful, as it further promotes the seduction of binary thinking, a way of thinking that causes us to seek out simplistic solutions to complex problems; it seems absurd?
This brought me to tears. What a powerful lesson…
Posted by Power of Positivity on Wednesday, 9 November 2016
There is much more that has been written about and more that we could discuss in relation to addiction. While such discussion might be helpful (and necessary) in trying to understand, perhaps the best thing we can do if we are fortunate enough not to be tortured by addiction, is to pause and reflect on the questions below. Maybe they could help us make better sense of addiction?
- How do we see others who struggle with the grip of an addiction?
- What does it mean to ‘be’ with people as they are being tortured by addiction?
- How can we deal with the challenges of our own assumptions and judgments about addiction, that often fester away in our unconscious?
Maybe we all have addictions? Conceivably we are all drawn (unconsciously) to activities or actions that, given a choice, we would prefer not to do? Why then, are we so quickly drawn to judgment of those caught in its web?
What are your thoughts and experiences with addiction?
References from Hayden Collins’ Quote:
 Alter, A., Drunk Tank Pink, New York, Penguin Books, 2014, p. 29.
 Buber, M., I and Thou, London, Continuum, 2004, p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 30
 Radley, A., Making Sense of Illness, London, Sage Publications, 1994, pp. 103-104