The Nature of Addiction

227 Relax and Succeed - You don't have to

I’ve been fortunate enough to help a lot of people overcome some very serious and long term addictions. To do so it’s necessary to understand both the nature of time and the nature of addiction. In regards to the latter, it’s important to remember that the people who get angry all the time are addicted to anger in exactly the same way that a cocaine addict “needs” cocaine. The difference is, one person thinks some thoughts and that leads them to get in their car and drive to go buy drugs, while the other person scans the world constantly for things that will piss them off and then they think about those things over and over until they’ve dosed themselves with the brain chemistry for their drug.

That’s why when you drive with an angry person they’ll find reasons to be angry all over the place when you couldn’t see any of them. It’s just like finding the drug dealer’s house. You can’t go get the chemistry if you don’t know where to look. So the nature of addiction isn’t that you want the chemical itself, it’s that you’ve gotten into the unconscious habit of looking for it.

Every one of the cocaine addicts I’ve worked with hate doing cocaine. They always say they waste it because the entire time they’re doing it they experience guilt over the fact that they bought it again, including an internal discussion about what else they could be doing with the money; and they think fearful thoughts about how they will feel when they run out. It’s not like the drug use itself is super appealing after a time. It’s that they can’t break the habit of looking for it any more than the angry driver can figure out how to get to work without judging every decision every other driver makes.

227 Relax and Succeed - Awareness is the key

The second aspect is time. You don’t quit drugs for life right now. That’s silly. How would you possibly do that? Now is only now. It’s not all-time. So you can’t quit for three weeks now. It’ll take three weeks. You’ll do that quitting then, when that then is Now. (I know, I’m sorry, our language wasn’t built to discuss this idea.) The point is: Now is the only time you can actually take action in. So stop setting dates and saying to yourself, “after this I quit.” Because you can’t quit then, now. Even quitting is the wrong word. It’s not that you quit drugs or quit getting angry. It’s that you do something else instead.

A cocaine addict doesn’t quit drugs on the 15th and then not want them on the 16th. On the 16th the same tilt in their brain will cause them to want to go in that direction. It is then, in that now that the person can make an alternate choice. They can choose to do something other than the drug.

So do you see that you don’t quit anything? You’re always doing something, it’s simply a matter of what. So if you want to quit cocaine or stop getting angry so much, then you have to assume a moment-by-moment awareness over your thought processes. You have to be consciously aware of what you’re thinking and where it will lead. Once you can do that you’ll choose directions more often favourable to you.

227 Relax and Succeed - Heaven on earth

Fortunately both anger and the anxiousness of a drug addiction can be quite helpful. Those unpleasant feelings help signal to us that we’ve let our thinking drift into unhelpful territory. Isn’t that handy? That nature created that little warning system? Like a dog with a shock collar, once we step outside of our healthy space we get a signal to remind us to turn our thinking around and change our direction toward only those choices that are productive and/or enjoyable.

Don’t battle your addictions, be they to chemicals you produce, or ones produced by a drug company or criminal cartel. You don’t stop experiences like that in one moment. Life is a moment to moment decision-making process. Once people realise this they will tell you it is surprisingly easy to quit. None of them have any desire to return to those thought patterns now that they’ve changed them. That’s how you know you’ve really changed. There’s no tension. There isn’t a battle. Because when you chose something better than your addiction, you did it because that’s what you really wanted to do.

Quit quitting. Live instead. You’re always doing something. Start being more aware of all of the potential choices you have to fill every single moment. If you do, filling moments the same way will seem strange and illogical. And once you can see your life as a choice like that, you’re free. Not only from your worst addiction, but from all of them.

Have a wonderful day. And do it by choice. Moment by moment.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

AA Or Your Way?

Everyone has someone they want to be. They want to be thinner, or happier, or more relaxed. And they’re perpetually disappointed by their inability to change into that other person. The reason that change is difficult is because they’re trying to change into someone they’re not, rather than trying to be fully themselves.

50 Relax and Succeed - Welcome to todayFor instance, addicts don’t really want to give up their addictions. In my practice, they’re always the slowest to sign up. They’ll call and discuss the idea with me for some time before committing. The reason is they get the sense they’ll actually quit with me, so part of their journey is acceptance of the idea that they could actually imagine themselves as a non-addict.

I’ve had a lot of success helping people kick everything from painkillers to cocaine to alcohol. The interesting part is, I didn’t do that by trying to get people to kick painkillers, cocaine or alcohol. Rather than getting them to stop enjoying the islands of numbness that dot their otherwise painful life, I got them to start enjoying the seas in between those islands. Eventually they very naturally come to the point where they don’t stop drinking, they start living. They knew the islands were there, but they were simply less attractive when the sailing was good.

Can you see the subtlety in that? If you try to change, you will feel resistance to change. If you accept who you are and use that as a foundation to grow into the person you intend  to be, then there is no resistance—you’re like a sailboat following the wind. There’s nothing forced about that. You’re not struggling against a headwind to go in some direction because you think it’s right. Instead you’re working with your own nature, going the way that makes sense. You do it all the time, but you don’t think about those things like smoking or drinking or drugs.

That famous experiment with the rats taking heroin instead of food until they died? The one that proved how powerful addictions were? Well that experiment’s been redone except they put the rats with the source of heroin into a space that included rat maze with a bunch of fun 50 Relax and Succeed - A smooth seastuff to do. And you know what? No addicted rats. They had some heroin, but over time mostly they just played on the available toys and habitats.

AA and the like ask you to push against your addiction. They encourage you to make the addiction very real every day. They even tell you you’ll always have it—that it will define you for the rest of your life. I have trouble hanging around many AA “successes” because all they do is talk about not drinking. Well I’m sorry, but talking about not drinking is just another way of talking about drinking. If AA’s helped you and you’re loving your life that’s terrific—I truly am super happy for you. But in most cases what I see in the AA approach is tension and a fear of failure. Everyone feels like they’re clinging because they feel like they’re constantly battling the “fact that they will always be an addict.”  Well that simply isn’t true and I have a lot of examples of people who prove it by living differently.

First off, don’t feel alone. Remember that a large percentage of the population is anaesthetized with either alcohol or some form of legal or illegal drug. Other than people who’ve only been using for a very short time I have yet to meet the addict who’s not trying to quit. But that kind of quitting will cause you to beat yourself up and that will only serve to make those islands even more attractive. Forget how ugly the seas feel and focus instead only on your sailing. Get to enjoy that and the islands won’t seem anywhere near as important and you certainly won’t feel motivated to interrupt a good time sailing just to stop at one.

Stop trying to change. Accept who you are. You will only change by following your bliss and you will naturally grow into the next—and bigger—version of yourself. But like water finds low ground you must choose your path by nature. You must not try. Simply move towards what feels good. Eventually whatever you’re addicted to will simply fade in value next to all of the goodness you will have accumulated.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s