Be Careful of the Word Addiction
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
Some people with substance abuse problems may feel as if they’re without hope when they think of themselves as addicts rather than as people with dependencies that they have the power to break.
Be very careful with the word “addiction.” It’s a title, but it can also be a trap. It can be used to describe a problem, but it could also create one.
I prefer the word “dependency,” because it’s less scary. Just the sound of the word “addiction” sounds so negative and offensive that it takes positive energy away from solving the problem.
Some with substance abuse problems may feel as if they’re without hope when they think of themselves as addicts rather than as people with dependencies that they have the power to break.
The medical community likes the word addiction. Recovery programs repeatedly use the word addiction. That doesn’t mean that they’re either right or wrong; it’s just the status quo.
You may choose to use the word addiction to describe behavior and substance abuse patterns. As an individual I have quite a number of words that I use in my own process of healing that might be at odds with my general need to use words that are compassionate.
One example is that when I’m describing dependencies of various kinds I realize that those dependencies relate to mental illness. The term “mental illness” is scary and seems harsh. But nothing else helps me better describe the behavior that people engage in that is destructive to the human organism.
I use the term mental illness to describe behaviors I’ve personally engaged in in my past. Those behaviors have included substance dependencies, dysfunctional relationships, various anxieties, and actions that put my life at risk. My forms of mental illness were temporary, and I found ways to overcome them.
Of course mental illness can be more severe and require greater corrective attention by the individual who is afflicted with it, as well as focused attention from medical professionals.
I also dislike the use of the word “afflicted” under most circumstances. But it describes mental illness well: Mental illness is an affliction. All who have it need to balance their character defects—their variety of afflictions—with the good qualities that they have.
All people, with very few exceptions, have good qualities. All people should know of their own good qualities and put them into practice. If such people have behavioral and substance abuse problems, they should focus on overcoming those problems rather than focusing on the idea of their being stuck in an addiction.
All must have the willingness to pursue healing. Besides willingness, they must take actions that will lead to positive results. They might take actions that don’t yield the results they hope for. If so, they will need to be open to pursuing other approaches to achieving the results they’re looking for instead of just wallowing in guilt and hopelessness.
Dependencies on substances have many causations. One is anxiety, and another is damage to self-esteem. In order to recover self-esteem, you have to have a good understanding of what it is. Self-esteem has many facets, but the most prominent component of it is a positive self-image. A positive self-image is developed in our youth. It struggles to develop properly if a childhood is filled with trauma, neglect, shame, disappointment, fear, the lack of love, the lack of grownups taking interest, loneliness, and other things along those lines.
I remember a conversation I had with a grown man who was a professional surfer. He told me spoke of things going on in his life that weren’t making him happy. I told him his behavior indicated that he had many anxieties. I asked him if he understood what anxieties were, and he said no.
Then I asked him to imagine himself as a confident and competent soldier in combat. In that situation, he’d find it necessary to always keep his eyes wide open, and he’d only be able to sleep during the day standing up leaning against a pole, gun in hand.
By necessity he’d have to live a paranoid existence. He’d have reason to be hypervigilant from the day he signed up, throughout all of his training, during his time in combat, and right up until the day he completed his tour of duty.
To a lesser degree, people develop anxieties in childhood. Imagine little children with very undeveloped personalities who experienced childhoods filled with turbulent situations: Things that were frightening, direct abuse, secondary abuse (meaning witnessing the abuse of others), and all kinds of corrupted messages coming to them through society. Just leaving the TV on might be enough to severely corrupt a young mind because of all the garbage that is aired. Perhaps these children go to school and then get made fun of or are given the workload of a factory worker at age 7.
When we grow up in a society that honors the rich and reviles the poor, when we live in societies in which there are dysfunctional behavior patterns everywhere and very little compassion anywhere, it affects us. It’s no wonder that when we’re grown up we have all kinds of anxieties.
If you come from a very abusive home where terrible things happened, you can certainly link your grownup anxieties to those events. But others have trouble identifying their anxieties and the origins of them. There’s a lot of mystery; they can’t quite understand what went wrong. Sometimes that’s because they don’t remember it: One of our survival mechanisms that we have is that if an experience is too traumatic, we can bury it and forget it. It could be locked far away and be inaccessible to our conscious mind.
A problem in connection with this is that those events have energy fields. They occurred in the material world and they entered into our bodies. They store memories which consist of energy fields, and that energy remains in our body. That energy creates a subtle vibration of a perpetual state of fear. So it’s no wonder that we feel uncomfortable as grownups.
What is the solution? First and foremost, it’s to untrap those energy fields. If we don’t find a way to get those emotions trapped inside of us out of our minds, followed by changing our behavioral patterns, followed by learning entirely new systems of approaching life, we will remain stuck in our dependencies.
Overcoming dependencies entails learning. Our entire life centers around learning from the moment that we are born. We need to think about what we’ve learned about life in general up to the moment we find ourselves in. And what we think about our dependencies and our problems is usually wrong. We’ve learned the wrong things. Breaking our dependencies to negative things requires a lot of unlearning. It takes a lot of feeling our feelings, and it requires a lot of healing.
There are many things that we can do to practice healing. We are very familiar with being hurt. We know how to stay hurt. We are likely very familiar with acting out with destructive things. But how familiar are we with healing?
We are practicing healing every night when we sleep. That is when the body is engaged in healing itself: The body needs sleep for that purpose. But what does the mind need?
The mind needs quite a number of things. The mind needs conversation. The mind needs stillness. The mind needs to respond to environmental stimuli: For example, if we experience humor, the mind signals the body to laugh. It is the appropriate action. If we experience pain and sadness, the brain signals the body to cry. The processes of interaction between the body and the mind are absolutely incredible.
But what if those processes were interrupted by things that happened in our youth? It’s likely that we were told to stop feeling sad, or we were told to shut up when we were whining. We learned how to do that on our own, automatically; when we felt emotions, we learned to smother what we felt for our own survival.
Our very survival depended on us complying with the needs of our caretakers. What our caretakers needed for us to do (or wanted for us to do) was to feel the way that was comfortable for them.
Many tragically went through a great deal in connection with this dynamic. Some people experienced beatings or sexual abuse, or they watched the behavior of parent with a dependency to alcohol or another substance.
It makes no difference if other people experienced more pain and trauma than you experienced. Your pain and trauma affected you. And overcoming that pain and trauma will not only help you overcome your dependency—addiction, mental illness, affliction, however you prefer to term it—but it will also usher in the experience of a joyous new life for you.