Why Addictions Are So Powerful and How to Overcome Them
We are going to look at the nature of addictions: why they are so powerful, why we turn toward them, and how we can turn away from them, as we must, because of the negative consequences they ultimately deal out.
Addictions come in all shapes and forms. We can all think of stories about people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. These types of abuses are very common throughout the world. One of my uncles, with whom I grew up and was very fond, struggled with alcohol. He was a very giving, loving person, but the years and years of drinking alcohol truly destroyed his life. He was a very handsome, fun person to be around, and he used to train animals for Hollywood. One summer when I was a boy, he drove all the way to Iowa with a lion that he pulled in a trailer behind his car, stopping at our home for a visit. It was very exciting for me and formed a wonderful memory in my mind. But his daily use of alcohol shriveled his body, aged him, and cut his life short. Before he died, he lived by himself and had turned into a mean, unhappy man. My memories of him go back to his good years, but it’s sad to think how his life and happiness was so cheated by his addiction to alcohol.
What are addictions? Addictions are basically emotional pain killers. When we have something inside of us that is upsetting, disconcerting, and emotionally charged we have two options. The first option is to feel it, get over it, heal it, and get better. The second option is to stuff it, repress it, hold the feelings in, and keep it inside of ourselves. Just like if I have a physical ailment such as a horrible cut, I can go to the doctor, get stitches, and heal it the proper way. If I instead just take pain killers, neglecting the cut itself, it won’t hurt anymore but it will only get worse, perhaps getting gangrene and probably even killing me. Emotions work the same way, but slower. We need to feel our feelings, get over them, heal, and move on. It’s pretty simple actually, but it’s very hard for many of us to do. Why?
Again, the answer is simple. In the short term, addictions work; they take away the pain now. When you have to feel something, like that cut, it hurts at first. It can hurt quite a bit to clean that cut and take care of it properly. It can hurt quite a bit to clean out that emotional wound also. We often don’t want to do this; we’d rather just not feel any pain, and if we turn to our addictions, they’ll turn off the pain almost instantly. Maybe they won’t turn off the pain completely, but they’ll turn it off enough that we don’t have to feel it, at least for now. Addictions are anything that turn off our emotions now.
What are they? What are addictions? There are an infinite number of addictions. We all know the big ones like drugs, alcohol, etc., but there are many, many more. Perhaps there are an infinite number of addictions or things that we turn to in order not to face our feelings. There are things like working too much, being constantly busy, striving for success. For example, Albert Einstein once said that when anyone he really cared for or loved died, he got really, really busy with his work in order to not have to deal with the pain and hurt.
There are also more subtle forms of addictions. There are people I know personally who put all their energy into raising their children so that they don’t have to deal with or think about their unhappy marriage. There are people who, every time there is a problem, run away from the problem and move on to something else. They leave the friendship, the job, whatever the problem is and move on, hoping that going on to something else and not dealing with the problem or pain at hand will make it go away and that all will be well. But turning off our feelings doesn’t work. It’s important that we face them. Just like we wouldn’t ignore a serious cut, it’s important for us not to ignore serious emotional wounds. Even subtle ones matter!
There’s a friend of mine who, every time she has a serious problem with her boyfriend or intimate partner, she just leaves them. She doesn’t deal with the issue, she doesn’t work it out, she doesn’t process it; she just moves on, ignoring things, and moves on to the next relationship. This approach isn’t healthy for her, because she’s building up all of these emotional wounds instead of facing them. It’s important for us to feel our feelings. It’s not hard to do; we just need to face them!
There are basically two emotions that create healing. One is anger and the other is sadness. If we watch young children when they are upset, they get angry or they cry and then they feel better. This article is about addictions and making sure that they don’t dominate our lives, so I won’t get into great detail about how to heal right now.
Addictions can be very subtle. Many people turn to sleeping pills because they can’t sleep. Perhaps they can’t fall asleep because they are on such a hectic, tight schedule that they need something to help them sleep at night and to calm their racing mind. That little pill to help them sleep, instead of being something they need tonight, becomes something that they need every night and it quickly begins to dominate and control their life. It becomes an addiction.
Addictions are very, very tricky. There are so many of them and they come in so many different ways. That’s why it’s important that in order to avoid addictions, we have to do a lot of soul searching. We have to look into our hearts and ask, “How am I doing?” I think the best way to do this is to slow down. We have to slow down, look at our lives, and say, “Hey is there anything that I’m using on a regular basis that I can’t walk away from, that’s very important to me, and I in a sense “need” it?” Another way to look at it is, “Am I not wanting to look at something inside of me that requires some attention? Is there something I need to focus on and make sure that I’m not turning my feelings off and running away from it?” Again, it’s subtle. That’s why mediation and meditation retreats are very important for our minds and health. They help us look at ourselves so we can know how we are doing. We must remember that we are not smarter than addictions! We must be aware of how things are going in our lives. If we’re turning towards something that we can’t seem to walk away from, and we know that it’s causing us or others suffering, we must look at it and say, “Hmmm, what’s causing this?” Don’t judge it, just look at it and spend some time exploring it. If it’s a feeling that needs to be healed, then heal it. If it’s a habit, walk away from it. That’s the best way to treat addictions.
Let’s say we’re really struggling with a food addiction. We really love eating chocolate and often we eat too much of it. Each time we feel like eating chocolate, why don’t we instead go for a walk, distract our minds, do something else. Walking is one of my favorite ways of turning my mind away from something that is unhealthy for me towards something that is healthy. Going for a walk is an awesome way to focus the mind on something else. Try it, you just might like it!
Addictions are a lot like mosquito bites. That initial desire to scratch the itchy, red bump is very strong, but if we focus our minds on something else, the desire to scratch goes away. Addictions work the same way. We feel the addiction, we do something else to take our minds off of it, and it goes away. Remember, our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. Addictions are fed by thoughts, by creating stories like, “Oh, it would be so great to have that right now.” However, if we focus our minds on something else, the desires slowly get weaker and go away. They may keep trying to come back, but if we continue to keep trying to refocus our minds, with practice they will really go away.
There are so, so many addictions. It may overwhelm us to realize how many things we are really addicted to, and that’s why I truly encourage everyone that if we are going to really be happy, we have to allow ourselves some quiet time. We have to have the peace and tranquility of our meditations, because without these we really don’t know ourselves. Knowing ourselves is truly half the battle of conquering our addictions, our goal towards happiness and being happy. We can do it; it just takes time, effort, and awareness.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books and creates a weekly podcast on happiness at http://www.HappinessPodcast.org He also creates a weekly podcast on meditation, http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com and a weekly podcast on spiritual enlightenment, http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com His retreat schedules can be found at http://www.HolisticRetreats.tv You also might find his blog useful at http://www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com If you are interested in having Dr. Puff speak to your organization or company, you can learn more about his speaking services at http://www.SuccessBeyondYourImagination.com