How do we respond to rejection and loss? What really goes on when we have an anxiety attack, our mood plummets or we lash out at others? Which one of us hasn’t experienced at least one traumatic event that continues to affect how we function in the world at times?
What is present as we reach for a cigarette, a drink, call our dealer, gamble, either overeat or starve ourselves, set up our next date or go online for any number of reasons? Why do we want to harm ourselves? Tara Brach refers to ‘the hungry ghost’ of addiction that separates us from our deeper needs. From childhood, we can be bombarded with messages that erode self-esteem. Sometimes it’s delivered in the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and sometimes it feels as though we had a relatively good childhood, but something has always felt ‘wrong’. Parental disharmony or emotional lock-down has a powerful effect on the whole family dynamic and offspring can start to act out parental pain and shame; a sense of emotional isolation encroaches. Caregivers might make negative remarks about what we are or aren’t like and critical input can start to affect our sense of self from a young age. Coping mechanisms start to develop and can escalate into addiction.
Tweeting For Addiction
More and more counsellors are going into schools (often a hotbed of challenges for an emerging sense of identity), picking up the pieces of fractured home lives, the effects of bullying or isolation inside and outside the home and the pervasive influence of technology, where we give more attention to screens than to one another. Remote relating has added to the potential for measuring ourselves negatively against others and trying to attain a ‘norm’ and standard in looks, status and opinions. We post and tweet and desperately look for attention and affirmation through the landscape of remote connection. What price are we prepared to pay to fit in or check out? Our deepest needs are to feel safe and lovable, for who we truly are and how we want to express ourselves in the world. We also need to express love in order to feel emotionally satisfied. Notice how babies delight in handing an object back and forth – giving and receiving. Confusions arise as defence mechanisms take control – driving us away from intuitive guidance where the true seat of love for self and others resides. The mind is only too glad to barge in and sabotage anything as simple as this so instead of protecting us it starts to take up a role that appears to defeat us at every turn. We become slaves to its bidding. The basic reward system in the human brain is essentially wired to support creativity and flexibility as we adapt to an ever-changing environment where we originally made tools and worked out how to construct the best shelter in the most advantageous territory and surround ourselves with allies. At best, our need to turn up the pleasure dial keeps us proactive and evolving. When our environment doesn’t lend itself to truly meaningful and progressive experiences, quick fixes that appear to shortcut the need for others to cooperate or feed our needs can take over.
Addiction Alienates Us
In turn, the chance of finding meaningful experiences or relationships starts to fade and things often become increasingly messy. We might start out getting positive attention as we find our habits enable us to be life and soul of the party or to belong to an online community, only to end up in an uncomfortable comfort zone where our family, friends and employers are criticising us and adding to our sense of powerlessness and worthlessness. Addiction ends up being a lonely experience
that alienates us from what we truly seek but is often denied and out of awareness. How can we believe we deserve to be cherished and that our potential is intact when we’ve relied so heavily on the value judgements of others - judgements that have eroded our inner compass for life management and survival - transforming into self-doubt and despair? There is a moment when we might feel ‘something needs to change’ but the mountain seems impossibly high. It often isn’t clear how we’ve ended up in a downward spiral that has engulfed our lives to a greater or lesser extent. The courage to reach out for support isn’t always easy, particularly when addiction has taken hold and the fear of losing a prop is as big as the problem itself. A cycle of shame and blocking the shame has become an all-consuming ritual and our bodies and minds have forgotten how perfect we were when we came into the world. No one is born depressed, anxious or with a drive to consume harmful substances or engage in destructive patterns that guarantee disconnection from the central imperative – to receive and express love. We can find our way back into our own skin – the skin we arrived in before the seeds of doubt started to distort our sense of self. Feeling able to share whatever feels present and bring buried hopes and fears into awareness can be the start. As we set out on a journey of healing, we can start to unpick the threads that make up the tapestry of where we are today. There is no right or wrong - only what is or isn’t working in our lives. Feeling supported to reconnect with our true values, rather than getting lost in opinions, beliefs and recriminations can begin to refresh the soul and give the mind a little less power to control us with its tricks. Miriam Unsworth