Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Addiction and the Hole Whole

 The Black Hole of Addiction!


     I want to talk a little bit about replacement technique today. After years of working with people who were addicted to a variety of behaviors and substances it became increasingly clear that taking an addiction process and terminating it in ones life left an enormous "hole". I  noticed this as an important part of the recovery process. Most people who were unsuccessful did not, or were unable to, replace their addiction with something lasting or they considered themselves totally "cured" after initial stabilization and proceeded to move away from their vision of an abstinent life. As a result they did not maintain the kind of lifestyle that would support and ongoing recovery and lapsed.  

     The problem as I understand it was that removing an addiction would leave a huge Hole in our everyday life. It makes sense because taking something out of our lives creates a vacuum in our behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual  existence. Most of the time it's a vacuum in direct purportion to the severity of the addiction. Awareness of the hole and it's impact would drive people back into addiction if nothing was done to substitute what was missing. The hole would produce feelings of emptyness, loss, feelings of sadness and depression, confusion, anger, resentment, longing, and a firece need for "something' that was undefinable. All the things that an "addiction" seemed to solve. People can and would last a long time feeling the hole at different times. Sooner or later the hole would drag them back in and lapse or relapse would occur.

     Some "professionals" and supporters seem to think that doing something like "going to meetings" or developing a "hobby" are things that will "fill" the hole. To some degree they are right. Particulary when people attend meetings regularly and become active members of a support system. Plus it is helpful to be applying themselves to the work of the process of the twelve steps. Where the mistake is made is underestimating the intense experience of addiction and how totally numbing the effects addiction has on everyday life. Addiction is with us every single moment of every day. Our addiction insinuates itself into our lives in ways we don't ever see until the addiction is diminished or gone and even then the impact may not be discernable until years later. Then we start to notice the thousands of ways we "miss" the addiction. What we do, what we say, our thoughts, daily routines, and our life direction has been contaminated by our addiction. So the idea of using a single activity to fill the whole is good but usually is not enough unless we turn the replacement into another addiction. This does happen and many times becomes another ongoing addiction that attacks the quality of a persons life. 

     So what do we do?
  1. Become aware that this is happening. Don't write off or ignore feelings and thoughts. Trying to ignore or drive through feelings and thoughts is akin to the behaviors that enabled our addiction to begin with.
  2. Accept that we will need to make a lot of changes in our lives. Just about everything needs to be examined and then changed or replaced. Our relationships, activities, thinking, attitude, ego, what we like or dislike, finances, food, exercise, and spirituality all needs to be examined. Commitment to this is crucial. Abstinence comes with lots of hard work and commitment. 
  3. Fear and Anxiety will be part of the process. We are taking on a huge life change here. If you are not feeling some anxiety and fear then it's probably not happening. We don't fill the hole in our hearts without some fear. We are leaving the "safety" of addiction and going out into new territories. 
  4. Keep a journal or use a recording to track what's going on in your daily life. People sometimes ask what good is journaling or recording ourselves going to be? After all we can all remember whats happening with us everyday so what's the problem? Recording our responses to daily life cuts through one of addictions greatest strengths. DENIAL. Addiction Ego will selectively use the days events against you. It will blindside you if you are not practicing awareness. Writing or recording as close to the event as possible cuts back on "selective memory' and ego centric contamination. If you try this for a month you will be surprized at what you are able to see. 
  5. Develop and grow an awareness practice. I really encourage people to do this. There are many paths and opportunities to start an "awareness" practice. Doing so will enrich your ability to see what is instead of wanting to see what we believe. Addiction "does a number" on our ability to see clearly and seeing clearly is what makes life valuable. What we are seeking in an awareness practice is to develop some clarity in our perception of life. 
  6. Engage in this process of recovery with others. We need to take ourselves out of the vacuum that we have been living in. In order to accomplish this we need others who are aware of our needs and directions. This can be intimidating but seeking out others who can support us when we are making changes can be crucial to success. Can we make changes without others for support? Of course we can. But having the support can accelerate our evolution, keep us from falling during vulnerable moments, and we get to help others evolve in their own lives. Others presence offers us a valuable mirror, we can look at ourselves from some one else's perspective. If we see this clearly it can be a great tool. 
     We are not in essence "getting rid" of something in our lives by leaving an addiction behind. What we are doing is opening up "space" to grow. We open up space for new experiences and perspectives. 

     I welcome any input, ideas and suggestion. 

Bryan S. Wagner