Friday, July 2, 2010

The Hunger of Addiction

Last week I suggested that often at the core of one’s hunger, there is a desire to be loved, accepted and validated; to be respected and seen as worthy. I also suggested that the hunger is often hidden by defensive behaviours, ones that seek, albeit in a dysfunctional way, to protect us. For example, one common defence against feeling one’s emotional hunger is, ironically, to overeat. We stuff ourselves with food to prevent us from experiencing our truth. In fact, any addiction is useful in distracting us in that way. Addiction may include work, internet surfing, anorexia (the addiction of food avoidance), sex, drugs, alcohol, exercise, shopping, reading and obsessive thoughts—anything that takes us away from the truth of what we need to feel. Another reason to distract our self from feeling this hunger is that there may be a part of us that actually believes we don’t deserve to have this hunger satiated. We may say we are unworthy and act as such but very few, if any, want to believe it is true. So addictions work in two ways: they try to feed the hunger (with the wrong food) and they also distract us from the belief that we don’t deserve to be emotionally fed in the first place.

To restate this, our core needs, as suggested above, include love, validation, safety, and acceptance. The reason we hunger for these is because some where along the way, whether through neglect, abuse or inadequate parenting, we didn’t get sufficiently “fed”. And, because we weren’t given this support, we not only judged ourselves to be unworthy of it but we did not learn how to self validate; to love and have self respect. Good role modeling, external validation and functional care teaches us how to do these things. As we could not find this support within our caregivers and hence, ourselves, we concluded that they must be outside ourselves. We look to get these intrinsic needs met through work, our partners, our careers, drugs, sex, food, and exercise to name a few. The search for these foundational needs is a driving force; there is innate knowledge that we cannot survive without them but also a false knowledge that they must be found in the external world. The result is an insatiable appetite for love and acceptance that is never fulfilled, and the need for work, drugs, food, sex, internet, etc, becomes all consuming but never enough. This is addiction.

Addictions, then, take us away from a valid internal search and also provide for a distraction. Addictions deceive us in to believing we can be fulfilled by them and they also provide an escape: to not feel or be in one’s body. Addictions, therefore, take us away from our emotional hunger.

What can we do?

First, of all, name the addiction. Ask yourself if there is anything in your life that you feel compelled to do and, more importantly, feel uneasy if obstructed from doing it? Do you need to check your email regularly? How do you feel if you cannot do that? Do you need that chocolate or glass of wine at the end of the day? Do you have a sense of uneasiness if you don’t get it? What happens when you don’t get to go for your run or kickboxing class? How do you feel if you don’t get to read your book at night, have sex or bring your work home with you? These are all normal and common activities: the question is not if and when you do them but how it feels if you cannot do them? Are you dependent on them for your sense of wellbeing? And, a note here about addictions such as exercise—a hard one to discern due to societal approval and the well-documented positive effects. I am not talking about feeling lethargic without your exercise, I am talking about an internal tension that, at its height, feels like an internal time bomb, a sense of doom, fear or madness.

When you identify your addiction, ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do it. Notice how that feels inside even just to ask it. Then keep asking questions.

For example:

Q: What if you don’t check your email today?
A: I will get behind in work.
Q: But today is Saturday…
A: I don’t want to be bogged down with all these emails on Monday
Q: What happens if you get bogged down?
A: I wont finish my work
Q: What if you don’t finish your work?
A: It wont look good
Q: What if it doesn’t look good?
A: People will think I don’t know how to do my job
Q: And then?
A: I will lose my job … lose my identity … lose my house, car …. I would be nothing.

Look at the final result: I would be nothing if I don’t check my email today. Ask yourself if this is rational. If not, then sit with the tension of not looking at your email and see what happens internally. This is the most difficult part of working through our addictions… the discomfort. It can be a physical tension, like the withdraw from heroin; or an emotional one, like the withdraw from working but both will still, at times, feel unbearable.

I guarantee that the tension, if allowed just to be, will eventually decrease. Some of you will need the support of a good therapist through this but when the tension decreases, the true hunger will reveal itself. Perhaps the need to exercise is a distraction from feeling lonely or not loved. Maybe the need to work overtime hides your hunger for safety, distancing you from intimate relationships. It takes time and courage to name the hunger behind the addiction and more so to feed it with what it actually needs. But like the small tortoise in the Bantu tale (June 18) who, despite all the odds against her, travelled though the dark jungle to find the name of her hunger you, too, will find abundance if you undertake the journey. The abundance to be found is our only true wealth: a love and acceptance and trust in self.

Codependence underlies all addictions. It is the need to look outside of our self to find fulfillment in life. The journey of recovery begins when we start to look within.

No comments:

Post a Comment