By Laurie Cousins
A deep pattern of pain and suffering for me has been second guessing myself — my feelings, perceptions, and body. In my early years of growing up, my family was in the throws of untreated alcoholism, codependency, trauma and all the stress that comes along with this kind of dysfunction. Of course, like any child, I did not have the capacity to hold what I was experiencing in a healthy and stable way. In an attempt to make myself feel better and protect myself from pain, I began to seek behaviors that I thought could help me cope. We now know through Science and Psychology, that we are hard-wired to survive and part of that design used can be to build coping strategies and defense mechanisms.
My first love as a kid was sugar and wow, it was a “sweet” relationship for a long time. But the older I got, the more I felt like there was a hole inside of me that I couldn’t quite fill and this lead to experimenting with other things, like smoking, dieting, shopping, using substances and alcohol, and technology. At first they really worked for a while. I felt like I had some type of control over my mental, emotional, and physical experiences. But eventually, each one was like a romantic relationship that became “real” and real destructive. I was constantly chasing something to be the answer to my problems, but in the long run ended up making more problems for myself and others.
These behaviors started out as good intentions, trying to soothe my discomfort and unease, but my mind became more obsessive and unkind, my emotions were like a scary roller coaster that I wasn’t sure I would survive, and I felt like I couldn’t be or feel comfortable in my own skin. I began to feel embarrassed and guilty for not being able to control myself, which led to feelings of shame because I thought I was the only one who suffered in this way. Even when I did have times of reprieve from a compulsive habit, there was always another one to take its place and I would think, “I can’t believe I am here again.” This is the delusional, suffering loop of addiction and addictive behaviors. If you identify with any of this, know you are not alone and there is hope!
Recovering from destructive behaviors is a process that involves replacing old harmful patterns with new healthy ones. But first we have to become aware of our patterns, when we get triggered, and discover what need is actually underneath the old craving, and meet it in a way that can be truly satisfied. This is where Mindfulness is key!
We begin to learn how to check in (versus checking out), and investigate our experiences from a place of curiosity, kindness, and acceptance. This helps us to become less identified and unhook from the habit loop, allowing more space to hold what is present, and increasing our capacity to tolerate what is unpleasant; especially because we know it will pass. Through the practice of compassion, we stop turning on ourselves and begin to turn toward ourselves with kindness and support, like a caring friend would when we are having a difficult time. Whatever we practice regularly is strengthened, and with time, we no longer have to second guess ourselves and can live from a place of joyful authenticity, inner wisdom, and resiliency.
Addiction can be a very isolating experience and many of us need extra help. My many years of recovery would not be possible without a lot of support, professional help, and sense of connection from several communities. In addition to this series, I recommend creating some type of support system. We do not have do any of this alone, nor are we meant to.