Letting go of addiction
Addiction as the desire for a relief
What keeps a lot of us stuck in behaviours and feelings that are destructive for us is that we feel we are 'bad', 'stupid', 'not good-enough' or 'crazy' and that is why we are in these situations. If we were to realise that we are not just 'stupid' or want to intentionally harm ourselves but we actually have a positive intention, we would be able to accept and understand what is happening for us. From this place of enhanced awareness over our situation we can move forward towards replacing any addictions that no longer serve us with other more constructive ways of being and expressing. It is important therefore here to recognise that even addictions have a positive intention, the seeking of relief from negative feelings is often the main motivation behind engaging with addictive behaviours.
While addiction is often an attempt for relief and feeling momentarily better when struggling with an overwhelmingly negative emotion, the result of addiction is not well-being. The consequences of addictions are usually far from health, vitality, fulfilment, balance and happiness. Addiction may serve as a momentary relief but it leaves the person in a worst state after the addictive habit has taken place. In contrast, if the person engages with a more constructive habit, they will feel renewed and more balanced afterwards.
For example, when a client of mine was stressed or frustrated she used to smoke in order to relieve her intense anxiety, and then she momentarily felt less anxious, nervous and frustrated. However, the positive effect of smoking wears off and leaves the body more unbalanced and depleted of vitality than it was before. The client was not aware of this and in order to sustain the positive feeling she used to engage in chain smoking only to find herself left with significant lack of energy, and feelings of being stuck and frustrated. This client managed to replace her smoking addiction with meditation and positive visualisations that helped her reduce and control her anxiety and frustration as well as feel more revitalised. It is important to note that the change between the client's chain smoking and not smoking at all was a gradual process. Her journey started with slowly reducing cigarettes and gradually adding meditations and visualizations at the same time. A deep analysis and exploration of her difficult emotions was also taking place during our work together.
Solving the deeper issue behind the addiction
It is of great significance to note that addiction is the effect of a deeper issue and is often serving as a way of solving the initial issue although it depletes the energy instead of nourishing the individual who engages in it. The reason for the addiction is often an emotional imbalance, an emotional trauma that has occurred earlier in the life of the addicted person. Unless we get to the root of this emotional imbalance even if we manage to stop one addiction another one is highly possible to come up.
For example, a client of mine who was addicted to one night stands and dating with men that where dismissive and abusive always felt a relief when she was going out with them and used to feel very uplifted just before and during the date. However, after the date she used to feel very depleted, lonely, empty, worthless and sad. These feelings were only too familiar to her. This is how she often felt and these feelings where actually the ones she was trying to relieve through these series of dating and one night stands. Through exploration of her feelings and uncovering the roots of these feelings in past trauma she was able to release them and the letting go of the addiction followed. The client uncovered that she had been neglected, dismissed and verbally abused by her father and this deep emotional trauma was suppressed and needed to come up to the surface, be spoken about, understood and accepted. Through this journey that required courage, the letting go of this addiction took place.
Identifying the core beliefs behind the addiction
The traumatic experiences of abandonment or most often emotional abandonment, not validation of emotions and not learning how to express emotions can lead those of us who experience addictions have core beliefs such as 'I am worthless', 'I am unlovable', 'I am a disappointment', ' I am a failure', 'I am powerless', 'I am helpless' , 'I am damaged', 'There is something wrong with me', 'I am invisible'.
These core beliefs often come up in the therapeutic journey of those of us who struggle with addiction, but they will also be very unique and come up differently for each individual.
Taking responsibility and being truthful about the addiction
Recognising our addictive habits, being truthful in terms of how much harm they are causing us and understanding that they keep us stuck in our life, are the basic elements that are needed for us to decide to let go of our addictions. However, it is very important not to judge ourselves and feel guilty. It will come up, but an attitude of ownership and not self-blame needs to be facilitated for this journey. Self-blame cultivates all the feelings that we are trying to alleviate via the addiction. Ownership of our life helps us feel more empowered to move towards the direction we want to go and let go of addiction.
We need to be clear if we are motivated to let go of this addiction. Then if we decide to let it go and create change, we need support and a planned course of action. The help of a therapist is usually needed. The support needed depends on the situation, the type of the addiction and how severe it is. This usually entails a process of letting go of the addiction and its underlying causes in order to reconnect with our well-being, vitality and engagement with life.
Finding meaning beyond the addiction
Those of us who are addicted often lack a sense of purpose in life, we do not have a sense of community, a sense of duty, involvement in goals, deep care for people close to us, or a hobby or career that we are passionate about. We also may be lacking a sense of enjoying and fully embracing other more constructive pleasures in life.
Each person needs to explore their own values and beliefs and choose their own meaning that can sustain them from inside and allow them to let go of the addiction.
Finding a goal or even life purpose that we are passionate about and also a few constructive pleasurable activities can really help in letting go of addictions. The help of a therapist will often be needed if our minds and hearts are clouded.
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Konstandina Polychronopoulou is Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Psychologist and Mindfulness Facilitator. She is committed to healing, well-being, happiness, and balance. Konstandina is passionate about assisting her clients in creating their desired life. Konstandina specialises in relationship issues, anxiety, depression and body image issues.