Living with addiction; practice makes permanent

How many of us have heard it said that practice makes perfect? When actually practice makes permanent, and if we practice the wrong things we become very good at doing them and so it is with addictive behaviours. Hours, days, weeks, months and years spent doing something, hone our felt need for it. We've been doing it for so long it becomes a habit and one that we think we need, otherwise what would become of us?

How many of us have asked ourselves the question:

"What do you think you're telling yourself to make you this way?"

Some of you may recognise the words of Albert Ellis in that quotation. It comes from his book:

"REBT: It works for me it could work for you too"

Ellis goes on to describe "musturbatory" feelings; the shoulds, oughts and musts of cognitive distortion. When we chastise ourselves for being less than we think we ought to be we're invoking introjects from long ago. Comments and judgements thrown at us by our caregivers, or peer group, can be taken into our belief system about ourselves and worn like blinkers that create a handicap that stops us from performing as well as we would otherwise be able to because our viewpoint is so narrow. We become blind to our possibilities but super sensitive to our defects.

Dropping these "musturbatory" beliefs is hard; it takes practice. It sounds so easy in theory and it's perfectly possible to mouth the words or echo the sentiment, intellectually, logically and rationally, but how easy is it to do? Truly and authentically, with true conviction?

Like all change a change of attitude towards oneself, or others, takes time to bed in, like a new cricket table or putting green, or a new lawn. Things take time to grow, to knit together and form a seamless whole. Until then there is a fracture between what one is attempting to cultivate and what is actually there in the present moment.

When working with clients I am careful to point out the need for practice to make permanent. I was listening to the radio in the car and a Prof. of psychology was talking about relaxation techniques he recommends to patients of his for stress caused by anxiety. Make no mistake he said, these techniques work but will feel ineffectual at first. Everything takes time to get used to, so the more you practice and get acquainted with these techniques the more you will get from them. Ultimately practice makes permanent, whilst the impatience of anxiety screams for instant gratification and hurries the sufferer through and away from anything that needs time to bed in, time to get accustomed to.

Additionally, the overly sensitive baulk at being denied. If we deny ourselves something it draws our attention to it, and as addictions are almost always fuelled by feelings of having been denied love, non-possessive warmth and unconditional acceptance why would we want to add to the litany of things denied to us by further denying ourselves? The reflex is to grant ourselves unlimited access to whatever we want and desire as restitution. It's our way of compensating ourselves for past injustices and hurts.

However, we can counter this by telling ourselves it's not about turning away from something bad but moving towards something healthier and more helpful to us; something that enhances our growth and happiness and feeds our self-esteem and self-worth. It's not about denial, it's about growth. This small, subtle shift in our internal, still, small voice within can have enormous repercussions. 

It's a minor adjustment that can render a major impact in turning towards growth, not retardation. The addict so often revels in shows of outer confidence their addiction momentarily grants as they stagger down the road of defiance and rebellion whilst all the time eroding their more keenly felt, deeply hidden self-esteem.

Self-acceptance leads to acceptance of others. And community, not exclusivity, fuels a life worth living. To know oneself means to enquire of oneself, means to reveal oneself. After all, we can't accept ourselves if we don't know who we are. And we can't know who we are until we show ourselves, and our addiction keeps us hidden from ourselves. Is it any wonder we don't know what's best for us if we haven't a clue as to who we are in the first place because all our early messages were that we weren't worth bothering with? Learning to love ourselves is a long and difficult journey but one that can be made with practice to make permanent, predominantly from ourselves to ourselves but as our acceptance and love of ourselves grows so will it shine through and touch those around us and we will then feel included in the collective and our need to self-medicate the pain felt from our isolation will fall away.

The idea that we need to turn away from something bad inculcates the notion that we ourselves are bad because we feel the pull and call of the kindred spirit of badness from outside because of its presence in us. Ridding ourselves of this notion takes repetition and practice. Tell ourselves that we're turning towards the light and the healthy because we can recognise goodness and worth in the outside world because that too is in us and renders far better results. It's a small shift but a giant leap when practiced with genuine belief and will cultivate a self-respecting growth within our souls/spirits/psyches. Instead of trying to kill our addiction we can learn to live with it without feeling the pull of its maniacal insistence, and calmness and serenity can soothe away our felt need for oblivion at the hands of our medicine of choice. Empower ourselves and we disempower our addiction, and practice will make permanent.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hove, East Sussex, BN3 5DQ
Written by Bradley Riddell, MBACP, BA, P.G.Dip
Hove, East Sussex, BN3 5DQ

Bradley Riddell is a counsellor in private practice in Brighton and Maidstone

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