WHY DO WE CLING TO OUR ADDICTIONS?
Addictions often begin as a pursuit of pleasure to numb the discomfort of painful losses.
Addictions are not just diversions of choice. We see them as lifeboats necessary for our survival. Addictions give us something we believe we must have in order to live. They provide predictable relief and power in an unpredictable and painful world.
THE PURSUIT OF RELIEF.
Alcoholism drowns sorrow. Drug addiction turns lows to highs. Compulsive overeating fills our emptiness. Obsessive work replaces insecurities with a sense of accomplishment. Sexual addiction mimics adventure and intimacy.
Addictions often begin as a pursuit of pleasure to numb the discomfort of painful losses. But we soon discover that addictions multiply the pain. In time, it becomes worse than the pain we were trying to relieve. Now we find ourselves needing relief not only from our inescapable losses but also from the shame of our own foolishness. We feel shame for trusting in addictive behavior that made our problem worse.
Shame, however, is also a deceiver. In the beginning, pleasure holds us in the addiction. In time, shame has the same effect. In their own ways, both are deceptively effective pain relievers. Pleasure is a filler; shame is a killer. Pleasure is a distracter; shame is an assassin. Both attach to our addictions. Both combine with our obsessions to numb our hearts not only to the harm we are doing to others but also to our own longing for love and relationship.
Ironically, shame ends up being even more useful than pleasure in providing relief from our pain. Shame causes us to feel unworthy to give and receive love. Shame deadens our longings for relationship. Shame becomes a powerful pain killer not merely by lessening our pain but by deadening our hearts until we feel nothing at all.
When our hearts are deadened, we don't hurt. We don't long to give and receive love. Neither are we able to feel the harm we are doing to others. Yet using our addiction and its resulting shame to feel nothing seems preferable to bearing the sorrows of life.
THE PURSUIT OF POWER.
Addictions provide us with predictable moments we can count on, while giving us the illusion of control. While people and circumstances are beyond our control, our addictions deliver on their promise of comfort, pleasure, power, control--now. By refusing to eat, by purging what we have eaten, by using our work to attain recognition, by making another purchase, we feel power rather than helplessness.
Addictions are attractive because they appear to provide predictable doses of relief and power in the midst of pain and helplessness. But in reality they are a house of mirrors, promising us freedom and then trapping us with little hope of escape. The effect is always self-destructive bondage.
What we find out too late is that in exchange for relief and control, our addictions master us. Even though we tell ourselves we have everything under control, experience tells us otherwise. We'd quit if we could. But we have become a slave to our own desires. We want our addiction more than we want to quit. We believe we need and deserve the relief and the power our addiction provides.
At some point, we are forced to choose between our addiction and those who love us. We know what we desperately want. We don't want to lose those we love. But we don't know how we could survive without the "friend" that is destroying us. We feel trapped in an addictive cycle.
WHAT IS THE ADDICTIVE CYCLE?
As we lose more and more of ourselves to our addiction, our pleasure decreases. Moments of relief are replaced by lingering shame. We feel guilty for having a habit that is socially unacceptable. We are afraid of being discovered. In turn, we resolve to quit, or to make amends for our failures, hoping it will lessen our feelings of guilt and shame. But it never does. We may have temporarily swept our lives clean of the addiction and its unpleasant feelings, but nothing has replaced it. As a result, we are more acutely aware of our emptiness. Feelings of disillusionment and despair set in, and once again we begin to demand relief. Our demand for relief draws us back into the familiar arms of our habit.
This cycle is played out again and again with deepening levels of dissatisfaction, disillusionment, despair, and enslavement.