How to deal with your life – everyday – without using comforters.
I have an addictive personality, and it expresses itself in many different ways.
But despite which addictions I have, the reason I crave in the first place all boils down to:
- the fact that I want to be comforted.
- I don’t want to feel vulnerable or exposed.
- I am afraid.
And these are feelings that happen every day, every week.
So it irks me very much when most addiction writing out there always focuses on how to stop the addiction, how to cope with withdrawal and how to deal with cravings.
There is more, much more to it than this.
I’m not saying that these models and mechanisms aren’t important. They truly are invaluable. But they are only a part of the picture.
Here’s a simplified graphic of the typical response anyone would get for addictions such as smoking, emotional eating or overuse of media (tv, internet, gaming).
The coping mechanisms in this model are solely to do with experiencing cravings.
So the majority of advice out there is how to self soothe during a craving. Basically saying you need to ride it out, choose another option and hope for the best.
The kind of things you can do to ride out the craving involve going for a walk, taking a bubble bath, talking to a friend or writing in a journal. All very well and good.
But the key thing missing from this picture is:
One of the main reasons we pick up a crutch in the first instance is because we are finding something difficult to deal with.
This is huge. Because for every individual out there, there are different responses to various challenges.
A tiny example of the everyday challenges I’m talking about are:
- Living without meaning or purpose
- Constantly feeling rejected
- Feeling lonely or alone
- Feeling an acute sense of one’s own mortality
- Shame and self-loathing
- Fear of the unknown
And they EXPRESS themselves through various difficulties
- Unable to speak on the phone
- Worry and catastrophizing
- Social panic
- Anxiety: Feeling that any moment of silence – of not being distracted – will bring all the above challenges to the fore and therefore not being able to cope with them, or life
- IBS, headaches, twitches or other bodily responses to anxiety
- Wanting comfort more often than not because of feeling raw and exposed – a constant feeling of seeking
So when an individual feels all the above deep challenges, and how those challenges express themselves through worry and anxiety – it is futile to only address coping with withdrawal symptoms from the drug of choice.
The drug of choice is consumed in a bid to comfort ourselves. A sort of emotional comforter to wrap ourselves in lest we become overwhelmed by being unable to cope with all of the above. When we deal with only coping with withdrawal, we don’t learn to cope with life.
Which is why addicts can often be addicted to many things at once. Or if one thing is taken away, it is replaced by another.
It is vital to address the core reasons we seek comfort.
The holistic approach looks more like this:
Naturally, there comes a point when coping with life – and coping with not taking a drug – start to look the same.
But sometimes that faint line between life vs drug becomes invisible.
Here’s a scenario:
Every day, after work, Terra has a cup of tea and chocolate.
So first we can look at practical reasons to this action – it’s because she’s hungry and hasn’t eaten since midday.
Second of all, we could say that it’s a habitual response to the cue of coming home from work.
Going deeper we might suggest that work was stressful, so in a bid to self-soothe, a warm drink and a comforting food is eaten.
But taking it further, this action might stem from Terra’s inability to trust herself. She feels a bit worthless, often saying “What’s the point?” or “Who cares?” In the face of self-distrust, what harm is a bit of chocolate?
Nutritional – only the food would be addressed, and Terra would be encouraged to swap chocolate for a different snack, maybe avocado on oatcakes or raw crudites.
Distraction – after coming home from work, a distraction would be to not go straight to the kitchen but stay outside for a bit longer, or go to bedroom and change clothes first rather than going to the fridge.
Psychological – here the stress would be discussed. Perhaps journal writing, or even therapy to help with dealing with stress.
Now all of these ways of changing bad habits or addictive tendencies are important. And I believe that stepping into the cycle at any one of these points would allow someone to get a bit further into their understanding of themselves, especially therapy. But the process stops, or goes backwards if we don’t allow ourselves to go in one level deeper. And that level is:
Self – Here is the soil in which every aspect of our life takes root. If we don’t tend this soil, and understand it, they we will grow as many weeds as we do blossoming flowers.
So what is this level called Self?
This is our relationship to ourselves, our beliefs about who we are. Our values on our self-worth and our belief in our ability to deal with fear and actual fears.
If you don’t understand anything at this level, then it doesn’t matter how often you much cucumber instead of chocolate – you are always going to feel empty and seek something else.
What I believe most of us are seeking is the belief that we are safe. Because there’s nothing more frightening to believe that if something bad happens, and our safety is challenged – that we will die because of it.
This deep seated, age old fear mirrors itself in everyday life.
We can’t cope with stress – proof that deep down we can’t survive, full stop.
We can’t handle other people – a reflection of being deeply frightened deep down in our bones.
THE CORE REASON WE SEEK COMFORT IS BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID WE CAN’T SURVIVE OUR FEARS – AND THAT WE ARE NOT SAFE.
It’s no wonder then, that life triggers a host of fear responses, and it is logical that we would seek out comforting behaviours such as keeping very busy at work, eating a lot, exercising too much or smoking all day.
How can we change these beliefs?
It is key, that you understand and allow yourself to truly see that you are afraid. Once you accept that, then you can go forwards in many different directions.
Once you accept yourself at your deepest level, then you can see how it bubbles up to the surface in every aspect of your life.
We have to be compassionate towards these fears. You can try to understand your personal reasons for being afraid deep down, or maybe just accept that it’s part of the (mortal) human condition. We may have been programmed this way from childhood, or perhaps we’ve learned to deal with life this way. I think it can be helpful to explore the why’s of our actions. It only gets you so far – we have to be able to learn to live and thrive with our modes of being.
In bringing acceptance and compassion to yourself at this base level, then your attitude towards your everyday mishaps and your personal misgivings starts to change.
We must be able to see that when we seek comfort it’s because we don’t believe we can deal or cope.
And for many years we haven’t learned how to deal. And from here on out, the quality of your addiction strategy has to change.
We must always choose what we are doing. Never say that you “can’t quit”, or you “have to have another one.” You don’t have to do anything, and you can do anything.
Always choose, like an adult.
This has the overarching sense that you are looking out for you and allowing yourself choice every day. And that you are handling responsibility.
So, choose that slice of cake if you accept what it brings to you and your body.
Or choose to go without acting on your impulse and choose to feel discomfort and essentially pain, in the belief that you will eventually be able to handle it.
This is very similar to a standard model of addiction coping – but when it is partnered with the holistic approach of understanding where impulses come from, and seeing their roots in fear, then you are able to respond with a different quality.
So having a bath isn’t just to get rid of an annoying craving, but it is because you believe that you are worth trusting, and that you are putting yourself out there to feel discomfort and choosing that you are good enough to treat differently. You want to trust yourself, so you are giving yourself the opportunity to try something different – even as small as taking a bath instead of eating more cake.
Will this cure my addiction?
This is very important to understand: Whether we have addictions or not – we will always have deep seated beliefs about ourselves. If you have expressed those beliefs through additively seeking comfort, you will probably always deal with two things: self-belief at your core PLUS addictive desire. But you can manage you addictive desire, so that it becomes very small and almost insignificant in your life – and with practice, compassion and acceptance – we can all learn to feel those bubbles of fear that come up in our everyday life – and learn to say “I’m okay. I can handle it.”
And saying to yourself, “I’m okay, I can handle it” is one technique of facing those deep currents of fear that influence our life. Changing the scripts written into our bones may never happen completely, but it can happen to a very healthy extent that doesn’t infringe on your life. Dealing with how it disrupts your life in one thing, accepting (and therefor dealing) that they exist in the first place is another.
From here on out give yourself the chance to experience some discomfort and fear, and see that it doesn’t harm you. Prove to yourself everyday that you can cope with small moments of discomfort. And don’t worry if you can’t – I personally find it very challenging. If you do too, give yourself a helping hand and there’s no need to feel ashamed. Support groups, counselling, therapy or anything else that may work can really help.
Good luck on your journey to a life without crutches. Some days you will deal, and some you won’t. But don’t give up on yourself. You are worthy of your own good enough belief in yourself!