Wow, do we have a lot of addictions in our lives. And man, do we like to attach shame to those addictions. Like, whoa.
I’m going to tell you a secret. Here’s what an addiction truly is: an unmet need. That’s it. Fin.
Biologically, chemically, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally (and probably in more than one category at the same time): An UnMet Need. (I included capital letters that time in case it helped you see it better.)
So, let’s extrapolate and get a little science-y for a sec.
If your mind/body is asking for something that is an actual NEED, what amount of ignoring, cajoling, pressuring, shaming and trying-to-talk-you-out-of-it time do you think it takes before the addiction goes away? To help you, I’ve come up with this handy formula. Feel free to use it.
ADDICTION + COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME = IMMEDIATE OR EVENTUAL RELAPSE (+ additional shame, remorse, guilt)
This is not a war, friends. You are not in a fight with your Self. You are a complex human with many body systems running concurrently and inter-dependently and some are working better than others. And the ones that aren’t working so well are creating some challenges for you to look at, work with and love into working order.
Here’s another handy formula for your use:
ADDICTION + SELF LOVE AND SELF SUPPORT = REAL & LASTING CHANGE
Maybe you have historically been an over-eater and you can’t seem to get full so you try diet after diet and every time you look in the mirror you hate the way you look and you tell yourself what a terrible job you’re doing and your brain won’t stop thinking about mac-n-cheese (BREATH) so you finally give in because YOU JUST CAN’T HELP YOURSELF and the entire time you’re fixing it you remind yourself how you shouldn’t be doing it and the entire time you’re eating it you tell yourself what an idiot you are and how you’ll never be good at dieting (BREATH) and you’ll always be fat and you have no self-control and WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU ANYWAY and then you throw the empty box away, hiding it under the top layer of trash in the bin because what if someone came over and saw it or maybe it’s just to hide it from yourself and your eyes having to look at it (BREATH) and then you go to bed defeated but tell yourself that you’ll do better tomorrow and remind yourself that it will be a fight but YOU WILL WIN. Maybe. Maybe not but you’ll try.
I’ve done that.
Maybe you’ve historically been someone that has taken drugs or drank alcohol and maybe you do it “just for fun” and recreationally sounds ok but then you tell yourself you’re just going to do it on the weekend but really it ends up being every day and then it’s every day around 5pm and then 3pm and then lunch (BREATH) and you start telling yourself that it’s fine because EVERYONE HAS THEIR THING and this is not that bad I mean you aren’t killing anyone, right, and you count on your co-workers or your neighbors to drink with you because otherwise you’d be doing it alone (BREATH) and then look, I guess you are really alone most of the time and you start to get the shakes when you don’t drink early enough or maybe you nail-bite your way through the day patting yourself on the back that you DIDN’T drink until after 6pm (BREATH) but when you start, you only mean to have just one beer or one glass of wine but before you know it, it’s been a six-pack and who cares because it’s NOT EVEN WORTH IT if you don’t get your money’s worth and the next thing you know you’re waking up the next morning and you don’t remember most of the prior night (BREATH) but you brush it off because doesn’t everyone forget some stuff sometimes or maybe you do remember but you wish you didn’t and then you drag yourself to work and then it’s lunch and someone says something that ticks you off and you can’t wait to have a drink, but just one.
I’ve done that, too.
Or maybe you watch TV all night instead of thinking any actual thoughts because it’s too hard to think. Or you take your anger out on your family because it’s easier than dealing with your feelings and you don’t know what those feelings are, anyway. Or maybe you smoke. Or…or…or.
Here’s what happens when you make a habit of something: You say or do or think or feel it again and again and the neural pathway groove associated with that behavior gets stronger and stronger. Trying to break out of that groove has to be a thought-CONSCIOUS effort. No amount of telling yourself how dumb you are or that you SHOULD be different will change it. The only way to change it is to make a new habit, forge a new groove, and repeat it over and over. The only way to really change it is to love yourself and throw out the shame so it stops reinforcing the thing you want to change.
Reinforce the good. Meditate on the change. Tell your Self that you are doing a great job changing a little more every day. Learn to make different choices on purpose and love that you’re doing that. And educate yourself on what’s happening physically that is giving you some benefit from the undesired behavior.
Here’s what that might look like: You wake up and you’re hungover and you feel like crappy poo poo. You look in the mirror and catch yourself telling your Self that you are a no good so-and-so. You quickly change it to, “I made a choice last night that today has made me feel like crappy poo-poo. Today I’m going to try and make a different choice because I don’t like feeling like crappy poo poo when I wake up.” And you use only non-judgmental and non-shaming language with yourself.
Then you invite yourself to eat some high-protein breakfast foods along with some real fats for brain function repair, all the while reminding yourself that the foods are going to go in your body and start healing things that could use support.
Then you’re going to grab an oil and spend a few minutes with your Self in meditation and figure out what you’d like your Self to know today. Maybe a good one would be, “I’m smart and getting happier and healthier every day. I choose to use my thoughts, words and intentions for my highest good. I’m learning to love myself more and more.” And then you write it down on a little piece of paper or on a note on your cell phone so you can periodically pull it out and read it and remind yourself how great you’re doing.
Your foundation for the day is love and acceptance and positive energy instead of being weighed down by the non-positive that only brings more non-positivity to it.
Then, on your lunch break, you decide to take on an uncomfortable feeling that comes your way. You grab a low-sugar, high-protein lunch to support your system and head to the park or wherever makes you feel good and you sit by yourself and set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes and let that feeling come to you. And it feels hard for a minute and a little overwhelming or maybe it feels like you got punched in the gut but you do it anyway because it’s how you’re learning to love yourself. And then the alarm goes off after 10 minutes and you put that feeling back away and tell yourself that you’ll get back to it tomorrow. You make a date with yourself for lunch tomorrow, same time, same place.
And as it gets close to dinner time and that familiar feeling of needing a drink starts to hit you and your body starts telling you in not so many words that you’d REALLY LIKE A DRINK TONIGHT, you pat your Self on the knee and tell your Self that tonight, for just one night, you’re going to do something different. And you check the Body Systems charts and muscle test to find out what system is asking for love and support and you decide it’s probably your blood sugar and liver so you drink some lemon water and check the food lists and then go to the grocery store and stock up on foods that support liver function and steady your blood sugar. And then you head to a movie or call your mom or paint your toe nails or whittle a wooden whale or work out or whatever is NOT drinking. Just for one night. You can do this just for one night.
And then you do that again the next day. And the next. And on that future day, if you make a choice to drink or use, you do it without the desperation of the person who is failing. You do it because you’ve weighed the options and decided it’s what you really, really want to do. You look at it head on. You don’t lie to yourself. You do it with intention and leave the shame and dejected grief out of it. And when you wake up in the morning, feeling like crappy poo poo, you go back to the beginning and start over, but it’s not really the beginning, is it? Because you’ve had some stretch of days making different choices and that new groove is being placed in your brain and you know it’s possible to make new choices and that you’re not a bad person and that you don’t fail at everything, all the time, forever. You can choose to support and love your body. And it’s less about willpower and more about choices.
There are people that will disagree with me on this. They will say that a person that drinks too much is an alcoholic and that they are powerless over alcohol and they will say it about themselves over and over and over, that they are powerless, forever, and that they are labeled an Alcoholic forever.
But I believe that an “alcoholic” is a person with an unmet need in their body. Serotonin. Endorphins. Poor choices over and over resulting in emotional baggage too heavy to lift. And because they are lacking important chemicals in the brain and in the gut, their body will yell, scream and finally blind-side them into drinking enough to satiate the body and flood the brain with those endorphins and as long as they continue to have that imbalance, their body will demand it. And if they can meet that need? The NEED to drink subsides physically and we can work on the emotional aftermath until it’s a non-issue.
I should clarify that I believe AA does a lot of people a lot of good. It keeps them from further destroying their lives for long stretches at a time. It opens up a path for self discovery and accountability. It helps them through the “struggle” of staying sober. I’m suggesting there is a way to leave the struggle behind at some point. Change the “fight” into meeting your needs. Stop calling yourself by the name of a disease. Make room for change. Create a space for you to be and feel differently. Heal your mind/body, don’t fight against it by just targeting a symptom – drinking. If you connect with AA, by all means, go there. There is no shame in that. It’s a great program and if it speaks to you, do that thing. I have. And then if you ever feel ready, start on healing your gut and do emotional work.
If you can’t deal with your life, if you are constantly just on the brink of emotional disaster and you JUST CAN’T DEAL, you are low on endorphins. Let’s get science-y.
Endorphins, our neurotransmitters, come in at least 20 different flavors. Our endorphins have a very important job and that is to pass information back up and back down the body. They are made in our glands, spinal cord, in our brain and nervous system. They are produced in response to a stimuli, like fear, stress and pain. They can block pain and control emotions when they interact with receptors in the brain. They can prompt or suppress further signaling of other nearby neurons.
However, endorphins are also responsible for our feelings of pleasure, which is how we know when we’ve had enough to eat, that we like sex, that we enjoy any activity and they encourage us to go after that pleasure again and again. Most of this happens in our highly emotional Limbic System, which is just lousy with opiate receptors and if everything is working correctly, you have feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
So, the lack of endorphins is where we run into an issue. If you have OCD and can’t stop turning the light off and on or keep washing your hands over and over, the message that you are satisfied with a job well done is missing and you will continue to do that thing until you get the mental cue.
If you self-harm and you do it because it makes you feel better? You’re missing endorphins. When you injure yourself, it causes a rush of endorphins to the Limbic System and actually does feel good, like euphoria.
If you frequently feel rage or intense frustration that makes you cry over things that seem not to really be that big a deal, your endorphins are low and your body is trying to compensate by sending you a rush of them over the smaller things instead of waiting for something that is actually in the Fight or Flight category. This depletes you further and creates a cycle of not having enough on a continual basis.
The answer to all of these scenarios is to help your body create more endorphins and have them at the ready with a hypothalamus that knows how to read your current situation accurately.
So what are the ways you can increase your endorphins? Well, foods, first of all. You may find yourself craving comfort foods like crazy and not understand why. Well, it’s because eating comfort foods like carbohydrates with melted cheese actually creates that endorphin reaction and hits your opiate centers in the brain. And, my friend, that feels good. Sadly, it comes with some downsides like a sluggish after-feeling hangover, blood sugar instability, foggy brain and acting like a stimulant for more weight gain. Oh, delicious, delectable, comforting, body-altering, system-slamming, damage-causing mac-n-cheese.
Instead, head it off at the pass by increasing your proteins and good, whole fats. Eating Paleo would be a good thing during this time. Eat a little dark chocolate and some raw, soaked nuts. Or maybe some spicy foods like peppers, if your stomach has healed enough to accommodate that safely. If you just can’t get the cravings to quit, opt for a baked potato and slather it with organic butter from grass-fed cows. That’s a slower digesting starchy sugar with a few trace nutrients and a whole fat, which is really what your body needs. You could also try taking a glutamine supplement to give your brain the message that everything is ok.
Inhaling essential oils or other awesome smells that hit the Limbic System would help. Peppermint, lavender, wild orange and pretty much any other scent you love is going to stimulate that feel-good feeling.
Moving your body and oxygenating your blood is vital to you getting your endorphins regulated. Walk or swim or do yoga or simply sit and breathe deeply for 5 minutes, but do something every day.
Acupuncture, acupressure and massage all help stimulate endorphins. You could also practice smiling at yourself in the mirror.
Start taking or increase your B and C vitamins. Add in or increase your mineral supplements, particularly potassium and selenium. Be proactive.
But, mostly, just be kind and patient with yourself. This is a process.
Crave Something Good
Massage your hands, feet and ears when a craving hits. Cross-reference from the Food Cravings chart with the Body Systems diagrams and the Reflexology maps to target specific organs, decrease cravings and increase endorphins and blood flow to those areas. Add an essential oil to create a deeper healing moment.