As a child I would sometimes go to seaside towns where mum would give us kids coppers to play on the slot machines, the penny shoves. I loved the clatter when some fell of into our waiting hands. I didn’t pay attention to the people older than me, but I noticed and thought it strange that they should be playing in this kids place with such frowns on their faces.
Then, when I was older, in the 1980s there were posters about the dangers of heroin, before it was fashionably chic. Sunken, grey, skeletal with dead eyes and pin marks in purple arms, the addict seemed to be a different creature from me.
It wasn’t until later I saw that addicts also drank and smoked. I was confused, because by then, I drank and occasionally smoked and these drugs were so easily available. Sanctioned, taxed addiction. But not me, I like to be in control too much to ever lose myself to addiction.
Then, as life moved on, I began to see addicts also craved sugar, over-exercised, had sex compulsively, overachieved, worked too many hours, tidied up continuously, shopped without thinking, drove without destination, ate without feeling full, spent money without balancing the books. Addicts bought self-help books they wouldn’t action, had plastic surgery, scrolled, tapped, swiped, watched, liked. They kept busy, kept doing, kept reaching for the next thing and the next.
Some of which, is just like me. Oh, how hard it is to see our own compulsions especially when they are socially approved of, encouraged, sanctioned. Gabor Mate is one of the best writers on addiction, having worked with it therapeutically in Canada for years and carrying out research. He says instead of looking at the addiction and trying to treat it, we should look beneath to what the unmet need is, the pain it is trying to cover.
- So what do you see your addictions and compulsions are covering, what need are they trying to meet?
Having done therapy, had coaching and meditated for years, I can still, in spite of all that, fall into acting compulsively, addictively, it’s just that I am quicker to notice it, I can see or feel when I am off track and re-centre and balance myself.
So I know that when I am over-committing, being too busy, working compulsively, there is something going on, something I am covering up and for me this is usually a re-surfacing of an old grief, or an unprocessed loss, in other words, sadness.
When you ask yourself what is really going on, the answer often is fear, sadness, loss, and for some people of course there is deep trauma which is where therapy can be so helpful. Addictive behaviour is a sign that something is off track and some of us, having noticed that, will be able to re-adjust, for others it is a sign to reach out and seek professional help.
- Can you course correct yourself? What does the underlying feeling need? A hug? Reassurance? Time alone? Time with friends?
- Who else could you lean on for support?
The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists will lead you to professionals who can help with deeper trauma, so reach out. Or if you need help in course correcting you can find a coach right here on this directory. Make sure it is someone you click with and like.
Admitting our addictions is the first step to change, either alone, or with help. Either way there is no shame, we all have something we turn to when times get tough, but increasingly, as I do the work, I turn to trees and yoga, books and breath (and occasionally, I still over-commit, because I an human and I work in progress!)
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