The Public Enemy vs. The Personal Enemy
Name whatever that's addictive for you and you'll experience feelings pain, fear and dread.
Alcohol, opiates, sex, anxiety and depression (to name a few) are becoming the public enemy. As people's lives are destroyed by these things, the fear around them increases. While there’s no doubt that these substances and mind-states are dangerous territory, they have become vilified. However, they are only the tip of the iceberg.
As the saying goes: there’s more that lies underneath the surface.
Addiction is a complex mix of elements including physiology, memory and emotion. When you only target the public enemy (aka the drug or the behaviour), you are still left with the personal enemy that underlies addiction. This can include issues of self-esteem, self-worth, untreated mental health, insecure attachment and trauma.
Oxycontin used to be one of the most feared public enemies. We had to get it out of people's hands. The thinking was eliminate oxy, eliminate the problem.
The problem is that in any drama, the villian is hard to make an exit.
As oxycontin made an exit at stage right, fentanyl was entering in on stage left. Now we are talking about a Fentanyl crisis. According to the Toronto Star, there have been 433 recorded deaths in BC between January 1 and July 31 this year. The numbers are staggering.
You can change the drug. You can change the external source of the problem. But in addiction, the underlying issues need to be addressed in order to have lasting change.
What Do You Need?
One of the underlying issues in addictive behaviour is how you meet your needs.
Those who are in recovery from addiction will say that addiction served as a teacher. It was a wakeup call to live life another way and make different choices.
If I were to ask you what it is you need, what would you say?
Money or a new car might come to mind. But these things you want, not what you need.
Some basic needs for your survival include:
But what about things like:
These are a few examples of deeper needs that we as humans have.
Based on the NVC (Non-Violent Communication) philosophy, your feelings will reflect whether or not your needs are being met.
For example you will likely feel empowered, passionate and connected when your needs are being met. On the other hand, you can feel detached, lonely and aggravated when your needs are not being met.
Each of us has needs that are unique to us. For a more thorough list, you can visit the Center for Non-Violent Communication https://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory
Addiction and Survival
In addiction, your brain tells you that certain substances or behaviours are essential to your survival. “Do I want this?” becomes “I need this or I’m afraid I won’t survive.”
In this context, addiction can be understood as a matter of what we believe we need in order to survive.
Aside from the physiological aspect of addiction, you'll find that addictive behaviour becomes a way to try to meet your underlying needs. The problem is that alcohol, drugs, sex or other compulsive behaviour will never adequately meet your core needs.
Musician/DJ Moby has been a powerful voice on the topic of addiction. In a recent interview, he reflected about the downside of touring. For Moby, life on the road came with depression, anxiety, insomnia and the void of safe and meaningful human contact. For him and many, our underlying need is for connection.
Understanding what you truly need is essential to your well being whether or not you are dealing with addiction.
The wisdom that can be found in addiction lies in going beneath to understand what you truly need in order to survive.
Tanya Fruehauf offers Therapy Services in Vancouver, BC.