The Problem with Our ‘Addictions’ (reprint)

The reason I put the word addictions in quotes in the title of this post is because I’m talking about a broader issue that what most of us think about when we talk about addiction; here I’m talking about ALL OF US and OUR addictive behaviors, whatever they might be.

And they might be one or more of the following: shopping, sex, drugs and alcohol, gambling, taking risks to feel alive, high adrenaline activities and thrill seeking, workaholism, anger, novelty seeking, and self-injurious behaviors (e.g. cutting, burning, scratching), among others.

These are things we can ALL identify with, whether it be one item on the list, or several, or something not on the list at all. They are things which can make us feel satiated when we feel empty; connected and tranquil when we feel abandoned or lost. They temper our rage or our outrage; and they soothe the psychic angst we sometimes feel about the ultimate meaning or purpose (or lack thereof) of our lives.

But the problem with our addictive behaviors are that they further DISCONNECT us from ourselves and from our real lives; and that includes the people in our lives such as our children, our spouses, our friends, and our communities, among others.

The other problem with our addictive behaviors are that they burn up what I call “vital life energy.”

Vital life energy is simply the combination of two of our most limited natural resources: our time and our energy.

If we are spending our time and energy “over there” and “doing that” (i.e. in our acting out, addictive behaviors), then, by definition, we cannot also be “over here” and “doing this” ( i.e. in our real lives with the real people in our lives.)

In fact, it’s not unusual for somebody to tell me that, soon after they stopped expending their time and energy doing whatever addictive behaviors they had been doing, sometimes for literally YEARS at a time, they realized that they were absolutely exhausted.

Soon thereafter they also realized just how much energy they were burning up while pursuing those “activities”; and they could also soon feel the difference in BOTH their energy levels AND the time available for other, more deliberate and constructive endeavors.

We humans regularly try to escape the realities of our lives and the pain of our lives using addictive behaviors.

It is extremely difficult to live life “on life’s terms”, as has been said before.

Who can blame us for trying  to escape life by jumping into the various addictive behaviors we have available to us, especially those which are perfectly legal and “socially acceptable”, such as work or novelty seeking?

Of course, some behaviors are more obviously problematic and destructive, such as drugs and alcohol, infidelity, and gambling or spending impulsively.

For the most part, however, many of the people around us, including we who seem to be living absolutely normal, product lives, do, in some form or another, act out addictively.

This is the hardest pill to swallow (figuratively speaking) for most people.

Yes, you are a good and valuable human being.

Yes, you are worthy and honorable.

And, yes, you very likely have some addictive behaviors that you use when you are miserable, upset, anxious, angry, worried, overwhelmed, jealous, etc.

We must understand that addiction is not just for the clinically obvious, substance-based, DSM-IV (or V) diagnosable behaviors.

The spirit of what I am referring to here is that anytime we are in pain (which we are usually unaware of- see my previous post about identifying pain), we are at risk and vulnerable to acting out our addictions.

We must come to consciously know, identify, and become, to some degree, ‘comfortable’ with our pain, such that it no longer controls our lives when we are functioning at less than optimal conditions (i.e. tired, hungry, lonely, angry, embarrassed, jealous, overwhelmed, anxious, etc.)

As I’ve said in an earlier post, we must come to “feel our pain”, not “live our pain”.

The former will give us a chance to live our lives; the latter only our pain.

The bottom line is this: We all have a limited amount of time and energy in our lives. If we spend this vital life energy pursuing our addictive behaviors, we are NOT going to spend it on our real lives.

The result will be disconnect from both ourselves and from our loved ones, not to mention troubles with work and the other priorities we have in our lives.

Best of luck to you,

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.


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