GABOR MATÉ: Addiction is a complex psychophysiological process, but it has a few key components. I’d say that an addiction manifests in any behavior that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in and therefore craves, suffers negative consequences from, and has trouble giving up. So there’s craving, relief and pleasure in the short term, and negative outcomes in the long term, along with an inability to give it up. Addiction could be to anything—to religion, to sex, to gambling, to shopping, to eating, to the internet, to relationships, to work, even to extreme sports. The issue with the addiction is not the external activity, but the internal relationship to it. Thus one person’s passion is another’s addiction.
Cravings cause suffering. Overthinking leads to obsession and compulsivity. Low self-esteem constantly triggers insecurity, fear and doubt – when we are in pain, because we believe we are not enough, not worthy, not loveable.
Addiction professionals practitioners have long known of the connection between psychological and physiological states and immune response, notably between addiction and depression to a wide range of diseases.
Evidence-based imagery reveals the brain’s dramatic coloration whilst in a meditative state. Now a direct connection between brain activity and immune function has been demonstrated. Neurosciences pinpoint one of the mechanisms underlying the link, revealing it to lie in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This region has long been associated with emotions, thus establishing a direct link between brain activity and immune function.
My own meditation practice began many years ago, when I met Ravi Shankar. The concert was in Sydney, at the now demolished Sydney Stadium. I mentioned to him about an AHA moment I had during his concert -he recommended I read The Bhagavad Gita. and go to India. Later I did go to and live in in India as part of an ongoing journey to love and happiness.
Ravi Shankar sparked my love of Eastern music, philosophy and mythology. I have meditated with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Lama Yeshe, Dadi Janki, Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson, AMMA, and Meher Baba’s Mandali.
I went to my first silent retreat in Sydney over 45 years ago and continue this practice using Vipassana meditation. I use BrainWave Entrainment to travel, (I am a phobic flyer) which brings me peace of mind. I recommend Anna Wise for people like me – whose need for creative expression works superbly with meditation.
Meditation engages the mind and body connection, helping us detach at a level deeper than sleep and increases the strength and thickness of the corpus callosum: a thick band of nerve fibres, between the cerebral cortex lobes into left and right hemispheres that connects the left and right sides of the brain hemispheres engendering connection, communication and collaboration between both hemispheres.
The corpus callosum stimulates motor, sensory, and cognitive information is based between the right and left hemisphere of the brain. The Left brain loves the past, and is the executive mind-state (self mastery/emotional intelligence) continuously informing our past in the present. Language, critical thinking, analytical, numerical. The right (now) brain is intuitive and instinctive in the present moment: inspirational, creative,connected-ness, optima problem solving/solution focussed.
Over time meditation increases consciousness. Meditation equates a 90 minute power nap. You become more awake and aware. Consequently are able to hold more things in your awareness because there is less need to be “constantly on” as you are aware that you now switch off, detach and let go.
Carl Jung influence is evident in the correspondence between Bill Wilson the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Jung wrote to the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Bill Wilson that in his professional capacity he understood that the cure for alcoholism would have to be spirituality: a universal power equal to the potency of spiritus (alcohol).
The Twelve Steps strategies provide a relational foundation for evolving, building resilience and reducing stress. The Twelve Steps outline spiritual processes. Each step provides structure and is a pillar of recovery management whilst learning how to become successful sober community members. of
The pillars of recovery management:
Acceptance: embarking upon the recovery quest is anchored in a daily acceptance of powerlessness over addiction.
Action: identifying specific issues/unfinished business claiming individual uniqueness and personal power
Awareness: spirituality-based alchemy: from Victim to Victorious
The above is a description of the integrative process: step work, therapy, and being in community with likeminded other recovery friends. Tackling Step One signifies acknowledging that there is a problem, that there is help available that is outside of oneself, and the willingness to commit to holistic regime.
The very beginning of reciprocity: trust in something beyond oneself (such as a therapist, sponsor, or the programme), and the opening up of a closed family system. Invariably, it takes years to face the problem. I recommend establishing a home group as an essential pillar of the recovery management. Healing happens when we are comfortable with expressing our truth.
A sponsor’s role is take you through the steps. They are there to encourage you by both listening and sharing their personal experience, strength, and hope. And provide you helpful suggestions. Different fellowships work in a more close-contact type of way i.e. calling your food plan for the day ahead or making outreach calls form integral aspects of a specific fellowships.
For all fellowships Twelve Step-sponsorship is recommended. While an Addiction practitioner views addiction as incongruence between self and experience, this does not minimise the ultimate belief in the autonomy that evolves as a direct result of being in recovery.
You will always have the help of another recovering person to provide support with whatever problems are causing you suffering. There are two main objects to stopping thought. One is to open up space to clarify thought by distinguishing impulsivity, obsessive thinking compulsive behaviours. Differentiating intensity-fuelled addiction can be measured by loss of control.
Habits offer a choice. Addictive impulses do not. Be prepared to experience to using dreams, and or euphoric recall. The unconscious mind does not switch off. The unconscious remains active when we are asleep. A definition of insanity is repeating exactly the same behaviour and expecting a different outcome. The mantra of active addicts is: “I can control it, and stop anytime I want to.” Addiction cannot be controlled.
The paradox is that letting go of the need to control an addiction is surrendering to win and when recovery starts. As difficult as these sounds: if nothing changes, nothing changes. Intellectualising addiction is rationalising consequences and abdicating responsibility. This dynamic of self-justification is denial of reality. You cannot straddle two worlds; using or non-using. One has to go. By immersing yourself in the universality of the Twelve Steps you are joining in with the global recovery community’s quest for meaning in the immediacy of living life on life’s terms.
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. The journey begins with self-examination: Identify what core beliefs, goals, or values that are currently in conflict with you arresting your addiction. Awakening the process of self-transcendence: the key to you being the change you wish to see in others.
We are social beings, hardwired to connect via a continuum of awareness with self, family, friends, community, and colleagues. Strengthening our ego boundaries engenders differentiation and detachment. An Admission of powerlessness in any or all of the following addictions is about beginning to own your impact: alcohol/drugs/love/relationships/sex/gambling and work are a few addictions – your purpose is to identify your primary addiction. Begin with where you are now.
Not where you were – the past is helpful to learn from, nevertheless staying stuck can lead to emotionally relapsing. Powerlessness: Explore the root causes of your addiction. It takes time, there is no rush, just for today you can change your thinking, change your life that keeps the focus upon sobriety.
Change your thinking, change your life. Into-action is taking even the small step away from using on your feelings something that will spiral into a relapse. I recommend daily journaling. First-thing-in-the-morning pages to ease into the connecting to your higher self, creating intention (sankalpa) the habit of writing about how you feel triggers self-honesty. This process engenders emotional honesty and balance.
The ability to self-regulate enables us to become more resilient. Negative emotions such as anger arises from an unmet need, an expectation or projecting onto others what we can do for ourselves but don’t! Ask yourself what do you need in this moment to take care of yourself? What would love do? What would compassion do?
Often people are unaware of their feelings and react with anger from being challenged. Anger is a reaction to something external threatening thinking, and self esteem. Reacting arises when we do not get what we want. Anger from not being valued, regarded or esteemed can trigger intense reactions. Fear is a future based projection.
Confidence is an absence of fear and doubt, feeling comfortable with uncertainty. It is often accompanied by a mental picture of an individual’s success, and is closely related to hope and even faith. A feeling of security can be born of self-confidence, as if the state of being confident can literally push fears and their causes away.
Shame and stigma bury people. Powerful emotions are suppressed because of feeling shame, unworthy, not good enough and dependent upon others for safety, protection, and security.
Trauma is often describe as the “ground-hog effect’ in which ever day, a struggle to survive. Compounding aloneness is negativity – causes us to withdraw in any angry silence. The mantra is “what about me? “
This how the steps can change our lives. By the time we are halfway through at Step Six we have sufficient insights into our character defects and are slowly addressing these in our shared step-work processes with our sponsor.
Life in the immediacy of long term recovery. A continuum of self- love. Self- Care. Self-regulating:
Answer the following questions with honesty as your primary purpose to discover how powerlessness is showing up in your life and ways to establish healing strategies.
1. Do you eat/drink balanced/nutritional food three times a day?
2. Do you begin and complete your day with awareness of creating in the moment positive intentions i.e inclusiveness of mindfulness strategy/disciplines?
3. Do you positively regard your needs and wants i.e love your thoughts, feelings, and connection with yourself and others?
4. Do you make sure you look well presented on a daily basis?
5. How dependent are you on others for approval/ to provide for your needs and wants?
6.How balanced is your self-esteem in your relationships with others?
7. Do you strive and thrive at balancing work/family life/personal life on a daily basis?
Harnessing healing: regenerating the body’s natural healing responses. An emerging awareness of how to stay in the moment happens as we harness increasingly emotional balance. The six sense organs, (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) and the six sense objects (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought) begin to regenerate within 24 hours of cessation of active addiction.
On a cellular level the bodies natural healing responses promptly respond. Sustaining ongoing healing requires a daily commitment to self-care, esteem, and nurture ones brain/body connection. Addiction to Recovery. Vigilance is essential in the beginning of Stage one recovery: arresting addiction.
Until now, our lives have been largely devoted to avoiding conflict, emotional dishonesty, rejection of self and others, and emotional pain. Escape via active addiction is a reaction-based solution. Self-fulfilling prophecy is a repetition compulsion ergo ritualized patterns, themes, and behaviors. Fail fast. Own your impact.
The brain is hardwired over the years – it is never too late in life to re-program the brain /body connection. Ego reduction is paradoxical – if you are in therapy it is about building ego strengths. Living life as a spiritual aspirant it is about conscious connection with the oneness of existence.
Both pathways suggest harnessing evolving emotional/spiritual/physical intelligence hence the awareness model of working through unfinished aspects of your narrative (Steps One -Six ) social contracts to re-engage with life.
Your are then halfway through the process of learning ways in which life very differently to sustain long-term recovery which actualises slowly when you undertake all Twelve Steps. It was in doing Step Six that I saw why I had become so exhausted. I had been trying to control everything, and everyone. In the programme I was told that my part was “being entirely ready,” being ready to let God be the controller and life-changer of others and myself.
When I did that, my sponsor said, I would experience abundant opportunities to heal negative thinking. when we stop control others. Moving onto Step Seven. This attitude of readiness to change and remove the things that makes us spiritually and emotionally sick is paradoxically the doorway to active and effective change of specific lifelong habits.
Over time all the work you do to change begins to live through you, makes for emotional balance and happiness because when we know we are enough life, there is no longer a need to compare, compete or spiral down into feeling less than. This is life in recovery: a series of life changing strategies.
There comes a time when the bubble of ego is popped and you can’t get the ground back for an extended period of time. Those times, when you absolutely cannot get it back together, are the most rich and powerful times in our lives.
Life in recovery is about transforming negative perceptions into life-affirming beliefs about one-self and others. To do this on a daily basis engenders the neural pathways to regenerate positive thoughts into actions. Learning how to “listen” to your higher self requires not acting out on your impulsivity – the difference between reacting and not reacting.
I recommend breathing, a few deep breaths to reconnect you to yourself will bring your mind/body connection back to the present moment to restore equanimity and heal suffering in the present moment.
It is a deepening awareness of life on life’s terms i.e. reality checking about what is going on that helps halt and change the behaviour. It is about truly nourishing ourselves. The view that is presented in the Buddhist teachings is not one of becoming a better person, or finally getting it right, but is a view based on trusting what we already have, of starting and staying where we already are.
So with letting go of an addiction, the instruction is to connect with our basic nature, the basic energy of the moment. Identifying your defence mechanism: projecting, deflecting, reacting are three psychological blocks to unpack in therapy. Owning your personal power helps heal trauma bonds/ betrayal and abandonment.
The imprinting of patterns and themes, family genetics, psychosocial patterning are retained in our DNA. Addiction is the cause and effect of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Finding the correct medication/meditation is recommended for sustaining recovery and preventing relapse-in tandem with the existential quest for meaning.
The importance of modifying impulsive/obsessive compulsive triggers is essential in re-programming the brain. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. Insanity is repeating the same behaviour expecting a different outcome. Restoration of sanity is in arresting your addiction.
Core beliefs drive our ego states of mind. Instinctual patterns and themes that are driven by poor impulse control. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, and craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission.
Life in recovery is a daily commitment to abstinence-based way of life. Without arresting addiction, undergoing treatment along with participation in recovery disciplines the addict will suffer from obsessive thinking, poor impulse control, constant cravings, and compulsive behaviours. Faith is success. Fear is failure.
Change is a constant, life organismically (is in a state of flux) nothing is static, ergo you can never step into a river in the same place you did yesterday. Neuroscience demonstrates this at a subatomic level: everything is a form of vibrational energy.
Our worldview veils us from our truth. We lie to ourselves. This is precisely why we need faith. We need to trust in the unseen, the Mystery. Building ego strengths and relapse prevention techniques along with using a Mantra and daily breathe-work meditation engenders preparing the foundation for psycho-spiritual foundation.
Learning how to meditate like a monk requires sessions with spiritual teacher to familiarise your self with the process of personalise your spiritual practice. The daily ritual of chanting a mantra stimulates the chakras (energy hubs) which rejuvenates wellbeing. With growing understanding of the problem, denial breakdown, loses it stronghold and a change in thinking occurs.
Many addicts found themselves frequent visitors in psychiatric institutions (rehabs) prisons or A & E. Crime, domestic violence, and car- accidents are drug and or alcohol related. I have sat and listened in the rooms of A.A. to stores of serious life-threatening events, sometimes shocking that occur whilst they in drug or alcohol induced blackouts. Lost time, lives, and loss of one’s sanity.
The acknowledgment of powerlessness manifests as a loss of all that was associated with active addiction: secrecy, rituals, helplessness, and hopelessness. An all-consuming intensity fuelled focus filled with high-risk activities to control and manipulate others characterizes the desperation and suffering in the human condition: same stuff different day stance of hell on earth.
How to fill the existential void of living with the additional burden of negative feelings? Taming the demons: loneliness, fear, emptiness, boredom, and depression arise often. Developing the awareness that left to ones devices relapse will happen, instead taking action to change negative thinking can be helped by calling another recovering person or go to a meeting.
Being connected is essential. Existing in a “rut ” can lead to decorating it! The existential wounded-ness (the shadow) of the addictive personality is uncomfortable with change, being challenged, and or losing control.
However, if love is fostering another person’s spiritual growth then continuing to block this will result in relationships failing to thrive. The restoration of sanity is an essential part of recovery management. Within the texts of Step 2 is the insanity that characterises the addictive personality: would you let anyone do to you what you have done to yourself?
When you begin to acknowledge that you have a potentially life-threatening addiction over which you are powerless, subject to a daily reprieve from relapsing this reality clarifies the urgency of asking for help in find solutions.
Reality itself becomes a teacher, as one is asked to continually “turn over” (to that Power) an addiction, people, and frustrating situations. The ego gradually relinquishes control, as one begins to trust that Power, the growth process, and life as well. Self-Awareness: What has been happening up until now is an increasing awareness and observation of one’s dysfunctional behavior and addiction(s) – what is referred to as “insanity” in the Second Step.
This crucial development signifies the genesis of an observing ego. Now one begins to exercise some restraint over addictive and undesirable habits, words, and deeds. Living in the solution is being in flow. Abstinence and forbearance from old behavior are accompanied by anxiety, anger, and a sense of loss of control. New, preferable attitudes and behavior (often called “contrary action”) feel uncomfortable, and arouse other emotions, including fear and guilt. Group support is important in reinforcing new behavior, because the emotions triggered by these changes are very powerful, can, and even arrest recovery.
Additionally, resistance is experienced from self, family, and friends for the very same reasons. The anxiety and resistance may be so great that it triggers a relapse. There is help in Step 3: “We turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” This is the practice of “letting go” and “turning it over.” As faith builds, so does the willingness to let go and move toward more functional behavior. Inventory and Building Self-Esteem Now with a bit more ego awareness, self-discipline, and faith, one is ready to review one’s past in Step Four.
It requires a thorough examination/inventory of the past, experiences, and relationships with a view toward uncovering patterns of victimhood. Ideally with a group leader if it is in a residential setting or with a trusted 12-step sponsor, disclosure of this inventory formulates Step Five – emerging development of self-esteem and an observing ego.
Building objectivity and self-acceptance, tackle residual guilt, resentments, and trauma-based shame begins to slowly dissolve. With it go the false pride, hubris, arrogance, self-loathing, and depression. For some, this process may also involve recalling childhood trauma, which is the beginning of healing empathy for oneself, compassion, and forgiveness for others. Self-Acceptance and Transformation: Acknowledgment of one’s behaviour patterns is a beginning and insufficient to remove them.
This will not happen until they can be replaced with healthier ego boundaries/ skills, and the secondary gain derived from the negative behaviour is removed. Old habits become increasingly painful, no longer working because the outcome is misery. This process is described in Step Six: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” It underscores the psychological process of personal transformation that evolves throughout recovery, and represents a further development of self-acceptance, the key to change.
As long as one tries to change, and blames oneself in the process, no movement occurs – not until one gives up. Then one is “entirely ready.” Step Six asks that one give up control and ego clinging, and look for a source beyond oneself. Then, it is suggested to take Step Seven : “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Compassion for Others: The review of one’s shortcomings reveals one’s effect on others, and awakens empathy for those harmed. Steps 8 and 9 suggest that one make direct amends to them – a further step in building a more solid self, humility, compassion, and self-esteem.
Step 10 – when we are in the wrong, forgive ourselves in the moment, be gracious, patient and kind. Step 11, daily rituals: prayer and mediation, craving a conscious connection to all that is…living consciously conscious. This increases confidence, improves mood, promotes new behaviour, and reduces the anxiety accompanying change. Building tolerance for the experience of emptiness supports surrendering, letting go of negative controlling behaviours. Step Twelve recommends selfless service. working with others, and practicing these principles in all our affairs.
Communicating to others what we have learned is self-reinforcing. It also reminds us that spirituality cannot be practiced in only one segment of our lives, without contamination from other areas. For example, dishonesty in any area undermines serenity and self-esteem, affecting all of one’s relationships.
The steps are designed to ignite spiritual growth, may you find this is how it works for you. Each day is a new beginning. As we grow in recovery we become increasingly accountable. Self- care exponentially increases. Self regulating (homeostasis) is the bedrock of sustaining personal recovery.
May you be happy.
May you be love. May you be free of sensation – seeking.
May you continue to enjoy the journey of a lifetime!