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The Importance of Acknowledging Your Addictive Behavior (even if you don’t think you have one)

Addiction is one of if not the most loaded words in the english language. I’ve seen a lot of discussion on this topic recently including articles like this one in the Huffington post.

Articles like this show that we’ve learned a lot about underlying reasons behind addiction recently and there has been a wave of conversations around this topic as a result.

I think it’s great that we are having these conversations. Not only is it de-stigmatizing the disease itself but is bringing awareness to an issue many struggle with. I also think the surge in discussions about addiction indicates that it is becoming much more relevant to our lives than ever before. We live in such an addictive culture where has become easier to become addicted than ever before.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify what I mean when I use the word addiction . Normally when we think of addiction we think of compulsive abuse of drugs, alcohol, or pornography and sex. As articles like the one mentioned in the Huffington post illustrate, the core of addictive behavior is disconnection, and what I think comes down to shame; I don't want to feel X so I use Y to avoid feeling X. This is at the heart of addictive behavior. So when I use the word addiction I’m talking about any behavior that fits this pattern (a behavior that is used to avoid feeling negative feelings)

Essentially, I want to differentiate between behavior that can be addictive and what might physiologically constitute a clinical addiction.

With that definition in play, the shooting gallery is wide open. Take your pick at virtually any behavior (healthy or unhealthy) you can think of and it can fit. Why do you think shows like My Strange Addiction have been popping up? This is not really anything new, but as the stigma is decreasing we are now just getting in touch with this reality. And I think if we are honest it’s a little jarring.

If we are going to face the reality that the addictive process is simply doing something to avoid negative feelings, we are forced to acknowledge we are all susceptible on some level. Take your pick: fantasy football, internet porn, working late, not working at all, trying to help and encourage someone else, Netflix, starting a fight, cleaning the house, over spiritualizing problems, controlling our environment, sleeping in, masturbating, cleaning the house, eating junk food, eating healthy food, not eating, exercise, beer, religious practices…

The challenging part about recognizing this is that it makes us responsible to deal with it. We've opened Pandora's box and can no longer be ignorant to our unhealthy behavior. It forces us to be honest with ourselves and ask: “Is the amount I’m working really healthy?” “Am I going overboard binge watching Game of Thrones again?” “Am I trying harder than he is to get him to stop drinking?”

To acknowledge this reality means we have to become self-aware; maybe do something about it or make a painful decision but sometimes we would rather not bother. This is what we call denial.

If reading that just struck a nerve, keep reading, it’s important.

Facing these realities in our lives can be hard because acknowledging it means that making changes may not be far behind. And change is hard, sometimes even painful, and almost always inconvenient. But when it comes to this kind of change I can promise you that it is always good. It means getting out of unhealthy patterns we know so well and to make room for better ones.

Try to avoid the voice of fear that tells you change is impossible or too painful. It rarely ever is as difficult as we make it out to be, you just can’t do it alone.

This is where many discover the gifts of addiction. If you have been around anyone in recovery you may have heard them talk about having gratitude for their addiction; that they are thankful for their addiction. This can sound ridiculous but those that have worked through it understand that awareness of their addiction compels them to reach out and thus had lead to the healing they were always looking for.

It teaches them they can’t do it alone and as a result they form the first meaningful relationships they have ever had. They develop healthy patterns in their life for the very first time. They learn how to love themselves through their actions and not through their avoidance. They find the confidence in themselves they desired all along but never realized that in order to find it they needed to admit they were without it.

See those in recovery have a leg up on the rest of the world because they have an awareness about these things that others struggle to develop. Although the process is the same, some addictions (like drugs, alcohol, and sex) carry with them more severe consequences than, say, binge watching Netflix. Those that undergo treatment for their addictions learn about this process and develop a sense of awareness about all their addictive behaviors (not just the “big” ones). They have a clear definition of what is healthy and what is not and are able to identify flaws in their thinking (when to call BS on themselves). They know where their boundaries and limits are and when to seek consultation if they are unsure. Many of us go through life without ever being compelled to ask these questions of ourselves, which is easy to do when you think the addiction thing doesn’t apply to you.

I think if we are honest we can all find some addictive pattern in our life. Plenty of healthy and good activities can be taken to the extreme that they start causing consequences but we typically wouldn’t think of them as addiction. But we can all identify with knowing something is unhealthy or about avoidance something else but then doing it anyway. It’s not hard for this to become a compulsive pattern.

I’m not saying go and check yourself into rehab if you have a problem eating a bit more than you should at times or every once in a while lose the day getting lost on the internet. But it wouldn’t hurt to talk about it with someone. Find a trusted friend who you can get some honest feedback from. If the idea of sharing this with anyone seems excruciating then it’s even more important that you do so. If it’s too painful find a therapist or counselor; someone who you can connect with in a safe and nonjudgemental environment. Everyone needs connection like this in their life.

To me, the rise of addiction documentaries, reality shows, and articles, clearly shows a fascination our culture has with addiction. I believe that on some level, we are seeking out ourselves. We can all identify with this struggle in some way. If we only have the courage to admit it to ourselves, freedom and connection is waiting on the other side. How powerful of a moment it is when we hear someone else say: “That's my struggle too” and we know we are not alone. By honestly sharing about our addictive patterns in our lives we start forming bonds and connection around the very thing that once kept us trapped in our loneliness and isolation. Give yourself the chance to hear those words of healing.

To sum this up let me dispel some of what addiction is NOT. Addiction does not mean you are a failure. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about others, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love, and it doesn’t mean you are hopeless. It means you are human. It means you might be unaware of certain parts of yourself. If you are in a dark place, struggling with some significant consequences, it means you are likely experiencing some deep pain or trauma that you might not even be aware of.

The gift of acknowledging this process is that it compels us to begin a journey of self-discovery. On this journey we find healing from trauma, deeper connection in relationships, sometimes grief as we let go of that which has become unhealthy, but ultimately contentment as we learn to love ourselves the way we deserve. It’s not without growing pains but there is so much good that you will find if you take an honest look at yourself and have the courage to share it those who care about you.

What is much more important than debating who is an addict and who is not, is addressing what these patterns really mean in our lives and how we can grow from them. I am so privileged to work with many courageous people who have many different levels and forms of addictive behavior. If you have read this far my hope is that you will care about yourself enough to get real with yourself and real with others. Freedom awaits.

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