ADDICTION STYMIES EMOTIONAL GROWTH
It’s hard for most people to understand the mind of an addict. Or is it? Maybe most of us have some kind of “fix”, some indulgence or ritual we turn to when we feel anxious, sad, bored or lonely. What makes it work for us is its mood-altering effect. It simply alleviates a bad feeling and we seek it for that reason. We don’t need another reason. We do it and do it and do it because it relieves an uncomfortable feeling-—temporarily.
It doesn’t have to be drug like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine or cocaine. There are probably as many who are addicted to activities such as sex, gambling, shopping, cleaning and eating. One of the most common and under-recognized addictions is over-working. The fact that it is socially acceptable (and even profitable) to over-work doesn’t change the fact that it is resorted to in order to quash a bad feeling. It’s still a compulsive behavior, even if it is productive one and it leads to a loss of balance in one’s life. In order to keep feeling good in the long run we need to balance work, rest and recreation.
What all addictive behaviors have in common is the immediate relief of anxiety. Usually, loneliness is in the picture, too. Also, many of us just don’t know what to do with unstructured time. We simply haven’t developed sustaining interests in things other than our primary ones. Or, if we have, we may resort to them so thoroughly that they overrun our lives, leading to the same sort of imbalance that started the whole problem. This can be a vicious circle.
The addict feels isolated and alone because his or her primary relationship is not with another person. It is with the addictive behavior instead. This becomes an overriding priority in one’s life and it doesn’t legitimately deserve such status. That’s why it’s always a problem, or will be if it’s not addressed. It squeezes out other obligations and gradually takes control of our lives if we don’t keep it in its place. As has been said about alcohol and can as easily be applied to other behaviors of refuge: they make dandy servants but are poor masters. When they come to rule our lives and determine our choices we are in trouble. We will begin to veer out of control in other areas of life leading to various catastrophes including divorce, legal troubles, health issues, financial straits and more fear, anxiety, loneliness and frustration.
It is through effectively coping with anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger and other feelings that we grow. We gain in self-control, awareness, patience, emotional skills and wisdom. But addicts don’t grow, emotionally. They become stuck in a ritual, acted out compulsively, repetitiously, unreasonably. This is a trap, often catching us unawares and holding us rather firmly until drastic measures are taken. I often find myself telling people to be careful not to get out of balance with their fix, not to over-use it at the cost of learning to cope in other ways. Because, if they don’t keep it under control and know when to leave it, they will end up being dominated by it and will then have to quit altogether. What a shame! One more pleasure that’s outlived its usefulness.
And what, after all, is good coping. What are we to do when we feel stressed, strained, worn out, under appreciated and unrewarded? We have to learn to deal with these things without taking any medicine for it. Everything passes, or should, and this is our saving grace. All feelings are transient if we just learn to let them go. Each new hour brings new possibilities. We learn to love and be loved, to take life one day at a time and to become aware of our own feelings and what they are telling us. And when we stop using compulsively to escape life and learn to remain engaged with our lives, personal growth picks up where it left off.