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Our addictions can help us recognise our real needs

The following principles are central to my approach to tackling anxiety.

1) Since addictions are perceived as ‘water in a desert’, whilst giving in to our addiction, we are deceived into believing that nothing could possibly take the place of our need for the addictive substance.  The experience of giving in to our addiction has the potential to be so entirely intoxicating (due to the fact that we are starved of the fulfilment of the true underlying need and the addictive item is feeding our starved need, but only to a very limited degree) that whist giving in to our addiction, we are typically deceived into believing that nothing could satisfy us to the extent of this intoxicating addictive response.  Therefore, whilst we are engaging in our addictive behaviour, it is nearly impossible to conceive of the idea that something else might fulfil us in the same way.  Therefore, we are likely to find it impossible to ascertain what the underlying need that is truly being suppressed.

2) With the aforementioned in mind, it becomes important that we begin to learn to control our addictive behaviour.  I propose that this can be done in the following manner. 

Classical Psychoanlytic Theory proposes that we have a limited amount of reserve necessary for the purpose of suppressing our desires.  Therefore, the more we are under stress, and the more anxious we are, the less energy we will have for suppressing our desires.  During the most difficult and stressfull times, we are highly likely to look to our addictive behaviours for alleviation from our distress.  Such behaviour may in fact offer some alleviation (even if this alleviation comes with side effects).  I propose, therefore, that if one wishes to learn to control ones addictions, the time during which one is likely to have the most success, is when one is under the least amount of stress and when one is at one’s happiest point.  Often, those who are addicted to behaviours have become so disheartened with attempts to give up their addictions, that they have simply stopped trying to tackle their addictive behaviours.  Often, this ends up resulting in a situation in which they indulge in their addictive behaviour even when they could probably go without it.  In relation to addictions, we often adopt an all or nothing attitude. 

However, I propose that at the moments when we are at our strongest we are a good position to begin to practise foregoing our addictive behaviour.  Let us imagine that we drink every night and get very drunk.  Let us imagine that we have a particularly good day, and everything is going well for us.  Let us also imagine that we have a very good friend with us on this particular evening.  If we feel particularly in good spirits on this particular evening, this may be a perfect opportunity to try forgoing alcohol for an evening. 

And, I propose, if we attempt to do this, it is in these moments that we finally can begin to see things without the intoxicating and controlling influence of our addictive behaviour.  Perhaps we wake up the next morning without a hangover, and feeling particularly good.  And, for once, we might be able to say to ourselves, ‘gosh, I’m feeling quite good.  I could see myself doing this more often’.  But more importantly, in that moment, we might realise that the addictive behaviour is not so great.  And those moments are the perfect times to ask a question that I believe to be fundamental to recovery: “What is it that I am really seeking, and that I am missing in my life, that I am trying to replace with my addictive behaviour”.  And without the intoxicating influence of our addictive behaviour, we are in a far better place to begin to attempt to answer this question. 

The second advantage of this momentary abstinence from our addictive behaviour, is that it gives minds the opportunity to reflect on the positive benefits that have come from a night of abstinence.  There are usually significant benefits as a result of forgoing an addictive behaviour, and each time we forgo the addictive behaviour, if we take the time to reflect on these benefits, we begin to condition our minds to learn the positive benefits of abstinence for our addictions.  This will form a crucial part to our gradual recovery from addiction.  In order to recover, we must eventually learn to dwell on the positive benefits that are gained from forgoing our addictive behaviour, and each time we experience these benefits we are beginning to recondition ourselves to look for such benefits.