My current addiction is iced black tea. In fact, what I love most about it is saying my order, “Venti, black, no sugar, and light ice.”
Eighteen years ago, I was addicted to a diet soft drink. I loved popping the can open, hearing the effervescent sound of the carbonation, and sipping the ice-cold cola straight out of the can. It was exhilarating. After learning of the harmful effects of soda pop, I stopped drinking it completely.
The truth is, all addictions give us some type of pleasure, otherwise we wouldn’t do them. It’s amazing what addictions mean to us and what we tell ourselves about them.
We often reward ourselves with things that are not very good for us. A friend recently told me she only had one vice: she rewards herself by smoking cigarettes. Drinking diet soft drinks or having the occasional smoke may not seem like a big deal, but addictive behaviors often lead to more serious destructive life patterns.
What Are Addictions?
What do you honestly believe you can’t live without? What do you crave the most in life? Is it sugar, food, cigarettes, marijuana, exercise, sports, the Internet, alcohol, or even sex?
Whatever your answer may be is there something else you feel you can’t live without? If so, you are part of the growing population of individuals who experience addictions.
The reality is we are all addicted to something. The term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion to engage in some specific activity despite harmful consequences to our health, mental state, or social life. There are often biological or emotional factors that contribute to these addictions, too.
According to Stanton Peele, Ph.D., “Addiction is the thematic malady for our society and entails every type of psychological and societal problem.”
In the Buddhist tradition, addictions are seen as attachments. They can be an attachment to fear, to loss, to longing, or even to a lack of purpose. It doesn’t matter if we choose alcohol, drugs, sex, food, pornography, exercise, or even shopping, we are trying to fill an empty space and dampen emotional pain. The important part of the addiction or the compulsion is not about the specific desire to drink, do drugs or spend money. Rather these addictions reflect an emotional need to fill an empty space within us and calm the pain of a past memory.
Understanding how we operate with addictions is the key to healing. Addictive behaviors arise from unmet life needs and a lack of love from childhood. These past emotional memories cause us to feel unworthy and especially unloved.
How Addiction Works
The addictive behavior shows up in life as an “emotional need” and ends up as a replacement for something else. Food becomes a replacement for love or appreciation. Obsessing over things or details becomes a replacement for self-confidence. The addictive behavior offers a sense of power that can’t be found elsewhere. Compulsive, obsessive behaviors and even co-dependency are other forms of emotional addictions. These emotional addictions are connected to areas of life where we feel out of control.
Take drugs as an example. We get addicted to the euphoric sensations they provide. Suddenly we start believing that being under the influence allows us to really “feel,” or that it gives us a sense of grandeur that otherwise we would not experience. However, the drugs aren’t doing anything but changing the dopamine levels in the brain.
When we complain about not having enough of something, money for example, we are getting something from the process of complaining and it makes us feel something different. In essence, this too is a type of emotional addiction. We get addicted to the complaining or to the behavior associated with it to ensure our needs are met.
This is a common occurrence. Instead of healing the emotional patterning associated with the addiction, we transfer the physical addiction to something else. This is often seen with alcohol addiction. If we are addicted to alcohol and stop the addiction yet do not heal the emotional needs behind the addiction, we will transfer the addictive bad habits to something else such as smoking or drugs. To heal, it’s important not to transfer addictions. You want to change the emotional interactions associated with the addictive behavior and unwind the original patterns.
Addictions can change once you have the courage to look deeply at what is programmed within yourself. To make permanent change you need to look at what lies underneath the very first emotional hurt associated with your addiction. What was the emotional behavioral pattern’s starting point?
Let’s take a look at cigarette smoking. In order to get to the core of the addictive behavior, you want to locate the very first feeling or the emotional scenario associated with the outward action of the addiction. To get there ask, “What made me take that first inhale?” or “What was going on in my life?” At what age did this occur? Were there family arguments? Were parents breaking up?
Enhance this process and go a little deeper by asking yourself several other questions like, “How do I feel when I smoke, take drugs, etc.?” Do you feel empowered, happy and content? Do you feel weak, depressed, sad, unworthy and unloved? Be honest and describe your feelings.
Current personal situations are gateways to go deeper into the underlying feelings at the onset of a physical addiction. Often addictions stem from needing love or attention from a mom or dad. Earlier life experiences set up the framework for current adult lives.
Whatever the feeling is, it’s okay. This is the place to be 100 percent honest with yourself. No need to cast another judgment upon your feelings or qualify interactions between you and your parents. This is how the emotional energy got stuck in the first place.
Healing, especially with addictions, is a deep exploration into your own self. Of course, stopping the physical actions of the addiction might seem easy, but it’s the subconscious mind and earlier life patterning that are running the show now.
Here is a visualization to help you go deeper with your own feelings. Remember, in order to release addictive behaviors, you must first identify the original feeling at the onset of the addictive behavior.
Visualize getting onto a train with feeling. Pretend the feeling is a friend. You and your friend are going to take a journey together. Find a comfortable seat on the train. The train soon leaves the underground station (symbolic of the subconscious mind).
Begin a dialogue with your friend to distinguish its characteristics. Ask it questions: “Who are you? What are you teaching me? What is my lesson?” Once you can clearly answer these questions, you can get to the core of the emotional pattern that began the addiction.
The second step is to go a little deeper and ask more personal questions.
Ask the feeling (friend) what emotional need(s) was created. In other words, was it a particular situation? Did the father leave? Mother started to drink? Were you responsible for your siblings? Was it a certain situation? Was it a statement that someone else made? Was it something that happened in the family or at school? Was it a fear? Keep asking your friend (the feeling) questions until the situation is completely identified and the answer is satisfying and clear.
Getting to the feeling is the key to uncovering the emotional cause that produced the addiction. Are you hurt, rejected, angry, fearful, confused, resisting or denying?
Once you have all the pieces of the original emotional experience, embrace it. Yes, love it, even if it’s anger or hate. It’s okay; this doesn’t mean you’ll be angry for the rest of your life. It means quite the opposite; now you’ll be able to let go.
As your conversation with your feeling comes to a close, visualize the next train station approaching. Thank your feeling for the information it provided the same way you would thank a friend who traveled with you. As you walk off the train, know this action helped you attain clarity in the midst of emotional and mental chaos.
This visualization process allows you to go deeper into your core where the addictive behavior first began, which is now buried under 30-50 years of life experiences. This process takes about twenty to thirty minutes and is worth every second.
If you aren’t sure what the feeling is, use the actual addiction instead as your “friend.” For example, if your addiction is with food, use your favorite food in your visualization. If your addiction is with alcohol or cigarettes, use those items in your visualization instead of a feeling.
Take the food, cigarette, or other addiction with you on the train and start the conversation there until you discover the feelings that created the addiction. Once you are on the train with your addiction ask, “What do I feel when I eat/smoke/drink? How does it make me feel?” Have a conversation with the chocolate, cigarettes, or the favorite drink, and identify the feelings that were not originally understood. The identification of feelings helps recapture lost innocence and releases the iron grip the emotional pattern holds.
When the process is complete, it is important to write down any information you discovered. Take time to identify all the circumstances around the addiction. If the same addictive pattern repeats, it means you have not found all the roots to the emotional feelings associated with the original situation that began this addiction.
Get back on the train and see what else you can discover. Ask yourself, “What is the core feeling: anger, fear, confusion, resisting or denial?” By using this visualization, you will locate the emotional roots and gain freedom from any addictions.
You have the answers within. Keep digging for them.
Paula Muran is a freelance writer, author and yogi. Her specialty is enlightening minds by transforming core beliefs. ANewEnlightenment.com