Could Everyone be an Addict? (Part 1)

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In his book, Addiction and Grace, Dr. Gerald May said, “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” What do you think about that statement? Are you an addict? Based on a proliferation of stereotypes, my guess is most people would say “no”. If I ask you to picture a heroin junkie, a pot head (yes, you absolutely can get addicted to weed), or an alcoholic, what type of person comes to mind? Male? Female? Disheveled and dirty clothes? Homeless? Some young and irresponsible kid? Generally speaking, most of society does not see itself as an “addict” because it doesn’t fit the stereotype; but let’s not just stick with common knowledge, let’s take a real look into what it means to be an addict.

To get us started, take a look at what Johann Hari says in this fascinating and compelling video from “TED Talks” called “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong”.

What did you think? Agree? Disagree? As with almost everything in life, if we completely accept or reject the message, we miss the wisdom that lay within; thus balance is needed. The “chemical hooks” that Johann mentions are very real and VERY powerful. We cannot simply toss their significance aside, yet, of all the things in life one could be addicted to, not all of them have these “chemical hooks” that we have come to expect. Are we magically free from any risk of addiction then? Certainly not – this is where the power of “bonding” comes in. Generally, “bonding” has to do with two different things: brain chemicals and brain wiring. For example, sex, an addiction epidemic in the world today, is not a drug that you smoke or shoot up, but it is a very powerful bonding agent because humans get several massive dumps of “feel good” chemicals into the brain upon orgasm while simultaneously re-wiring the brain to deepen the relationship, or the bond, with that person. Ever notice how strongly sex changes a relationship? Aside from the spiritual aspect to sex, which is significant, the biochemical truth about bonding plays a major role here.

The foundation of addiction can be described as anything that you go to in order to escape reality. If we’re honest, most of us would say we can relate (movies, books, video games, time with friends, etc. are all ways to escape reality). The moment it gets classified as a true “addiction” is when it becomes compulsive and noticeably affects your life in a negative way. Now, you might say, “Compulsive…like OCD and stuff right? Well, I am nothing like that so I must be good.” Sorry, you’re not off the hook that easily. The word “Compulsive” is defined as, “Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes.” Still don’t relate, right? But what if you are a “People Pleaser” or relate to our blog about the people pleasing disease? What about your resentments? What about your fear and shame? What about when we’re mad at a loved one, believing them to be a worse person than they really are, just because we want to be justified in our anger? No one gets through life without these things strongly affecting their life in a negative way and, in fact, these impulses seem to be irresistible and against our conscious wishes because who would choose to wrestle with these things so often? Are you starting to relate a little more?

In truth, those who understand addiction either academically or through life experience agree that things like fear, resentment, shame, and relationships can absolutely be addictions. This is the reason why Codependency, the Empty Self syndrome, and confidence/identity crisis issues are such big problems in society today. The world of addiction psychology calls these “Process Addictions” because they don’t deal with any particular substance (like alcohol or meth) and have much more to do with the issue of bonding, rather than the standard perception of “chemical hooks”.

So, now that you know addiction is much more widespread and can look profoundly different than how you picture a heroin junkie, do you think you might be one?

What if you accept that you are addicted to something? What if you are one drop in a large bucket of people who are frustrated because AA or a 90-day inpatient program is not what you need because your addiction isn’t to that level? What if you are just mildly addicted to anger, resentment, shame, porn, or relationships? Aside from other 12 step programs that might fit your needs very well (Sexaholics Anonymous or Co-Dependents Anonymous for example), I want to explore the underpinnings of programs like AA to see if we can find anything that would work for you – in your specific situation.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post that will explore what parts of the 12-step model can be used and applied to any situation of any life. There is MUCH to be learned, even if you still don’t think you struggle with addiction.

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