Below is part 2 of the infographic explaining the concepts of neuroplasticity from the Alta Mira Centre. This infographic explains that we can train the brain and rewire it by altering how we think. It shows how mindfulness and meditation can help us create new pathways in the brain. The infographic was created by the Alta Mira Centre – www.altamirarecovery.com.
This post contains information I prepared as a course handout on addiction several years ago. I share it in the hope that it assists someone to gain clarity and insight into how best to help themselves or a loved one suffering from addiction. Love, Jodi-Anne.
Addiction types and why used
There are many types of addictions. They vary greatly from substances relied on to help us get through the day (coffee, tea, sugar, fat) to those stronger drugs used to escape our feelings and reality (alcohol, smoking, cannabis, LSD, coacaine, heroin, etc). There are also addictions that are action based (work-a-holism, shopping, gambling, lying, stealing, sexual addiction). There are many types of addiction. Some society condones – study, working, shopping. Some society fears and shames those involved – illicit drugs and alcoholism.
All of these addictions are used as a way to cope, to attempt to feel better, to enjoy life, however the high is only temporary, requiring the addict to use again / to repeat the activity over again. Sometimes at higher doses or risk. Until ultimately there is a crash – a near death experience – over dose, car crash, blood poisoning; a terrifying experience – waking up in an unknown place or with an injury or person you don’t remember connecting with. It may be a loss of a job, home or family when they can take it no more. Some tragedy has to happen for the addict who is truly afflicted and caught in the co-dependent cycle to wake up and want to change. Without that crash the addict may not be ready to make the effort to heal. No-one will be able to force them to. Healing is an inner process that must unfold at a rate the addict can handle. It must be done in a supportive environment where the addict feels safe, accepted and encouraged. Any guilt, shame, pressure or judgement will just drive them further into addiction.
An addict may seem to improve temporarily but if you watch closely you may notice that they have simply swapped one source of addiction for another – changed substances or fixes. To really heal you have to go within, deal with the source of the unrest, of the need to medicate, numb out, find a high. You need to heal the pain, release the shame, guilt, feelings of loss, abandonment, not being good enough, not being loved and accepted as you were by your parents and any others through your life that have caused you trauma or a low sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance. You have to learn to love and honour yourself and treat yourself well – to become your own happy, loving parent.
Addiction sources and healing process
Some addicts do come from what appear to be happy homes, but somehow they developed an angst that needed to be filled by an addiction of some sort. Perhaps they felt stifled as a child, given too much attention, felt a need to achieve or be perfect. They may have felt trapped in a box of expectations and felt they couldn’t live up to it, so they gave up.
They may indeed have had a happy home (this is extremely rare due to the way the conditioning process works – the psychology of child development and the most common child rearing practices and disciplines). But let’s say they did have a happy home. They were totally loved, accepted, held regularly, fed when they were hungry, comforted, had all their needs met. They weren’t yelled at, disciplined through harshness but through kindness. They escaped unharmed from their early years. Then they went to school! For many people school is a nightmare – from bullying, to challenges with subject material that they can’t grasp or feeling they don’t fit in, or can’t do what others can – sport, academic, dance – whatever it may be. Some very rare individuals may escape school unscathed. Then comes relationships and work where further potential loss, hurt, betrayal, feeling not good enough, rejected, etc can come.
Somewhere along the line life provided a knockout blow that the person couldn’t cope with and they turned to an addiction to cope, to numb the pain, to feel free of their inner pain. They may be able to cope when the specific events occurred but they are cumulative all adding together until one day the foundation crumbles and addiction commences.
Even those who start young experimenting with drugs and alcohol do so because they are unhappy in some way. This is not to say their parents did anything wrong. They probably did the best they could. But their child has grown vulnerable to addiction due to some experience. The way society operates today encourages this. We are all so busy rushing around that we don’t get to love and cherish our children as we should. Working parents, divorces, step-parent issues, poverty, stress, use of TV and computer games as ways to escape and entertain children. All diminish the quality time connecting – talking, sharing, encouraging / accepting, honouring, loving each other, sitting quietly together or in nature playing non-competitive games or art or dance or many other ways that we can interact in positive relationship building and affirming ways that let our children know they are loved, accepted, okay. They are safe. The world is a good place that will provide their needs. They can follow their hearts and achieve their dreams. Few children get such a positive foundation to life, a foundation of self-acceptance and self-esteem to live from.
Most get fear and self-judgement, a need to impress or achieve or hide to keep safe. These are the underlying sources of addiction and it is these issues that need to be healed so the addict stops self-medicating or moving from one form of addiction to another. When they heal they find inner peace, love and eventually even joy and happiness. It can be done. It takes a lot of effort and willingness to face your past, feel and release the emotions buried within, face the fears and risk showing who you really are, risking rejection and ridicule to follow your heart, speak your truth, even if it is very different to other people. You become your authentic self, the person you were born to be, that has been hiding behind addiction and a raft of defense mechanisms acting as a protective mask. Keeping the vulnerable true self hidden away safely inside.
Addiction is very challenging to overcome as using is so quick and easy compared to the healing work. This is why for most people it takes some kind of disaster – trauma and crisis – to get them ready to make the effort, to face their demons and break free. Without that it is just too easy to keep escaping. But when you’ve truly lost something you love, then that shock, that pain may be enough to tip the scales. That is why you should not ‘enable’ an addict. Don’t clean up after them, bail them out, lie or make excuses for them. Don’t try to protect them by rescuing. They need to face the consequences of their actions if they are to heal and take responsibility. Yes, it is hard to watch them suffer but if they create the mess they need to deal with it. You can simply be there to support them emotionally as they pick themselves back up, offering love, forgiveness, acceptance – this is what they need.
Rescuing and the drama triangle
Some ‘do-gooders’ think they are helping but they actually have their own form of addiction called ‘rescuing’. They get to escape the dissatisfaction they have in their own life – be that with themselves, their relationships, their job, their family, etc – by focussing on whoever they are rescuing. They feel good about themselves, righteous even, and this is their fix. But their love and support is not real, it is conditional. They will be there for the addict for a length of time, appearing so saintly and wonderful, but eventually when they get frustrated enough, they will snap, moving from ‘rescuer’ to ‘persecutor’ telling the addict off, judging them as a hopeless case. The rescuer didn’t get what they wanted – to feel like they saved the addict and the addict owed them, was grateful to them. That doesn’t happen so they move into the persecution role, which does not help the addict at all.
The other role that gets played is that of ‘victim’. When the rescuer knows the addict is lying to them, using, stealing or in some other way being irresponsible the rescuer may accept this for a while, until they again move into the persecutor role. Upon which the addict becomes victim to their tyranny of judgement and imposed shame, blame and guilt.
This is the drama triangle and each person moves through the roles of victim, persecutor, rescuer until someone steps into the centre of the triangle, speaks the truth and stops the game. This triangle happens all the time in life – at work, in families, with friends. It is a pattern that repeats until people become aware of it and no longer allow the game to proceed. Choosing instead to feel, to heal, to speak your truth. This is one of the first steps in healing.
So the seeds of addiction are planted from a very young age, especially if there is a family history of addiction that is repeated generation after generation. This may partly be a genetic predisposition, but it is also simply learnt behaviour. If you grow up in an active addiction filled home – you learn that is the way life is lived. You simply see that as normal as you know no other way. This is how it repeats. Also you will tend to subconsciously play out the pattern attempting to heal the issues with your parents. So many ‘Adult Children of Alcoholics’ marry an alcoholic. They either become an alcoholic themselves or they marry one or work with one. They attract it into their lives so they face their pain and heal.
Again this happens naturally enough – if they were raised in an alcoholic home that is what feels normal to them, so they accept partners behaving that way too. They may believe deep inside that they don’t deserve better, that this is how relationships are. Their beliefs affect their actions and their experiences in life. It is these beliefs that need to be changed to break the pattern and cycle of addiction and pain. Getting to the point where you do believe that you are okay, lovable, acceptable, that you deserve to be treated well, that you are a good person, and that good things can happen to you. These and many other positive subconscious (deep) beliefs form the foundation of health and recovery. “I cope easily with my life”. “I love and accept all that occurs”. “I forgive those that hurt me and let go of the past”. “I live in the now and focus day by day”. “I’m doing okay”. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come”. “I know I will make it”.
The use of affirmations can be very powerful. This can be done for free wherever you are. Have them written up where you will see them and read them regularly. Say them out loud. Write them and notice what negative comments occur within you. Repeat this – writing the affirmation and then listening for the internal reaction, writing that, then the affirmation again. Do it about 20 times in a sitting. This will give you insight into what your resistance to healing is, to what negative beliefs you have that need changing. This is a powerful process to do. You can use affirmations many times throughout the day when you feel yourself tempted to use your addictive substance or behaviour.
You can also use ‘Thought Field Therapy (TFT)’ or ‘Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)’ – energetic tapping processes that helps to relieve the build-up of energy encouraging you to use. With TFT there is a sequence to use for addictive urge. There are also tapping sequences for releasing the underlying emotions and problems leading to the urge. This helps to release the pent up energy and emotion. It is similar to acupuncture but without needles, just tapping on the meridian points. There are many different treatments that can be used. Some cost, some don’t.
Affirmations is a good place to start as it is free and it works. At first you may feel stupid saying to yourself “I love and accept myself” over and over. You know you don’t believe it. But repeating it regularly plants the seed in your subconscious and it slowly sprouts and grows, till one day you find you do actually believe it. The strength of affirmations is increased if you say them while looking at yourself in the mirror. You stare into your own eyes while saying “I love and accept myself” or “I choose health and happiness now” or whatever affirmation you use.
The process can be sped up by using techniques like ‘Psych-K’ or ‘The Lifeline Technique’ which reprogram the desired belief into your subconscious mind. It literally replaces the old one so that your dominant, underlying thought is the new one. These techniques are part of the new energy psychology tools that have evolved from split brain research. They help to get both sides of the brain communicating which makes subconscious belief change possible – quickly and easily.
There are many different ways to health, for some they will start with swapping from a less desirable addiction to one less dangerous – so the heroin user may become a sugar junkie or a gym junkie and push themself that way. Notice that word ‘pushing’ – that is a key challenge. Most people do not spend enough time ‘being’ – time spent being still, meditating, listening to their thoughts and feelings, dealing with whatever arises within them in the silence. It can feel uncomfortable, unnatural, a waste of time at first, but this is all just resistance to actually being with yourself and feeling everything that you feel inside. Persevere with it and you will find relief.
Whether you choose to meditate, sit in nature, use guided visualisation CDs, or do exercise then rest. Whatever method you use to help your body relax, de-stress and find peace is an important part of the healing process. Some embrace reiki, energetic healing, chakra balancing, massage or other body-work, which helps soothe your body and release the buried emotions and trauma from your cells. It all takes times and you move forward step by step, day by day, removing layer by layer the buried emotions, trauma and debris accumulated within your body. Be kind to yourself.
Surround yourself with others committed to healing so that you can encourage and support each other. This is why 12 step groups work. They provide a safe, accepting environment and community to be a part of. Clearly hanging out with active Addicts is not going to be helpful, so sometimes you do need to change friendship circles, disassociate from family members or others who encourage addictive behaviour. This can be very saddening and challenging, especially as some people will try to make you feel bad for doing so. They don’t want to face their own stuff and you choosing to do so reminds them that they should. Rather than feel that, they may choose to lash out at you. Don’t fall for the ploy. Be strong. Be loving and kind to yourself as much as you can. It is your life and you can choose to live it however you wish.
Remember there is a lot of support out there – from 12 step groups, counsellors and other therapists, to call lines and much more. If you truly want to heal and break free you can. Here are some good places to start if you want to find out more.
This is a 29-minute video clip of Russell Brand testifying at a Government Committee about reform to the way that addiction issues are regulated and handled. He openly shares his story of overcoming addiction and his belief that most addicts are people suffering from emotional, mental and spiritual maladies. If they heal these issues they no longer need the drug to mask their feelings and internal pain. Russell argues for a more compassionate and loving approach by Government, seeing addiction as a health issue and people needing support to heal, rather than being viewed as criminals or burdens to society. It is wonderful to see his authenticity and truth sharing – he urges more people to do the same so that we can have a real discussion about these issues and how to resolve them.
Although there are many ways of ‘Rescuing’ an alcoholic, some ways are typical. Here are ten of them:
1. When three or more suggestions to an alcoholic have been rejected you are Rescuing. Instead, offer one or two, and wait to see whether they are acceptable. If they are not, stop making suggestions. Don’t play “Why don’t you… Yes, but…”
2. It’s O.K. to investigate possible therapists for an alcoholic, but never make an appointment for him or her. Any therapist who is willing to make an appointment with an alcoholic through a third person is probably a potential Rescuer and eventual Persecutor.
3. Do not remove liquor, pour liquor down the drain, or look for hidden stashes of liquor in an alcoholic’s house, unless you’re asked to do so by the alcoholic. Conversely, do not ever buy, serve, mix for, or offer alcohol to an alcoholic.
4. Do not engage in lengthy conversations about alcoholism or a person’s alcoholic problem while the person is drunk or drinking; that will be a waste of time and energy, and will be completely forgotten by him / her in most cases when he / she sobers up.
5. Never lend money to a drinking alcoholic. Do not allow a drunk alcoholic to come to your house, or, worse, drink in your house. Instead, in as loving and nurturing a way as possible, ask to see her again when she / he is sober.
6. Do not get involved in errands repair jobs, cleanups, long drives, pickups, or deliveries for an alcoholic who is not actively participating in fighting his / her alcoholism.
7. When you are relating to an alcoholic, do not commit the common error of seeing only the good and justifying the bad. “He’s so wonderful when he’s sober” is a common mistake people make with respect to alcoholics. The alcoholic is a whole person, and his / her personality includes both his / her good and bad parts. They cannot be separated from each other. Either take the whole person or none at all. If the balance comes out consistently in the red, it is foolish to look only on the credit side.
8. Do not remain silent on the subject of another’s alcoholism. Don’t hesitate to express yourself freely on the subject, what you don’t like, what you won’t stand for, what you think about it, what you want or how it makes you feel. But don’t do it with the expectation of being thanked or creating a change; it’s not likely to happen. Do it just to be on the record. Often your outspoken attitude will be taken seriously and appreciated, though it may not bring about any immediate changes. Just as often it will unleash a barrage of defensiveness and even anger, which you should staunchly absorb without weakening.
9. Be aware of not doing anything that you don’t want to do for the alcoholic. It is bad enough if you commit any of the above mistakes willingly. But when you add to them the complications of doing them when you would prefer not to, you are compounding your mistake and fostering an eventual Persecution.
10. Never believe that an alcoholic is hopeless. Keep your willingness to help ready, offer it often, and make it available whenever you detect a genuine interest and effort on the alcoholics part. When that happens, don’t overreact, but help cautiously and without Rescuing; doing only what you want to do, and no more than your share.
Remembering these guidelines about Rescuing will be helpful regardless of what else is done. You can’t fix the problem, the alcoholic has to do the work. By rescuing and reducing the painful impacts of the alcoholism you are allowing the alcoholic to continue to drink. Often it’s only when things hit ‘rock bottom’ that the alcoholic will decide it’s time to change. That is when you should be there for them to support them through the process.