Things to Keep in Mind When Overcoming an Addiction
When overcoming an addiction, there are many things to understand and change besides the desire to have the addiction gone. Working with a therapist to identify the things you need to understand and practicing methods to improve yourself is the fastest and least stressful way to overcome an addiction.
There are at least two components that cause an addiction to continue, despite the wishes of the addict: the habit and the needs the addiction fills. The habit component is characterized by the three basic components of any programed behavioral response: the Antecedent (trigger, “temptation” or que), the Behavior itself, and the Consequences of the behavior (both positive and negative). All three of these components reinforce one another, keeping the behavior strong. To help eliminate the addiction, all three (not just the behavior) must be controlled or changed. One of the most important things a recovering addict can do is become and remain aware of all of these elements in all aspects of their life and attempt to manage them at all times. This high level of awareness and control is often very foreign to the addict. This is because addiction simplifies an addict’s life by greatly reducing the need for self and environmental awareness, or even the awareness of others and their needs.
This simplification is a result of the component that an addiction fills the needs of the addict. If the addict needs something, the answer is usually to go to the addiction for fulfillment. Because of this, the addict does not need to expend any effort to understand exactly what their needs are or know anything about the environment, or the people in them, which would naturally be used to help fulfill their needs. All the addict has to do if they feel bad is engage in the addictive behavior. The addictive behavior only partially fulfills their needs, so the addict must engage in the behavior frequently to maintain a reasonable level of fulfillment.
Addiction minimally fulfills self-care without capitalizing on the strengths and talents of the individual. When you are eliminating an addiction, you will need to replace the function of the addiction (usually some form of relaxation or escape) with things that actually match who you are… these might be called hobbies. Be sure these have elements of creativity and accomplishment and allow you to work with or manipulate substantial things. These characteristics need to be done in a way that minimizes a feeling of having demands for accomplishment. For example, video games, although they can provide elements of accomplishment and creativity without demand or expectation, lack physical substance and do not capitalize on your personal strengths and talents. Instead, something like playing a sport, working on a hobby car, working stained glass, cooking, wood working, metal working, jewelry making, or needle crafts would likely be very personal, require the use of your body and things of substance while providing the elements of accomplishment and creativity without demands of completion by others.
As you are in recovery, you are actually learning to become a whole, complete person. By building other ways to cope with life besides the addiction, you are learning what your likes and dislikes are, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. You will find that you have more clear opinions and that when people ask what you want, or you are given options, you will more readily know your own opinion.
In the addiction, you may have come to believe that life can be devoid of negative feelings. You may have come to accept the lack of truly good emotions in order to avoid the negative ones. This, however, will not provide a rich enough experience to enjoy life. In order to fully experience the positive emotions that naturally accompany good experiences in life, you must allow yourself to experience a full range of emotions. This is often frightening to someone emerging from addiction.
Not only can the addict come to believe they can have a life without negative feelings, the may also believe life must be exciting all the time. This is not reality. Life is full of a wide variety of experiences, some exciting, some dull, and many in between these two extremes. As you recover, you will be able enjoy and accomplish in many different experiences.
You may feel that bad feelings indicate that you will be hurt if they continue, much like physical pain signals the onset of actual physical harm. Although physical pain does signal pending physical harm, emotional pain does not and, unlike physical injury, recovery from an emotional insult can be complete. Learn to name bad feelings to provide some power over them by helping you to identify them sooner, and understand better what to do about them. Through the addiction, you were able to eliminate bad feelings in the moment by acting out. You will come to understand that they do not need to be completely alleviated in the moment because they will eventually dissipate, and that sometimes you can reduce them in the moment by resolving the actual cause of them.
Do not assume you can withstand triggers; work to eliminate them in all areas of your life; get away from them as soon as you notice them. As you do this, you will be better able to recognize and control them. When you notice a craving, you should see this as an indication that some need is not being met. Instead of trying to stop the craving (which will prove impossible), you should try to determine what need is not being met. It may be anything (since the addiction has served to fill many needs), so consider all things from the abstract need such as social contact, to the concrete physical need, such as hunger.
Addictions provide, or appear to provide, the ability to work without the need for rest. This is not realistic, and, as you move away from the addiction and into reality, you will find that you will need to engage in proper work/rest cycles. If you do not learn to do this, you will quickly slip back into the addiction. Understand that relaxing or taking a break is for the purpose of recharging so you can work; see resting as preparing for work.
Beware of a “letdown effect” which will happen after a very positive, fulfilling event. The fulfilling event creates an artificial reference point, which after the event appears to be your normal. However, it is actually above normal. Therefore, as you seek to restore yourself back to this apparent normal, you will likely not be able to and may engage in the addiction out of desperation. Understand that after a positive event it is natural to settle back down to normal, although there will be some longing to be experiencing the positive event.
Acting out provides a state of mindlessness; this is pleasurable and it often becomes persistent in all aspects of life, which is harmful. Part of overcoming an addiction is staying aware and being in charge of your life. Try to always be aware of the state of your body, your thoughts, and your needs. Always seek to take care of these needs before they become a problem; be proactive with yourself. It is often hard to identify accurately what your needs are, and it is even harder to determine how to satisfy them. With this in mind, try your best. Once you decide on a way to satisfy your needs, work your plan: if it helps you feel better, you obviously guessed well. If it does not, try again and remember your experience so you can improve your ability to take care of your needs in the future. It is often helpful to make a list of as many things as you can think of to meet specific needs, so you do not have to work as hard in the moment that the need becomes apparent. As you do this, you will get better at both identifying your needs and finding good ways to meet them.
When overcoming an addiction, you will have to learn to expand your understanding of the results of your behaviors. When an addict assesses their behavior, they tend to only think of the immediate reward of their actions (such as satisfying the craving). The non-addict thinks of not only the immediate, positive results of their action, but also all other consequences, both good and bad, short and long term. One method to learn to do this is by trying to imagine yourself observing yourself, this will give you a longer-term perspective; also work hard to think of other outcomes for your actions beside the immediate, positive ones.
Addictions, to some degree or other, have a self-loathing, self-destructive component; the addict, on some level, does not have a good self esteem. It is hard to determine if the low self esteem came before, or as a result of, the addiction. Either way, it is not compatible with the better life you are seeking. One component of low self esteem is a negative way of speaking to yourself and others. As a way of working towards an improved self esteem, practice using positive words when speaking to yourself and others. If you need to discuss something negative, speak directly of the behavior, or result of the behavior, while being cautious not to assess the person or yourself as negative. Consider as you speak (either to yourself or others), you are conveying your evaluation of yourself to yourself.
This article has attempted to provide you with some understanding of addiction and some concepts and actions to assist you in overcoming it. It is not a complete source to overcome addiction. Overcoming an addiction is almost always a long process that will take real devotion accomplish. Guard against becoming discouraged during the process by remembering this and reminding yourself of realistic expectations you will likely achieve as a result of being free from the addiction.