Renowned author and international speaker doctor Gabor Mate widens our understanding of the causes and effects addictive behaviors have in the lives of the people suffering from it, and of the countless others whom are close and far from them. Certain forms of addictions are unequivocally and rapidly destroying lives —think, among many, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, hard legal and illegal drugs. Other forms of addiction do not seem, at least at first glance, to affect their users as intensely and profoundly. However, when deeper inquiry takes place we are forced to acknowledge that such is not the case. In many instances, it is because their full blown consequences can take years to manifest, and when they do, they are often not directly linked to the addictive behaviors and/or substances themselves —think health issues from long term overconsumption of addictive foods and beverages with poor nutritional values. Let us also be aware that many forms of addictions are pushed on us by corporations eager to make a big buck. They charm us into being more hip, cool, powerful, handsome/pretty, happy, etc. Simply said, they entice and seduce our hungry ghosts to find relief from the pain and angst buried deep within us. All of these forms of addiction, and countless others keep our dopamine brain circuitry engaged in search of constant and greater highs.
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Most who struggle with addictive behaviors and substances are filled with shame and guilt. This keeps the sufferers paralyzed and hiding from those who could judge them. It also keeps many isolated from the very people who are eager and capable to help and support their healing and recovery. Shame and guilt keep people stuck in learned helplessness.
The inner Critic is another powerful and devastating force which keeps those trapped in the addiction cycle in a constant state of believing they are incapable of profound and lasting change. From the privacy of a person’s inner thoughts it says things like: “you are not strong enough”, “you are a looser”, “you’ll never amount to anything”, “why bother, you… (fill in the blank)”. This ends up leaving the sufferers unable to imagine, let alone find a way through their addictive behaviors. Because they believe there is no way out, their brain chemistry keeps on asking for substances and/or behaviors which can only provide temporary soothing. Most often, the desensitization process forces them to amp-up the dosage, frequency and potency to find relief.
Gabor Mate and countless other professionals in the field clearly state that our addictive behaviors are rooted and fueled by our un-acknowledged and un-processed emotional pain and existential angst. Instead of remaining trapped in an unproductive cycle of shame, guilt and blame, which the inner Critic only reinforces, Mate encourages us to ask the right questions. Among which, “Why the pain?”, “How does the substance or behavior provide you with the temporary relief you yearn for?”. He also confirms that it is through our willingness to get to the root of our pain, to process it and integrate its lessons and wisdom that we free ourselves from our addictions. While stopping the behaviors that keep us trapped is of foremost importance, behavioral changes have their limits; especially when the internal work is not attended to.
Of course, we can only heal when we deeply know and feel that we are truly supported in a non-judgmental and non-shaming environment; that someone genuinely cares for us and our wellbeing; when we trust. Anyone who wishes to help those suffering from addictive behaviors and substances must be particularly mindful of these factors, and these two other points:
- Nobody in his or her right mind chooses to be an addict. Pulling out of the addiction cycle is, for many, one of the most difficult endeavor they’ll ever take on. It definitely cannot be summed up by catch phrases like: “just say no!” or “if you really wanted you’d stop, you don’t have enough self-control”. When the emotional mind –fueled by profoundly devastating traumas– is on fire and in agony, self-control and rational mind go out the window.
- The viciousness of an out-of-control inner Critic keeps people stuck in a disempowering mindset.
With these points in mind, there is no pulling out of any form of addiction without challenging one’s negative core beliefs, especially those that were integrated early on in life; often in the preverbal and early formative years of our life. Once our negative schemas are challenged, processed and changed for more realistic and adaptive ones, our negative sense of self subsides and our agency returns.
Brainspotting, EMDR, Voice Dialogue and Body Centered Therapies are among the most powerful modalities for people struggling with addictions. Gabor Mate and many other professionals promote most of them as being their favorites. I’ve definitely seen all of them empower my clients struggling with addictive behaviors and substances. All of them, separately or together allow:
- For a safe and non-judgmental exploration of the triggers and consequences of the maladaptive behaviors.
- The ability to access the subcortical brain where the “forgotten” and non-integrated memories reside; which are out of reach from the logical and day-to-day rational mind. These are the same forgotten and fragmented memories that, even if unconscious, make people act-out.
- A bottom-up approach which allows the body and nervous system to be heard and felt so that its reality can be release and its wisdom integrated.
As importantly, all of these modalities allow for deep healing to take place without being flooded (amped-up), shutting down (amped-down), or dissociating (shutting down).
Whether we are addicted to high drama, anger, shopping, gambling, alcohol, marijuana, sex, porn, social medias, love, power, wealth, being right, or any other behaviors or substances you can think of, it is only when we integrate our disowned vulnerabilities and painful experiences that we can begin to heal and free ourselves from the nasty crippling grip of addiction.
Unfortunately, there are no magical pills, cures or modalities that can cure us in no time. Profound and lasting healing requires time. Our hungry ghosts do not surrender easily. Life affirming modalities and groups like 12 steps allow us to access the depth of our human experience and to heal. In so doing and over time, our brains get rewired in more adaptive and resilient ways.
Lastly, let us be clear, contrary to what nasty inner Critics and some members of society say of those suffering from addiction, addressing one’s addictive behaviors requires a tremendous act of courage and humility. Those willing to overcome their less than optimal coping mechanisms are among the most courageous people I know!
Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©