I get some amazing letters and questions.
This one really hit me close to home. In my past, I really struggled with addictive behavior, negative self-talk and insecurity.
I think it’s important to talk about simply because millions of people suffer with the same every day, and mental health is a hugely important piece of our overall health.
I want to share with you a question I received from a reader recently about how to overcome addictive behavior – and my response.
I’m currently battling alcoholism and quite a few addictive behaviors…I’m wondering how you started, and what you did…I’m in constant negative thought and almost all the time ruin future events before they even get the chance. What worked for you?
Thanks for writing. I know how hard it can be to feel you’re at odds with your own mind. Addictions undermine our belief in our own autonomy. And that fuels the negative self-talk. Not to mention, the chemicals in the substances we use impact our health and wellness, and physically alter our mental state.
This was something I struggled with for years. While I had some success shutting down alcohol and drug abuse as I became so aware of how at odds that was with my drive to be fit, my addictive spiral sought an outlet in other ways – consumerism, sex, and obsessive overwork.
Channeling my energy into a positive pursuit like exercise and health was a huge boost for me, and definitely helped improve my mental health. But it wasn’t until I got support from a therapist and started addressing the root cause of my behavior patterns that I was able to really unravel the addictive cycle and finally be free of those response systems.
I used to feel like I was not in control – it felt like my operating system had bugs in it and I couldn’t get to them. A specific type of therapy was the answer that helped me truly “upgrade” my operating system and eradicate those bugs that drove my addictive behavior.
I personally worked with an EMDR therapist, someone who specializes in PTSD and trauma response. I believe my addictive and self-destructive behavior was a response to early childhood trauma, and all of my resulting behavior was in reaction to that, it was an adaptive response designed to help me cope with things that were too painful to accept as a child.
In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction Gabor Mate writes:
“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”
How we see the world is THE #1 thing that determines our experience in it. And our experiences shape our filters. So if we’re seeing life through a filter distorted by pain or adverse experience, it’s a survival adaptation to find ways to cope with the pain.
Here are some additional resources and tools that have been helpful for me:
- Neurofeedback – measures brain waves and provides a feedback signal, helping teach control of brain functions.
- Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Dr Daniel Amen
- SPECT brain scan at Amen Clinics
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate
- EMDR Readiness Course
- Find an EMDR Practitioner
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share any questions, thoughts and resources in comments below!
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