We're All Raised to be Addicts, but What Can We do About It?

For most of my life, I’ve been addict. For all I know, most of the people around me have been addicts too. It seems we’re a whole society bent on addictive behaviour.

I could tell you that I’ve been addicted to video games for most of my life. And by addicted, I mean I ran away and hid inside video games as a means of escaping the intolerable suffering of reality. I played for hours, days, weeks — I sunk a very large chunk of my waking time there. But all that I think doesn’t really matter. An addict is an addict, and what exactly we’re addicted to is more or less pointless. If it’s not one thing, it changes to another — because addictions aren’t about addiction, they’re all about avoidance.

And so when my addiction stopped being video games, it started being something else. It could be watching movies, smoking weed, drinking wine, travelling, or buying cool stuff. I wasn’t necessarily addicted to a particular substance or activity, I was really addicted to getting out of my own skin.

Addictions Aren’t Really the Problem

Addictions are means of running away from ourselves — tools and shortcuts for dealing with things we don’t know how to deal with, usually emotions… and vulnerability.

It’s so terribly scary to feel vulnerable in this world. We learn at a very young age that there’s a whole system out there designed to exploit the weak and fragile, but there really isn’t anything we can do to avoid being weak and fragile — it’s the insufferable paradox of life, the conundrum posed in living with body and spirit which are in their essence sensitive and beautiful, but also soft and permeable.

Knowing this, but knowing no way out, we turn to whatever means available in forgetting that pain is ever just a small step away from us. We live in a society so bent on pleasure and the avoidance of pain, and we never really learn how to accept and cope with that pain, so come growing up we’ll embrace just about anything that provides some sort of soothing or promise of temporary escape into bliss.

This society which would have us run away from our own selves does this by dragging us into a world of fantasy. There, we can forget about who we are, instead fabulating about who we’d like to be. We idealize Hollywood stars who, in the end, are really no better than we are. It somehow feels good to believe that, out there, there are people who have it good, and that by somehow emulating them and pursuing the same ideals they pursue, then we might also have it all.

The terrible in all this is… that when we forget about who we are, even just for a moment, then we abandon all chances who truly mastering our destiny. We simply can't become who we truly long to be, if we we keep hiding from who we are now. This who we are now needs to be embraced and taken gently towards who we want to be. When we abandon ourselves through avoidance and addiction, we create a prison of ignorance, as a child left locked away in a dark little room while we play the parents who party and party and party in the next room.

This child left in darkness will only be all the more disoriented, confused, and traumatized when it's finally allowed back to light.

The Way Out Isn’t Easy, But It’s Simple

Addiction, be it to drugs or to entertainment or any form of pursuing pleasure, is merely a way of running out of the present moment. It's an escape from the intolerable presence of the self with the self. It seems we’ve learned so much to be self-critical and judgmental, that the first voices that show up in a space of aloneness are those of the inner tyrants and victims. No wonder it’s so difficult to simply stop and hold a conversation with ourselves — there’s simply too much held back there, a deluge of guilt and shame and anxiety, all conditioned by a system that would rather keep us diverted away from the self-empowerment of getting to know who we truly are.

The only real and meaningful way out of addiction is perhaps that which brings us into the present moment, completely and without inhibition. It's the way through embracing and savouring the here and now — that very thing cigarettes and entertainment take us away from. Embracing the present moment necessarily means letting go of achievement, or projections into past and future, and of wondering: what else should I really be doing now, aren’t I wasting time by simply being here with myself and apparently doing nothing?

Shame, guilt, and anxiety — those things we escape trough addictive behaviour — are all qualities of past and future projections.

Of course this is greatly simplified. Addictions are difficult and painful. There are biological factors involved. The very cause though, and what makes addictions so difficult to overcome even though we have pills and support and treatments and therapy — and accounting for things that aren’t drugs but are somehow as or more addictive than drugs, like sugar or video games — isn’t truly biological, nor psychological, but spiritual. By spiritual, I mean something which goes beyond the physical and psychological but which also includes them. I don’t mean something magical or supernatural, but this intangible thing that lies inside of us and which we just can’t understand in a rational way. You can call that the soul, that’s a beautiful word, but ultimately it’s just a word.

Why does this matter? A disease of the soul will have symptoms in the body and the psyche, and these can be treated — but they’re really just symptoms, so these treatments are ultimately just pain killers. If all we do is treat the symptoms, then we’re gambling on the root mal-ease magically curing itself, something which I’ve observed never really happens.

I’ve come to believe that addictions can’t be treated by medicine, psychology, or religion — but that they ought to be treated within the spiritual self. It’s only through deep introspection and inquiry that we can get to the root of the inner dis-ease that triggers us into running away from ourselves.

This running away can only be healed by stopping to run away, instead plunging deep inside ourselves to reunite with the inner child once left alone in darkness. That means we get to to know ourselves anew.

But all of this — embracing the now and embracing ourselves — is so contrary to everything we've been taught. We're raised to value accomplishment and achievement. We're taught to sacrifice the self for the greater good of others. All of this equates to being raised to be pursuers of addictive patterns, which brings us back to where I started: I’m an addict, and there’s a good chance you are too. Welcome, brother or sister… we’re in this together!

Don’t Fight Fire with Fire

When we start learning to embrace ourselves again — this noble art that I like to call self-love — we are learning to live again. We are reborn, and as newborns the world is again filled with unknowns and unfathomable dangers. Without the caring embrace of a loving mother, entering this world is a most daunting of tasks. Perhaps the secret to this enterprise is that of finding the caring mother within ourselves — seeing that the fundament of self-love lies in the realization that there is no true and reliable source of love other than that found within the core of our own beings.

In transcending the needs that lie in me,
I find no other way than to sit with them.

When they would become overbearing,
when I catch myself reaching for the tools of satiation, I stop.
I stop and observe.

I observe myself, I observe the need.
I sit with the need and befriend it.
I engage in silent conversation with it.

I listen to what it has to say,
and I stay quiet and actionless.

I listen and accept whatever it is that is there.

I avoid judging it,
I avoided labelling it —
as that would be the same as indulging in it.

Judgments, even labelling the addiction itself as undesirable,
ultimately serve only that from which the addiction arises.

In contemplating my addictive desires, the mind finds trick after trick in luring me back away from myself. It is somehow convinced that the here and now is a poisonous substance. If I should resist, then it will find a way to dissolve the resistance and sweeten its prize with the sweet nectar of pleasure and satiation. Resistance, therefore, seems to not be the way out of addiction and avoidance patterns. Resistance only pits me against me. It gives weight only to the voice of attraction.

The way of resistance is the difficult way. It's that of fighting pleasure with pain: I avoid the pleasurable desires and instead condemn myself to suffer at the lack of pleasure. I force myself to stay in this place which I do not want to be in, where discomfort and displeasure thrive. Must this be the way to solve a pattern of addiction? Must it be the way of pain?

Should we choose the path of pain, as an escape from addiction, then I feel we often find a new thing to escape. We do not want this pain, and therefore we strive to avoid it — using a pill, a therapy, or else. We have pills and treatments to stop smoking, we find things to distract ourselves away from the hunger or the anxiety — and in the end isn't all that just a new way to avoid? Are we merely replacing one avoidance for another, one addiction for a new one? The problem, I believe, isn't the addiction. It's never the addiction.

So Many Forms of Escape

Addiction is a symptom. It's the symptom of a need to run away from something. If we need to run away from the symptom of the cure, then all we've done is go full circle. It's the vicious circle of avoidance, which is perhaps the biggest plague of modern society.

We have so many different means of running away from pain or unpleasantness at our disposal, and very efficient means — purified sugar, chemicalized drugs, instant entertainment, easy sex — how can we not be ever and constantly tempted by one escape or the other? And when the escape becomes ineffective, then how tempting it is to escape from the escape!

This, I feel, is how we learn to live in our society. We learn to stay busy, to develop hobbies — to be constantly on the go, and we praise those who keep a busy schedule. We call them popular or cultured. But ultimately, if there's a need to constantly be busy and run away from aloneness, what culture is that but one of avoidance? Burn-outs might just be the result of failing to stop running — whatever it is we're running to or fro — and depression might just be a symptom of failing to sit with oneself and simply listen.

The secret therefore seems to neither run away nor resist the desire, but to instead stay with it and allow myself to fully feel and experience this desire. Desires, it seems, have a way of staying unsatiated when pursued, and to grow when resisted. But if allowed to be, just as they are, they seem to blossom into liberation — a sense of freedom more meaningful than pleasure. This is what I choose to call bliss. Even now, as I stayed with myself and resisted the urge to quell my anxieties by visiting Facebook or browsing YouTube, I allowed myself to experience the anxiety — a distressing experience — but a mere half hour later the distress had lifted, only followed by a deep sense of connection with the world and harmony with myself.

Surrender to the Here and Now

This is the power that meditation brings to us, that of staying here and now within the self, not escaping but fully bathing within whatever there is to feel and process right now.

I feel the moments I want to run away from myself are those moments I wish I were held. I wish I were held by a caring and loving embrace, yet see that I am alone and simply cannot bear the knowledge that there really isn’t anyone to hold me. If I should know to stay with myself, however, I come to realize that this staying is in itself a form of holding. By staying right here and now, and by not running away through diversion or addiction, I find myself again and move into my own space of peace and harmony. This, I realize, is the true beauty of mediation. Meditation is the tool which remedies avoidance and transcends the need for love as an external force. Through simple meditation I come to accept my aloneness — a space where the dread of loneliness gives way to the undefinable bliss of aloneness.

The tenets of my teachings are love, life, and the unknown. The common foundation of these three is vulnerability. To love means making oneself vulnerable to another; life in its very essence vulnerability; the unknown is what one surrenders to through vulnerability. Addictions are a topic I hold very to my heart, having been surrounded and suffered through them all my life — within myself or through my loves and family.

I learned to blossom within myself by allowing my vulnerabilities to come to life. I learned to accept my addictions for what they are. These are the gifts the magic of mindfulness has given me — gifts which I gladly share through my teaching and coaching.