There are many myths about addiction, but these four are pivotal for change.
Renowned therapist, Ernie Larson said, “Alcohol is in bottles, addiction is in people”.
Many people would disagree with him, believing most adamantly that their addiction is firmly about the substance they are addicted to.
Despite their disagreement, he happens to be right. For addiction is not about the thing we are addicted to, but something far more subtle, unspoken of and unseen… our thinking! Human beings suffer from addictive thinking, and it affects most of us.
Thinking that is trapped in our heads, never deviating or considering alternative points of view. And that’s not such a bad thing, if the thinking happens to be healthy, validates who we are as a person, and results in positive behaviours that enhance our life and the lives of others.
It’s not so good if it is unhealthy, self-destructive, stops us from growing, and produces only fear, anxiety, discouragement, worry, stress, a lack of self-worth or hopelessness.
The way we tend to deal with our unhealthy addictive thinking is by diverting our troubled minds by any of the well-known choices… alcohol, drugs, eating, shopping, surfing the net, sex, becoming a workaholic, pursuit of power or academic achievement, accumulation of wealth or possessions.
There are endless activities that we can engage in, in an attempt to pacify our restless minds. An involvement that only temporarily gives us relief from our troubled minds. Temporary, because we are always needing more.
When we finally notice that our lives are starting to fall apart at the seams, we endeavour to put the brakes on by applying some form of limitations on our actions.
It rarely occurs to us that the lasting solution to our disabling condition is to change our thinking. That idea doesn’t even appear on the radar.
But changing our thinking is not that hard and actually produces the result we long for… peace of mind and freedom from addiction.
In our frantic efforts to find the solution, four common myths are widely held.
The first Myth
I’d know if I was addicted
How often have others heard that statement, “I’m not addicted. I’d know if I was.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are many indicators of the presence of an addiction. You can easily find lists of questions, the answers to which, strongly indicate if something is amiss. But there is a simpler way of knowing.
A good indicator of the presence of an addiction is when..
“Normal life is substituted by some pervasive activity.”
There is so much time and effort invested into the activity, (drinking, collecting, gardening, shopping, making money, whatever…) that normal life is squeezed out.
People stop spending time with their spouse, their family, their kids, the dishes are not washed, the lawn left unmown, bills are unpaid. Healthy or regular meals are skipped, our house becomes untidy, we are not putting in the effort at work, or addressing life’s normal needs. All are indicators that something else is taking up our time.
In an effort to convince others that there is nothing wrong, we may put in extra effort at work, at home or with other activities, but in other areas of the life, there will be absences and gaps.
Sadly, many people don’t realize that things are being pushed aside or left undone until, that which is being left undone begins to reveal drastic outcomes… we can’t pay the rent, our health starts cracking up, a spouse leaves, an accident… whatever.
No. We don’t always know when we are becoming addicted to something.
The second Myth
Addiction can be kept a secret
It’s not hard to see when someone is not managing their day-to-day affairs. While everyone has their own style of living, it’s not hard for others to see when someone is departing from it.
Raising the issue out of concern, frequently evokes an off-handed, joking style response. But as the comments increase, the responses become more defensive, vehemently denying any excessive consumption or involvement.
Once a few comments have been made, great effort begins to keep the addictive behaviour hidden. Enormous effort is put in to devise ways of engaging in the activity without leaving any trace that can be observed or discovered.
Life becomes more secretive, ensuring all traces of our activity are erased or disguised. Deception becomes the norm.
No. Addiction can’t be kept a secret.
The third Myth
I CAN STOP ANYTIME
If only that were true. Millions of people would be able to walk away from their captor and live a life of freedom.
But sadly, it isn’t.
The two psychologists Prochaska and DiClementes said there are six stages in the wheel of change, and the average person goes around the wheel five times before change finally occurs.
Records of those who enter rehabilitation centres for alcohol addiction, verify this number of attempts.
No. It’s not easy to just stop anytime.
The Fourth Myth
I can deal with my addiction on my own
Yes, you can certainly try. You might even succeed, but your chance of success is far greater when you are open to the help and support that is available to you from others.
Without help from others, there is nobody to be accountable to. Our attempts at ongoing deception will not be challenged. And to be challenged and supported is what we really need.
In the well-known Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program, the very first words of the very first step are, “We came to admit…”
These powerful words recognise that it often takes a long time for us to admit we need help beyond ourselves. The word admit acknowledges that from the very beginning, we have not been able to admit that we had a problem.
Believing these words in our heart and saying them in the presence of others, puts us on the road to change.
Humans can be very judgemental at times and quick to sneer at our choices and actions. But when we genuinely reach out to others, humanity reveals its far more compassionate side and is eager to help and support.
The daily news amply supports this when we see people rally round others in times of accident, disaster, famine, earthquakes and other times of difficulty that can fall on any of us at any time.
Even with the support of others, change can be difficult and demands more devotion to it, than that we have invested in what is controlling us.
But there is incredibly good news for everyone who longs for change.
In the book of Romans in the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells us that God is eager to help us, especially in times of trouble. He said…[i]
“Let God transform you into a new person, by changing the way you think.”
Note the word, ‘let’. This is about giving God permission to get involved in our lives.
God is the author of the principles of Boundaries. He has given us full responsibility over our own lives. However, because we are free to make our own choices, we also must deal with the consequences that those choices bring on.
This news tells us that with our invitation, He is ready to step in and help us with the changes that we are struggling to make ourselves.
How good is that?
You will notice also that the changes He wants to make, are those involved with our way of thinking…. Yes, that’s right. Our addictive thinking.
No. We cannot and ought not to attempt it on our own.
So the four secrets to changing our addictive thinking are…
- Listen to what others are saying.
- Don’t keep it a secret.
- Seek help early
- Engage the help and support of those who are keen to help…
- Especially God!
[i] Romans Chapter 12 verse 2 NLT