Talking to the Addiction)
When I was about a year into my initial recovery process our group therapist told us to write a letter to our addiction as if it was an actual person. The next time we met we read those letters out loud, and there was a great deal of anger and hatred directed towards the addiction. Most of us made it abundantly clear how much we had been hurt by the addiction, and how much we would wish it could be hurt in return, if only it were a living thing.
Then our group therapist said something that caught me by surprise. He advised us to redo the exercise, but to tone down the hate this time. We were here to say goodbye to the addiction, not to rage against it. In fact, he said, through all his years of doing this work he had come to appreciate the intentions of the addiction, even if he didn’t condone its behavior.
I had a very hard time processing what he said in that moment, it just seemed too outlandish to accept. Over the years, though, I think I have come to understand what he was getting at. The fact is that our addictions are actually trying to help us. To be sure, they absolutely do not help us, but they are trying to. Our addictions arise due to a terrible grief or stress in our lives, and they are an attempt our instincts make to cope with that pain. Yes, they cope with the pain in a way that only causes more pain down the road, and that is why we have to stop them, but their intention to free us from our anguish isn’t in-and-of-itself evil. How true, then, is the expression that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That quote matches the addict perfectly!
My therapist was trying to help us reach the point where our letters could say in essence, “Addiction, I see what you were trying to do, and I can even appreciate your intentions. Thank you for trying…but now I know that your methods don’t work. In fact, they only make the problem worse. Also, you have not been willing to listen to me when I tried to reason with you, so now I’m here to tell you that I’m cutting things off entirely. I’m not going to entertain your suggestions any more, and I don’t want to hear from you again. This is good-bye.”
Firm and decisive, but not hateful.
As I suggested, I wasn’t able to see this perspective at first. I had spent too long hating my addiction to give it any sort of acknowledgement whatsoever. The more I worked the program, though, the more I had to deal with the fact that my addiction was inseparably connected with my young-child self, who didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with his great sorrows in a healthy manner. I couldn’t bring myself to hate seven-year-old me for being ignorant, for being duped, for just being a child who didn’t understand. Not to say that my young-child self is entirely one-and-the-same as the addict self, but they are inextricably linked. One came about because of the other, and so much of my addictive acting out, even as a fully-grown adult, has been initiated by my childlike impulse-driven mind.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. - 1 Corinthians 13:11
Our addiction is a sign that part of us has been trapped in our childhood. We have remained little boys and girls in the area of how we deal with our emotions. Every little child becomes a worse form of him- or herself when they are overwhelmed with emotions that they cannot fully process. They become tyrants, they become liars, they become gluttons.
Ideally, the child will be guided in these moments by a kind and understanding adult. One that can show them healthy outlets for frustration, support them through overwhelming situations, and reaffirm to them their true nature. They need an adult who won’t hate them for having started to go astray, but who will love them back to being who they really are.
Often we only became addicts because we didn’t receive that sort of wise and loving care back then. Instead we were left to figure things out on our own, and the result was that we let an addiction into our lives. The addiction promised us control over our painful feelings. We probably had some instinct that what it enticed us to do was wrong, but also we were young and easily seduced by the pleasures that it offered.
Now, though, we are an adult. We have greater perspective and higher reasoning, if we choose to use it. That small child is still inside of us, and we have the chance to help it…or to aggravate it further. When we direct hate at our addict-self, we inevitably also hate the overwhelmed child that is locked up with it. What’s more, by engaging in these angry outbursts we are only giving up our mature self to lean further into our childish nature, thus ensuring that there still isn’t an adult present to help with the situation.
The true adult would have the maturity to forgive. The true adult would , forgive the child for being scared and not knowing what to do, forgive the child who having made an ignorant mistake, forgive the child for letting the addiction in. Not only would the true adult be able to forgive the child, they could even forgive their addiction.
I absolutely understand if that notion seems incredulous right now. I wasn’t able to come to terms with it at first either. I had to mature in my recovery considerably before I was able to finally say, “Addiction, I get it. I don’t approve of what you did…but I see why you thought you had to. You were wrong, and continue to be wrong, but I forgive you for that. I’m not going to hate you anymore.” I have been able to say that, and then I have parted ways with my addiction in peace.
Or, well, we sort of parted ways. As any addict in recovery knows, the boundaries we set with the addiction are tested many times over. My addiction has snuck through the back door in different guises that I wasn’t expecting. I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do. I started to have a sense that the addiction was never going to really leave. It was probably going to always be there in some capacity or another. And as I came to accept this fact, I realized that I could actually have a partnership with my addiction and still make use of it. Now I realize that might not sound like a very good thing, but I don’t mean it in the way that you’re probably thinking! Come back tomorrow and I’ll explain myself further!