Breaking The Addictive Cycle
The Addictive Cycle
Sobriety-abstinence from additive behavior. Note, there is no time qualifier on this. I can be sober for one hour or year. The qualifier is not engaging in the additive behavior for any period of time.
Recovery-The process of maintaining sobriety. Identifying carried feelings and processing them in order to break the cycle of addiction. Carried feelings are feelings that come from our caretakers. Anytime a caretaker is in denial of, or out of control of their feelings, we get the distorted version of them. We carry them with us through childhood and adolescence. These carried feelings warp our thoughts and actions. They arise from what should be positive gifts that are warped by our caretakers and passed on to us, not as gifts of life and loving but ever increasing burdens. Instead of lifting us up and helping us grow into loving, whole, happy adults, they drag us down. Legitimate feelings are distorted and amplified.
If we feel our caretakers are unable to protect us we experience fear and the fear is manifested in carried feelings of panic attacks, anxiety, terror, and sleeping disorders.
The gift of hope becomes pain and sadness and is carried as depression, hopelessness and suicide.
The gift of having an open and loving heart morphs into guilt and is carried by us as feeling guilty all the time about everything we do.
The gift of life, of knowing a living and loving God becomes shame and shame creates the carried feelings of worthlessness, being undeserving, disposable. And shame feeds into and from all the other carried feelings and becomes overwhelming and drives us to seek anything to make it go away, however temporarily- drugs, alcohol, porn, sexual acting out, gambling, rage.
And unless we understand and work through these carried feelings we are trapped in a cycle, a yo yo of success in dealing with a problem followed by failure as the intensity of the desire fades when we achieve some success that turns into failure because we are only addressing the symptoms, not the carried feelings that fuel the process.
1. We hit and emotional threshold and experience enough pain to address the problem.
2. We take some action and begin addressing the symptom(addiction.)
3.We experience a bit of success and the intensity of the problem lessens(we achieve some measure of sobriety.)
4. The desire to make the change is dampened so the motivation to continue the change lessens and eventually disappears.
5. When the pain subsides, and the desire to change subsides, we return to the old pattern until we hit an emotional threshold again.
6. We go back to step one and endlessly repeat the cycle until we find the tools to jump off this train, circling endlessly around the same track.
The actual process is a bit more complicated and a bit simpler. Recovery in its simplest form is a two stage process:
Where it becomes more complicated is this is not a linear process-one achieves a certain amount of sobriety utilizing some fairly straightforward tools, learning triggers, high risk situations and developing coping and avoidance strategies. And then one transitions to the process part of recovery working through the carried feelings. It can happen this way and this was a model that I developed through much of my recovery.
But I think the reality is for most of us sobriety and recovery should be thought of as two intersecting circles. If you don't focus on the first stage of sobriety you will continue to yo yo up and down attempting to achieve sobriety. But carried feelings can also loop back and interfere with your ability to commit to working the basics to achieve sobriety.
Recovery always begins with sobriety. We need to get off the crazy train of addiction for a period of time in order to get some emotional, cognitive and behavioral objective distance from our addiction. How much? There is no definitive answer. The amount of sober time is far less important than the COMMITMENT to the time. Thirty days is a good benchmark for most of us.
Step One- Set a short term sobriety goal- thirty days.
Step Two- Commit to that period of time. And what is commitment? Think of a beam of light. Non focused commitment is a flashlight. A flash light in a darkened room focused on an object thirty feet away will lose its focus and much of the illumination is diffused throughout the room. We are likely to bump into chairs and tables (slips and lapses) as we try and make our way to our goal. This is not commitment.
Think of commitment to the sobriety goal as a laser beam. With a laser beam the light released is coherent. It is “organized.” The light is very directional. A laser light has a very tight beam and is very strong and concentrated. A flashlight, on the other hand, releases light in many directions, and the light is very weak and diffuse.
Commitment to sobriety MUST be a laser beam. The only thing we should focus on during the sobriety period is our goal. If the beam diffuses or wanders we lose our focus.
Step Three-Creating laser focus to sobriety. There are two distinct types of motivation for change:
1. Fire in the belly- What is the real world pay off for getting sober? Real, concrete, positive goals?
My head will clear.
I want a better life.
I won't be depressed.
I can save my marriage.
Spend some time make a list and keep it with you and look at EVERY day.
2. Fire on the backside- What are the real world negative consequences for not getting sober?
Losing my job.
Losing my wife and family.
Feeling shamed and lonely and depressed.
Spend some time making a list and keep it with you and look at it each and EVERY day.
Relapse Prevention-Understand and Coping with Anxiety
Anxiety be it general/acute or some mix thereof can exert enormous pressure on our recovery. High levels of anxiety are like having your car idle at near red line RPM'S. No engine can take that kind of stress for very long before it blows up and shuts down. Anxiety is our body's natural response to real or perceived threats. Adrenalin is released and puts our bodies in the "fight of flight mode." This is adaptive behavior when the threat is real. Unfortunately most of us have poor adaptive coping mechanisms to everyday stress and the perceived threats are phantoms.
Anxiety is a problem most people experience at one time or another. But for some people the response to even low levels of stress is almost always disproportionate. We we are predisposed to negative and catastrophic thinking which feed on themselves, trigger the Limbic system, which continues to release adrenaline and cues up the feelings of fear and panic. Situational anxiety triggers old childhood feelings of fear and helplessness which feedback and ramp up our anxiety. These are the Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are the most common of emotional disorders and affect more than 25 million Americans. Many forms and symptoms may include:
• Overwhelming feelings of panic and fear
• Uncontrollable obsessive thoughts
• Painful, intrusive memories
• Recurring nightmares
• Physical symptoms such as feeling sick to your stomach, “butterflies” in your stomach, heart pounding, startling easily, and muscle tension
Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness. Untreated anxiety disorders can push people into avoiding situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms. People with anxiety disorders are likely to suffer from depression, and they also may abuse alcohol and other drugs in an effort to gain relief from their symptoms. Job performance, school work, and personal relationships can also suffer.
As addicts we have learned a temporarily effective but totally dysfunctional way to deal with these high anxiety levels, we act out. We get temporary relief but because we lack the strategic coping and adaptive tools to deal with anxiety, the anxiety not only re appears after acting out but usually is intensified because after acting out we are filled with guilt, self doubt, helplessness and the fear of acting out again.
In order to work an effective long term recovery we must first recognize that sobriety in and of itself does nothing to relieve anxiety. In fact sobriety can actually seem to intensity anxiety because we have taken away the drug of choice for medicating it. When we get sober we gain clarity into what a mess we have made of our lives-struggling in jobs, relationships, finances. Instead of the safety and order we had hoped for when we committed to sobriety we perceive chaos and uncertainty. With sobriety we had hoped for peace but instead are faced with fear and doubt.
And this is why sobriety is only a stepping stone into real recovery.
So what do we need to do to recover?
First, we need to understand and accept that our lives have become unmanageable and have a clear, detailed plan for rebuilding our lives one day at a time. We need to examine where we need to do life work and set objective goals with clear action steps that we commit to working on every day. We must begin to make order out of the chaos we have created.
Second, we must come up with effective, safe and functional coping strategies for dealing with stress. These are real world things that we can do to relieve stress:
Regular exercise. We need to set an exercise schedule, not wait until the anxiety and stress becomes overwhelming.
Daily prayer and meditation. Ask God for strength in managing the unmanageable. Find comfort and peace in His love and grace. Use meditation and activities like Yoga.
Seek help in working through our old unresolved feelings, healing the inner child. For most of us this will mean getting a good therapist, coach or counselor who will guide us and walk with us as we face our primal fears.