Treating Addictionwith the Freedom to Feel
by Jayne Williams, LICDC, LICC
Emotional pain is gasoline to the fire of addiction. Before a chemical or physiological addiction transpires, a person craves the escape from his or her feelings. In the work of recovery, we must address not only the behaviors, but the web of experience behind the behavior. The work of knowing our feelings – mindfulness – takes a regular practice of awareness. Many times we experience emotion below the surface and attempt to escape before we’ve had a chance to name them.
In discussing addiction, we most often refer to chemical dependency, an emotional and physical tolerance to chemicals. We can’t ignore the plethora of process addictions that do not involve ingesting a substance, but which alter a person’s mood and have negative consequences for their lives, such as gambling, sexual addictions, shopping, pornography, and eating/exercise compulsions.
We can always find a distraction, be it substances, social media, shopping, or work. To heal, we need to be able to know what we are feeling at any given time and share it with someone. This tendency to not know our emotions or connect with others for support leaves us vulnerable to numbing behaviors.
If I go shopping by myself when I am feeling a bit down, am I addicted? If this is the only way to manage feelings, then it could be a problem. It is repeated use of any behaviors without other means of coping and support that is the concern.
The good news: every day, every moment, you have a choice. You can choose to numb and avoid or you can choose the courage to share it with someone. It can be scary to share emotions with another person, be it a friend, partner or even counselor. You might feel vulnerable when you put down your armor, but the feeling of being loved and supported doesn’t wear off like the emotional numbing of addictions does. When your feelings rise to the top, acknowledge them, share them with a safe and healthy outlet and recognize that you can choose your response.