I didn’t realize you could be addicted to…

 

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A lot of us assume we are immune to addiction because we do not use illegal drugs. 

“Addicts” are “those people”…not “normal” people like you and me. Right? 

We see shows about interventions on TV, and we look at each other and say, “Whew…I’m so glad I’m not one of those screwed up people.” 

If only it was that simple. 

“Addiction” is far more widespread phenomenon than most people appreciate. 

Just like most people assume they can never be “brainwashed” or manipulated, most people assume they are not vulnerable to addiction. 

That is an unwise assumption. 

At its most fundamental level, “addiction” refers not to substance use or abuse…but to self-defeating behaviors that we engage in over and over again, because those behaviors offer us either a “high” or some type of soothing that we desperately want. 

Does substance use fit this description? Yup. People use substances because they like the way those substances make them feel, and their desire for those feelings lead them to indulge in self-defeating behaviors over and over again. 

But what else fits that description? 

Self harm behavior very often fits that description. 

Most people who self-harm— who cut themselves, burn themselves, or otherwise physically hurt themselves— do so because self-harm either offers them a feeling they like (such as a high or an endorphin rush), or helps decrease feelings they dislike (most often anxiety). So they do it again and again and again, because they want those feelings. 

Trying to quit self-harm is very much like trying to quit a drug. Ask anybody who has ever tried. 

What else fits the definition of an addiction? 

For many people, looking at pornography often fits that definition. 

Pornography exerts a powerful tug on many peoples’ brains. It facilities a rush of feel-good hormones and neruotransmitters that people will effortfully, tirelessly chase…often to the detriment of their productivity, their relationships, their real world sexual functioning, and even their safety. 

Addiction really isn’t just about alcohol or drugs. 

It’s about the irrational, compulsive behavior that results when our brains decide that certain feelings MUST be chased, regardless of the consequences. 

We are all vulnerable to addiction, because we are all wired to want to feel good and avoid feeling bad. 

To think that we’re NOT vulnerable to addiction actually makes us MORE vulnerable to addiction…because, as any addict will tell you, the best way to overcome an addictive behavior is to simply not start in the first place. 

The good news is, we know an awful lot about addiction from a behavioral science standpoint these days. 

We know things about how the brain works when it’s chasing pleasure. 

We know things about how human behavior works when it becomes compulsive and self-defeating. 

And one of the things we know is that it usually takes a great deal of support and honesty in order to overcome addiction. 

It rarely works when we try to “kick” a habit on our own. 

Take a good look at your life…and be honest with yourself. 

What are the behaviors that tend to sabotage you? 

What are the feelings you’re chasing with certain behaviors? 

What are the consequences of NOT realizing how dependent you are on certain behaviors? 

We really can inoculate ourselves against the danger of addiction…but we have to be very, very real with ourselves first. 

 

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We are all mysteries, seeking a sleuth.

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We— and most of the people around us— have entire worlds, entire universes, hidden inside of ourselves that very few other people know about. 

I think about this every time I hear somebody confidently say that a person they know “would never do (fill in the blank).” 

Many of the people I work with every day begin sessions with a variation on the theme, “if other people ONLY KNEW (fill in the blank) about me…” 

It’s not that we’re necessarily hiding things from the world because we’re ashamed…although that’s sometimes the case. 

It’s more often just the fact that there’s no possible way the people around us could POSSIBLY comprehend the overwhelming array of fears, desires, ideas, feelings, urges, needs, fears, and other experiences that make us, us. 

In fact, we OURSELVES have difficulty appreciating, let alone managing, all that goes on inside our heads and hearts. So, we do what we can to limit our awareness of the complexity and chaos within us— for no other reason than to avoid being overwhelmed. 

All of which means that, when we’re dealing with OTHER people out there in the world…they often get the very edited, very abridged version of us. 

We give other people the version of “us” that we think they can handle. 

We give other people the version of “us” that we think they can accept. 

We give other people the version of “us” we think is safest to give them. 

And make no mistake, it’s normal and understandable that we do this…but in the long term it also leads many people to feel lonely and unseen. 

It’s hard to feel connected to the world when you feel essentially unseen and unknown. 

It’s hard to feel truly liked and appreciated, let alone loved, when you feel essentially unseen and unknown. 

Why is any of this important to understand and talk about? Because it very directly impacts our ability and inclination to accept, respect, and love ourselves. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you’re constantly thinking that the world only knows— and thus only accepts— an incomplete, heavy edited version of you. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you truly believe that there are people in your life who would dislike and reject you IF THEY ONLY KNEW thus-and-such about you. 

It’s hard to love yourself when you’re aware that there are parts of you that you’re actively ignoring, neglecting, denying or disowning. 

A skill every one of us needs to develop is the ongoing skill of not making it harder to love ourselves. 

The world makes it hard enough already. 

We need to understand something important about both ourselves and the other people in our lives: not one of us is perfect. 

Not one of us likes every single part of ourselves, our behaviors, or or pasts. 

Not one of us DOESN’T have things they’d prefer to do over in their lives, or aspects of themselves they wish looked, felt, or functioned differently. 

There are ways every single one of us is a mess— or thinks we’re a mess, anyway. 

So we both limit our own awareness of ourselves, and we definitely limit the ways in which we expose ourselves to and interact with the world. 

But here’s the thing: as broken, as wounded, as much of a mess as you think you are? 

I guarantee you that the most confident, together person you’ve ever met feels something similar (provided, of course, they have a baseline level of self awareness). 

We are all hiding ourselves from the world— and, to a certain extent, from our own awareness. 

It’s a testament to how much we desperately need love. 

And not just love. Acceptance, respect, kindness. 

Yes, from the world— but also, more immediately, from ourselves. 

 

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No, you don’t need to be an addict to relapse.

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You don’t have to be an addict to relapse. 

We all relapse sometimes. 

When I say “relapse,” I don’t just mean using a substance or engaging in a behavior identified as potentially addictive or compulsive. 

I use “relapse” to mean any time our coping mechanisms were temporarily overwhelmed, and we engaged in a self-defeating behavior we had previously decided not to. 

Does using drugs or alcohol when you’re in recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism qualify? Yes. 

But so does being cruel to yourself in your self-talk when you’re trying to recover from depression. 

So does engaging in prolonged avoidance behavior (as opposed to temporary “time outs” in order to catch your breath or regroup) when you’re trying to recover from anxiety. 

So does binging, restricting, or purging when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. 

So does procrastination. 

So does crashing your diet or eating plan in an unplanned, non-purposeful way. 

Every time we take a self-sabotaging, self-defeating step backwards, it’s a form of relapse— and we need to understand exactly what that means. 

It means our coping skills were sufficiently overwhelmed that we got dragged away from our long-term recovery goals. 

Relapse is not our fault— but it IS our problem. 

Relapse has a way of putting unhelpful thoughts in our heads. 

Thoughts to the tune of, “I obviously can’t do this.” 

Thoughts like, “Great, now I have to start all over again.” 

Thoughts like, “Well, I already relapsed; I might as well go whole hog, as long as I’m not in recovery tonight.” 

The thing about those thoughts is: they do not come from a voice that is helpful to or concerned about you. 

That’s the voice of your addiction talking. 

Or your depression, or your anxiety, or your eating disorder. 

It does not care about you. 

It just wants you to do what it tells you to do. 

And it will lie to you to get you to do it. 

If you’ve had a relapse— if you’ve taken some self-defeating, self-sabotaging steps backward, and temporary compromised your recovery goals— the voice of your addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorder, or other life challenge is going to pipe up pretty loudly…because it knows you’re at a crossroads. 

When we’ve relapsed, we are faced with the very valid question of what comes next. 

That choice is real, and important. 

Think about it this way: in a year, you’re going to be telling one of two stories about your relapse tonight. 

You could be telling the story about how you were doing okay…but then you had a stumble. And that stumble was what led you down the rabbit hole, causing you to sink deeper and deeper into your life challenge. 

That could be the story you tell about this in a year. 

Or, in a year, you could be telling a different story about this relapse. 

You could be telling a story about how you relapsed…but then you realized that didn’t have to be the trigger to an avalanche of prolonged self-defeating behavior. 

It could just be a blip on the radar. 

It could be what woke you up and turned you around. 

This relapse could be what defeats you…or what saves and strengthens you. 

You get to decide which story you’re going to tell in a year. 

Only you. 

 

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Right after a relapse…

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If you’re reading this right after a relapse, there are a few things I want you to know. 

First thing’s first: breathe. 

No, don’t just read that sentence and blow by it, figuring “Yeah, yeah, I know.” 

Really, really breathe. Five counts in; hold for five counts; five counts out. 

Good. Now do it again. Humor me. 

Notice the world inside your head kind of slow down as you breathe. 

Notice your back and your neck start to relax— just a little. 

Now…about that relapse. 

If you’re reading this and you’ve just relapsed, you need to know that this isn’t the end of your recovery— or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. 

You need to know that relapse is incredibly common in recovery.

Of course it’s common. Your addiction, whether it is to a substance or a behavior or an institution or even a person, has been conditioned and reinforced, probably for years. Those patterns don’t change on a dime. 

A lot of people in recovery relapse. It’s not what we prefer, but it happens. Go to any twelve step meeting, and seek out the old timers, those guys with years and years of sobriety— I guarantee that they’ve all relapsed at one point. 

You need to know that you didn’t “fail.” 

Having relapsed doesn’t mean you “can’t” do recovery. 

All it means is, you had a day where the pressure overwhelmed your coping skills. That’s literally all that happened. 

Could you have made different decisions to avoid that relapse? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter right now. It happened. 

You need to know it’s not the end of the world. 

You need to know that you can’t take the relapse back— no matter how hard you try. 

You need to know that, if anything positive at all is going to come out of this relapse, then it’s on you to figure out what this relapse has to teach you. 

That’s right. Relapses have things to teach you. In fact, relapse has things to teach you that sobriety cannot teach you. 

(That doesn’t mean we should aspire to relapse…but it means that it’s on you not to waste the opportunity presented by this relapse.) 

But maybe the most important thing you need to know, if you’re reading this right after a relapse, is that it’s not too late—or too early— to get back on the horse. 

A lot of the time, when we relapse, we figure, eh, screw it, I’ve already relapsed, might as well really dive in. 

That won’t make things better. 

There’s a difference between falling off the wagon for an hour…and falling off the wagon for twelve hours. 

(Hell, there’s even a difference between falling of the wagon for an hour, and falling off the wagon for an hour and a half.) 

The name of the game is, getting back into the game as soon as you can. 

As soon as you have control again. As soon as you have a free choice again. 

As soon as your head’s clear enough to think again. THAT is when you want to get back on the horse. 

If you’re reading this right after a relapse, you need to know that I’m proud of you for even being in recovery. 

Recovery is hard. It’s maybe the hardest thing humans do. 

If you’re reading this right after a relapse, you need to know that I don’t want you to give up. 

I want you to try again. 

I believe you are worth saving. 

And I believe there is hope. 

Not just in general— but for you, specifically. 

Please don’t give up. 

 

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Your results are not a reflection of you. Repeat as necessary.

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One of the most important distinctions you’ll ever learn, is to separate you as a person from the results you produce out there in the world. 

Your results are not a direct reflection of YOU. 

And yet, many people remain convinced that their results speak directly to who they are— or who they are not. 

They figure, for example, that if they’ve tried things and have come up short, they are a failure. 

Having failed does not make you a failure. Everyone fails. 

The most successful people in the history of the world have failed more than most— in fact, their failures are often what contribute to them ultimately becoming successful. 

Just like your failures are not a direct reflection of you, though…neither are your successes. 

Your successes are positive and should be celebrated, definitely…but successfully completing projects or achieving goals may or may not directly reflect who you are as a person. 

Many people have achieved plenty of “success” in their careers of various areas of their lives…and still wound up feeling empty and unfulfilled. 

We need to grasp, very clearly, that our results are not a reflection of us. 

Our results may be a reflection of a lot of things— work put in, luck, inherent talent, favorable circumstances, or a dozen other variables— but it’s a mistake to become over identified with either our failures OR our successes. 

The fact is, we’re going to have a lot of results of various kinds in our lives. 

We’ll have a lot of failures. 

And we’ll probably have a lot of successes, big and small. 

If we think that our results are a reflection of us, we’re constantly going to be jostled back and forth between feeling good and feeling lousy about ourselves— because, as long as we’re alive, we’re going to get varied results in our lives. 

What IS a reflection of us, if not our results? 

Our behavior is often a reflection of us. 

What we choose to say and otherwise express is often a reflection of us. 

How we treat people is often a reflection of us. 

Those things may not be perfectly reflective of who we are as people…but the reason why they may be more accurate reflections of us than the results we produce in our lives is this: those are things that we have control over. 

We often have control over what we do— or what we don’t do. 

We often have control over what we say— or choose not to say. 

And we definitely have control over how we choose to interact with and treat other people. 

I think a lot of people buy into the “your results are a reflection of YOU” mentality because they’re in kind of an identity crisis. 

They don’t know who they are. They don’t know what they’re all about. They haven’t thought deeply about their own values or goals— or maybe they’re afraid to think too deeply about their values and goals. 

When somebody is hazy on who they are, OF COURSE they’re going to become over identified with their results in life. Because what else is there, right? 

Resist this urge. 

Remember that you are complex.

Remember that your life is long. 

You’re going to have ups and downs, successes and failures…and none of them can comprehensively define you as a person. 

You can only be truly defined by those things you affirmatively choose. 

Choose wisely. 

 

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Don’t limit your ways to feel good and worthy, please.

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We are in trouble when we’re meeting our needs for self-esteem or personal fulfillment through a limited number of external sources. 

If we need certain relationship feedback to feel good, if that’s the ONLY WAY we can feel good…it’s a problem. 

If we need certain professional feedback to feel good, if that’s the ONLY WAY we can feel good…it’s a problem. 

These are problems not only because those external sources of feedback may not always be available…but also because our self-esteem suffers when we get obsessed with certain sources of feeling good. 

Our self-esteem is not dumb. 

It knows when we are desperately seeking or clinging to certain sources of external gratification, not because we just REALLY LIKE those sources of gratification…but because we know we don’t have anything as a backup that can help us feel good and worthy. 

Our self-esteem watches us desperately scramble to make certain relationship or professional experiences happen…and it gets sad. 

It goes down. 

So what we wind up with is not only insecurity about our needs for enjoyment and fulfillment getting met…but a pervasive feeling that we simply can’t handle life. 

If we’re going to create stable, high self esteem, we need to create a life worth living. 

A life that includes a VARIETY of potentially reinforcing experiences…as opposed to having piled all our eggs into one basket. 

A life that allows us to do well at some things, but not as well at other things…because we’re not depending on any one thing for too much of our feelings of worth. 

As a rule, when in doubt: expand. 

Try more things. 

Try different things. 

Don’t limit yourself to the same types of projects, interests, or connections just because they feel familiar or you know you’re good at them. 

Building a life worth living involves trying new things…and, yes, failing at some of them. 

It’s NOT about finding your “one thing,” that you’ll do over and over and over again for the rest of your days. 

So many people pressure themselves to find their “one thing.” 

Which is a bummer, insofar as not only is that not necessary…it’s counterproductive to developing genuine self-esteem. 

When we develop a variety of ways to feel good, our anxiety goes down. 

When we develop a variety of ways to feel good, we begin to relax. 

We begin to actually enjoy the things we do…because the stakes are a little lower. 

EVERY experience isn’t make-or-break, as a source of self-esteem or enjoyment. 

When you limit your potential ways to feel good, you necessarily put pressure on yourself to excel at those things…or else you’re left with nothing, because you failed to formulate a Plan B. 

In a practical sense, what this means is: get curious. 

Think about what MIGHT provide you with enjoyment. 

Thank about what MIGHT provide you with fulfillment. 

Make lists. 

And then watch your own reaction to potentially stepping outside of your comfort zone. 

It might be scary, yes. 

But it also might—just might— be interesting and exciting. 

 

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Beware of “gurus” who oversell themselves.

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There’s a reason why most personal development pages on the internet (including this one!) can’t dole out the specific strategies that will work for you in your recovery: because the specific strategies that will work for YOU are just that— specific to YOU. 

You— yes you, right there, reading this page— have different needs, experiences, influences, and triggers than anyone else reading this page. 

The very best I, or anyone writing things on the internet, can do, is bring your attention to some of the common PATTERNS we see in how people recover and grow…and then offer our OBSERVATIONS and SUGGESTIONS on how these might be tailored to peoples’ individual needs. 

All of which is to say: I don’t expect the things I post on this page to solve your problems or comprehensively change your world. 

I have way, way too much respect for you as a unique individual to assume that I know the first thing about what you, specifically, need. 

Any personal growth or recovery page on the internet that DOESN’T acknowledge this— that it cannot, by definition, offer you advice specifically tailored to you— is playing a disingenuous game. 

More to the point: they’re probably just trying to get you click on their content…without acknowledging the limitations of what they can do for you. 

Don’t get me wrong: I hope the things I post are helpful to you. 

I hope they are thought provoking. I hope they resonate with you. 

I hope the things I post speak to some things you have experienced, some of the challenges you’ve faced, some of the dilemmas you’ve encountered. 

But my writing on the internet is much like any self help book that’s ever been published: it has its limits, because I don’t know YOU. 

What I want my writing to do is make you curious. 

I want it to validate some things you may be experiencing or feeling. 

I want it to get you thinking about how what I post and write about may— or may not apply to you. 

(That’s right: my writing is JUST as useful to you EVEN IF I post things that don’t quite “click” with you…because it’s made you think deeply about what DOES “click” for you!) 

I want my writing to inspire and motivate you— to take action, to continue in your therapy or recovery journey, to not give up or give in. 

A huge problem the self-help industry has right now is recognizing its limitations. 

Self-help “gurus” often seem to be allergic to the phrase, “I don’t know.” 

They seem to think that “experts” or “leaders” never utter the phrase, “I need to think about that,” or “I need more information.” 

And, don’t get me wrong, I get it: it’s not great marketing for an “expert” to say they don’t know something; or that their experience and expertise has limitations; or that they sometimes don’t know what to do without more information. 

The thing is, we live in the real world here. 

Recovery and personal growth are often non-linear, confusing, counterintuitive processes. 

What we need in our personal growth journeys is not hype or hyperbole about what one’s writing on the internet, or what one’s latest and greatest workshop, can do for you. 

We need realistic acknowledgment of reality. 

And the reality is: “experts” are limited. 

Doctors are limited. 

Coaches are limited, consultants are limited…and don’t get me started on “gurus.” 

On your personal growth or recovery journey, please: keep your eyes open. 

Watch carefully for “experts,” “gurus,” mentors, or guides, who are overselling themselves or their abilities. 

It really, truly does make a difference in the results you produce on your journey. 

 

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