addiction nation: we are all addicts

Recognizing, accepting, and embracing addiction.

The problem isn’t addiction. The problem is we don’t fully understand – and embrace – addiction. Instead of healing addiction itself, we play a shell game with it. We often don’t heal it, we simply move it to another area of our life. Then we shuffle and reshuffle it, until we’re not quite sure where it is, where it came from, or what to do about it.

Most everyone is addicted, or has been addicted, to someone or something. The seed of need.

Who among us does not have need? Who among us has not – at one time or another – used something or someone to fill a void, to alter our feelings?

We trade stocks compulsively to assuage our fear about money.
We have a drink to relax.
We exercise to stuff our anger.
We smoke pot to chill out.
We create dramas to feel needed.
We have sex to find relief.
We use a drug to repress our sadness.
We obsess about our appearance to feel in control.
We manipulate to feel powerful.
We control to squelch our fear.
We shop to avoid intimacy.
We watch sports to zone out.
We gamble to feel excitement.
We “Facebook” to feel connected.
We sacrifice to feel wanted.
We use sex, money, and love…as power.

This list goes on and on. All of us do some of these, some of the time. What we may not be aware of is how much of the time we are in fact, “using” someone or something to alter or avoid our feelings or to fulfill an unmet need.

This is called “attachment.” We attach our energy to someone or something outside of our self in order to avoid a need or feeling. Recognizably “healthy” behaviors can just as easily become “attachments,” as those things we believe are “bad.” Just look at the rise in sexual - or shopping - addictions.

How many obsessive collectors, on-line shoppers, or compulsive stock traders do you know? How many extreme runners, yoga practitioners, or rock climbers still have lousy relationships or crappy finances? How many parents do you know who either control - or sacrifice - for their children?

These are all “attachment” behaviors. Attachments develop out of unmet needs within us. In order to meet that need, we attach to someone or something outside of us. The attachment becomes habit. The habit now becomes need and that need becomes an addiction. Anything you regularly use to avoid or alter a feeling can easily become an addiction. We just don’t choose to see it that way. We are too busy deftly hiding behind our illusions about addiction. (poem)

More than one in ten Americans are now on antidepressants. And those figues are from 2008! Most don’t ever seek therapeutic help to get at the source of why they needed antidepressants in the first place. If this many people contracted the measles, we’d call it an epidemic.

Instead of acknowledging that we have a serious problem with our emotional health and well-being, we’ve deluded ourselves into believing that these cases of depression are caused by chemical imbalance. Science cannot prove that. And if that assertion is true, why aren’t we urgently hunting down the cause of chemical imbalance like we’re in pursuit of a cure for cancer? More than one in ten Americans are on medication for depression. That's serious.

A more reasonable, responsible, and rational explanation for such a serious problem is that we are neglecting our emotional balance, health, well-being, maturity, and growth. We need to aggressively pursue solutions that embrace authentic emotional well-being, rather than blame physiology.

Teens still use alcohol, drugs, and sex; but now they also suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cutting, technology addiction, ADHD, bullying, and myriad other serious issues.

Our personal and national debt situation is almost too large to calculate.

The bottom line? We’re all addicts.

For the most part what Americans are addicted to is “not feeling” our authentic emotions. And we will use anything and everything to stay that way. Celebrity obsession, reality TV, the 24-hour news cycle, and the explosion of the use of technology – from texting and tweeting, to social networks and on-line porn – all serve to either inundate us with so much energy that we become hyper-sensitized (and addicted to that “feeling”) or we numb ourselves completely.

Instead of learning to love and care for ourselves well, instead of building certainty, intimacy, and fulfillment from within ourselves, we “attach” to other people and things to feel okay.

I call these attachments “shortcuts.” Instead of a good walk to reduce our stress, we have a beer or a Red Bull. Instead of making love, we trade stocks or shop on-line. Instead of meditation, we bury ourselves on Facebook. Instead of conversation - or simply “being” with one another - we obsessively text, tweet, and exploit ourselves in cyberspace.

Pretty soon our life is predominantly composed of “shortcuts,” with little or no substantive foundation beneath us.  In other words, eventually we don’t even know how to create health, well-being, and balance from within ourselves. Our attachments become shortcuts, which become habits, which become needs, which become addictions.

Voilà! Addiction Nation.

Those whom we believe are “serious” addicts go into rehab and often learn how to let go of what they are addicted to, but not how to let go of addiction itself. Instead, they often shift the energy of addiction to someone or something else. This is not to say there are not valuable, necessary programs for addiction out there. But we need more.

We need more awareness, more ideas, more alternatives, more clarity, and more creativity with regard to addiction.

And we need to wake up and smell the coffee.

We need to recognize, accept, and embrace that most all of us - in different ways - are attaching to people or things to avoid our real feelings; to avoid learning how to authentically fullfill our own needs. So in essence, we are all addicts. We need to let go of our judgment about addiction and see - with clear, accurate, and evolving awareness - that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

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by Kelly Grace Smith
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