“Addiction floods in where self-knowledge─and therefore divine knowledge─are missing. To fill the void, we become attached to things of the world that cannot possibly compensate us for the loss of who we are.”Gabor Mate, M
The focus of my blog, The Faces We Live, is to show my readers the many faces we humans wear. Having many sides to our personalities is what makes us all unique, and is a natural part of being human.
When I started blogging about addictions, I could never have imagined that my daughter would die in the middle of the series—but that is what has inspired me to write about the hungry ghost of addiction.
Please consider this in: The “addict” in us is just one aspect of our overall makeup. At worst, it can be an all-consuming, destructive aspect; at best, it can be an annoying distraction that eats up our precious time and attention. Nevertheless, this addiction part of ourselves can be seen as a protective quality within us, something that is truly endeavoring to calm us down and give us a reprieve from our daily strife. In that sense, it sometimes does its job perfectly well.
Addiction’s only goal is to “make the moment livable,” regardless of whether it’s at the expense of our family, health, or dignity. This part believes that if we just eat that box of candy or have a few drinks or a smoke or view a little pornography, then we’ll be able to relax and forget our troubles. These choices usually only succeed temporarily, and foster the very thing that may be killing us and/or our relationships in the long run. Addictive behaviors deceive us into thinking that we are in charge of our choices, and that we can stop anytime we want; they allow us to rationalize and minimize our behaviors. This part of our personality says things to us like, “What’s the harm in a few drinks?” or “I work hard, why can’t I hit the slot machines occasionally? It’s my money!”—even while our family complains that we are short of money or never spend any time with them, or nag us about our drinking habits.
The hungry ghost of addiction patiently waits to gobble up our time, energy, attention, and often our health and finances. Addictions kill our aliveness and robs us of the availability we need to be able to offer in our relationships. And, all too often, addictions can be deadly, as was tragically the case with my daughter.
What should we do about the impulse to give in, to seek that comfort at any cost? Completely eradicating any attachment or addiction just because we want to is an unrealistic goal. If we could do that, we would have done it already. Instead, I offer the following alternative:
Every time you want to “relax” or escape by succumbing to your addiction, I encourage you to ask yourself with compassionate curiosity: “Why? Why do I want to escape in this way? What will this action give to me?” Gently observe yourself, without any judgment. You might consider writing down these questions in your journal, along with the answers that arise when you think about them. Journaling will help you to see and monitor your progress.
Dr. Mate, who specializes in the treatment and study of addictions, sums this up beautifully:
“Instead of hurling an accusatory brick at your own head (e.g., ‘I am so stupid; when will I ever learn?’ etc.), the question ‘Why did I do this again, knowing full well the negative consequences?’ can become the subject of a fruitful inquiry, a gentle investigation. Taking off the starched uniform of the interrogator, who is determined to try, convict, and punish, we adopt toward ourselves the attitude of the empathic friend, who simply wants to know what’s going on with us.”
I have found this kind of gentle questioning—combined with patience, and a continuing practice of heartfelt understanding and ongoing compassion—helpful for myself and for the clients I work with.
Gabor Maté M.D. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (excellent book on the nature of addictions).
Picture: Compliments of Kozzi Images