Whether it be social media, sugar, or smoking, there’s a good chance your life is affected by some kind of addiction. While we tend to associate it with substance abuse, the word itself means ‘compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences’, or, doing something that feels good in the short-term, even though we know it has negative longer-term effects. Think shopping when you’ve already got a credit card debt, or lighting up a cigarette even though you’re aware of the health consequences.
The fallout of addiction can sit anywhere on a spectrum of small inconvenience to life-changing devastation, but wherever you are on that continuum, you may wish to improve your life by kicking an addiction or two.
There’s a reason it’s hard!
Unfortunately, many aspects of the world are working against you.
Social media and digital games have employed some of the finest psychological minds to hook you in, and are designed to activate your brain’s pleasure centres in ways that keep you compulsively returning for more. Studies show that using social media lights up the same part of the brain as taking an addictive substance.
Commercially produced food is often loaded with sugar and artificial flavours that leave you craving more, and advertising is designed to create subconscious connections between products and feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, or desire.
Becoming aware of these connections means you can challenge them and take control of your own choices.
Understand your pain points
Addictions frequently stem from a desire to escape or change something about how we feel. The link between addiction and trauma has been well established, for example, as has the connection to depression.
We often return to compulsive behaviours to ease some kind of discomfort or pain. It could be loneliness, disconnection, or stress that drives you to engage in habits that aren’t actually serving you in the long run.
Knowing what you’re avoiding and what your triggers are is a really good place to start with making changes. Once you know what your pain points are, you can address them directly and meaningfully, instead of easing them temporarily with compulsive bandaid solutions.
Keep the end goal in sight
Understanding deeply what you want to achieve and why you want it will help you stick with the changes you want to make, even if it gets uncomfortable.
Last year, doing some inner child work with my therapist, I came to understand that there was a major obstacle preventing me from healing some old wounds: my inner child didn’t trust me. No matter how much love and kindness I offered her, she knew that as soon as the first glass of wine touched my lips, I would check out and leave her unprotected.
For me, drinking had become a compulsive behaviour that I didn’t have a lot of conscious control over, and that frequently led to negative consequences. Once I understood that it was preventing me from the deep healing I wanted to accomplish, it became much easier to stop doing it. At time of writing, I’ve been five months without a drink, and it’s not even remotely tempting anymore.
Prepare for success
The problem with addiction is that it can hijack your common sense, and in a split second, you can be engaging in that habit again and wondering how it happened. Sometimes I find myself scrolling Facebook when I’m supposed to be working, and I have no idea how I got there. I don’t remember making a decision to open it or look at it, but somehow I have opened that browser window and I’m aimlessly perusing other people’s posts and photos.
Anyone who has quit (or tried to quit) smoking knows how easy it is to have ‘just one puff’ at a party, which all too often ends up in a complete revival of a pack-a-day habit.
If you want to give up drinking, consider avoiding bars and parties until the habitual compulsion has faded.
If you want to kick an online shopping habit, remove your credit card details from the sites you use.
The more effort and space you put between your impulse and the fulfilment of that impulse, the more time you give your wiser self to kick back in and remind you of your real needs.
As well as making sure your friends and family are aware of your intentions so they can be supportive, you may find it helpful to get professional help. A trained and experienced Gestalt therapist can help you understand your addictions and heal the underlying cause of compulsions, so that you can move forward with your life in a way you have truly chosen for yourself.
Get in touch if you’d like to talk to us about finding a supporter for your personal journey to fulfilment and healing from addiction.