Over the last few weeks, we explored how we see addiction, certain patterns that influence our addictive tendencies, and I shared some of my own experiences.
In the last blog, I discussed my past struggles with addiction. My biggest addiction was work, but I also played around with just about any addiction I could find: men, sugar, cocaine, cigarettes, weed, validation, risky behaviors (driving 90-100 mph), and a plethora of others. Additionally, I discussed my own thoughts, or personal truths I discovered when uncovering what caused my addictions.
I noticed the unifying theme in all of the personal truths below was a pattern of escapism. There is a special form of escapism that I referred to as numbing.
After some reflection, I realized that while I did roughly define numbing, I believe it’s important to ensure that everyone understands numbing with the same definition.
Now, dear reader; I am not saying my definition of numbing is right. Instead, I want to ensure you understand we are on the same page and you understand my definition of numbing as we go forward.
As you read, I’d like you to consider: how do I define numbing for myself?
Numbing is different for us all, so it’s important to understand my numbing. Hopefully, this will help you see your own numbing patterns.
So before I tell you my definition, reflect on the following question:
How do I numb?
I define numbing as using something at a level sufficient enough to escape from your feelings, with conscious, unconscious, or subconscious intent. The something you use can be anything: food, sex, games, alcohol, drugs, sugar or anything else you can think of. The important aspect here is that the intent is to numb, escape, or avoid. The amount used is flexible depending on the substance, but is always above moderate consumption.
For example, binging on two plates of pasta, then opening a king-sized candy, then washing it down with a bar-sized mug of hot chocolate topped with half a bag of marshmallows for good measure.
Numbing is a symptom of emotional instability and a lack of readiness to face something that is creating emotional or physical pain within us. Actually, while I’m on that topic, we actually feel emotional pain in our bodies, not our brains. Our brain may be where the painful thought or emotion is created, but the sensation is experienced in the physical body. If we feel empty, we may eat to numb or fill up that void. If we are feeling anxious, we may numb that with drugs or alcohol or something else. If we are feeling insecure, we may drown in our phones seeking for that external validation that we are okay, via social media. If we are depressed, we may try to cover that up with excessive drinking so we feel happy in the moment before we crash even further the next day.
In each example though, those emotions are experienced in the physical body.
Let’s pause and consider that for a moment, and I will choose the emotion that most of us have experienced at least briefly. What does anxiety feel like? Where do you feel it in the body? How do you know when you are feeling anxious?
Identifying what we are feeling and why is a key to being able to let go of overriding it with numbing techniques. The next step is understanding that the fastest way to eliminate undesirable emotions is to allow yourself to feel them. Numbing prevents you from feeling and processing, which causes the emotions to continually resurface.
And they will continue to resurface until you process them - even if it takes years. Trust me on this, I did anything and everything I could think of to avoid feeling.
Today, I want to dive deep and get to the bottom of some of the reasons why we numb.
Numbing is easier than doing the work. It’s addictive in and of itself. However, it is often toxic and leads us to have weeks that are worse than the previous. Numbing is a way to procrastinate.
Have you ever gotten to the end of the month and noticed that you still have to-dos from the beginning of the month and haven’t made any progress? How does that feel to you?
The ideas below will help you dig into the roots of why you choose to numb. Additionally, we will wrap up with ideas and guidelines to stop numbing.
Refer to some of the reflections you wrote about above, in reference to how you define numbing and how you numb.
Let’s get started.
The solutions below can be challenging, but help us to escape numbing and embrace ourselves, learn, grow, and may help us identify why we chose those in the first place.
Start with Love
This may sound like cliche, and there’s a reason cliches are so well known.
In order to start healing and to stop abusing your addiction of choice, you have to know the worth of being loved.
In case you haven’t heard this today, you are worthy of love.
Just by the fact you were born, you are worthy of love. In fact, we need love to survive. Without skin-to-skin contact, babies will not thrive and grow, even if they are properly fed. This has been proven. We need other people, not to live our lives, and not to live their lives for them, but to be in our lives. To love us, support us, and be there. As Brene Brown likes to say “We are hardwired for connection and belonging.”
For me, I had to see myself as worthy of being loved. For years, I didn’t feel that I was worth loving or that I was truly loved. All I could see was the plethora of mistakes and shitty moves I have made over the course of my life. All the mean things anyone had ever said to me were in an everlasting loop in my mind, keeping me shackled in self-loathing.
I had a hard time seeing all the good I had done, and the positive actions I had taken for myself and others. When I stopped running and started facing my shit, I started to notice that the love was there and I hadn’t been able to see it. It’s like wearing orange tinted glasses and trying to read a red gel pen. Try as you might, it’s almost impossible to see. When I started to love me, I started to understand how much I was loved by others too.
The emotional and physical pain I felt was a huge blocker that blocked the way I received love. When you can’t see or feel love for yourself, it’s hard to love others well or accept the love they offer.
When you’re blocked off from love, you walk through the world blind to it and always assume those around you have other intentions. So you push them away however you can, even when you don’t want to push them away.
You are worthy of love and belonging. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past!
What do you need to feel loved?
What do you need to love yourself?
How can you get more of that in your life?
Could you schedule it in, ask for it, or add it to your self care?
Know your Worth
Be honest with yourself. What do you love about yourself? What are your favorite parts of yourself?
Now, I love myself so much more.
that my love for myself resulted in my being able to heal my chronic pain with lasting results.
learning what my mind and body can do when I really focus and let go of self doubt.
my sense of humor, and how I can find humor even in the darker subjects.
my heart and how compassionate and empathetic I can be.
my wild curly hair.
my wild side.
how I can be both totally out there and completely grounded, at the same time.
What is your favorite part of yourself?
Now, I want you to write for 15 minutes without stopping, and I want you to write a list of: Reasons why I am worthy of love. Set a timer. And… Go…
Get Real. Starting with yourself.
When I decided to stop drinking, it was for health reasons, not because I thought I had a problem.
At that time in my life, I wasn’t drinking a lot because I was in so much pain and was taking many different medications. Drinking had lost its edge. Besides, I was numbing with weed because it was easier to justify it as taking medication instead of numbing.
It was still hard for me to stop drinking because so much of it had become a habit. I’d have a bad day, and make myself a Moscow Mule as a pick-me-up. I had been having ‘just one drink’ for so long that it had become entirely unconscious and because I wasn’t even aware of the drinking, I suddenly had to get real with myself about how much I was drinking, why I was drinking, and what it would take for me to stop completely. It had become a habit.
When I realized this had become a habit (more on those in a minute), I was able to get real with myself and accept the fact that I needed to go through my life and really get honest about:
What was wrong?
What was I feeling?
Why was I numbing?
What were my go-to numbing strategies?
It took a couple of years to get to the answers to all of these questions and unravel all the patterns that lead to me not wanting to face my shit.
Based on your definition of numbing, is there anything you can identify as numbing in your life?
Is there anything you feel you have no control of in your life?
This could be many things, including work or the fact laundry seems to pile up to an impossible level. Be real with yourself.
Another good tactic is to ask: When I do ___ or take __, is this a form of numbing? If not, why?
Identify the Habit type
People say that the hardest addiction to quit is nicotine. Most smokers I know are Relapsers, such as myself. They could put it down temporarily, but something would happen and they’d pick it back up again. That could be anything from thinking they could bum a cigarette while drinking, to a highly stressful day that made them let go of their resolve to abstain.
Nicotine alone is quite addictive, and when coupled with the habitual nature of smoking: the morning coffee routine, work breaks, driving, when having a drink, or after a meal, it makes the mental component much harder to break than the physical. The longest amount of time that nicotine stays in our bodies is three weeks, yet people relapse after months or even years.
As I researched the physical addictions of some of my vices, I continued to ask: Why?
Why do people go back to toxic habits when they know how bad they are, even if the physical addiction is broken?
The answer shocked me: Psychological or habitual addiction is harder to break.
To me, my most ironic addiction was weed. It spoke to my total lack of awareness in those days. After all, weed has no addictive properties like with cocaine or nicotine. However, I became dependent on weed.
How? I used it as a coping mechanism, or a lack of coping mechanism. Rather than dealing with the things in my life, I turned to weed to solve all my problems and numb myself through some difficult experiences. When it became more readily available as medicine, that’s what I told myself I was doing: medicating myself. What was actually happening, was I found a legal way to be high all the time. This is similar to how opiate addiction is created: from a legit need that gets out of control and turns to abuse.
Weed does have legitimate medicinal properties, but that does not mean it’s immune to abuse and dependence. Anything done in excess is not a treat. If opiates can be abused, so can cannabis.
In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg quotes the MIT researchers in Chapter One who discovered the simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that consists of three parts:
When it comes to your addictions, what part of the habit loop does your habit manifest in? How can you overcome that habit loop to stop the addictive behavior?
What triggers the addiction?
What are the habits around my addictions?
Is your addiction related to a certain time of day, a person or group of people?
Is it ending a long day at work, countering stress from the day? Go deeper.
How do these things make you feel when the habit appears? How do you feel after?
Change your environment and your mindset
There’s a common saying in habit change that you can’t expect the behavior to change if the environment doesn’t change.
The simple example of changing your environment might be rearranging the apps on your phone so you’re not opening up Facebook, or your app of choice, on autopilot simply because your phone is in your hand.
While something like moving homes may be a big drastic, it is something that may help, depending on the addiction in question. If you don’t face the underlying reason you are numbing, then you will start those habits again in your new home. I don’t mention that to advocate running away from your problems, but it's important to look at the environments and people in your life.
Some questions to ponder about the people in your life include:
What behaviors do you have that don’t serve you?
Who enables or encourages these behaviors?
Who triggers the desire to numb within you?
Alternatively, who challenges or encourages you to adopt healthier behaviors?
Who would you discuss your concerns with when the impulse strikes to drown things out out with work, booze, drugs, sugar, sex, or your numbing mechanism of choice?
Start to spend more time around the person who wishes you well.
Unless you are ready to do the work and change your mindset, overcoming addiction will be extremely challenging. While it's still challenging with solid support tools, it's more than bearable. You can’t expect to change your behavior if you haven’t changed your mindset around what you do.
Are you ready to work on your mindset?
What about your mindset needs to shift?
What in your environment needs to change?
What’s one thing you can change in your environment, after finishing this blog post, that will make tomorrow better?
Numbing is different for all of us, but is often the underlying instigation for many of us to abuse substances. Identifying what numbing means for us, how we numb, and why we numb helps us to progress into the healing journey and attempt to overcome the addictions from which we suffer from, live with, and carry around with us like a backpack full of rocks.
How do your reflections make you feel? Was there a specific event of your life that manifested the addiction?
How can you show love for yourself?
What are some of the patterns you’ve noticed within your habits? Is there a cue that prompts multiple habits?
Each time you reflect, I want you to remember to be the observer and not the judge. The purpose of this is not to sentence yourself for life. The purpose is to notice your actions and change your relationship to those actions without judgment.
So, again, I ask you:
How do you define numbing for yourself?
How do you numb?
What are you going to do about it?
Don’t keep reading: I mean it. Reflect on and answer the questions above. If you find yourself reluctant to answer, ask yourself why.
Next week, we will continue to focus on addiction. So far, we’ve talked a lot about addiction and numbing. As a way of discussing what causes addiction and what pain we tend to be running from, next week, we will talk about a form of addiction that all of us have suffered from at one point or another: social media. Humans are social creatures. We love people, we crave love, and we are hard-wired for connection and belonging - it’s about survival. Social media uses our biology against us and enforcing boundaries with ourselves and our devices is often a productive place to start.
No, I’m not like Ron Swanson where I’m proposing we all throw our computers in the dumpster. However, I am saying we need to be intentional about our use of social media and devices like cell phones.