Hopefully my story has resonated with you and in my story you’ve seen that you do not have to have all the answers to make change in your life. It’s never too late to change directions and start on a new path, free from something that limits your dreams and goals.
While running from deep emotional pain, my addictions formed as a replacement for healthy coping skills. Personally, the numbing strategies I desperately collected to decrease my physical pain.
As with many of us, my emotional pain came from trauma in early life. Rather than coping with this early trauma, I put every ounce of energy into ignoring this trauma. Unresolved childhood trauma often serves as the growth point for those who suffer from addictive behaviors and chronic pain. My chronic pain was exacerbated by several bad skydiving landings.
Photo by Irina Leoni
When we avoid dealing with trauma and emotional pain, it manifests in our health. With this manifestation of pain: emotional, physical or both, we tend to continue the trauma loop, repeating it over and over again to preserve the way we see ourselves and to continue our journey of avoidance.
So, we have once but one option: deal with this trauma and learn healthy coping skills.
All of us use various tools and techniques to numb ourselves. During the addiction series, we spoke of how we all ‘numb’ from time to time. Perhaps we should change this healthy numbing to another word. I’d like to put forth that we all need time to ‘decompress’. Healthy ‘decompression’ is not compulsive, habitual, and continues over a period of time. Decompression is irregular, occasional, and ultimate is not about avoiding dealing with something. These behaviors are not addictive and just help us to relax and decompress after a short sprint of stress.
To fully heal ourselves, from the inside out, we have to examine our entire being: mind, body, and spirit.
Examining your entire being involves taking your time and examining the addictive tendencies without judgement. We have spent weeks focusing on ourselves without judgement. Compassion is vital here. Without self-compassion, it will be difficult to dig into the roots of your addictions and near impossible to break free of them. Start by working on self compassion and forgiving yourself. If you had known better, you could have done better. If you are stuck here, let If I had known better, I could have done better be your mantra.
Examining your entire being means coping with stress. With life comes stress, and there are many different types of stress. When left unchecked, stress can manifest as physical injuries and a change in our emotional state, such as drowning us in our own hopelessness and anger. Examine your journey. How did you get here? Where are you going? What do you need to deal with in order to get to that place? We all must start our journey somewhere, and it all starts with taking the first step. What first step are you going to take?
Examining your entire being means diving deep into our emotions, evaluating them, and healing from the things in our past. One simple way to identify emotional things that need healing is if you remember an event that’s over 18 months old and you still have an emotional reaction to it, then you have some healing work to do.
Examining your entire being means examining our behavioral patterns and habits and pulling apart why we continue to engage in those harmful behaviors.
Examining your entire being means becoming mindful of yourself, your actions, and your past to be truly free.
On my journey, the examination of my entire being described above helped me to heal. I invite you to start down your own healing journey .
Let’s go deeper into these areas to start to build up a framework to help you keep them in mind on your journey.
Examining the addictive tendencies without Judgement
When we are coming from a place of deep emotional pain or trauma, it's impossible to function normally. Read that again. Impossible. Our brains are likely in a state of fight or flight. The way we think and our reactions are different when we are in this state than when we are happy. Have you noticed that in yourself?
In every blog, you have been encouraged to ‘examine your addictions, patterns, and behaviors without judgement.’ The most important part of this observation process is not to judge, and the reason is that releasing yourself from judgement is the key factor in being able to heal. Think about the voice in your head that criticizes and judges you. You cannot move forward when in a constant state of criticism, shame, and judgement. Criticism, shame, and judgement typically show we are in a state of survival, or still deeply hurting. We have survived. Now, it is time to step out of survival mode and begin to healt, and to thrive. The Thrive state has no room for judgement.
Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend. If a best friend sat on your couch and told you the story of what you’re going through, would you criticize, judge and berate them? Most of you would likely be horrified to think of doing that to a dear friend. Well, then why do it to yourself? Treat yourself as you’d treat a best friend: with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
Try giving yourself compassion and see how it feels to say something like: “Yes, I did this and that was the best I could do when I made that choice to do that thing.”
Coping with Stress
Stress is a part of life. There are many different ways to cope with stress and the most critical means is to find a means of coping that works for you and is not destructive. Part of stress management is learning how to handle our emotions. Emotional regulation is critical. Are you highly emotional? Do you immediately react to things and lash out? Hey, no shame. We have all been there. I certainly have.
The key is not to fixate on the past. Yes, we can examine the past. Ask yourself: why did I react that way? How would I have liked to react instead? How can I put tools into place to ensure I have the reaction I want and avoid the one I don’t?
Could telling a coworker or friend: “I need some time to think on that. Can I get back to you?” be an easier strategy than saying yes and then needing to cancel at the last minute?
Could telling a romantic partner: “This discussion is very heated and I feel it may become an argument. I don’t want to argue. I need a few minutes because I am upset and don’t want to say something hurtful that I may regret. Can we both take 5 to calm down?”
Learning how to identify methods that work for us can be tricky, especially when our brain is healing.
If we can start to look at stress as a symptom, or an outcome, it suddenly gets a little easier to deal with. That doesn’t mean that when your whole body feels tense and about to burst, you’ll calmly think “ah, I must give a shit on a grand scale, look at how stressed I am.”
Additionally, you can bring those in your life into the loop. If you feel stress, tell them. There’s a reason honesty is the best policy is a cliche.
Which do you think is a better approach?
Saying, “I feel stressed due to XYZ”.
Or, keeping it a secret and then accidentally blowing up on a significant other or friend to release some stress and tension.
Understanding that you feel stressed and why gives your brain time to think about how to deal with the stress. What helps relieve your stress? We all have different go to’s. Here are some of my favorites that I often recommend to clients:
taking a walk, or writing
talking to a friend
Finally, a great method, which I outlined above, is pausing. That’s right. Say you need a minute. Pause. Take a deep breath, without acting on what you want to say or do. Breathe through the intense feelings you have. The feeling will almost always subside within 90 seconds. If it doesn’t completely subside, the intensity will greatly diminish if you don’t react. Why? This 90 seconds is the same amount of time the part of your brain responsible for rational thought needs to activate, decreasing our emotional reactivity. Therefore, we are able to respond calmly rather than react.
Diving deep into your emotions
… grab your scuba gear!
How do you feel right now? If you came back with “overwhelmed”, ask yourself “why do you feel overwhelmed?”
It is important to ask this question in the second person. Asking it as why do I feel overwhelmed will put the brain in solution mode. We are not trying to solve a problem, we are trying to identify the feeling. This is a totally different side of the brain.
So again, ask “why do you feel overwhelmed?”
What comes up? Any thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations?
Sit there in the feeling.
Going back to overwhelm. Is it because there is so much in the blog series and you have identified so many addictions and don’t know where to get started? I certainly felt that way on the start of my journey.
Maybe anger came up because you tried this before and feel as though you failed because you went back to Netflix.
Remember - no judgement.
Let yourself sit in the feeling and feel the feeling. Let the overwhelm take you. Keep breathing through it. Long, deep breaths.
Normally, we don’t have to go down too many levels. However, we do need to be introspective. Ask why these feelings are coming up, why you have them, where they originated. Be curious. Really go deep and ask as many questions as possible.
Do not try to solve. Examine.
The more you dive deep into your emotions, the faster you will be able to identify your patterns.
Examining our behavioral patterns
Diving Deep and Examining our behavioral patterns are very similar processes. The major difference here is we are noticing behavior rather than thoughts.
Do you have a memory of something you regret from today? From this week? From this month? From last year? When is your memory of regret? You may have many. Focus on one at a time. You can start from the most recent or the oldest. This is our journey. Pick something you regret or don’t look back on fondly.
Again, you are going to go deep and ask many, many questions to yourself.
Why do you think it happened?
What state of mind are you in?
How did you feel at the time of the event?
What did you wish you had done instead?
Is there any part of the event that made you laugh before or after?
Can you find any humor at all?
Why? / Why not?
Now, sit in the feelings of the experience. This happened. It’s okay it happened.
What did you learn from this experience?
How have you grown as a person from this experience?
What can you take from this experience that will serve your current and future self?
Do not try to solve. Examine.
Let your feelings, thoughts, and patterns emerge. The more you focus your attention on identifying your behavioral patterns, the easier it will be to change them in similar situations. This does not mean perfection, it means you will make progress.
Mindfulness has varying and sometimes even complex definitions.
For our purposes, mindfulness is being still.
Stillness is a huge part of mindfulness.
Now, this can be physical stillness, mental stillness, or both.
Let’s do some mindfulness together right now.
Bring your attention into your physical body and all of it’s sensations. Are you sore anywhere? How does the body feel? Try not to move as you focus on the body. You may feel itchy or uncomfortable. That’s okay. Bring all your attention to the sensation.
Once you finish examining the body, focus on the mind. Are your thoughts racing? What are you thinking about? Slowly, bring your attention away from your mind and focus on your breathing. Notice the breath. Notice the rise and fall of your body as you breathe.
A mindfulness or meditation practice is important for everyone and there are many guided options out there now.
A mindfulness or meditation practice benefits those with trauma because the practice strengthens the parts of your brain that counteract the hyperactive and hyperreactive areas of the brain. Some trauma survivors, like myself, are numb to sensations, and this mindful practice will help you identify how sensations and emotions feel and thereby allow you to experience them and reconnect with your physical body.
A mindfulness or meditation practice benefits those without trauma by engaging with the brain’s slow alpha waves, which helps to strengthen our immune systems, calm the mind, slow racing thoughts when not in a meditative state, and gives us a mental break to recenter and calm ourselves from the chaos of daily life. This aids in creativity, better sleep, improved cognition, decreased anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness gives us time to ourselves. It helps us become and stay calm and centered. When calm and centered, we can withstand unpleasant emotions, sudden changes, hard situations, and ride them out with more rational thinking. We can think through the tasks we have at hand, and stay more present with whatever it is we are working on.
As a means of wrapping up the addiction series, I feel it is important to check in with you, dear reader, and give you some details on the current state of my addictions.
Although many of my vices have long since been silenced, I stay mindful that I have a tendency toward addictive behaviors.
This knowledge helps me to stay mindful and stick to my commitments of not allowing these addictions to consume me once more. This mindful practice and being present with myself means that when my stress increases, I may choose to use cannabis or to allow myself to play my beloved mind-numbing game. My rule is simple: I own the act I’m choosing to do, and why.
If I trust myself to know when enough is enough, then I may choose to use something. If I do not trust myself, I will never return to it, which is the case with alcohol or drugs.
As you embark on your journey, I want to give you a few guideposts to help you make the most of the trip:
You don’t have to be fully healed before you can live again.
We all numb sometimes. Focus on the numbing when it becomes compulsive, habitual, and happens repeatedly over a period of time.
Anything that provides an escape can potentially turn into an addiction.
Activities that allow us to hide instead of facing our shit can become addictive.
workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, attachment to social media or physical pain.
Addictions that do not provide conscious joy can become part of our identities, like pain.
Mindfulness is key to breaking long-standing pain or stress.
Up Next in Blogs:
We will start to dive into something many struggle with: codependency. I am still working on breaking my codependent tendencies. The important thing is to move forward and make small steps. I am not fully healed, but I can share my journey with you as I go through it. We are going to take a long walk through codependency, as it’s a complex arena to tackle based on its numerous potential origins as well as the ways it can manifest itself.