“No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.” – Patrick J. Kennedy, politician
“I’m the family drunk!”
Amanda was a tallish, red haired woman, who had been attractive at an earlier time. But, age and hard living had taken its’ toll on her. It showed mostly on her face. She still retained her beautiful her high cheek bones. But the rest of her face drooped dramatically like a melting candle whose flame was burning too big and starting to smoke.
While well dressed in expensive clothes, there was an unkept aspect to her. She sat in my office almost slouching, as if overly tired, even though it was only late morning. When I asked how I might serve her, she surprised me by saying, in an off handed manner, “I’m the family drunk!”
I returned her challenge with, “Most families have one…how did you get the job?”
She smiled at my exercise at humour, and added, “I come by it honestly…my Dad had the job before me.”
“Stopping it? That’s one of the things you cannot do…”
I smiled softly back at her and asked, “How does that relate to why you are here today, Amanda?”
“I thought I was quite successful at hiding my addiction…but I was only fooling myself! I need to do something about it.”
“Amanda, what do you want to do about it?”
“Ken, are there other options, besides stopping it?”
“Stopping it? That’s one of the things you cannot do, Amanda!”
“Do you mean it’s hopeless to try?” she asked, somewhat surprised by my comment.
“…appreciate it, learn from it, and transform it!”
“Amanda, my best guess is you have tried to stop it, ignore it, hide it and control it…none of which were successful…which has brought you here, is that correct?”
“That’s about right! But, are you saying there are other options?”
“I can think of, at least, three…three essentials for a successful addiction…appreciate it, learn from it and transform it!”
“I think you just lost me, Ken! Please, tell me more!” she replied, almost pleadingly.
“Amanda, everyone is an addict, both a biological one and a psychological one. We all have our unique addictions…just some of them crowd others, and some don’t. So, anything can become an addiction, if it interferes with your life or someone else’s life.”
“Well my drinking sure interferes with my life, and my family’s, as well!” she said.
“The challenge is to see it for what it is…an unconscious coping strategy which has saved your life…so far!”
“I never considered it that way before…but I have felt that way about it, at times…like my only option was to use the booze, if I was going to make it through that moment!” she added.
“All addictions are a creative way to deal with the most problems with the least effort, an example of true human genius!” – John Demartini, human behaviour specialist
“…an unresolved issue with one of your parents…”
“Amanda, there are lots of people addicted right now to the sugar in soft drinks, like Pepsi or Coke. It has become an addiction because it is interfering with their health and putting extra costs on our health care system. Before that, it wasn’t an addiction, just a food preference, but now it is a big addiction. The same principle applies to any addiction. Nothing is actually an addiction until it interferes with your well being or someone else’s.”
“What did you mean by a coping strategy, Ken? I’m not coping well at all right now!”
“Amanda, we are all unconscious modellers of others. I would guess you watched you father use alcohol to cope with his challenges and you modelled him unconsciously…does that make sense to you?”
“I suppose…but what have I been trying to cope with?” she asked in confusion.
“My training and experience suggests you may have an unresolved issue with one of your parents…this is a common pattern for those who cope by using alcohol and other drugs…does that fit your past and present, Amanda?”
“Since I haven’t spoke to my father in…like years…yes, I guess it does! But you mentioned ‘appreciate, learn and transform’ in relation to my addiction…how do they connect to my father?”
“…is to identify 200 benefits, to you, of your past drinking.”
“Amanda, simply put…until you appreciate both your addiction and your father…which means, learn how they helped you to be still thriving today…you won’t be able to transform your drinking into a healthier addiction which gives you a future!”
“Well, I do want a future…but I’m here because I don’t know where to start, to build one.” she replied, tears flooding her eyes.
“That’s my job…I can show you how to do that! But, only if you are prepared to do the work…are you Amanda?”
“I can go on the way I have been, I know that! So, yes…yes I am, Ken! I’m ready!” she replied emphatically.
“OK, here is how we begin. We start with your current perception of your addiction. This will eventually link to your relationship with your father…but we start with your drinking. The first task is to reduce some of your brain noise by broadening your thinking about your addiction. So you first job, and we will start it right now…is to identify 200 benefits, to you, of your past drinking.”
“Are you kidding me, Ken? Two hundred benefits?…That have come to me, from my drinking?…I can’t think of one!” she said, sarcastically.
“That’s just a blind spot…we all have them. Notice, for example, you are alive, sitting in my office, ready to learn to take more control of your life. That’s three benefits, I see already. First, it has kept you alive so far! Second, it motivated you to seek help! And, third, it motivated you to be willing to learn how to build yourself a future! Can you see those three benefits, Amanda?”
“Yea…I guess I do…but 200?” she said hesitantly.
“… reducing her guilt and clearing her head so she could focus on learning…”
That’s where Amanda began her journey through her addiction. She found about seven more benefits in my office that day, then, she went home, and by the next session, the following week, she had all 200 of them. This started reducing her guilt and clearing her head so she could focus on learning to appreciate how she had used her addiction as a survival tool for a long time.
Over subsequent sessions, as she clarified her values, Amanda also came to the realization her relationship with her father was the catalyst for her to become the independent, ambitious and successful person she was today. And, she transformed her old addiction into a new form…she decided to expand her business by getting some of her family involved. In this way, she said, she was putting her time and energy on two of her highest values, her family and her work.
“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing, you already are, what you are looking for.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, educator
Until Next time…
Check out your own addictions. If you think you don’t have any, look again…they are there…and, they are important learning tools for your future. Once you find them, ensure you can see both sides of them, equally. If you keep a one sided perspective, you handicap yourself, and you attract people and events to help you balance your perception…things like more challenges, low priority distractions, humbling circumstances or tragedies. When you uncover the two sides then you can transform it to a new addiction, closer to your highest values.
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