I was thinking about addiction today, which is a natural thought since understanding and working with addictions is something I am pursuing. However, today I thought about reframing it – reframing how I look at it, and what it means to “have an addiction” to something.
Reframing – is something I have been doing a lot of lately. I have been trying on different lenses with which to view the world. I realize, I have been stuck in a survivalist, self reliant, self punishing way of viewing myself and others, and I, for the sake of sanity, health, and relationship, need to “reframe” these things. So it serves me, now, to look at my addiction to sugar, and to reframe this in my life.
Addiction is often seen as a sign of weakness. Whether you are an alcoholic, or drug addict, or food, or sex addict – addiction is “bad”. It is something a non disciplined person develops. It is a sign of lack of control. It shows a lack of character. Terms like “Junkie” and “Drunk” are regularly used to define the addict, as well as ‘Criminal’. Even in more positive minded communities that try to reframe addiction it is seen as a sickness. We are not weak, we are sick. For me this is the same thing. Addiction as affliction and disease still makes a person smaller and out of control, it just makes it, less “their fault”.
I see two facets to addiction. There is the person, and there is the addictive behaviour. Neither are bad, or wrong, or weak, or sick. Often, as study after study shows (and especially the great work of Gabor Maté), addictive behaviour is the result of trauma and/or abuse. Addictive behaviour is, one could say, a survival mechanism. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. I don’t believe we turn to substances because we are bad people, we turn to things that numb pain, that let us live, even if that life is blunted by the affects of that addiction. And if the addiction is so bad it makes a person near death – you can bet that the trauma in their lives is so great, they would prefer that death.
I think it is time to take the shame and moral judgements away from addiction – away from the person demonstrating the behaviour, and way from the behaviour itself. If we can see it as a pattern of survival techniques, maladjusted as they may be, instead of a sickness or a weakness, we can begin to reframe and re-mold these behaviours to ones that are less destructive in our lives. If we can approach addiction with compassion and understanding and see it for what it is – then perhaps we can start to reframe what it means to have an addiction, and stop denying that most of us, actually are, suffering with some form of addiction.
When writing this piece, I was looking for an image to put into my website, and every picture, every quote, was based in the shaming of the addiction, shaming the behaviour, and rising above it, being better than it, surviving it, healing it. Food addicts shown as stuffing faces in shame, drug users shown hidden in dark alleyways. Even our motivations and healing practices are based around shame and the notions of “Good” and “Bad”.
We cannot face up to our own addictions however if we are constantly seeing ourselves, or others, as “bad and wrong” for having them. This applies to the coffee addict, the netflix addict, the social media addict, the sugar/food addict, the sex addict, the exercise addict – the people who think what they do is “harmless” but who engage in these addictive behaviours to these “harmless” activities for the purpose of numbing and escape – which, is the very nature of addiction.
For myself, and my sugar addiction, I have gone down many roads to “fix” my “problem” and not be an addict. I have searched ways to “heal” myself, and let others define me by my “food” addiction. (side note: I refuse to label myself a food addict, I have yet to witness someone being addicted to carrots or kale – it’s sugar people… sugar). Today, I want to STOP defining myself this way. I am not sick. I am not weak. I don’t need others to see me as that OR as an addict. Going forward, the message for myself is this: I have developed a life long strategy that is maladaptive, a way of coping with my own sexual trauma by eating a lot of sugary foods – sugary foods have calmed my anxiety down, have eased my depression, and, unfortunately, caused disease and weight gain. It served me in some ways, and for that, I THANK MY ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR and I thank my instinct to SURVIVE. Now, I no longer need it – I feel safe in myself, in my relationship, and in my world. I am in a good place and these habits do not serve me. I can choose, knowing I will slip and knowing I will stand again, to eat foods I feel will nourish me. I am okay. Other people will shame me, but I will not shame myself. I am proud of my life, my survival, my intellect, and my ability to move forward. And It is through this pride, that I know I can move forward without the sugar (or so much of it).
And that, is how I wish all addiction could be framed. Maybe then the “skinny” sugar addicts could face their own addictions – the coffee addicts could perhaps, not see their habit as “something that’s bad”. The “one glass of wine every single night” person (but who probably has more than one), can put down the glass and know, they don’t have to… and if they do, they aren’t a bad person for it.
And maybe, just maybe, if we could see ourselves through a more compassionate lens, we would see others through that very lens. If we can reframe our own maladaptive behaviours, or even just own up to them without feeling shame, we can stop shaming others. It would be great to not see the fat shaming or the nitpicking of food choices, because of what we think another should eat or consume or partake in.
Lastly, remember to thank what you consider your inner demons. Perhaps if you thank them, you’ll see they were systems you built yourself to survive. You can thank them for helping you to get where you are. And then you can send them off, and replace them with a new way of thinking. Our shadows serve us in ways we most often fail to understand – but never forget, we forge those shadows for a reason – neither good nor bad, but simply to live in a way we can cope with. We are all weak, we are all strong, we are all getting through each day, step by step, minute by minute, the best way we can. Look in the mirror and thank the whole of yourself; you might be surprised at how grateful your shadow is for it.