NOT ENOUGH to just STOP
Addiction recovery is far more than just stopping the addiction.
At one time or another, most of us feel some degree of emptiness, loneliness, inadequacy, idealism, or spiritual longing. We recognise the discontent, the desire to escape pain, and the tendency to seek answers in activities, substances, or relationships. This sense of restlessness and the spiritual longing is familiar to many of us. Over the many years of treating addiction and co-dependency I have heard many people talk about a non-specific hunger for something that seems to be missing in their lives. They describe a gnawing emptiness within that is never filled. This insistent stirring from within is so intense that it can, at times, be painful. It seems to originate at one's very core, and for some of us, it feels even stronger than our sexual drive or our hunger for food.
I was aware of it as a child, and I tried somehow to fill it by spending hours and hours playing pinball machines and snooker, watching television and listening to music on my transistor radio, or participating in sports. I struggled with it as a teenager, I felt it as a young adult when I looked at a particularly magnificent painting, read an eloquent poem, or watched an exquisite dance. And it manifested during a multitude of other restive moments. The pit of my stomach felt empty, my heart hurt, and my entire being aspired toward something I could not identify. As I grew, the ache in my soul increasingly permeated all aspects of my life. I felt monumentally homesick for something undefined, for an unnamed entity, place, or experience. Nothing I did seemed to alleviate the yearning within me.
There are, I am sure, some fortunate people who feel this longing but do not act upon it in painful ways. However, many people identify the spiritual yearning as a persistent voice in their lives, one they often confuse with their everyday aspirations. At first, they identify it as the desire to excel on the playing field, to develop their intellect, to get into the right university, or to meet the man or woman of their dreams. Perhaps they feel an overwhelming craving for a certain model of car, for a new outfit, or for sexual contact.
This fundamental appetite might manifest in the abuse of food, alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs. Some people feel a general dissatisfaction in their marriage and find themselves longing for something more: a new house, a baby, a significant change in their partner's behaviour, or a completely different relationship. They feel discontented, as though something is lacking. Perhaps more money would bring happiness, or a better social position, or a new job.
I loved my wife and kids, was satisfied with my business, and felt reasonably good about my accomplishments. But something was missing. I found myself thinking about moving to another state or country and even trying another line of business. I soon began to gamble too much, as well as abuse various mood altering drugs. After a while, I realized that none of those things would help my feelings of emptiness, and in fact, they had begun to cause more problems than they would solve. I felt stuck."
The irony is, no external activities or substances satisfy the initial craving or the feelings of emptiness. Many people attain the object of their desire, and the incessant ache remains. One person may win the lotto or player-of-the-year award for football, another earn an advanced degree from a prestigious university. Someone else might capture the heart of a perfect mate, make enough money, and live in the style he or she has always wished for. Yet, even in the midst of the bounty that is meant to bring satisfaction and fulfilment, the yearning persists, perhaps even magnified by the achievements, which only remind us of the emptiness within. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics report that once the physical craving for the drug or behaviour is eliminated, a deeper craving still remains.
As a culture, we do not have many sanctioned frame-works in which to deeply experience and satisfy the yearning for wholeness. As a result, people of all ages distort and misdirect this immensely strong impulse into addictions of all kinds, and co-dependency, not only addictions involving the use of chemicals (alcohol & drugs), but also eating disorders, sexual and love addictions, and addictions to power, money, relationships, gambling, and countless other addictive activities.
What is this free-floating yearning? I believe that Jung was right. This intense and at times painful craving is deep thirst for our own wholeness, our spiritual identity, our divine source, or God.
This place of wholeness we seek is our spiritual core, an essential component of our nature. Development of a relationship with this inner source is a common, and necessary, aspect of human existence. I believe that this thirst for wholeness is the main driving force in the ever increasing rates of addiction in our society. Unless this factor is addressed in recovery and addiction treatment, the individual is always going to remain at high risk of relapse or in danger of switching addictions. Simply stopping our addictive behaviours or replacing them with legal substitute drugs is not enough and doesn't work.
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