Rebooting as psychic surgery
Recovery from any addiction is an intense time in a person's life. Recovery is akin to an overhaul of the personality. Its a kind of psychic surgery that a recovering addict is forced to perform on him/herself by what seems like the cruel hands of a god. It is a time of intense personal growth and renewal and integration. Full recovery goes further than abstaining from a particular addiction, it goes to the heart of the addiction. The particular addiction that we fall into is really just a painful and superficial condition that brought attention to the need to address these long held maladaptive strategies for managing anxiety. It is an impulse to compulsively derive pleasure as a way of handling deep-seated and unresolved stress. Years and much energy have been spent on the creation of layers of maladaptive stress management.
If you are here reading this as an addict, then you have reached a point where you have decided that your compulsions are no longer serving you. You desire to disassemble this "creature" that you've spent years creating instead of living your life and pursuing your highest desires. You've spent years in fantasy and isolation in your thoughts. Your escapes and attempts to manage your pain have done nothing but push down your feelings of inadequacy, fear, shame, guilt, rage, and depression. You have meticulously built a wall around yourself to prevent yourself to being open to true pleasure over the years. Your compulsive actions have done the very things to push out of your life the circumstances that you truly need and would give you the happiness you desire.
There are several helpful pointers that have helped me to begin to get through my recovery so far. I am far from full recovery, but compared to where I was a year or two ago, I am amazed and thrilled to see some of this progress and change in my personality. As someone that has suffered from maladaptive life coping skills in a deep way since I was young, I really should be crazy, on the streets yelling at the moon, or in a situation that is much worse than I have at the present. To think that some people's fates are just the difference between a mere couple of poor habits makes me very grateful that some kind of sanity lurks in me.
The difficulty with recovery is that it is not a matter of simply removing one unattractive behavior. It's a matter of unraveling a web of maladaptive behaviors supplied by years of maladaptive thoughts and actions. As you go through this journey, you truly feel as if you are dying. This is true in a way. Your old self is dying, your ego, monster, or whatever is dying. You've spent decades building this creature. Don't expect this entity to go down without a tussle.
Real Pleasure vs. Pursuit of Pleasure
All addictions are compulsive thoughts and actions. Trying to rewire our brains from these addictive compulsions feels nearly impossible. But part of rewiring our brain includes having our compulsions under our control and working for us instead of them running and creating chaos in our lives.
As rational creatures, we are goal-oriented, we plan and act towards our goals. Compulsions on the other hand seek only satisfaction for the sake of satisfaction. Goal-orientation can occur to gain satisfaction, but if this is done to the extreme, or little resistance is met in obtaining those goals, the mind can easily slip to the point where satisfaction rules over the rational mind. Under the control of compulsive satisfaction, healthy goal-orientation is dissolved and is replaced by the desire for satisfaction. However, satisfaction can never fully be achieved, and its goals never move you toward cohesive objectives.
This kind of thought could be mistaken for "pleasure denying" or asceticism, but it is not. Pleasure in and of itself is a great thing and is a natural part of life. It is the desire and craving for pleasure that is troublesome to the mind. At this point, the rational faculties of the mind are hijacked to pursue these things in a compulsive way that denies the pleasure of the rational mind to be pleasured in the moment. This kind of hankering and pursuit is the danger because it mimics so closely the process of pleasure in and of itself.
Compulsion is pleasure seeking in and of itself, the pursuit and act to gain pleasure. Real pleasure is pleasure in and of itself, minus the pursuit. The mimicry is subtle. It is difficult to unravel the thick layers of entanglement of emotions, perceptions, and drives behind addiction. However, once this type of entanglement and mimicry becomes known to the addict and they see their conundrum once, it is impossible to ignore this pattern in any form in their lives. This sane awareness will drag the suffering person kicking and screaming with the same wrath and force that dragged him into his addiction to begin with—only this outcome leads to sanity.
Ajahn Sumedho, in Teachings of a Buddhist Monk writes:
Desire can be compared to fire. If we grasp fire, what happens? Does it lead to happiness? If we say: "Oh, look at that beautiful fire! Look at the beautiful colors! I love red and orange; they're my favorite colors," and then grasp it, we would find a certain amount of suffering entering the body. And then if we were to contemplate the cause of that suffering we would discover it was the result of having grasped that fire. On that information, we would hopefully, then let the fire go. Once we let fire go then we know that it is something not to be attached to. This does not mean we have to hate it, or put it out. We can enjoy fire, can't we? It's nice having a fire, it keeps the room warm, but we do not have to burn ourselves in it.
Here are pointers to recover from our addiction AND the mind and habits that have created them. These are not to be done perfectly, but are powerful tools.
Skip the Orgasms
This has been recommended since ancient times as a way to replenish and recover from nervous and mental disorders. It is not on our cultural radar, but I and many other people who have experimented with this have found this technique to be pivotal in their recovery. Its a hard thing for people to describe, but I GUARANTEE you, that if you can get through the initial physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of withdrawal, you will see this tool for what it is- the most powerful of all mind balancing tools.
After a few weeks of strange feelings, I felt like I felt before any addiction or before any kind of depression. Personally, the best way that I can describe it is that I felt like "me" again. I started to become a more sane, rational, and genuinely happy person, who was not chronically and socially anxious, judgmental, or needy. There are plenty of resources on this site that scientifically explain the "whys" that this is so.
The most remarkable part about experiencing this was that I was able to see for the first time in a long time that whatever I was experiencing with anxiety and depression was not a permanent fixture in my life. Before this taste of my old self, I was starting to resign myself to be an "anxious and depressed" person for the rest of my life. I was wrong. A lot of my mental and emotional symptoms lessened considerably, and I knew for a fact that my misery was not something that is a part of me. Abstaining can be a difficult thing to do, but it is possible with practice. I am emphasizing the word practice because chances are if you are addicted, then you will have relapses. There is nothing wrong with this in any way. This takes practice.
Exercise will sweep the cobwebs from your mind. The hardest part is getting up and doing it, but this tool is remarkable. Work towards building the body and energy in your life. Addiction is a condition of inertia and ignorance. Exercise counters this tendency and keeps us active. Most addicts KNOW that they have a problem, but their problem comes down to taking ACTIONS.Addicts settle for the laziest behaviors because they have conditioned themselves to take the easy route that leads to pleasure. Exercising physically counters this tendency and the rewards show up as quickly as a week or so. The research on the benefits of exercise is extensive. Its thought that 60% of people taking prozac could eliminate their need for it by regular exercise.
Simply do it. Find an exercise site or program online that appeals to you and dig into it. Nearly all addicts recovering from anything who are doing well will tell you the importance of this tool. Find a program that appeals to you and challenges you, that you can build and work on. It really doesn't take much to see results in your physical body and it's something that you will really enjoy. Once you take this tool seriously and get into it, it will be like brushing your teeth, you can't imagine living without it.
Like exercise, this will take some tinkering and adaptation. There is no perfect diet for any one person, but there is a lot of evidence about what kinds of diets are supportive of physical and mental well-being. For a lot of people, food is another aspect of their compulsion to manage deep anxiety and its easy to see why: it's pleasurable.The first thing is to figure out which foods are causing a drug-like effect in you. Refined sugars are the culprit for a lot of people and so are refined carbs or saturated fats. It might take a while to disassemble these habits, but gradually move to other ways of managing anxiety.
A good general strategy for diet is trying to take in more fresh vegetables and whole grains and less of the garbage and processed foods.
Add omega 3's to your diet (try fish oil) as they have been seriously researched and found to help support brain plasticity. Actually, decreasing saturated fats and increasing the omegas along with limited sugar and lots have exercise increased learning and retention in mice remarkably. It is a matter of readjusting our habits toward those we evolved with. Sugar and saturated fats were scarce and exercise was a part of life. It's a simple formula and the hard part is deprogramming a lifetime of poor habits.
This comes in many forms, but many, many recovery people swear by it. Good inspirational reading, journaling, and time in nature would fall under this category. These kinds of things are enjoyable and speak to the heart. These will not let you down, and can support you during heavy times.
Having people around counters our tendency to isolate and withdraw. Many of us addicts have a hard time with intimacy and relating to people. We lack people skills because we have never really learned to respect ourselves and others, or be present.
Socializing is a very rewarding and powerful tool. Make the effort to get out to meet people and talk to them. Let down the defenses and try to connect. The world opens up this way. Other people keep us in line and help to socialize us. They give us cues about what is appropriate. The more skillful and aware you become in this realm, the more you are able to weed out other people's and your own garbage.
Relating to people on any level is helpful. It's an art and a skill and an enormous challenge to those of us who are socially awkward or lack practice. But it has enormous gifts. Plus, we are never going to have a fulfilling partnership with the opposite without learning to connect. If we want to be functional and healthy, learning to get along with other people is essential.
The cornerstone to mental health relies on manners and how you relate to other people—perhaps because we evolved as tribal primates. Our brains reward us for connecting. So don't underestimate socializing. Watch how crazy people treat other people. Depressed people are also self-absorbed people. Addicts tend to be self-absorbed. Get out of this trap by reaching to people in genuine ways.
Over time the addict weaves his/her own hell and strengthens the very behaviors that keep the addiction alive. Addictions feed off other addictions and many of these addictions and compulsions are lodged in our thinking as much as in our actions. When we start to dislodge one of these components that keep our addiction in place, we start to dislodge others. We also start to fall apart, but this should be welcomed as it is a start to building ourselves back up. There can be a long period of psychological withdrawal and integration after the initial physical withdrawals. This is the time when a person is rectifying the years and decades of poor mental habits and thinking. This stage is unique to each individual and can be a time of real psychological renewal and rebirth.