Universal Addictions

Russell Brand’s book Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions (Brand, 2017), inspired me to write this blog. As I am sure many have, I have wanted to write that book ever since I returned home from my stay in detox some 8+ years ago. Mr. Brand, you have saved me a lot of time and I really appreciate it. Plus you hit on a major topic for me: Universal Addictions. As Mr. Brand points out, addiction includes food, sex, shopping, success, power, control, relationship, and consumerism. It is our relationship to external validation that is the issue. I also lump love into the definition of addiction because, in the brain, addictive behavior rides the same brain highway as love. To me, addiction is just that: toxic love. When I first entered into recovery I wondered where could I learn healthy love, which is mimicking a common question now in our America society, what do we do now to help ourselves heal as a nation? My answer now is that healthy love is conscious and intentional love. Ironically, recovery from my toxic forms of love showed me the way to healthy loving. As I tell my clients, do the opposite of what you are doing and you will be fine (as if it were that simple!)

As a person in long-term recovery, when I came home from my inpatient/detox and was seeing clearer, I noticed my loved ones were exhibiting hurt. I originally thought it was the fallout from my use but I quickly recognized the pain that my loved ones were in was similar to mine before I went into treatment. I had found a solution in recovery and wanted them to know about it. Here are the highlights: 1) Acceptance: You are where you are and you can only change yourself. 2) Reality: Labeling a need a want does not make it so, i.e. the reality is that I only need air, food, relationship/connection, safety/freedom, work/purpose, and play. 3) Compassion: Pain is a great teacher. Everyone has some type of illness and is still in recovery from it.

I think that an important element to a strong recovery is the ability to identify what is ours and what is theirs. All around me I saw people who were addicted, not only to drugs but to the desire for things to be different than what they are. Human behavior centers on addiction because addiction comes down to our pain/reward system and our primal urges to either avoid pain or seek pleasure. Since we all have a brain, we all can be in a state of addiction. The pain/reward system is housed in the lower levels of the brain, which conversely are why addiction is so baffling to the high levels of thinking (moral argument) without the context of what the lower levels are there for. The lower levels are for our survival.They unconsciously perform digestion and regulate blood pressure. They also operate our unconscious psychological processes like our survival responses of fight, flight, freeze, and freeze but also our attachments, emotional development, and ultimately our addictions.

It is a futile argument to me to say that people can just stop their addictive behavior because it is an unconscious process. What would be more accurate is to say, “I feel like you can just stop.” A feeling is not a fact; it is information. The fact is that addiction is a part of our deepest biology and saying that people can just stop is like saying that someone can just stop breathing. Yes, they can hold their breath but can they simply stop breathing on their own? No. Another way of seeing the futility is that telling someone to stop their addiction is akin to telling someone to stop falling in love.

Now, our psyche has a neutral setting too and that is where the power really is. Russell Brand points out that we all are under some program of either conscious or unconscious living. I agree. We believe we are in control of our decision-making but again feelings are not facts and neither are beliefs. In traumatology, we learn about a phenomenon called trauma re-enactment, in which our brain and memory system tries to resolve an issue by replaying it or re-enacting it unconsciously. This plays out in all of our relationships and why psychology is interested in resolving early parental dysfunctions and traumas. Re-enacting is the brain?s way of making sense of what does not make sense to it. This unconscious pattern replay is an important element to the formation of our addictions, housed in our lower level of consciousness and is a process dedicated to survival. This can also be seen universally when we notice that history repeats itself. Those who know their history but who have not learned and grown from it are unconsciously reliving it. And, as they say, those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat.

When I extrapolate the pain/reward system to local, state, and country, I become a very concerned citizen and feel the need to speak out against the denial that I see. We can be addicted to an idea, cause, their story/past, their pain, their purpose, or their safety. We can be addicted to normal. When people talk about these and appear to be under the influence of them: watch out! It makes it difficult to engage with people in an honest discussion like trying to convince a person who is drunk not to drive. When I see people acting out of hurt and with malicious intent in their words or actions, it resonates with me like active addiction and I wonder what is needed for healing to happen.

Then I started to wonder some more? What if America was my client? How would I approach the client and how would I treat? First of all, upon first assessment? tough client? the genogram is going to be tough? younger sibling with a inferiority complex? and, for better or worse, many strong personality traits?

Whenever I have a new client in front of me, I look for their identified addiction and their unidentified trauma and addiction. What experiences shaped them at their core and how did they cope with the aftermath. Once I find the unidentified trauma and addictions, I find the source of their healing because they have survived both. If they are ready for change then we try and remove some of the obvious obstacles and help motivate new behaviors i.e. what I hear you saying that you are a shining light of Providence, but you have killed and are continuing to kill in the name of Providence. This appears to be in direct contradiction to Providence, Bill of Rights, 10 commandments, and the law?

Having a BA in history, I have a pretty good idea of what America’s traumas are and know that I am dealing with extremely complex PTSD. America had a traumatic birth and had many different forms of complications with early development. When America came of age it became addicted to its story. America is addicted to more. America is addicted to Providence. America is addicted to denial. America is addicted to feelings of safety but fails to recognize its’ role in creating the chaos. America is addicted power, control, and greed. Hence, America’s history is the autobiography of a madman who needs therapy and healing. (Don’t get me wrong, every nation has their history and it more than likely applies too.)

In a paper for my undergraduate history program, I called for an “actual” 4th branch of government. (As the news can be bought and paid for, law applies only to the base of human behavior, the supreme court is run by the law (which is again applies to the base of human behavior), and political parties are tools for the wealthy, so I did not see these as viable or sustainable options to solving issues with equality, racism, bigotry, class, or mass murder.) This new 4th estate was to be run by the social sciences, healers, religious/spiritual elders, or an ethical code to help guide the nations moral agenda from a neutral standpoint. I still believe this is a good idea.

The bad news is that since America is addicted to itself and the wall of denial must be broken in order for reason and common sense to start pouring in. The good news is that there is a solution to addiction but the cost of admission is that one has to have humility, honesty, openness, and the willingness to change. The first step? admit that you are powerless in the face of the awesome powers that surround you. Step 2. Believe that these very same powers can restore you to sanity. Step 3. Surrender: You will gain more by letting go.

In recovery, we know that rock bottom is optional. I see America as hurting right now and needs healing. However, I believe that individual healing needs to happen first and that this will fuel the spiritual revolution needed now to heal us from ourselves.

The good news is that we have access to healing, however, I have not seen or read too much about the successful implementation of communities healing throughout history except 12 steps/self-help. Obviously, the reconciliation periods after the Civil War and Apartheid in South Africa are still having their challenges. Healing in our society appears to come from the arts and is marketed through business models, which then have consequences of their own. There seems to more that could be done on a community level. With that said, again recovery shows us the way. However, Bob Marley’s “One Love” question still remains unanswered by our society: “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner, who has hurt all mankind, just to save his own?” I say: Yes, but only through the process of recovery from our addiction to ourselves.

Brand, R. (2017). Recovery: Freedom from our addictions. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

by Adam O’Brien LMHC, CASAC is the owner/clinician of Mutual Arising Mental Health Counseling, PLLC in Chatham NY. He works primarily with people suffering from their addictions but is also a trauma therapist working with victims of crime. In these freelance writings, he brings a variety of experiences and points of view to entertain and educate. He is an EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist and is trained in Progressive Counting and Brainspotting.