One of our challenges in recovery is working to understand some of the motivating reasons behind why our addictions have formed and why we've become so dependent on our drug of choice. Many of us feel strongly attached to an addictive substance or behavior but haven't necessarily given thought to why and how we formed that attachment in the first place. Oftentimes one of the foundational reasons for our addictive attachments lies in the associations we create. We've developed strong mental and emotional associations between our drugs of choice and the things we crave – pleasure, comfort, and relaxation for example. We associate our drug of choice with the important things we want and need most in our lives – happiness, stability, companionship, protection. How do some of these associations present themselves in our daily experiences?
How We Want to Feel
For many of us, our drug of choice becomes representative of the ways in which we want to feel. When we want to relax and feel at ease, we associate those feelings with getting high, and we come to view our drug of choice as our means of achieving relaxation, peace and calm. We form such strong attachments to it that we feel unable to calm ourselves down without it, to relax after a hard day, or to unwind if we're feeling overwhelmed. We don't feel capable of achieving a state of inner peace or tranquility without it. It becomes our way of soothing our anxiety and coping with stress. Similarly, we associate our drug of choice with happiness, pleasure and comfort. We feel we can't have a meal, spend time with loved ones, start our day, or relax at night without first consuming it. We don't feel able to handle the demands of our daily lives or to cope with life's many challenges without getting high. Life feels boring, dull, meaningless and pointless without our drug of choice, all because we've created an association between it and feeling fulfilled, happy and at peace.
What We Need in Our Lives
We often form biochemical dependencies on our drug of choice, but our mental and emotional associations can sometimes be even harder to sever. Without it, we feel incomplete, empty, lost and alone. We feel it provides us with a sense of security and groundedness that we lack without it. We feel it brings us a sense of safety, assuredness and protection. It becomes our default source of companionship, especially when we've isolated ourselves to the point of disconnecting from the important people in our lives. We come to associate our drug of choice with having someone or something to turn to, with not being alone with our emotional pain and stress. Many of us have a hard time with solitude because that is when we are most confronted with the difficult thoughts and feelings we're trying to avoid. Our drug of choice becomes our means of distracting ourselves from our inner selves, our way of escaping the truths about ourselves we have yet to make peace with. We feel we need our drug of choice just to be able to deal with ourselves and get through our lives.
Our Emotional Dependence
When we've formed this kind of association, our drug of choice takes on a life of its own in our minds and in our lives. It becomes more than just a way to get high, it's now fulfilling emotional needs we aren't meeting in healthier, more productive ways. We aren't making time for self-care. We aren't committed to our healing. Our drug of choice takes over our thoughts and our existence. We feel unable to live without it. We come to believe that not only can we not cope without it, we won't be able to survive without it. It becomes our lifeline, our means of keeping ourselves afloat, especially when we're feeling hopeless and depressed. It becomes our means of helping ourselves hold on in life, which when we're dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, can mean the difference between being able to function in our lives and becoming entirely dysfunctional. We come to associate our drug of choice with our means of taking care of ourselves and keeping ourselves well. It begins to feel like an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. We think of it as the lesser of two evils – yes, we are addicted, but that's better than being so depressed we can't function. We form a dependence on our drug of choice that can be so all-consuming we can't imagine ourselves or our lives without it.
The Normalization of Our Pain
The harm in these associations, beyond the fact that we've become addicted to a substance or behavior, is that we begin to glorify, normalize and euphemize our drug of choice. We see it as a positive thing, rather than being able to be honest and open about how damaging and destructive it is. This fuels our addictive patterns and worsens our dependence. We choose to ignore just how self-harming we've become, to focus instead on the seemingly positive emotions our drug of choice is providing us. We forget how much pain our addictions have been causing us. We come to see living with emotional pain as our normal state of being. We don't examine how self-destructive we are. We avoid the truth of our addictions and live in denial. We convince ourselves that we're fine, we're functional, and we have nothing to worry about. The more dependent we are on our drug of choice, the stronger our emotional associations to the feelings and things we want and need most in life.
Part of our recovery work will entail breaking these associations by being brutally honest with ourselves about what our addictions and our drugs of choice are really doing to us and how they're negatively impacting our lives. When we get clear on how damaging they are, we can begin to transform our thinking and create new, healthier associations between our well-being and self-care, self-preservation and self-protection.
At WinGate Wilderness Therapy, we believe in the importance of helping you learn more about yourself as an individual, and we work with you to design a personalized treatment plan to meet your needs. Reach out for support today.
P.O. Box 347
Kanab, UT 84741