Transcript from a talk to the residents of the detox program
Okay, so I’m going to talk about the psychological model of addiction. The medical model is also important to understand, and it’s true that there are things in your brain that are different, and some genetic issues. But there’s also a psychological understanding of addiction, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
The psychological model is more personal and subjective. It’s about your experience in the world, and it’s supposed to be something that you connect with. So please get involved, and particularly if you don’t connect to something, don’t just sit there. Ask questions, because it tends to work a lot better if we’re interactive.
There’s a lot to talk about, and it usually goes for over an hour. So if there’s something that comes up that you don’t understand, please put up your hand and ask. I’m here to help you understand this, and it’s much more effective if we’re working together.
So, if you take a roomful of people with addictions, and ask them how they experience their emotions in their lives, the answers will tend to be on the extremes of a spectrum of emotional experience.
Some people will say that they can’t experience emotions. Others will say that they feel their emotions, but when they do, they are overwhelming. These people may feel emotions like anger, sadness, or anxiety so intensely that it feels like too much to handle.
On the other end of the spectrum, some people with addictions don’t feel their emotions at all. They may describe themselves as being numb to their emotions. This can be difficult to identify, because when you’re numb to your emotions, you may not even realize that you’re not feeling them.
Both of these extremes can be problematic. Feeling emotions too intensely can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse or self-harm. Not feeling emotions at all can make it difficult to connect with others and to experience life fully.
The goal is to find a healthy balance between feeling and not feeling emotions. This can be a challenging process, but it is possible with help from a therapist or counselor.
When you’re on the other side of the spectrum, you may feel like you’re walking through life and you don’t really feel your emotions at all. In fact, you may be quite numb to your emotions, like you just don’t feel them. This can be a little tricky to identify or stop yourself from doing, because when you feel numb to emotions for so long, you don’t even realize it. You just disconnect from them. And when you don’t feel something for a long time, you don’t realize that you’re not feeling it.
It’s like when you wear a watch for a long time. You don’t even realize you’re wearing it.
Or you can fluctuate between feeling numb and feeling overwhelmed by your emotions. So at times, you may be triggered by something in the world, and the emotion is overwhelming for you. It’s too much to deal with.
This is all part of the experience of addiction. It’s a complex issue, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But if you’re struggling with addiction, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There are people who can help you.
Why you’re just wired differently and it’s okay!
Someone with an addiction doesn’t tend to be able to just walk through the world. If something triggers them, they might feel hurt, cry, get angry, feel anxious, or experience loneliness. They might not feel anything at all, and that can be just as overwhelming.
The important thing to remember is that no matter where you are on the spectrum, whether you feel emotions intensely or not at all, the issue is the same. You are numbing your emotions to cope with difficult feelings. I feel nothing because my mind has numbed my emotions for me.
And the important thing – a wonderful thing to think about – is that no matter where you are on that spectrum, or if you pass between two, it’s important to realize that the issue is the same.
I feel like the opposites are the same issue because if I’m on the numb side, all that means is that I have over-numbed my emotions. So if I’m on the other side, I still have overwhelming emotions, it’s just that my mind has cut them off for me.
As humans, we are amazing at cutting off painful emotions. It happens unconsciously, without us actually planning to do it. And so, no matter where I am on that spectrum, the problem, the core issue, is the same: I have emotions that are overwhelming, and I can’t see them or feel them. I can just kind of see them.
And so, just a little bit of a metaphor for that is like a container. In other words, my mind and my body are a human part of the job. My body is to hold my emotions. In other words, the emotions come in, I feel them, and I can contain them. In other words, like I just kind of see them and feel them and hold them, and that’s like a container.
So, it’s like my model: my body’s a container for emotions. But in addiction, what happens is the container is not working properly. So I can’t contain my emotions. I can’t hold them.
And so, either the overwhelming all my wine cuts mostly because I can’t see with them so much. And there’s only really two ways that that starts for us humans. So, the first way, and this will be true for many people in the room, is that I never had an absolutely functioning container from the beginning. Actually, a lot has to go right in childhood. It’s kind of like the stars have to align for a kid to get out of childhood and adolescence with a container that’s functioning. A lot of things in childhood will cause that person to not be able to process their emotions properly.
There’s a lot of research about this, about attachment theory, if anyone’s interested. But the connections we have with our parents or whoever was raising us can very much allow us or not allow us to process our emotions properly.
So, there are obvious things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, that will cause a little child to not be able to process their emotions properly. But it doesn’t have to be overt abuse. It can also be emotional or just a disconnection emotionally that’s been made.
For example, if I don’t have an emotional connection with my parents, a healthy emotional connection with my parents, I may grow up not being able to process my own emotions.
And I know there will be people in this room who are looking at themselves and thinking, “Well, I have been sexually abused. My dad didn’t raise me. What’s my excuse for having an addiction?” And I often come across people like that.
But the truth is, a lot of people in this group have unfortunately been abused. But there are also people who have not been abused, and it happens to them too. That’s because it doesn’t have to be the overt abuse. It can also just be emotional disconnections, like significant others or emotional disconnections between me and whoever’s raising me. And that also causes me not to be able to feel my emotions, which then puts me at risk for developing an addiction.
And so, that’s the first way that these sorts of things can start.
Earlier, I mentioned that there are other people who might be lucky enough to escape childhood with a fully functioning container or a good enough functioning container. But then some type of trauma happens later in life. These days, we call that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are a lot of similarities between them because basically what happens is that the person is overwhelmed with overwhelming emotions and they kind of break apart our ability to then process emotions. So we become withdrawn, numb, and we become full of anger. Which is a similar idea in many ways to this container idea.
So in other words, after the trauma, from that point on, I can’t process my emotions anymore. So, very similar theme. Unfortunately, as any of you will probably be able to attest to, both things often happen. And it’s a sad part of being human that if I didn’t have a fully functioning container to begin with, I would go on to have more in my life for a whole lot of reasons which we can discuss at some stage. But we tend to repeat patterns, repeat dysfunctional patterns as humans.
And so, a lot of people in this room will have had both. I didn’t. I wasn’t able to process emotions properly in the first place because of things that happened in my childhood. And then I also went on to have traumas. And so, often you get both.
So, can anyone think of emotions that they know that they have inside them that are overwhelming for them and that they can’t feel properly? Assuming that, and I get a bit of a list. You can just call it out now. At least have any love connection? So anxiety and fear, I’ll put them together. Guilt. Okay, so it’s a trap. Someone is in love, which I assume for that person is a positive emotion. That’s important. I also think that for a lot of people, positive emotions can also become overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be like negative emotions. Even emotions that feel good can become overwhelming.
Okay, so we’ll come back to this soon. I think it’s useful to think of this emotional issue in two parts, even though they’re very connected.
The first part is pushing away emotions. It’s important to realize that as humans, we can tend to deal with emotions, particularly negative emotions, by pushing them away.
For example, someone might feel lonely and push those feelings away because they don’t want to feel them. Someone might feel angry and lash out at someone else, rather than dealing with their own anger. Someone might feel guilty and try to make up for it by doing something nice for someone else, rather than facing their guilt.
This is normal and healthy sometimes. But if we’re constantly pushing away our emotions, or if we’re constantly pushing away one or two emotions, that can become really dysfunctional.
It just doesn’t work. And it’s going to come back to bite us. In fact, often when we push away emotions continually, it actually makes the emotion bigger and bigger and more painful and more scary.
I think the second part of this emotional issue is learning how to feel our emotions. This is not easy, but it’s possible. And it’s the only way to break the cycle of pushing away our emotions.
There are many ways to do this. Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. Others find it helpful to journal or write about their emotions. And still others find it helpful to express their emotions through art, music, or dance.
The important thing is to find a way that works for you. And to be patient with yourself. It takes time and practice to learn how to feel our emotions in a healthy way.
We do it sometimes, but I think it’s really important to exclude the idea that if I’m constantly pushing away my emotions or I constantly push away one or two emotions, that is going to become really dysfunctional. It just doesn’t work as a human. It just doesn’t work, and it’s going to come back to bite us. In fact, often I think when we push away emotions continually, it actually makes the emotion bigger and bigger and more painful and more scary.
I’ll just give one example, though there are many examples. So, for example, there are people that can’t stand with feelings, let’s say loneliness and rejection and abandonment. Like those feelings are just way too intense. They’re way too intense, and I can’t see beautiful. So, if you think about what happens: Let’s have a walk around, and I’ve got these deep feelings of loneliness and rejection and abandonment down there, which is really painful. So, I like getting into a relationship because who wants to feel lonely? I particularly feel lonely because it kills me. So, I meet someone, and I connect to them, and then I want to get closer to them. But if you think about what happens, then they start getting closer and closer, and all of a sudden, fear comes up inside me. Anxiety. Why? Because if they reject me, if they don’t like me, then I’m going to end up feeling lonely and abandoned again.
So, what happens is, I get into a relationship to avoid feeling those painful emotions. But the problem is, the closer I get to the person, the more afraid I become of being rejected or abandoned. And that fear can actually sabotage the relationship.
This is just one example of how pushing away our emotions can backfire. It’s important to learn how to feel our emotions, even the difficult ones. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to heal from our pain and live a full and meaningful life.
They don’t like me, then I’m going to end up
Feeling lonely and abandoned again.
That’s going to kill me, so I actually can’t let them
That close. I need to push them away.
I’ve become so scared that if they leave me,
Which they will, because I’m a piece of crap,
Then I will end up feeling those feelings
I don’t want to feel. So I can’t let them close to me.
I have to go back, so I pull back or push it away.
But then I just end up feeling more loneliness
And abandonment, because the relationship hasn’t gone well.
So then more feelings come up, and I’ll push them down again.
But then again, I want to connect to someone.
I think of trying to connect again,
But then again, I can’t, because the fear comes out
That pushes me away or pulls me back.
I don’t understand why.
So then I’ll just regret the beginning,
And it just goes round and round.
Then the main wall inside these feelings
Is getting bigger and scarier,
Just building on itself.
In other words, I end up being driven
By the fear of feeling the feelings.
The fear of feeling the feelings makes us
Avoid things, which makes us crave,
Which takes us to crazy behavior
And makes the whole thing worse.
Let’s say there’s a particular feeling in me
Which I can’t stand.
It’s too overwhelming for me,
Too scary for me.
I will end up avoiding situations
Which may trigger that feeling,
Because I’m scared.
In other words, the fear of the feeling
Will control my behavior
And make me do things or not do things
So that the fear ends up controlling my behavior.
In the case of loneliness, rejection, and abandonment,
I won’t allow myself to get too close to someone.
The basic idea is that he can’t keep pushing away emotions. It just doesn’t work as a human. It just doesn’t make sense. Okay, so it’s useful to think about this emotional issue in two parts, which are very connected, as we’ll see.
The first part is self-esteem. I’m going to talk about self-esteem, because I, like other people who work with addictions, have noticed that low self-esteem is extremely connected to addiction. This was noted when they first started, and it’s been noted by myself. I myself have not yet met someone with an addiction who has healthy self-esteem. I just have not met that person. I suspect that person doesn’t exist, but I might be wrong.
I have met people with addictions, and there will be people in this room like that. I have not met someone with an addiction who has shown me that they have good self-esteem. I have very good self-esteem, trust me. I know people in this room like that.
In the next section, I would ask you to entertain the following idea: that unhealthy self-esteem can manifest in two ways. One way is the classic view, which is “I don’t like myself. I’m a piece of crap. I’m worthless. I’m useless. I’m disgusting. No one will ever love me. I’m terrible. Oh crap, I hate myself.” That’s the kind of classic understanding of ourselves.
The other way that unhealthy self-esteem can manifest is more counterintuitive until you think about it. It’s the idea that “I’m actually pretty awesome. I don’t really have any problems. I can’t understand myself. I don’t really have any contradictions in myself. Everyone loves me. My relationships are pretty good. My job is good. I’m pretty good. I’ve got this. You know, I have this addiction thing, but I just have to have the willpower and I’ll be able to kick it.” And so you come into a place like this and it’s like, “Yeah, thanks for all your listens and all the therapy stuff. That’s great, but I got this, you know.” And that’s what I think they don’t want to share with everyone. But deep down, they’re thinking, “Yeah, I got this. Why? Because I’ve got everything. I’ve got my life. I’ve got myself.” And that person is the highly grandiose self-esteem person.
So, what is healthy self-esteem?
Healthy self-esteem is the ability to look at myself and realize that I’m human, which means that I have screwed up, which means that I have anger issues, and I can cry, and I can get crazy sometimes. I can even feel that I’m often selfish and often don’t care about anyone else. But I can look at myself and kind of accept myself for being human and having flaws.
Unhealthy self-esteem is when I look at my flaws and I hate myself for my flaws, or I deny my feelings. Why? Because I hate them so much. I don’t know either. Maybe it’s because I hate them so much that my own mind tricks me into thinking that I don’t have any flaws because I hate them so much.
This is the voice of the ego. It kind of makes sense, and that’s the area given to a low self-esteem person. You know, we’re arrogant because we have low self-esteem. Arrogance and low self-esteem are essentially the same thing.
Okay, so I’ve never met personally an addict who has healthy self-esteem. If you’re sitting there thinking, “I have healthy self-esteem,” these guys are nice looking out for you. You have whistles, thanks.
Okay, so like self-esteem, like other emotional issues, if I ignore it and push it away, it tends to get worse and worse. Low self-esteem has a cycle. This is the voice of the ego. There is shame and fear. And the voice of the ego will get stronger if you just leave it.
I’ll just explain a little bit about shame and fear. The emotions that are very connected with the voice of the ego are shame and fear. Shame is not guilt. Shame is the feeling that I want to hide myself. It’s not a feeling like guilt. So, like, to be in a group and someone asks you to share something, and you’re like, “I can’t share that. I have to kind of like hide that because I couldn’t tell someone. I can’t tell anyone.”
Like you know, all humans, we all have shame. There are things that all of us would never tell another human being. We all have secrets that we think that I can’t tell anyone. And if you think about how you would feel if you were supposed to tell someone, it’s a feeling like, “I need to hide myself.”
And obviously, the more I don’t like myself, the more shame I’m going to have because the more I need to hide from the world. And so that’s shame. Fear is just the flipside of that. We call this social anxiety, or you can call it the fear of rejection and abandonment, or the fear that people will think I’m not good enough. Why would anyone like me?
Or fear the people? The last day of judgment? All those loves, All those fears? You know what we have, those fears as humans, we have those fears because of something strange:
We assume that other people
Will see us how we see ourselves.
So in other words,
If I don’t like myself,
And I go to a group of people,
Something inside me will assume
That they will see me how I see myself.
Maybe I don’t like myself,
So I’m going to assume that they don’t like me either.
And so, I’m going to have social anxiety.
But on the other hand,
If you can connect with that feeling of social anxiety,
That’s a useful thing.
Use what you do.
Think about what we do.
We walk into a social situation,
And all of a sudden,
We’re skinny and scared
Of all these judgments.
We think, “What if they don’t like me?”
But the truth is,
They don’t know us.
They don’t know what we’re thinking or feeling.
They can’t read our minds.
So why should we assume
That they’re going to judge us?
The answer is: we shouldn’t.
We should give people a chance.
We should let them get to know us.
And if they don’t like us,
Then that’s okay.
There are plenty of other people out there who will.
So the next time you’re feeling social anxiety,
You’re not alone.
Everyone feels it from time to time.
And it’s okay to feel scared.
But don’t let that fear stop you from living your life.
Go out there and meet new people.
Make new friends.
And don’t worry about what they think of you.
Just be yourself.
So, you know, they’re kind of like two sides of the same coin. That makes sense. So, fear and shame tend to be a big, a big opening up if you don’t address it. And I’ll just give you an example of how that happens. So, for those of you who are struggling to listen, particularly if you identify with having low self-esteem, I think this is a particularly important to listen to.
So how does low self-esteem get me friend? So I’ll give you an example… This is based on a true story. Let’s say there’s a guy, he’s 10 or 11 years old, and he’s dancing around the house. His dad and his dad’s friends are making a lot of guy jokes. The kid gets shy. He thinks, “Yeah, there’s something dysfunctional about me.”
It’s useful to realize that, as a general rule, if things went wrong between you and your parents, you will blame yourself as a kid. It’s useful to actually, it’s a very important point. The thing to realize is that, as a general rule, if things went wrong between you and your parents, you will blame yourself as a kid.
It’s much safer to blame yourself than to direct your anger towards them. This was one of the earliest descriptions of a cause for depression. I think a lot of depression starts early, because you have something wrong with your parents, and all of a sudden, you think, “I’m crap.” All the anger is being shunted in that way, whether it’s conscious or not.
But okay, so keep that shame. Then you think about what happens. You go to school and you’re around all these people at school. So then fear kicks in. Yes, then you become socially anxious. You already don’t like yourself, so then you go and you’re around other people, and you have the sudden fear that people will dislike you.
But then you see, once we have fear in social situations, we start acting strange. We become self-conscious. We stop being ourselves because we kind of have to cover ourselves up. We’re ashamed. And you know, we all do different things when we’re socially anxious.
This person started to be very clean. Very clingy to his friends because that’s one thing we do when socially anxious.
Some of us totally withdraw. But some of us become clean. He said he began really annoying. All these friends of his were all together:
“We don’t want to be friends with you.
You’re annoying. None of us wanna be friends with you.”
Then think about what happens to that kid.
He goes back to me: “Yes, I got emotional easily.
Something’s wrong with me.”
By this time, in social situations, he has
Really quite a deep fear now
That people are not going to like him,
Because my dad didn’t like me,
And they’re all my friends disabled with me.
Sure, there’s something wrong with me.
Now really scared in certain situations,
So then whatever we do would be really
Because they feel we connect to
So you know anyone that will accept us
We get sucked into them,
Or we know someone gives us love,
So we’ve got you know, we go for that.
And you know because we’re already so dysfunctional,
The relationships not gonna work,
Cause I’ve got so much fear,
So again the relationships don’t work,
And it goes around around around
Until you’re 38, you can’t see me.
And this is the important bit:
I ask you, “Looks like you didn’t like yourself.”
You say, “I hate myself, saying really wrong with me.”
I said, “Oh, that’s interesting. What have you assigned wrong with you?”
Yeah, and you have all this evidence
That there’s something wrong with you.
“I thought I was a freak then this happened, and then I went to jail.”
But think about this example:
If this guy hadn’t had the dysfunctional relationships later in life,
He wouldn’t have had the shank in him,
Which means that he would not have been clean with his friends,
Which means his friends would not have broken up with him,
Which means he wouldn’t have gone on to have other dysfunctional relationships.
So in other words, there’s two things,
As humans we get it mixed up:
All these things that I do,
All this evidence that I have
That something is wrong with me,
That I am screwed up and I’m worthless lump crap,
And here is all the evidence that I use
To prove to myself that those things are true.
Yeah, I can almost guarantee you that if you
Look at yourself in your lives,
You hated yourself before any of that stuff happened.
Once you have low self-esteem,
Once you don’t like yourself,
Things start to get crazy,
And it doesn’t work.
As humans we cannot be very well
If we have low self-esteem.
And what we tell ourselves is,
“I have all this proof that of why I hate myself.”
But the truth is, I can almost guarantee you
You did not like yourself before any of that stuff.
And so, we get it. It’s almost like that stuff becomes a justification for my feelings that I’m worthless. But I felt worthless probably often because something happened to me when I was young, and that made me feel worthless. And that’s here, and from that time, the life has kind of gone off because once I feel worthless as a human being, they go away, their conflicts, abuse.
In my experience, there are often people who think they had happy childhoods, but once they’re actually able to process their childhood, they realize that actually, something wasn’t wrong. That’s my experience. So, I can’t really tell you what my experience is and what I believe to believe. I don’t know that for sure, but my experience tells me that people who have had some type of issue before are really made predisposed to addiction. They might be able to process emotions probably, and therefore, they start, and then they get some type of relief. There are people that also agree with how I see the world. But there are people that disagree.
There’s always some pre-existing condition. My mother was severely depressed, and just because you had that upbringing doesn’t mean you becoming an addict could be something else. What happened to your wife? Probably depressed or anxious or whatever. But my experience is, I mean, I haven’t met one sound person with addiction that didn’t have something happening in their childhood, which you know, whatever, crazy. Just like if you met someone in the art of meditation, you would expect something less of them.
Shame has some very important impacts on early recovery. Very important. And I’m going to talk about a few of those at the moment because it’s very important to catch these things really, and otherwise it will cause you to relapse for sure. I’ve seen it before, and I will see it again.
And the first one is what we spoke about before, which is the high ego, low self-esteem. This is a massive trap. I can tell you, I’ve been with strategies sitting before. There are people in here, and again, this is not a judgment, it’s just how it is. There are people in here that will be telling right now, “I got this. I seriously got this. I just need a little bit more willpower. I just got a bit stronger, and I will be able to stop this petition.”
And if you’re here tonight, it’s just that some of us have gotten to the point where we don’t really need anyone else’s help to overcome addiction. I can do it myself, thank you very much. And that is a massive, massive trigger for relapse. Because that may mean you don’t get help, and you don’t ask for it. And you really believe that you can do it on your own.
If I look at myself, I don’t really have any problems. I’m pretty much perfect. And that’s just me. And again, that’s not a judgment. Because if that’s you, you know, we don’t do that on purpose. We all have that as we will deny our problems to a certain extent. Some of us to a certain extent, and some of us to a much greater extent.
And the truth is, most people with addiction just can’t. You just can’t. But it might be something inside of you that’s trying to convince yourself that you can, because you know what? It’s too painful for you to look at yourself and see your own problems. So you just deny all your problems, and you deny that you need anyone’s help. Because that makes you vulnerable. To ask for someone’s help means that I have problems. So you can’t ask for help, and then you’re alone, and then you really struggle. And that’s a massive trigger for relapse.
So we encourage you that if you are feeling that way, or thinking that way, talk about it. Talk about it. Rick, tell me about it. You know, challenge me. You know, you can’t tell me that you know you’re wrong. I do have the self-esteem, and I don’t really have any problems. And we’ll talk about you know, just being open with it and trying to explore it.
So that’s the first way that denial can really, really hurt you. The second way is self-sabotage. Self-sabotage. And some of you will be able to consciously connect to this, and some of you will be more unconscious.
Sometimes, it’s none of those things. Which is really weird when you first think about it, but then it makes a lot of sense if you think about it more. What it means is that there is a part of you that actually wants you to fail, that wants you to relapse, and wants you to screw up.
Once you realize this, it can be a lot to stuff down. Why? Because once we lose faith in ourselves so much, once we have no faith in ourselves anymore and we really don’t believe we could do recovery, once we start doing recovery, we start to become very anxious. Why? Because we think, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” And every day that we do it, we become more and more anxious and scared as we know that the relapse is coming. “I can’t do this.” And that becomes very scary for us. It becomes very anxiety-provoking.
How do we get rid of that anxiety? Oh, I still got that bottle in the basement. I still got that stuff. You know, also, you know, that’s why I got that little packet in my butt. It’s like an enormous relief. “Oh, yeah. I just realized.” You know, there’s no way that’s conscious. But in other words, once I really, really lose faith in myself, it’s actually much easier to just screw it up.
It’s the same with addiction and relapses. And it’s the same with life, with relationships, with work. Think about relationships. Once you become convinced that someone is going to break up with you or not love you, you will push them away or pull back from the relationship. You will do something to damage the relationship because it’s too scary to sit with the prospect that they are going to break up with me. They are going to hate me. So I will sabotage it, and then it makes it feel better.
I’ll give you just another example, based on a true story. I’m sorry if it’s been triggering for anyone, but it just makes the point very clearly. So I still see someone who was physically abused by her father when she was young. So here she is, a little girl, this big, scary person hitting her. He’s obviously overwhelmingly scary for a little girl. So what she did was, and this is kind of unconscious. I think it’s still unconscious, seeing us as adults. She kind of switched inside. And all of a sudden, she kind of realized that if she was around, ready for him to hit her, it was actually less anxiety-provoking. Because obviously, like, if you’re expecting to get hurt, it hurts less.
Yeah, they need for someone to see. Yeah, so it’s like she was walking around the lake for a year or two, just always waiting, waiting, “I’m waiting to get hit.” And that kind of deals with the anxiety a little bit, but she’s still full of fear. It’s like, “I’m just waiting to get hit. I’m waiting, I’m waiting to get hit.”
So what she did is, a couple of years later, she realized that she could provoke her father. She knew what his buttons were, and she could push his buttons and get him to hit her. And that’s what she started doing.
And you can look at that and think that’s crazy, but it actually makes so much sense. Because if you’re waiting for something bad to happen, and it’s going to happen anyway, you might as well control it. So she thought, “Oh, I can control the pain. I can control the situation. Yes, I will push my dad to hit me.”
And that isn’t actually the least anxiety-provoking situation. In a terrible situation, if you’re going to get hit anyway, it’s much safer for you to trigger it yourself. Because then you have some type of control over the situation. So the anxiety decreases.
In other words, if you are convinced that something bad is going to happen, you will do something to bring that towards you and cause it to happen. So if I’m convinced that I will relapse because I kind of lost faith in myself and I have no self-esteem, there is going to be a part of me that wants to relapse just because it’s safer. It gives me control over the inevitable.
And because it feels less scary, something inside me wants to do it. You know, we tend as humans to do what makes us feel less scared, less anxious. So this subconscious part of me just drives me with the belief that I can handle it, and I’ll do something.
Sometimes I’ll sabotage myself because I’m scared of succeeding. I don’t believe in what I’m doing. I lost any sense of self-esteem.
Another couple of things about self-esteem, which I’m going to go off on for a second, just to get back to that for a second. It’s very important in early recovery, because there will be people in here right now that have already relapsed. You’ve already started to relapse, but you don’t realize it’s because you’ve got low self-esteem. You just think, “I’m a failure.” You don’t realize these beliefs are fighting yourself. And actually, you can’t relapse if you stop believing these things about yourself. You can’t do it.
Another two aspects to low self-esteem are:
The false self. This is a mask that we wear to protect ourselves from the world. We might put on this mask when we’re feeling insecure or vulnerable. The false self can be helpful in the short-term, but it can be harmful in the long-term. It can prevent us from forming genuine relationships, and it can make it difficult to be ourselves.
The need to be liked. This is the belief that we are only worthy of love and acceptance if we are liked by others. This can lead us to put on a false front and to try to be someone we’re not.
If we want to overcome low self-esteem, we need to learn to accept ourselves for who we are. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and to start focusing on our own strengths and accomplishments. We also need to learn to be comfortable being ourselves, even if that means being vulnerable. If I’m beautiful, I will tend to accentuate how I look, for When I ưear certain clothes, because I know sometimes people connect to that, and that makes me feel safer.
Yeah, if I’m very rich, I’m like, “I’m the shit!”
The first time I meet someone, I might get drunk
Drop some big words, just to make sure everyone here
Gets the sense that I’m amazing.
Whatever the craziness and these things,
If you think about what we’re doing, and we all do this,
Creating a false connection to people. while we’re actually part of a party, but we’ve also created this fake thing.
I don’t really wanna connect, but I’m scared,
So I’ll put up this false thing like on the flesh,
Another one that we give to a lot of users,
Particularly each other.
I could speak about this from personal experience.
I used to think I was a really nice person,
Like I really did look like I’m super nice,
And then, like, at some stage of my life,
It kind of clicked: “Oh crap, I’m only nice to people
Because I want them to like me, because I’m insecure.”
That hurts, you know? That’s a painful awareness about myself,
But it’s true. And you know, so that’s another way,
Another kind of mask that I can wear,
Just underneath, I’m just this insecure mess.
This is unhealthy for a number of reasons,
Including that I’m getting myself a state
From something external, even if that’s my looks or my intelligence.
It’s still external. It’s not really made.
And it’s very dangerous, it’s very dangerous,
Because its extent is that I actually have control.
I have an average body, I have a wardrobe,
I can use my looks, I can use my intelligence.
I think a lot of people with addictions do lose themselves in the external identifications or masks. And the game is kind of low self-esteem. So I lose myself. In other words, I don’t really know who I am anymore. And in fact, maybe I’m scared of who I am. Maybe I’m scared that in person, there is nothing else. In me. I don’t even exist. It’s just a mass of hollow emptiness, because I don’t know who I am anymore. And that is a very anxiety-provoking experience. To look at myself and think, “Oh, who am I actually?” Like, I thought these things defined me, but maybe that depends. That’s a really exciting thought for kids, but I think it’s a very healthy experience. It’s a growth experience, but it’s very scary and painful. And these are the things you’ll be challenged in group about. Like, people will challenge you about things that you assume are unnatural in you. “Why are you angry?” “Of course I’m angry! I’m an angry person! I’ve always been angry!” You know, I used to think that. I used to be really nice to someone, and then someone challenged me and said, “What are you doing? You don’t really care about the money, so why are you acting like you’re awesome?” And then I said, “Of course I’m lost! I’m a lost person!” Then it’s like, “Well, okay, maybe this thing will help.” But that’s very anxiety-provoking and challenging and scary, so we don’t like to do that. So it’s like the barriers that you’re getting the reality check. That’s very useful, because they can reveal something about you that you don’t realize. And so I think that’s just the important process. Start doing every sphere, scary or not, until things have left my identity.
What comes to my mind first of all is anger. And I just start realizing it’s normal. Because normal humans are actually quite selfish. And immediately, even if I’ve been an angry person and I look at that stuff and hate myself for that stuff, I have to realize that’s just a normal human being.
Because once I realized that about myself, I can actually start to grow into a really caring person. So if I really start to muscle through those things and accept those parts about me, they just are. That’s what makes me human. That I’m flawed. And if I can’t accept that about myself, then I think you should respect a local firmly subconscious or normal.
Okay, you know, getting back to this emotional thing and addiction thing, which is very stubborn. Okay, so again, you don’t have to believe me, but maybe this is what I believe. This is how I understand things. That if you have an addiction, that means you have stuff underneath that hasn’t been processed properly. You walk through the world and your stuff gets triggered. It gets treated as emotions and thoughts, and it drives you crazy. It drives you crazy, and the emotions come up. But because I can’t process the emotions, probably because that’s kind of the core problem, I need to kind of block them somehow. I need to do something with them because I can’t see them because they’re vile. Because it’s from my past stuff and trauma. And again, not necessarily a violent trauma. It can also be things like they’ve lived in this connection and but it’s something very painful. So that stuff comes up, but I need to block it, but I need to deal with it somehow.
There are two things that happen. First, my own mind somehow helps me to know it and to get rid of that stuff. This includes unhealthy behaviors, some of which help us to get rid of bad emotions like guilt. For example, I might not be able to see my guilt, so I help everyone all the time, even if it kills me. This helps me not to have to deal with my guilt. It also includes something called defense mechanisms, which are unconscious ways that our own mind helps us to deal with our stuff. Some common defense mechanisms include denial, minimization, and projection.
For example, someone might say that they had a healthy childhood, even though their parents were often absent and their father used to hit them. This is an example of denial. Another common defense mechanism is intellectualization. This is when someone tries to explain away their emotions by using logic. For example, someone might say that they are not angry, even though they are clearly feeling angry.
Defense mechanisms can be helpful in the short-term, but they can also be harmful in the long-term. If we rely on defense mechanisms too much, we may never be able to deal with our problems in a healthy way. That’s why it’s important to be aware of our defense mechanisms and to try to use them less often.
Groups and feedback from other people can be helpful in identifying and dealing with defense mechanisms. When we talk to others about our problems, they can help us to see things from a different perspective and to challenge our own thinking. This can be a difficult process, but it is essential for healing.
When we probe we can see how many problems our mind pushes away so we don’t have to feel the pain. And that’s the first treatment that does the first bite of painful emotions. You can call that our difficulties, like internal addictions, which I think is much harder than, like, my parents at least for me. And then so I’m going to hate them, and you know, being about it’s not about them because usually two things are correct: how parents love us and they do the best they can, and to mess us up, that is usually what happens. So it’s not a bad blanket. It is about understanding, and these are about being open to my own.
I want to feel the truth of my own emotional experiences, because maybe I do have a lot to feel. And it’s very important for me to feel that, and once I feel that, I can actually then come to forgiveness.
Because I feel that I’ve gotten to the root of the pain. I understand what happened to me as a child, but now as an adult, I can also look at my parents and realize that they had their own issues, and they didn’t know any better. And that allows me to come to forgiveness. But I can’t go on pretending to forgive them if I don’t even meet myself where I’m angry at them. Because then you know, forgiveness is just lip service.
Forgiveness happens when I can feel the anger, feel the hurt, and then work through it and understand that they also had their own pain.
That’s the first thing. All of us walk through life with pain. Sometimes, that pain gets triggered and comes up. And we may feel the need to use something outside of us to help us deal with what’s inside of us. And if we do that all the time, it can become an addiction.
That’s why humans can get addicted to basically anything. There are lots of things in the world that can help us numb our feelings. Obviously, alcohol and drugs are very powerful in that sense. But we can literally get addicted to anything. Other common addictions include gambling, sex, relationships, food, money, shopping, religion, cults, exercise, and anything else you can think of.
When we start using one or two things all the time, that’s when we develop an addiction. Our mind and brain get stuck on that thing, and it becomes the thing that we use to make ourselves feel better. And that becomes our addiction.
So, again, I think it’s important to take two minutes and think about this. If you’re having trouble focusing, try to focus on these concepts. Because this explains what we do here at this orphanage, and it’s very important to know. Otherwise, your time here is just going to drive you crazy.
If you think about what we do here, it’s actually quite crazy. You couldn’t do this anywhere else. You couldn’t go to a five-star resort in Thailand to work with your addiction. You could do that, and that’s fine. But think about what we’re doing here.
We’re creating a safe space for you to face your pain and to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. We’re not here to judge you or to tell you what to do. We’re here to support you and to help you on your journey to recovery.
What we do here is a bit crazy. We don’t have contracts. We begin the process of helping you, and if we think that you’re building a relationship here that we think is a way of you avoiding your emotions, we will ask you to separate from that person. We can be wrong, and we’ve been wrong in the past, because it’s a hard judgment call. But we make that judgment call, and we will tell you, “Don’t hang out with that person.”
Often, people’s eating disorder stuff comes up when they’re here. We will try to help you modulate that. You can’t work, you can’t own a cell phone, you don’t have social media, and you can’t contact your family.
So you think about what we’re doing. We are making you crazy. We’re actually making you crazy. We’re taking away all the things that you use to help you deal with your stuff.
Why do we do that? And this is the important bit I think to think about. We’re not mean. We actually want to help you. So why do we do that? It’s a very important thing to think about, because if you think about the core issue, the core issue is, “I have issues processing my emotions.”
I can’t take that all this stuff that happened to me and just stuff it down. There are some things that as humans, you can only learn how to do by doing it. There is no other way to learn how to act.
In other words, some of us have this example of things of building examples on liabilities. Sometimes in the army, so think about how you train soldiers. Yeah, you could train soldiers by taking them to Thailand, putting them up in five-star hotels, and feeding them lobster every night. But that wouldn’t really prepare them for what they’re going to face in the real world.
So instead, what you do is you take them to boot camp. You take them out of their comfort zone and you make them do things that are difficult and uncomfortable. And that’s how they learn how to deal with stress and how to work together as a team.
That’s what we’re doing here. We’re taking you out of your comfort zone and we’re making you do things that are difficult and uncomfortable. And that’s how you’re going to learn how to deal with your emotions and how to live a healthy life.
Imagine you are training to be a soldier. You can read all the books, watch all the videos, and listen to all the lectures you want, but it won’t be enough. You need to experience war firsthand in order to truly understand it.
The same is true for learning how to process emotions. You can read all the self-help books, talk to therapists, and take medication, but if you don’t actually experience your emotions, you’ll never learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.
That’s why some people say that you have to “go a little bit crazy” in order to heal. You have to allow yourself to feel your emotions, even the difficult ones. You have to talk about them, process them, and learn from them.
It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to truly heal. If you try to avoid your emotions, they will only come back stronger later on. So don’t be afraid to face your emotions head-on. It’s the only way to move on.
Recapping, why? Because if you want to be a soldier, you have to train how to be a soldier by being a soldier. You have to train how to be in a war by being in a war. You can’t. There is no other way to train. Surely you have to have some knowledge, but to be a soldier, you have to be a soldier at first. If that doesn’t make sense, then in other words, for a human to learn how to process emotions, I don’t know any other way for a human to learn how to process emotions except for processing emotions. I don’t think there is any other way.
I think some of you may connect to this idea because some of you may have written a lot of self-help books, a lot of explanations of all the neuroscience, all the medical model, everything. You understand addiction. Yeah, I get it. You have to understand them, but I relapse in three seconds. Why? Because I still can’t process my emotions properly.
So what do we do here? We can’t get you to come here and eat in a controlled environment. We take away all your coping mechanisms. Not all of them, but a lot of the things that you used to deal with your stuff or push it away. We take it away so that your stuff comes up. And the whole point is, when your stuff comes up, to start to try and talk about it, to feel it, to be honest with your feelings, etc., etc. Because that’s the whole point. The whole point is to start learning how to process my emotions because if I don’t, I will relapse in three seconds. That’s the whole point.
In other words, you have to go a little bit crazy. You have to, otherwise you’re going to get out there and relapse.
So don’t worry, you should be crazy. And this is a genuine comment. If you’re going through here calm and collected, checking your phone every single time, thinking how happy you are, you should be worried. Because where is your stuff? We need to treat it in here. If you don’t get treated, at the end you go out and relapse in 3 seconds. Not for sure, but that’s part of the idea. So you should go crazy while you’re here.
So to summarize the problem of addiction, in a personal, psychological, experiential place:
I have stuff.
My stuff gets triggered.
It comes up as emotions.
Then one of two things happen:
My mind blocks it.
Some people use drugs and alcohol to feel something.
As I hear from a lot of people, it’s better to feel something than nothing.
Being numb can be very painful, so they use drugs and alcohol to feel something.
The emotion comes out and I need to kill it or do something with it.
That’s why I use drugs and alcohol.
It’s a simple model, but it’s quite a simple idea.
I have stuff inside me, it gets treated as emotions, and I’m reaching outside of myself to grab something. That’s addiction.
Okay, so yeah, we’re going to talk about how to start reversing these things. It doesn’t take long to talk about, but it’s very hard to implement. But it doesn’t take too much talk to decrease what is at the core of it.
Okay, so first, let’s look at self-stuff. Then I’ll talk about professional stuff, even though they’re very connected.
Okay, the first thing I think to understand about myself, if I have issues like self-esteem, is that the problem is not up here. It’s down here.
There are two very different parts of ourselves as humans.
There is the cognitive mind.
The logical mind that can kind of see the truth.
And there is this crazy me that’s also there.
This crazy me is the emotional mind. It’s the part of us that feels things. It’s the part of us that gets triggered. It’s the part of us that wants to use drugs and alcohol to feel something.
The cognitive mind is the part of us that thinks. It’s the part of us that tries to make sense of things. It’s the part of us that tries to control things.
The problem is that the cognitive mind can’t control the emotional mind. The emotional mind is much stronger.
So if we want to change our behavior, we need to change the emotional mind. We need to heal the emotional mind.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about next.
The part of us that doesn’t really care about the truth is the emotional mind. It’s crazy, it’s emotional, it’s irrational. The problem is that this part of us controls us. Our cognitive mind, the part of us that thinks, is not strong enough to beat it. If it was, we wouldn’t be here.
In other words, this part of us is the part of us that gets triggered by our emotions. For example, if we have low self-esteem, we might tell ourselves that we shouldn’t care what people think about us. But when we’re in a social situation, our emotional mind takes over and we start to feel anxious and insecure. We might do things that we wouldn’t normally do, like avoid eye contact or speak in a quiet voice.
The same thing can happen with anger. We might know that someone loves us, but when they get angry at us, our emotional mind takes over and we start to feel hurt, angry, and scared. We might say or do things that we regret later.
The key is to learn how to work with our emotional mind. We can’t control it, but we can learn to understand it and manage it. There are many different ways to do this, such as therapy, meditation, and journaling.
The first step is to start to recognize when our emotional mind is taking over. When we notice that we’re feeling triggered, we can take a few deep breaths and try to calm down. We can also remind ourselves of the truth, such as the fact that we’re a good person or that the person who is angry at us still loves us.
It takes time and practice to learn how to work with our emotional mind. But it’s worth it. When we can manage our emotions, we can live a more peaceful and fulfilling life. e’re big on group therapy here. We encourage people to get involved in groups, as it’s a great way to stay off drugs.
To do this, you need to work on the part of yourself that doesn’t talk the language of logic. This part of you speaks the language of emotions and experiences.
In other words, if you could come into a group and start to drop all your masks and have the courage to face your shame and fear, and actually start to have real, genuine experiences of people connecting back to you, having the same shared experiences, supporting you, maybe even loving you, then you would start to feel better about yourself.
People can connect to that. It would be amazing if you could actually experience healthy self-esteem, to know that someone loves you and cares about you. I’ve done groups myself, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s very powerful for self-esteem.
So how do you do this? It’s a pretty simple thing, but it’s very hard to do. It all starts with trust.
The trust is so important. It’s like a foundation. Everything is based on trust. If you talk about what happens inside a group, gossiping and laughing, I can guarantee you two things. The person you’re talking to will lose trust in the program, and you will lose faith in the program because you’re breaking the boundaries yourself, which shows you that you don’t trust the program.
It all starts with a little bit of trust. You need to have a bit of trust, and with that trust, you need to try to become more open and vulnerable.
To become open, you need to overcome two things: shame and fear. These two things come in and block you from being open. You have to realize that you have shame and fear, and that you’re scared to show yourself in group. No human necessarily wants to do that.
You need to try to overcome that shame and fear to become open and vulnerable in front of other human beings and show them who you are.
When you do this, amazing things happen. You’ll notice that there are two experiences you will have with other human beings in group.
The First Experience
The first experience is when the person has been closed or defensive or intellectualizing or defending themselves somehow from their experience. What you’ll notice is that when this person starts to open up and be more vulnerable, the other people in the group will start to connect with them. They will start to see themselves in the other person. They will start to feel compassion and empathy for the other person.
The Second Experience
The second experience is when the person is already open and vulnerable. When this person starts to share their story, the other people in the group will start to feel connected to them. They will start to feel like they’re not alone. They will start to feel like they can heal.
Group therapy is a powerful tool for healing. It can help you to overcome shame and fear, and to connect with other people in a meaningful way. If you’re struggling with addiction or mental health issues, I encourage you to consider joining a group. It could be the best decision you ever make. You will start to feel distracted, bored, agitated, anxious, angry, or annoyed. You will notice this yourself because you are not connecting with them. It’s like you’re not on the same page, and it’s frustrating.
You will also notice that when people are being very open and vulnerable in a group, you start to connect with them. You start to feel something happening. It’s like you’re connecting to another human being through their vulnerability. They are allowing you to connect to them through their vulnerability and through their openness.
The same thing is true for you. If you are closed off, even unconsciously, you will not allow another human being to connect to you. As humans, we only connect to each other when we open up a little bit.
In order for me to allow another human being to connect to me, I have to be open and vulnerable. When I get that connection, it makes me feel really good about myself. This is a very powerful way to work on self-esteem issues in groups.
In other words, the group process should be challenging. There should be some anxiety involved. If the group is not challenging or anxiety-provoking, you are losing the opportunity to work through your self-esteem issues. You are not taking advantage of the group. The group should be hard. It should be anxiety-provoking.
It should be scary.
It’s also important to realize that if someone else in the group is not being vulnerable and open, it’s often not their fault. They often don’t realize it because they have some unconscious defense mechanism. This is not an argument against being vulnerable, but it’s a very important thing to think about.
Okay, so one more thing to talk about and then I’ll stop. So, once I get the courage and the trust to overcome my shame and actually open up to someone for the first time, or evolve for the first time in years, and show myself to people, once I get the ability to do that, and once you know, so what do I actually open up about?
So, whatever you open up about, just make sure, try and make sure that there is some type of an emotion attached to it. You actually start to feel something. That’s the important thing. And I guarantee you, again, very few people outside of here will treat you like we do while you’re here. We draw people out to be crazy. Yeah, that’s the point. Again, when I was saying before, you will all be treated. No, you won’t. Only people that leave will be treated like that. There will be nurses that mean, doctors that don’t know you or we know you and make you feel lonely and rejected and abandoned, or you’ll feel like everyone’s you know against you, or you’ll feel you know your roommate will leave if you’re so lonely, or this person will say something in the group and you get angry. You know, all this stuff comes up. Yeah, I guarantee you you will be triggered because your main way of dealing with your emotions is gone. You will be triggered. The point is to bring that emotion up and actually talk about it. That’s the whole point.
And the marks we didn’t learn about, but like someone says something in the group that makes you angry, the point is to share your thoughts and feelings. Be spontaneous and say, “Well, you just make me so angry.” They’re like, “Okay, maybe something’s going on that you don’t know about. I just was so angry.” Yeah, like that’s that’s the point. You know, your roommate leaves that you’ve connected to, you feel connected to them, but there’s no one else you that you connect to and you feel so lonely. The point is in the group, right? “Hi, my name’s [name] and I feel lonely.” That’s what we identify with, emotions, not thoughts. You know, think if I identify what I’m thinking of, the path I’m thinking, I’m like, “No, I did follow your feeling. I’m feeling lonely.”
When you bring it up and you talk about it, and you start to feel it. Because that’s what you’ve been doing for however many years, is actually start to feel that, process your emotions. So, I start bringing it up and I start feeling it.
Another couple of very important points, which is why we don’t encourage you to help other people fill that up in the group. What people need is to feel bad. People don’t need to feel happy. You can feel happy watching a movie when you’re out of the hospital. You don’t have to feel happy. It’s great, it’s great, it’s nice, whatever. But in that moment in the group, the person needs to feel their pain. The next feeling is sorrow, that loneliness, then anger, whatever it is.
And if you think about it, it could be that someone you know was abandoned by their mom when they were five, so they feel extremely abandoned and lonely, and that feeling is being pushed down there since they were five. That’s where the gold is. That’s why we don’t want people to have other people’s tissues. Did you start crying and then someone gives you a tissue? Like, “Okay, thanks.” You just blow your nose and the feeling’s gone. So again, it’s just food.
So the point is to try and bring up your stuff, all your stuff.
You know, bring up your emotions, and then try to start to feel them, because you’re so scared of your emotions, but you can’t see them. And that’s how you start kind of rebuilding this container, which will then allow you to rely less and less on external things to deal with what’s inside, because you can start to do it yourself.
Recovery is a journey, not a destination. There will be ups and downs along the way, but with hard work and dedication, you can achieve lasting recovery.
Malvern Private Hospital is Melbourne’s leading treatment center for addiction. The hospital offers a comprehensive range of services, including inpatient and outpatient treatment, therapy, medication, and support groups. The hospital’s team of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping people overcome addiction and achieve lasting recovery.
If you are struggling with addiction, please reach out to Malvern Private Hospital for help. The hospital can provide you with the support and resources you need to find recovery.