Posts

Working With Addiction: Redefining The Word

Addiction can be a source of deep misery. You can name the big life destroying ones pretty easily: gambling, alcohol, and all the various chemicals.  However, we very often don’t have a framework of reference to speak about the process of how addictions form. What we are missing is more detail about that process so we can become proactive in our own lives and nip addictions in the bud before they grow out of control.

The discussion on addiction is primarily one of habits and the loss of our self control to those habits. A quick scan through all of the online dictionaries defining addiction will find descriptive words such as need, disease, compulsion, and dependence. However, addiction should never be considered a static condition, but part of a continuum of how intensely a habit has control over us. In this vein, by changing our focus from simply defining addiction to seeing addiction as part of a process we can gain enough understanding to make decisions for greater health and happiness.

The model of a continuum grades habits by the strength of momentum and intensity they hold over us. From the least to the greatest momentum they are: subtle impressions, actions, habits, addictions, and compulsions. And while we don’t have time to define all of the subtle changes as a habit moves from each point to the next, it is important for us to define the edges of the addiction phase. A habit becomes an addiction when we think about that habit even when we are not doing it.  Its that simple. The point on the continuum that begins an addiction is when the pull begins to take us away from what we are currently doing.  Habits are just actions we do regularly while addictions pull us away from the present moment. Addictions become compulsions when we no longer have the willpower to stop ourselves from doing them. Even if we hate it, or want to stop, or feel guilty about doing it, our habits have taken on such a devastatingly large momentum that we cannot stop them. Compulsion is a very devastating space that hurts us because of this loss of control, but also because the compulsion propels towards its own goals and disregards all the rest.

Caution: We all have addictions, habits, actions and probably a few compulsions. By using the model of a continuum I hope that it is easier for us all to own a few more of our skeletons.

Remember: All habits flow along this continuum. Coming to know yourself and your habits before they become addictions is a powerful tool for health and happiness.

 

 

 

Momentum Of Disease

Did you know that disease has momentum?  The process of us moving from vibrancy and health to fatigue and depletion, then sickness, and finally disease and death can be seen as a process of momentum.  Taking a look at the momentum of a disease can be enlightening and very helpful as you plan for wellness.

Imagine a snowy scene.  You have walked to the top of a steep snowy hill.  Looking back down the hillside you view your house at the bottom.  Playfully, you decide to make a small snowball.   You set it on the ground and give it a push.  You watch the snowball as it rolls.  With every rotation it grows, it gets heavier and faster.  It starts to rumble and roar as it tumbles and flips down the hillside.  You stare, a little shocked and awed, as it continues.  The snowball grows from a ball to the size of a tire, then in to a boulder.  Now it’s the size of a car and will soon be the size of a dump truck.  Your awe turns to fear as you realize it is heading straight for your house.  You scramble, but it’s too late to do anything.  Crash!

Now imagine that the snowball is a disease.  Our allegorical scene illustrates several wisdoms.  Today, I will point out two of them.   First, we seldom realize the implications of our actions as they affect us way down the road.  Even when we feel the effects of fatigue and depletion, we don’t quite know what is coming.  It isn’t until the disease is dump truck sized and has terrifying momentum that we see the upcoming tragedy and know that we need to stop that snowball.

Secondly, our story shows a relationship between the momentum of the disease and the difficulty or ease in stopping that momentum.  Our tiny snowball sized stressor has many options that are often cheap and easy for you to balance all by yourself.  That dump truck sized disease gives you fewer options, less time, and much less control.

Caution: Trying to stop a disease with the momentum of a dump truck using just a multivitamin or a bag of tea will not work.  You may need to seriously spend some resources and change some deep habits to match the power of a diseases momentum and thus halt it.

Remember: It is far cheaper, in dollars and in drama, to pick up the snowball at the top of the hill while it’s small than when it looms disastrously large at the bottom.

To Spot a Sneak Pt. 1

Having worked in the wellness industry for 13 years, I have come to understand that wellness is in fact quite sneaky. It sneaks up on us without our awareness. Wellness also sneaks away of its own accord. We simply don’t know how to grasp it and where to look for it. That fact alone is a barrier to us staying well. If we knew what truly helped us stay well, I imagine we would do a little more of it.

The image I have is of Elmer Fudd sincerely looking at me, whispering loudly, “ Be verwy verwy quiet. We’re hunting wellness.” Like our dear friend Elmer we are just a bit off the mark when it comes to efficiently hunting our goal.

Through the years I have found three major ways in which wellness sneaks by us unknowingly. We’ll start with subtlety.

1: Wellness actions are sneaky in their subtlety

When you eat a habanero pepper, you know it. Your watering eyes, red face, and immediate unrelenting desire for a drink all tell you, “Yep, I ate a pepper.” If things that increased our vitality and equilibrium gave us such easy to read cues, we’d know what they were. They would be obvious and thus much more easily accessible. However, beneficial actions, foods, and herbs often build up our strength gently over time. They are like a bank account slowly and steadily accumulating interest. When we fail to notice their positive benefits for us, then we are much more likely to let them go as a part of our wellness routine. We miss their potential and often falsely flag them as unhelpful and only return to them reluctantly, if ever. An herb, say turmeric, will often sneak into our lives for half a bottle of tablets or so and then out again without us truly knowing what it was doing for us. We failed to pay attention to the subtle signs and gentle benefits we were receiving and thus allowed the herb to fall away from our practice.

A great example comes from yoga. New students often fail to grasp the deep benefits they have been receiving and thus decide to drop out after a series or two. Very often I will get a call from these same students asking to sign back up three weeks later.   (Three weeks without yoga is enough time for all of their pains and fatigue to come rushing back.) That’s when they notice. It is only then, when they were feeling well and lost it quickly, that the change is large enough for people to really feel the wellness benefits they were receiving. Now they know yoga was good for them. It took a strong cue to grasp it.

Experiment: Try something for three weeks, and then stop cold turkey as in the yoga example to get a stronger cue. You can feel the changes best only after you’ve been doing something consistently and then suddenly stop.   Discomfort is a stronger cue then health.

Remember: Look for subtle cues of increased health such as less pain and less fatigue.

Caution: Quick and bold fixes sound great, but true wellness often sneaks in quiet, gentle, and slow ways.