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"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It's human connection." -Johann Hari
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Treating addiction with the freedom to feel

by Jayne Williams, LICDC, LICC
Emotional pain is gasoline to the fire of addiction. Before a chemical or physiological addiction transpires, a person craves the escape from his or her feelings. In the work of recovery, we must address not only the behaviors, but the web of experience behind the behavior. The work of knowing our feelings - mindfulness - takes a regular practice of awareness. Many times we experience emotion below the surface and attempt to escape before we've had a chance to name them. 

In discussing addiction, we most often refer to chemical dependency, an emotional and physical tolerance to chemicals. We can't ignore the plethora of process addictions that do not involve ingesting a substance, but which alter a person's mood and have negative consequences for their lives, such as gambling, sexual addictions, shopping, pornography, and eating/exercise compulsions.

We can always find a distraction, be it substances, social media, shopping, or work. To heal, we need to be able to know what we are feeling at any given time and share it with someone. This tendency to not know our emotions or connect with others for support leaves us vulnerable to numbing behaviors.

If I go shopping by myself when I am feeling a bit down, am I addicted? If this is the only way to manage feelings, then it could be a problem. It is repeated use of any behaviors without other means of coping and support that is the concern.

The good news: every day, every moment, you have a choice. You can choose to numb and avoid or you can choose the courage to share it with someone. It can be scary to share emotions with another person, be it a friend, partner or even counselor. You might feel vulnerable when you put down your armor, but the feeling of being loved and supported doesn't wear off like the emotional numbing of addictions does. When your feelings rise to the top, acknowledge them, share them with a safe and healthy outlet and recognize that you can choose your response.  

Numbing Behaviors and the Workplace

" A leader who can meet vulnerability with empathy, who can feel compassion for themselves and for others in the wake of setbacks and mistakes, will be able to build connections and improve their working relationships at the most difficult moments and turn crises into learning experiences."
At the root of addiction is the ability to numb and avoid our feelings. Author Ed Batista casts light into the effects of such behavior and its effect in the workplace, specifically how C-suite leaders need to be in tune with the ethos of employees in order best navigate the shared feelings within the company. 
"Emotions are literally contagious--we sense them in others, pick them up and pass them on--and we're even more sensitive to the emotions of leaders and others we view as having high status." 
Read more... 

Connection and Addiction Recovery

Stepping outside of the individual, case-by-case work of treating addiction, we can look at recovery and ask questions of the process. In this TED talk, Johann Hari reflects on the counter-cultural and non-instinctive need to provide close relationship to those with an addiction. 
When you feel hurt by someone who struggles with addiction, the temptation is to cast out or push away out of our own personal hurt. Research directs us that maintaining a relationship while keeping firm boundaries is more effective in helping the recovery process. 

Curbing the temptation to numb

Things like substance abuse usually get the spotlight when addressing the idea of addiction; however, if you're human, you probably use something to help you deal with the challenges (and even the joys) of life. It's not uncommon - nor socially unacceptable - to mindlessly open the refrigerator door when we're actually attempting to avoid the the quietness (interpreted as boredom and emptiness) of our inner self. 
Try using everyday moments of impulse to curb our reaction to uncomfortable feelings. When you notice the text alert, take a breath and remind yourself that you get to choose to ignore or look at the screen instead of feeling compelled to do so. 
Finding the means to stop in the moment and decide how to proceed - rather than mindlessly reacting - provides the groundwork for living an intentional life, one in which is best lived fully present. 
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