It’s been said that the fastest way to find the solution to a problem is to ask the right questions. In terms of personal growth and addiction recovery, asking questions (especially the right ones) forces us to face the issues holding us back in life head-on. It causes us to get up close and personal with the problem at hand in order to find a better solution, faster, because by default of asking questions we are actively looking for a solution.
When we come to a point in life where everything is spinning out of control and addiction or abuse has left us a mess, we ask ourselves, “How did this ever happen to me?” So you see: Even in the midst of the chaos and anguish of addiction, we have this innate sense that we need to face our demons and figure out why we are in a state of suffering and turmoil. So we ask questions like: “How did this happen to me?” “How did I ever get this far gone?” or even “Why did this happen to me?”
The short and brutally honest answer to any of these questions is simply this: because we used, abused, and got addicted. It really is that cut-and-dry; that cause-and-effect.
Unfortunately, this answer resolves nothing because it doesn’t cut to the core of the problem.
Therefore, when conquering our demons is our quest it becomes a matter of asking the right questions. In the context of addiction, we must ask deeper questions. Let me explain…
I don’t believe how an addiction came about is nearly as important as why we use in the first place. Now pay close attention to that statement: I said why we use in the first place, not why we used in the first place. This is the right question because it addresses our humanity – why we use as human beings. It does not address our individuality (why we used, or why we starting using…). The reasons we ever used in the first lace or became addicted are as wide and varied as the unique and individual experiences of each person on this planet.
But as with all things in life, if we can discover a universal truth about the whole (humanity), we can find that same truth within the parts (individuals) as well. I don’t know your story. I only know my own. This philosophy is not sufficient to sum up the details of your life or to adequately express your unique experiences; however, it can shed light on a universal, underlying CAUSE behind why addiction so easily takes reign in our lives.
Sometimes the how or why we became addicted is the easy part of our story to pinpoint. The “How did I ever get to this point?” rock bottom moment so many addicts experience has an extremely simple and overlooked answer: because you tried the drug, substance, “thing” in the first place and you LOVED it.
Most of us became addicted to our drug or alcohol or whatever our addiction may be simply because we tried it for the first time: maybe a prescription at the urging of a doctor; maybe a street drug, at the urging of a friend or someone we knew. Maybe because we had no positive role models in our life and ended up with the wrong crowd. Maybe we inherited addiction through a vicious cycle of family history with it.
Regardless of the specific details of your story – or my own – it all starts because we get a taste of it, an appetizer if you will, and we LOVE the way it makes us feel. That’s all there really is to it.
So then the greater question is, “Why do we as humans use in the first place?”
Why we actually do it – why we use drugs and alcohol, or sex or food even – is where we can find the answers to a much deeper and profound question regarding our humanity.
Coping Mechanisms and Our Want For Escape
When I was popping pills and chasing them with vodka every day I never really allowed myself to be conscious – to be aware – of all that was wrong in my life. As a matter of fact, that’s specifically why I was popping pills and getting drunk: because so much seemed wrong in my life and being high and drunk was a surefire way to escape the pain.
But at that time I felt like an absolute failure and in order to escape that feeling versus dealing with all the issues that caused it in the first place, I turned to numbing myself with opioid pain-killers and drowning myself in alcohol.
No matter who we are or what our story is, that’s the very reason any of us use or have used: to escape the discomfort of an in-the-moment conscious awareness of life – to escape the discomfort and pain of who we are, or more accurately, who we think we are.
Drugs and alcohol distract us from life because of how they make us feel. They numb the pain. This numbness is better summed up as a feeling of escape…
The stress and difficulties of life are profound and drastic sometimes. Some people’s life experiences are much harsher and crueler than others. A lot goes into why an individual may have decided or been coerced to take drugs or drink in the first place.
Research in health psychology tells us that we need coping mechanisms during times of distress to get us through our struggles. And the reason we turn to drugs or alcohol is because they are the easy way out, the path of least resistance.
The problem is that drugs and alcohol aren’t really coping mechanisms. They’re actually an escape from coping, an escape from dealing with life. They mask the pain, so we really aren’t coping with anything, we are escaping.
Escaping is essentially running or hiding from our problems. Problems that will always find us no matter how hard we run or where we hide.
Like I said, as humans we have the tendency to take the “path of least resistance.” This means whatever the easier option is, we’ll choose it. Why? Well, because it’s… easy. And we like ease and effortlessness. We don’t like difficulty and challenge. This is why we opt for escape instead of confrontation. We lack the will to put forth effort into the self-discipline required to CHANGE (although change is what we desire most and silently dream of most often.)
But there is only one way our life will ever get better, only one way we as individuals will ever get better and improve our self or circumstances and that’s by accepting the most core principle of our existence:
Humanity has only two recurring themes and realities: struggle and growth. Now this profound statement belongs not to me (I’ve only paraphrased it here) but to Brendon Burchard, author of The Motivation Manifesto, a truly empowering book – especially for the mindful, recovering addict – and one I simply cannot recommend highly enough.
This truth is profound and life-changing when accepted. Life is struggle and growth, back-and-forth, up-and-down. It is good and it is bad. Perhaps if we could teach our children this truth from a younger age instead of sheltering them from it, they could adapt to life as pre-teens, teens, and young adults much easier.
The Problem With Escape
We distract ourselves from life because most people who find themselves in the grasp of addiction have the tendency to focus on that which they perceive as negative or “bad” about life they do to focus on the positive. We get easily overwhelmed and feel burdened by our responsibilities and obligations. We don’t know where to start in dealing with the haunting demons of past traumas or the healing of emotional scars.
Thus, we resort to drugs as a definite and easy escape from all the negative and perceived negative. Drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling – whatever your affliction – cause us to feel exactly the way we want to feel and we can focus on that good feeling instead of what’s wrong with our life.
The problem with using drugs, alcohol, substances, or whatever is obvious though: it leads to the creation and perpetuation of further negative issues and conditions. Not to negate the legal and physical repercussions of drug and alcohol abuse, let’s examine the deeper issues at hand…
We use drugs as an escape. This we’ve established. But it’s also a temporary escape and once the temporary feeling is gone the distraction is gone with it and all of our life’s problems are still right there, staring us back in the face!
We rationalize and justify our addictions and abuse by using saying, “This is how I cope,” but we merely escape the conscious awareness of the issues driving us toward addiction and abuse. Coping means finding a way to deal with issues head on, to mitigate their emotional affect upon us, or to seek a resolution to them. Escape means avoiding and running from it. So the further problem here is that we don’t actually fix or resolve anything. We simply escape it temporarily, only making matters worse.
When we use or abuse, we essentially put our problems and stressors on the back-burner where they get hotter and boil-over, if you will, while we’re busy feeling good. We sustain the problem by using and drinking more to continue escaping.
We always justify our using or drinking by saying, “Well, everyone needs an escape” or “Everyone needs a little help gettin’ by.” To which I’d say, “I agree.” But the help we need is not found in the methods we are so apt to use.
Having been an addict and alcoholic myself I can tell you that the truth we are too oblivious of or unwilling to face is that drugs, alcohol, food, sex – whatever we use for escape or to get us by – doesn’t really get us by – it doesn’t really work or help us at all. It just feels like it does in the moment and we justify it because it makes us feel good.
And THAT, my friends, is the golden ticket: it’s all about feeling, or rather, about how you feel. I’m not talking about emotions or moods, I’m talking about how you feel – your state of being, your quality of life.
As human beings our quality of life is directly related to how we feel. Drugs make us feel the way we want to feel all the time. That’s the simple answer to why we use: to feel good, to feel better, to feel the way we want to feel. That feeling allows us an escape from conscious self-awareness and brings us a sense of freedom, something we don’t feel when the heavy burden of life is overwhelmingly oppressive to the soul.
Escaping simply means our conscious awareness of life issues is uncomfortable, painful, and we don’t feel good about it. So we use or drink to escape from that conscious awareness of reality in order to feel better.
The Good News Is: There’s A Better Way To Cope
Whatever you’re doing – or considering doing – for rehab or recovery, keep doing it. If you’re in counseling or therapy, good for you. Keep it up. If you’re not doing any of these things, please find help now. You know you need to. Do that first. There are many resources all around you, no matter what town or city you live in. Chances are if you’re reading this you’re on the road to recovery anyway. But we all continue needing help, support, and guidance.
So for those who are in their active recovery stage and seeking self-improvement – I want you to do something:
Allow yourself to be more conscious, to greet each day and each moment with your full presence and awareness. Become aware of the beauty in the world around you: in your children, your spouse or partner, your friends and loved ones, in your work, in school, in EVERYTHING… because the beauty in life is there. It’s just often missed because we spend too much time oblivious and distracted.
Life is unquestionably both good and bad. That is, the good and the bad are always there co-existing. As I mentioned before, we just have the inclination to focus on the negative, on the bad. Make it a habit of looking for and finding the good, of focusing on the good. It IS there, you just have to become more aware of it! And you will become more aware of it as you strive in giving it daily effort and attention.
This also means we must bring more attention and awareness into how we feel, even when negative feelings take over and cause us discomfort. Never reduce yourself to using or drinking to escape. Don’t escape at all. Remember: escape is the real problem.
Trust me, through and even after recovery, the BEST thing you can do for yourself and others is develop your conscious self-awareness and allow yourself to experience life again.
Instead of escaping, let’s all declare to deal with our problems and face life’s difficulties head on and learn how to grow through them. That’s what I hope to you take away from these articles and podcasts.
I’ve done it myself. So have many others. You can do it, too.
How To Do It…
- Commit to improving your conscious awareness every single day by being more aware, alert, and vigilant in each present moment. Stop wishing you were somewhere else doing something else. Take in the world around you.
- Read books, listen to podcasts, read articles (like this one), interact in forums, join a local AA/ NA or other support group, start your own support group; listen to the stories of others who have come before you and succeeded in recovery and building a new life.
- Doing any of these things will cause new information to enter your mind and awareness, to enter your life, and new information is literally the driving force behind increased awareness and conscious development.
- Instead of preferring to remain oblivious and disengaged, do the work of being present and put forth the mental and cognitive effort into solving the litany of both large and small problems you have before you.
Being more conscious may seem like something menial and useless. It may seem like a petty and insignificant thing to commit to. But I assure you the complete opposite is true. It is actually the most profound and powerful thing you can commit to doing.
Begin today – right now – practicing being vividly conscious of each moment – even the ones that bring discomfort or anxiety – and living in them instead of escaping them. With practice, you’ll extract more joy, peace of mind, and vitality from life.
Best of Life,