Today's podcast is about the relief that compulsion or addiction brings. I also talk about the life that we may be attempting to block. This is the first of a three part series about addiction, based on Gabor Maté's book 'In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts'.
Gabor Maté - 'In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts'
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0:00:02 - Speaker 1
Hi, this is Shelley Treacher from Underground Confidence. Today I'm going to be talking about compulsion and addiction. I'm going to share with you some thoughts after reading Gabor Matty's book about addiction. This is the first of a three-part series about this book. Today's part is an introduction about the avoidance of an addiction or compulsion, what we might be avoiding by having that, and then also about the vibrancy of life and how we might be missing out on that too. This may or may not be something you're aware of happening for you, because that's the thing behind compulsion you don't really know what's going on for you because you blocked that out. So you may or may not be able to relate to what I'm saying today. My intention is to open the way for you if something deeper feels like it might be happening for you. But I'm going to start with a conversation that I witnessed recently.
I'm a member of a psychotherapist's network over my area and recently a conversation exploded about using the term weight loss in reference to therapy. This is so interesting to me because a lot of feeling was evoked. I think the intention of all parties was actually quite good. However, a lot of people were very triggered because they felt that using the words weight loss was shaming and buying into the social stereotype that we have of needing to be thin. This is such a good point. However, 99% of people who come to see me come with the presenting issue that they would really love to lose weight. So I think it's really important to be sympathetic to the fact that we might have been bullied into thinking that we should look a certain way, but I also think it's quite important to be aware that we do want to fit in and that we may not like the way we look. Personally, one of my ambitions in this podcast is to get you to a place of making that decision for yourself rather than for other people or for society. Of course, most of the people who come to see me who present that they hate their bodies also learn to realise that they hate themselves too and that they've been really hard on themselves, usually because of something in their history and society, but generally because they have a lack of confidence. So that's where my focus is. It's not really on weight loss, although of course, weight loss can be a byproduct of getting to know yourself better and learning to treat yourself well.
If you have any comments about any of this. I'd be really happy to further the conversation. How do you feel about what I'm saying? So now let's turn to talking about compulsions.
In Gabor Maté's book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he talks about us being somewhere on the continuum all of us somewhere on the continuum of being hungry for something. He says that the hell realm of painful emotions frightens most of us, and he describes addiction as a flight from this distress or from any distress, and I can testify that most of my clients absolutely dread having to feel. They dread that pause when nothing happens, in case they start to feel the addict fears that they will be trapped there forever. And as it turns out when we start talking, it often is the case that people with some kind of compulsion or addiction have often had some kind of terrible life, and so using a compulsion or having an addiction can be seen as a fear of living, a fear of the same thing happening that we didn't really like in childhood or in our adulthood, in our relationships, in our experience. What Gabor says that he has found, and certainly what I have found too, is that addictions always originate in pain and painful experience. One of the common stories that I hear is usually of neglect of some kind or of a constant drip feed of criticism and control.
Gabor quotes Vincent Philippi MD, saying that dismissing addictions as bad habits or self-destructive behavior comfortably hides their functionality in the life of the addict. It hides the relief that people get. This is more than just an attempt to get pleasure, and it's true of any obsessive compulsion or addiction. People are self-medicating depression, anxiety, ptsd or even ADHD. So it may be to avoid something that happened in your childhood, in your history, in society, or just an internal experience of relating in a world where people don't understand you. The difference between someone who has an obsessive compulsion that destroys their life in some way and the rest of us is that the rest of us find ways of coping or distracting from the pain and the emptiness. This is what my podcast is about.
If we've had difficulty in life, it's natural that when there's a silence or a gap or space, that those things start to come up. Any worry that there is in the background, any negativity, cynicism, difficulty or pain is going to come up in that silence. We have a blanket term for this. We often call it boredom. The addict or the person who has an obsessive compulsion is terrified of that gap and that void. Boredom is something that we don't tolerate very well, and vulnerability can be so difficult to bear that we have to shut down. One of the problems of this is that if you shut one thing down, you shut the whole emotional capability down. Intuitively, I think we know that that's not the right thing to do, that's not best for us, but we can spend a lot of energy trying to contradict that.
Emotions are really useful. They're essential for life to tell us what we're not happy with, what the threat is, what we need to avoid and what we want to go towards. Any kind of substance or drug that we're compulsively addicted to gives us the excitement and the innocence and the freedom that we had as children, without any of the vulnerability or responsibility. One of the downsides of having an obsessive compulsion is involved in the reward system. That happens. So you get a dopamine reward, a dopamine hit every time you go for that drug. This system, this natural system in our brains, becomes lazy and takes months to regrow, naturally if we stop using the drug. I'll be talking more in the second part about the biochemistry in the brain in addiction. But because of this system we can often feel more confident when we're on the drug, where the inadequacy or feeling inadequate often came earlier.
Obviously, there are other downsides to having an addiction or a compulsion, your ill health being the most obvious one. But you can also have a lack of energy and be feeding that lack of energy to have an energy boost with the drug. You may also suffer with insomnia, and one of the things that happens is the more you have this and the more you live this way, the more normal this feels to you. One of the things that Gabor points out is that much of this is ancestral and passed down generationally, from the kind of trauma that we experienced or the difficulty that we had in our relationships to the way that we cope with them. He quotes Thomas Hora, md as saying Unfortunately, all external means of improving our life's experiences are double-edged. They're always good and bad. No external remedy improves our condition without, at the same time, making it worse, and I must say that I agree with the book when it says that these drugs, this addiction, these compulsions almost work. They almost work, they almost convince us that life is great. They almost make us feel so much better, almost, because isn't there always that just nagging feeling that there's more, and that is the way addiction works. Isn't there always that feeling of just a bit more and I'll be fine?
Compulsion usually comes with lies as well. I know that I lie about my compulsion to work too hard. If I'm deeply involved in a project and one of my friends tries to call me or ask me out for a drink, I will often say that I'm not feeling very well or that I'm doing something else. That's very important, but I very rarely say I'm obsessed with my work so I don't want to see you right now. And there may be times when I eat the whole bag of multi-pack crisps and watch television with a glass of wine. I'm not going to tell anybody that I did that, apart from you. My strap line, if anyone asks, would be I just had a relaxing evening last night.
It stayed in, wanted to be in my own company, which is true, but it's not really very present company, you have to say. I'm not saying that I'm a terrible person for doing these things. I'm just pointing out that there are times when we're present and there are times when we choose not to be and we're less authentic when that happens. And this seems to be a feature of obsessive compulsion and addiction. There's always lies and secrecy, which doesn't feel good in the end. Gabor also points out that we deflect compliments when we're in that state of mind because we feel ashamed and so we feel like we don't deserve a nice compliment. This can result in irritation, being pessimistic, being cynical and being critical of others. We can become so obsessed with the thing that we're addicted to that we can't really relate to people anymore because we're just looking for the next fix. We become so internally focused that we're not really that interested in how other people feel or in facing other people's real needs, so all relationships lose a little bit of vitality.
I've definitely been a culprit of this. There were times during the pandemic when I really just wanted to switch off rather than talk to the beautiful group of women that I often speak to for support. These women make me feel so good because they understand the emotional language that I speak, but often I would just not go because I was obsessed with doing this checking out business. Looking back, I really missed out, and thankfully I've taken that in hand now and pushed myself to remember what the things I get from these meetings. I don't think there is anything more important to me than connecting on an emotional level with people. So for me to deny myself that is just crazy, really. In the end and to add to what I was saying about lies, I would never tell them that I wanted to check out that night, so I wasn't going to talk to them. It turns out I could tell them. They would understand, as it happens, but that would be me not checking out. That would be me being present.
Thankfully, as he points out in his book, though, knowing this, just knowing this, won't make you stop. He says I continue to choose patterns that darken my spirit, alienate those close to me and drain my vitality, and I can relate to that. I don't always choose the best thing either, but, as he says, he's made significant changes, and so have I, and I have seen a lot of my clients do that too. Bit by bit, we've come back to life, and we're still on that journey. In AA they talk about surrender. Surrender sounds like the most terrifying thing for an addict to do. We resist emotional work and we want results immediately. I can't tell you how many times people have come into me wanting me to fix them really, really quickly.
But the point of this podcast really is to say that sobriety, or being away from your addiction or compulsion, is a way of being. It's not just the absence of that substance and giving it up, it's not being able to resist food, it's living in fullness. This is something that you have to discover for yourself. I can't actually teach this to you. I can tell you everything I can know about this, but I can't make you do it. What I can tell you is something that Gabor says as well Emotions make life worthwhile. They make it challenging, exciting, beautiful and meaningful. You have to give up something to be able to experience that. Are you willing to do that? This brings me to the end for this week.
Today I've just talked a little bit about how we might be avoiding feeling by taking on some kind of compulsion to a substance or to people, to something outside of ourselves, and how that might be not allowing yourself the vibrancy of life. Next week it's the end of the month, so I'll be doing my relationship podcast. I'll be talking about avoidance and the fear of intimacy. I listened to a really great Ydis Perel talk recently where she asks when you turn yourself off. She says that people rarely want more sex. They want better sex, and this is what she says. Better sex is to connect with that quality of aliveness, of vibrancy, of renewal, of vitality, of eros, of energy that sex used to afford you or that you hope would afford you. Isn't this the same in life? And any compulsion? If you're ever left with a feeling that something is missing, this might be what you've done. You might have turned life off for you, and so she urges us to complete the following sentence I shut myself off when so-and-so happens, or I turn myself on when this happens. I think you can apply this not just to your sex life, but to the whole of your life. When is it that you shut yourself down and what inspires you to open up? And so the avoidance side of this is what I'll be talking about next time. Thank you so much for listening today. I'll be back next Wednesday. If you have any comments, I know I would love to hear them, so please do be in touch.
My next comfort eating group is just almost full. There are a couple of places left if you want to get in touch. It'll be starting next week or the week after. One of the other things that Gabor talks about in his book is a sense of community amongst addicts. I'm not sure that as comfort eaters you really have that. So that's kind of what my group is about. If you need a sense of community, this is a really good place to start. Thanks for listening. I'll see you next Wednesday. This is Underground Confidence with Shelley Treacher.