Addiction is the conditioned mind controlling who you are and can look like street-dwelling drug addicts all the way to high-functioning workaholics. And yet addiction in it’s subtler forms is something that all of us face.
Dr. Gabor Maté, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, takes on the obstacle of addiction which he defines simply as any behavior that follows this process: wanting, craving, temporary relief when you get it, and an inability to give it up despite negative consequences.
So who are we when we are not addicted? It’s who we are in the moments we are not controlled by the wanting, thinking mind. Dr. Maté recalls meeting some indigenous people in Malaysia while walking in the jungle and noticing how they were: absolutely grounded in themselves, present, neither afraid nor aggressive, they seemed to feel safe and rooted in their world. He contrasts this with the neurotic consciousness of our world, where many are troubled and uncomfortable in their own skin. The point is not to idealize indigenous people but to note that it’s possible to be like that. It is not something we are evolving into, but qualities that already exist.
Dr. Maté proposes that not achieving this grounded state is not a personal failure but a cultural one…that it takes vigilance not to be addicted in this society. He also observes that the individual degree of wanting is related to how much emptiness that individual experiences which is then related to what occurred early in that individual’s life.
“The heart of addiction is loss and pain. The big loss is not that your mother or father didn’t love you in a complete enough way…the big loss is that you lost the connection to yourself.” Addiction is our response to, and the unsustainable way we attempt to cope with, being disconnected from our essence.
There is hope…on some level nothing is lost…our essence is there to be found if we look. Our problems are simply opportunities to learn and grow. Maté suggests the following qualities are needed to get to the place where we are comfortable in our own skin:
- Compassion for the Self. Self love is not necessarily an emotion but rather what we do to support our learning, healing, and care. Work to increase self compassion, self kindness, and self love. Notice the ways you already love yourself. Be open to thinking you are worth it…that you deserve to get back in touch with yourself. This is the quality that gets you the help or support you need to make a change.
- Be willing to look at what’s really there. Increase awareness, decrease denial. Have the courage to take an honest look at how things actually are.
- Dis-identify with the experience of addiction. Let go of identifying ourselves with the experience. We are not cancer, or diabetes…rather these are ailments some of us experience. There is a value in realizing we can have a different experience in this-now-moment.
- Be able to answer the question: What experiences are you creating for yourself that keep you in these addictive patterns?
The healing begins when we ask: How do I reconnect with myself?