How many addicts do you know? Probably more than you think.
The majority of drug addicts I've come into contact with have been those I’ve treated in a professional context - in hospitals. A few years ago, I also did a health needs assessment of a central London borough and interviewed homeless addicts about the health care they were receiving for hepatitis C. The hardships they faced were enough to put me off drugs for several lifetimes.
But most of the addicts I know are hooked on everyday things: work, performance/achievement, constant activity. Most are exhausted or overwhelmed. Many find their relationships suffer.
This culturally driven, toxic work/performance/achievement addiction is what I talk about here (not clinical addictions which require healthcare services).
See the video or read on.
While many theories of addiction exist, experts seem to agree on: 1) there’s a compulsion to act; 2) there’s a payoff to the addictive behaviour (e.g. external validation).
It is possible to recover. A few years ago, I faced the fact that I did not know how to relax. I performed fast and well but felt disconnected from important things. Fast-forward to 2018 and my life has changed radically. It’s become an ongoing experiment in living well, free of societal pressure and urgency. Relaxation has become more of a default mode.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t get anything done. On the contrary, I think I’ve entered my most creative and productive phase of work and life.
The journey gave me insights into the anatomy of addiction to work and performance as well as its origins and healing factors.
DISCONNECTION FROM INNER-RESOURCES
Why does the compulsion to perform/achieve happen in the first place? An in-depth exploration by the controversial Johann Hari proposes that it’s a lack of connection. While the causes of addiction are multifactorial, I agree with his emphasis on the feeling of disconnection and the role of our human need for belonging and acceptance.
I would go further and say that being disconnected from ourselves – our sense of inner-safety and comfort, our home within, is at the root. Social scientists call it alienation. And so we seek to find safety and belonging elsewhere – mainlining work, unhealthy relationships, social media, etc. It’s no surprise that mindfulness and spirituality have become popular since they help people reconnect with their basic goodness and ground of being.
THE JOURNEY BACK HOME
Understanding the process of addiction to performance/achievement including its origin and payoff is key to recovery, as well as connecting to a strong enough reason to break out of it.
Joining the dots to understand an unhelpful pattern of behaviour will guide you back home to feel strong and whole again.
The questions below help you find where the “disconnect” happens for you and put in place habits that help you reconnect and make the right choices for you. Notice the following:
The past [origins]: Was there a time when you felt free of the compulsion (the sense of urgency or panic when you’re not doing something, etc.) and when you could relax and play? Do you remember a defining moment when you decided that hard work or constant activity had to be a priority?
The present [triggers]: What sets off the compulsion to perform or urgency to make decisions/get things done? What are you doing or thinking just before it sets off?
The future [possibilities]: What do you really care about and what alternatives are available to you instead of giving into the temptation to get busy to try and get everything done at the expense of your health or relationships? Rehearse the alternative mentally a few times. How does it feel?
In your life right now, there’ll be people, places and habits (of thinking and behaving) that foster disconnection – you feel unsafe or uncomfortable regularly and may enter blaming and shaming patterns. Can you interact less with those and spend more time with those that help you feel safe, inspired and happy?
If you can’t change your environment, then you can use Tony Robbins’ approach to change: three portals to shift your state and foster connection with yourself again:
Body: change your posture and nurture yourself to send confident, calming signals to your brain.
Language: watch how you’re talking to and about yourself and others – use soothing and calming words.
Focus: use mindfulness to shift focus onto something that helps you feel positive and calm.
And the most important: Just. Breathe.
Ultimately, you can experience a sense of belonging any time you choose and satisfy your deepest need for connection in a moment. Struggling is not a requirement for fulfilment. Trust that you can let go of your compulsion to achieve and watch your life unfold in beautiful ways you couldn’t have imagined. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
Have a good week,
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