Learning from your addictive thoughts

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thoughtful reflectiveSome time ago, I listened to a podcast about recovery and spirituality by Krista Tippet, on what was then called “Speaking of Faith (now it’s called “On Being“). In the interview – which unfortunately is no longer available – she talked with a Native American leader and healer about his recovery from alcoholism. He talked about the importance – in his own recovery, and with others that he works with as a healer – of what he called “listening to your addiction to find out what it has to teach you.”

My colleague Mark Laaser at Faithful and True works with a similar idea when he talks about the important spiritual question of “What are you thirsty for?” as part of recovery. The way he talks about it, this question has to do with the deep needs and longings of our soul. We get pulled into addiction in its various forms, because the feeling we get from the addictive substance or activity fills a need. It soothes something that is agitated, excites something that feels dead and empty, makes us feel valued and significant, etc., etc.

Laura Chapman recently wrote me about an article she wrote with Lance Dodes about “The Surprising Value of Addictive Thoughts.” Here’s what she says about the article:

When we think of addiction – whether it be to drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling – we automatically assume that all the thoughts we have must be viewed in a negative way. After all, they’re the reason people struggle so much – aren’t they? It might not necessarily be so. Addictive thoughts can sometimes have value. We can use them to find our trigger points, to look back and see what caused them and to modify our behaviors and responses in the future.

Here are a couple excerpts from the article:

By using addictive thoughts as clues to understanding your addiction, they change from frightening and mysterious unwanted messages to opportunities to be empowered…

Whenever the thought of performing any addictive action comes to mind, take a moment to look backward in time to see what just happened. This could be what somebody else said, or did, or something that you said or did, or some thought that just came to mind. It could be that you were thinking about the work you have to do later that day, or the fight you had with your domineering sister, or the paper you have to write by Tuesday. It could be the reaction of your friend when you told him that you got a promotion, or your anxiety about calling a woman for a date. The list of possible precipitants is as long as the list of things that lead folks to feel lonely, anxious, depressed, angry, frightened, and so on. The common element in these situations is that something made you feel trapped, or overwhelmed, or helpless.

What do you think? Can you learn anything from those addictive thoughts that come up? What needs are surfacing? What healthy things can you do to deal with those needs?

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