Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Is Pain Feeding Your Addiction?
Gabor Maté asks, “Not why the addiction, but why the pain?”
Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced emotional pain. Bad days are a given. Life is tough. Broken hearts happen. Divorce occurs. We lose jobs and friends. Things don’t always go as planned. For the most part, we dust ourselves off, pick ourselves back up and carry on. In the process, we learn that pain is our teacher. It tells us something’s not right and we need to make changes. From pain emerges growth and from growth, wisdom.
Pain can be a beautiful thing.
But not everyone will learn from it. Addicted individuals don’t cope well with pain due to an immature, disordered brain chemistry. Instead of feeling their pain, folks with this illness react to it. They don’t acknowledge pain through healthy communication. Rather they act out through unhealthy or aggressive behaviors such as the silent treatment, or on the opposite spectrum; yelling, swearing, slamming doors, punching holes in walls, and throwing things. They become verbally abusive and some, even physically abusive. If you hang out with an addicted person long enough you will observe that their problems and feelings seem bigger than the rest of us. You’ve experienced uncomfortable emotions too, but you don’t react the way your addicted loved one does.
So why do people struggling with addiction have such a tough time with emotional pain?
One theory is this. Addiction is genetic. Although it can skip a generation, it runs in families the same way eye and hair color, do. This is why it’s called an ‘environmental’ (meaning home) illness. When you grow up in an addicted home, you experience anxiety and trauma. You learn to walk on eggshells and stuff your feelings, resulting in emotional immaturity. Although your physical body ages, you feel like a little kid on the inside. You struggle with feelings of being different – less than – than others. Lacking self-worth you don’t ask for what you want or need. Instead, you suffer in silence and resentment.
Without a sense of self, you look to people/places and things, to bridge the gap. The first time you use or rescue someone who does, you fall in love with the feeling. No more pain. No more anxiety. No more, less than. No more – not fitting in your skin. When ingesting substance you to feel equal to other people, maybe for the very first time. Getting high and enabling are Band-Aids for emotional pain. Although they numb the sting temporarily, they create a deeper wound. To numb the wound, more alcohol/drugs or other unhealthy, mood-altering behaviors are needed. So the cycle begins. Pain, numb, pain, numb… soon your disordered brain is looking for things to feel pain over, to reward its pleasure circuit. It tricks you by telling you there’s pain, where there is none.
When you’re predisposed to addiction, avoiding emotions can cost you your life. Addiction twists emotional pain into a lethal brew of self-pity, blame and resentment, then it feasts there. This triplicate is a deadly combo, allowing the addicted person to feel justified in using.
When I went to treatment I learned addiction used my pain against me. It fed on it, twisted it, corrupted it, poisoned me with it and made me toxic.
I didn’t know I was sick. I just knew I loved the way I felt when I was high, and I hated being sober. I didn’t like reality. I wanted other people to deal with my problems. The more they did for me, the more I expected them to do for me.
Addicted persons feel in control when they’re using. Non-addicts feel out of control. Without help or intervention, addicted individuals will spiral downward until they come to the terminal stage of this disease. Then it’s jails, institutions, or death. But there is another option. RECOVERY! Learn how to deal with your pain. Find out why it’s there and get help for it. Start the healing process. This is crucial, for without the right help you will simply trade one addiction for another. 12-step meetings and working the steps is a start, but I would recommend an accredited treatment center with a psychiatrist and doctor on staff who specialise in addiction and counsellors with a master’s degree. You will learn more and change more, about yourself in two short months – than you will learn and change in years, doing it through meetings.
Regardless of HOW you do it, you can’t do it alone.
I used to think people who admitted their problems were weak. I was wrong. People who find the courage to admit and overcome problems aren’t weak at all. They’re warriors. Courage isn’t the lack of fear, but facing your fear and doing it anyway. If you struggle with addiction, don’t listen to your head. Your disease will tell you, it’s too hard to get clean and sober. Your addiction wants you to remain sick, weak and pathetic. It tells you to give up. But you can empower yourself by reaching out. There’s no shame in getting well. It really is easier than you think. You don’t have to live like this, one more day. These three words changed my life … I need help. Admit it. Own it. Take responsibility for it and live the life you deserve.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1 888 614-2379.