Addiction….not a dirty word

I’ve been wondering what to write about lately. Lots of my blogs are informed by client work or observations I’ve made, or even conversations with friends. This one isn’t so much, but it is something personal to me that feels important to share.

When I decided I wanted to become a therapist, I started out expecting to work within addiction, but as life does, I’ve moved away from that as a particular focus, although I obviously face it in the therapy space fairly regularly, and I welcome it. Here’s why:

Addiction is something that sparks great controversy. Whenever the subject arises, I brace myself for comments that are derogatory, unkind, judgemental, and dismissive. And sadly, I’m usually right to do so.

Addiction is something this country seems to be plagued by. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, work, fitness, food, whatever, if there’s a dopamine response, you can bet someone who is struggling with emotion will use the activity to supress their emotion.

And that’s what addiction is. It’s avoidance. It would really be better to call it that rather than addiction, so that’s what I’m going to do from now on.

When someone is in avoidance, whatever their substance or behaviour, they can be VERY challenging to be around. It is absolutely your right to put in strict boundaries that meant you aren’t taken advantage of, but it doesn’t mean you have to let go of compassion all together.

If you are in avoidance, it is hard to see, because those behaviours are keeping you SO safe. They help you function day to day, or at least you think they do, and it’s impossible to break out of the behaviour, because you to do so is to face the thing you are avoiding, and that is not only hideously painful, but also incredibly scary.

When in avoidance, everything becomes about maintaining that position. Everything. In avoidance, you heartily swerve anything that may make you look in the mirror to see your pain. In avoidance, you may hurt those around you to maintain that state. Unfortunately, that capitalises on your avoidance, because now you have to avoid the pain and guilt of hurting those you love.

When someone is in avoidance, rather than judging, or directing, or insisting they stop avoiding, perhaps it is more helpful to say you are there when they are ready to face what they are avoiding. Perhaps it is more helpful to ask them how their behaviour is helping them, and to listen to the response with compassion. Perhaps it is about saying ‘I won’t help you avoid, but I will help you heal’.

People in avoidance don’t need to be isolated further, they need to be embraced and sheltered from the storm inside their own bodies. People in avoidance are in pain and their pain needs to be held until they can look at it without wincing. (Please be clear, I am not asking you to suffer for someone else’s pain, you MUST keep yourself safe before anything else.)

I have never met someone in avoidance who hasn’t experienced a horrific trauma, or abuse, or particularly painful bereavement. I haven’t met someone in avoidance who has experienced emotional stability and been given emotional resilience in childhood. Every single person I have met (and there have been a fair few) who is in avoidance does not have the emotional tool kit to deal with the horrors they have experienced.

So please, when you see someone is destroying themselves and those around them with their avoidance, acknowledge their pain, keep yourself safe, don’t enable, but do try and offer them compassion.

Avoidance doesn’t discriminate, nobody is immune.

If you’ve been affected by avoidance, please get in touch with the wonderful Drugfam You can do so by clicking on their page.

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