Heart to Heart: Addiction and Spirit
Heart to Heart: Addiction and Spirit
by Chris Johnson
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘addict’? There is an incredible stigma attached to the word ‘addict’.
If one is honest with themselves, words like dirty, criminal, crack ho, street trash, lost cause, sick, no good, may come to mind. At one point, heroin was the prototype for addiction. If you were an addict it involved needles and you had a skeletal body and wild, animal-like behavior. Even into the 1960’s, nicotine was not studied in medical schools as addictive, seen as a cause of lung cancer and considered non-addictive.
The era of Prohibition was fueled by ‘God as salvation’ and alcohol as ‘a deal with the devil.’ The association between the devil and drinking, the devil and immorality arouses the ancient power struggle between the forces of good and evil and further reinforces the concept of a culture that has fallen from Gods’ grace. Rigid morals and codes of behavior govern a precarious relationship with a God who sits in judgment and with each drink we sink further into the abyss.
One of the themes woven throughout the programs offered at TAC is the idea that we are human and spiritual with these two aspects co-existing within us. We need to learn to find balance in our lives, giving equal time and energy to what may sometimes seem like opposing forces.
For most people, addiction is the furthest thing from how they want to live their lives, how they want their kids, family members, friends, and co-workers to live their lives. You may characterize yourself as a heavy smoker but not as a nicotine addict, coffee or tea may be an important part of your daily ritual, yet you probably would not consider yourself a caffeine addict, even the term ‘alcoholic’ although intrinsically linked to alcohol consumption removes one from the stigma of the word ‘addict’. We will do anything to distance ourselves from what we perceive as weak, lacking strong character, the absence of moral fiber, sinful, shameful, disgusting, and pitiful.
We create artificial distinctions between addictive substances: crystal-meth, crack cocaine, heroin, versus marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol. We take comfort in the idea that a glass of wine or a couple painkillers set us apart and above the addicts we see on city streets. There exists a hierarchy on those same streets around ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ substances to which one becomes addicted.
Our love affair with the movies fed us glamorous and powerful images of smoking leading men and their beautiful women, who also smoked. Caffeine addiction is hidden in our café society and even kids are exposed to caffeine in foods and beverages. There is an alarming rise in prescription drug abuse and a prevailing attitude that as long as you are fast, efficient and productive---“get that sale”, “make the quota”--- snorting powder, taking steroids or swallowing your child’s ADHD meds is somehow okay.
Addictions should not be limited to the study of substance abuse, what about behavioral addiction? Work, gambling, shopping, exercise, T.V., computer games and sex to name a few. The pleasure/reward response is triggered when dopamine surges through our brains and bodies. Chemicals like endorphins and adrenaline help us to numb out and sedate our responses to feelings of pain, whether physical or emotional. These chemical reactions are stimulated by substances or behavior.
Perhaps addiction is part and parcel of our human natures. The primal urges of fight and flight are wrapped in our drives to forage for food, to procreate, to find shelter and safety and to seek pleasure. Human beings are hedonistic. We delight in the pursuit of pleasure merely for pleasures sake. This is perhaps one of our greatest achievements, to have evolved to a level where we create our own choices because we can, and our choices often include pleasure/reward behavior, sometimes at any cost.
The price paid may include loss of our families, friends, loved ones, health, career, and dignity. The most significant cost for our addictions is the loss of oneself and our relationship with spirit. Esoteric material, mystery schools and oral traditions cross-culturally have all hinted at the idea that God is within and what we go through and how we choose to live allows that ‘God-part’ of us to experience. Our quest for escape and perhaps freedom, our search for feelings of bliss and ecstasy are natural and on some level may reflect the Creator/God in all of us.
This human form, existing in the 3rd dimension has full-body-awareness. Through our 5 senses we know what chocolate tastes like, how it feels to hold a newborn, the waves of orgasm, the depth of grief, tears of joy or a great belly laugh. It is no wonder that with this capacity to feel so many emotions and nuances of feeling and sensation that at times we can become obsessed and compulsed to feed our primal desires.
We exist as multi-faceted energy forms and to understand each other, and ourselves we must incorporate a ‘whole picture viewpoint’. Holistic in nature: body, mind and spirit. Science and medicine allow us to see inside our bodies, to measure chemicals and hormones, to help us understand the physical properties of addiction. Psychology and the study of behavior allow us to glimpse at the thought patterns and mind-set of addiction. What is often overlooked is the spiritual component. You cannot have a human nature without a spiritual nature. Addiction is a crisis of spirit. Our addictions move us away from an alignment with spirit or higher power. This feeling of disconnect may be present before our addictions become unmanageable or a by-product of the abuse, nonetheless, developing a renewed relationship with spirit is powerful and healing. This is not about religion but about a personal connection with the Creator/God within.
Here are some simple steps to spirit allow a gradual un-folding of spirit: walking in nature, meditation, reciting prayers or affirmations, journaling, healthier eating and exercise, therapy to understand emotional behaviors and create new responses to stress/triggers, support groups, reaching out, being of service and forgiveness.
How does one work with addictions and move beyond all of the baggage that gets lumped in with the word ‘addict’? As therapists we must remove the distinction between the addict client and ourselves, at times getting in touch with our own addict within. The ‘addict’ persona is in all of us, just one part of our whole being. When dealing with clients it is important to remember that they are more than just their addictions. The person in front of you is made up of the same stuff you are. One way we further the healing process and reinforce a sacred space is opening up and establishing a heart to heart connection.
Though there are times when we will think about the next step to take in therapy or how a technique may further a clients’ process, the real magic lays in getting to ‘the heart of the matter. ’It is important to remember that when we feel we have opened our heart to another that we ask to open even more. The healing power of the heart is limitless and it is with this connection firmly in place that we speak and act from God. Compassion is a high-energy vibration and the more we allow compassion into our lives the more we deepen our spiritual journey.
Addiction has always been with us as we search for something in the outside world to foster a sense of comfort and well-being. The irony is that this search takes us on a long and winding path, away from the very thing we seek. The journey to healing begins when our connection to our spiritual nature is strengthened and we realize what we sought, we always had.
A spiritual approach to Addiction is covered in our Spiritual Psychotherapy Program which starts Mon. Sept. 15, 2008 for full-times studies and Sat. Sept. 13, 2008 for part-time studies.