A2R Blog – Addiction – A problem or a weakness?

Written by Dave Cooper


June 3, 2014

Hi. Thanks for taking the time to read this. We are on a journey of change from an unhealthy pattern of exits from our life to a healthier pattern of facing and processing difficulties. How do we do this exactly? Today I want to give you a better understanding of how we connect or construct the meaning of our issues. By the time you have read this you will have a better grasp on how your mind works and have a better way forward in your recovery, enjoy!

Let’s start with a question. When you think of your issue, drugs, alcohol, gambling etc. do you think of it as a problem or a weakness? This may seem trivial to you but let me explain. The chances of achieving a recovery from your issues will be greatly increased if you think of them as your weakness, not your problem!

I work with addicts of all sorts and I always encourage them to see things this way. Actually anyone who enters addiction counselling should soon discover this for themselves anyway because it should soon become very clear as part of the therapy. A typical example would be someone who entered treatment for alcohol and discovered as part of that treatment that their problem was their relationship with their Mother.

Now let’s look at the psychology of this idea. To do this we need to understand a bit more about how the mind works. Stick with me through this even if it’s not your interest. There is only one way to instruct the mind, yes that’s right, only one way. It’s all about attention, the phenomenon of attention, and it’s hugely important to human beings and their experience. Basically, you can tell your mind to give something attention or….. well nothing else really?!?

Think of it like being in a dark room with a torch, whatever you shine the torch on is the thing you are giving attention to, the table or the door handle, everything else is there it’s just that they are not getting any attention. So if all you can do is turn on the attention, or turn it off by giving attention to something else we can discount the positives and negatives! Hang on, what does that mean? It means that saying yes or no to your mind makes no difference!

If I say to you “don’t think about Micky Mouse” what comes into your mind? Exactly! You see what your mind heard was “think about Micky Mouse” or, even better “Micky Mouse” the instructions don’t really matter.

So, how does this help me stay sober, I hear you ask. Well, if you think of alcohol as your problem, well, a problem has to be solved doesn’t it? And to solve it you have to give it attention, don’t you? So remember, the though “I must not drink” and the thought “I must drink” are the same to your mind! One good way of understanding this is to think of your attention as being ‘stuck’ to your problem.

When we shift to an understanding of alcohol as our weakness and other things (that we have been avoiding) as our problem, we have a very different construction. Of course we need a lot of support to spend time thinking about our real problems (why do you think you have been drinking so much)? Let me refer you to the ‘AAA!’ blog posted on this site.

So what is a weakness? Well, in this context a weakness is something that offers you an ‘exit’. Because of your brain chemistry, or because of your background or your imagination, this thing has an effect on you that it does not have on other people. So we need to understand ‘exits’ a little more.

An ‘exit’ in this context is just what it sounds like. If the building is your life then the ‘exit’ is a door out of your life! Maybe only for an hour or two (sometimes longer) but the important part is that you get to be free of whatever it is that makes it seem very difficult to be you. This could be all sorts of things of course but we can generalise it as ‘your pain’. If your pain is very heavy, the exit will feel like putting it down for a while.

So I hope you are getting a picture now of the relationship between your weakness and your problem. Now that I have explained this a little, let me give you a typical example of what I see every day in my practice. A client comes to me with a ‘problem’ which they describe as ‘drinking too much’, they have been ‘trying’ around this problem but with no or limited success. At this stage they cannot see that this ‘problem’ is being made worse by all the attention it’s getting, nor that their real problem is getting no attention at all. In fact they are usually not wanting to see their real problem and spend a lot of energy trying not to give it attention, and when it gets too bad and they are feeling the consequences of avoiding the problem, which is often depression, or anger, they go for the ‘exit’ as a way of managing the pain and round we go again!

Clients are often amazed to find that we spend almost no time looking at their ‘problem’. I want to give their ‘weakness’ as little attention as possible, although there are often valid reasons for spending some time on it. What we do instead is get straight to the actual problem as fast as we can through the building of the relationship between us. This is basic counselling which tells us that no one is going to start talking about the real problem until there is a lot of trust in the room.

So, what have we learned here? Your addictive behaviour is a weakness, and you do it because it gives you an exit, which you need because you are not facing your problem! This is why we always start with raising awareness (see AAA! On this blog).

Hope that helped you. Please email me with any questions.

Thanks again for taking the time today.

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