Addiction – Being in relationship with a dead thing
I define addiction as an ‘inappropriate relationship’ in all my teaching and practice. Today I want to offer you some definitions and reasons why I work that way and how you can benefit from this understanding. Here is the first of those posts and I want to start with the most important and most harmful thing you may be doing. You are looking for something from the relationship that it cannot give you when you are addicted . Changing inappropriate relationships in recovery is one way of thinking about addiction that does not centre on how addictive a behaviour or a substance is. Rather this will help you to focus on how you engage with it and more importantly, how appropriate this relationship is.
The Relationship is real
So let’s start at the beginning. Why would I say that you are in a relationship? Well there are two things you cannot stop doing as a human being. Communicating and making meaning! We do it all the time and it is a large part of what makes us human. This is true when you are involved with living things and when you are involved with dead or inert things. So you are in relationship with everything! The question becomes, what sort of relationship is it? Is it healthy? Is it growing? Is it appropriate? Try this exercise now. Think of something, anything, it could be a game or it could be clothes or food. Ask yourself what you think about this thing. How you deal with it. Does it dictate to you or do you have the upper hand? Do you like it? All these questions and more tell you that you are in a relationship with this thing that is defined by your attitude and beliefs around it.
This can be very illuminating if you have not considered it before. Think of something now that you are involved with. Maybe work or the car. Now think of your relationship with it. You might think of boundaries, what you expect of it. How you abuse it. What you invest in it. How long you spend with it! All these are what we call reflective questions and help you to consider whether you want to change anything.
You are hardwired to bond with others
You are in need. Human beings are hard wired to ‘bond’ with things around us so you are looking for something to bond with all the time.. People of faith and hard headed scientists both agree with this. We see bonding in a primitive way with ducks ‘imprinting’ on the first thing they see. In humans this is a more complex process.
When you were are first presented with your Mother’s face, you were ‘hardwired’ to ‘bond’ as quickly as possible. The psychiatrists tell us that as babies we know very well that we will die if we do not get bonded with this person who is going to feed us and care for us.
You are tempted further and further away from living relationships as your addiction develops and yet your need to be bonded remains. This draws you further and further into a deeper connection with your substance/behaviour. You deepen your relationship with your substance/behaviour every time you lose a friend, argue with a loved one, lose a job, feel depressed or angry and feel you cannot talk about it,.
Relationships are complex
Of course we remain in relationship with loved ones even after we lose them and, as previously mentioned, seems like we are in relationship with everything, living and dead. Your problem is not that you are in a relationship. The person who does not drink at all is still in relationship with alcohol. The person who never gambles is still in a relationship with gambling. So your problem is the depth at which you have bonded with this behaviour or substance. If you are a person with an addictive personality there is every chance that your relationship with this substance should include a firm boundary that dictates never using it. Similar to the boundary we have around never touching poison. The relationship you have with this substance behaviour needs to become appropriate.
Living Relationships essentially involve three living things. Two people and the relationship itself. All three parties can change and develop. It’s the possibility of any or all of the three parties changing and developing that gives the whole thing life but also the thing that brings complexity and challenge. It’s this three way possibility in your relationships that define them as alive and unique. Therefore when you attempt to deepen your relationship with an inert or dead thing you fool yourself that you are in a living relationship. You now have only two things that can change instead of three!
You are fooling yourself when you see this as a living relationship. The thing that defines a relationship with an inert partner is that it is only you that can change the arrangements. Only you that can make decisions. Only you that can produce and maintain healthy boundaries.
Change is the one thing this relationship cannot offer you. It cannot give you life, change, develop or challenge you. It cannot hold you to account or expose your inconsistencies. It can only provide a chemical shift in your brain that, at least for a while, seems to provide a substitute for the real thing. There is only one problem and eventually everyone entering this type of addictive relationship comes to this point. It can’t give you a living relationship. More of this in the next episode.