I am hoping that we can rethink addiction. Growing up I was told that an addict was someone who had no self-control; that an addict was someone who was not worth associating with because bad company corrupts good morals. I have grown and learned since hearing these statements. It is important if we want to understand someone who is battling addiction, care for them and not condemn, we get to have our minds shifted.
I’ve come to believe that we are all addicted to something. Some have healthy addictions and others unhealthy. Some of us are able to keep our addictions somewhat in check and others of us go crazy and lose control.My old addiction used to be chewing tobacco. I chewed one can of tobacco every day for about 12 years. I quit when I was 31 and even as a 40-year-old there are very few days that I don’t miss taking a nice dip. I have been wrestling this addiction for almost ten years.
Now my addictions are far healthier for my body and my mind. But I still have that compulsion. I still use my addiction to hide something. In fact, the depth of my addiction might be deeper than when I used chewing tobacco. Now my addiction is buying books. I have a massive library and I love to read so of course I think this is good. I believe books are good for the kids too. We went into Costco the other day and they went to the book section and spent their time looking at books; I was so proud of them.
I buy books every month; I buy them online, I buy them at thrift stores, I buy them at bookstores used and new. I have been known to plan my day around going to someplace that has books, so I can fuel my addiction. I have to do a lot of mental work to not buy a book that I want. I also don’t think my library will ever be complete, so I have to keep working on it. As it stands right now I have books everywhere in my house. I might run out of room unless I get rid of my clothes and make my closet a book case. I also have to fight the temptation to hide my purchases from Mo. This is a big sign of addiction.
I buy books to mask all that I don’t know. Having books around me makes me feel smart; something I never felt as a child. This is one of the keys of understanding addiction, that the addiction usually masks something. When I was a child, I was called stupid more than once and I was also compared to the smart kids around me. I didn’t measure up to them. I was never great in school and I was never great at math and I felt that was the subject that gauges how smart you are. When I started reading, I realized that I am not stupid. That my brain can work, and I can be a good thinker as long as it has nothing to do with numbers. All this work in reading and collecting books is to prove to myself that I am not stupid. The books free me from the shame of feeling stupid for so many years; they give me something I can tangibly point to, proving I am smart.
I would ask, what are you addicted to? Why do you do that particular thing? Is it healthy or unhealthy, not by cultures standards but for your life? If we can admit our own addictions, I believe it will go a long way to understand drug, alcohol, and other addictions. If we can start to see what our addictions mask, then maybe we can start to understand why others might have addictions. Instead of being self-righteous about our own addictions, we can gain empathy for those who have more harmful addictions. When we understand our own addictions, we can set aside any harsh judgement and be friends with those who struggle differently .
Drugs and alcohol are often used to escape the realities of our world. They are used to mask the pain and dull the trauma, allowing us to forget things that have been done to us. Addictions need to be fueled but are never satisfied. Addictions are what Gabor Mate calls a hungry ghost,“This is the domain of addiction, where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment…We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present.”
In the Realm of Hungry Ghost: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate, MD has helped me understand addictions, both mine and other’s. It helps me see that the higher the ACEs score, the more bad stories that people have and the more they might want to escape. “The hell realm of painful emotions frightens most of us; drug addicts fear they would be trapped there forever but for their substances. This urge to escape exacts a fearful price.”“Dr. Mate… works with men and women in the Downtown eastside of Vancouver.”Many of his patients have massive heroin addictions and yet he sees his patients as people, unhardened by his experiences. He shows the humanity behind the addictions.
In this book he teaches us to humanize those who suffer from addiction. He also shows his addictions, although healthier than those of his clients. I believe this is an important book in understanding addictions. I will help change your mind and in turn see addicts as people who need love just like you and me. Once we can see past some our misunderstanding we can open up, seeing people not their problems.
This book is hopeful. It goes through the process of needed change, which is built on understanding and showing care. This is hard to do, especially if the addict has taken advantage of you. You may need to do boundary work, which is good even if you’re not working with people who are addicted. However, there will need to be someone in the life of an addict that can be an encourager and safe place as they start to deal with the hell from which they are trying to hide. Once they start feeling again, the feelings are hard and will take time and energy to deal with. Healing is real and honest work that is not easy. The good news is that we can change.
If we look at women on the street as addicts selling their bodies to get a fix, then we are dehumanizing them. If we look at them as women who are trying to run from all that has been done to them, this might give us the start to understanding. If we have the hope that this can change over time, then we can speak and be hope in their process of healing. We can stand by and be a safe, non-condemning place for them to deal with all the pain that likely stems way back into childhood. They need the space and time to deal with the stuff that that the addictions are trying to mask. This is why I love Peoria Home. We provide this space. We give women hope and encouragement, walking with them through the hard work that they have to do. They have to do it, we can’t do it for them. The women that I’ve had the privilege of walking with are some of the bravest women I know. They are facing the hardships in life head -on and working through it. I know it isn’t easy, but they stay in it and fight to regain their life. These women are a joy to know.
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In the Realm of Hungry Ghost by Gabor Mate, MD.