We can be addicted to a myriad of substances and activities. It is not really the substance or activity that is the problem, it is the way our behavior is affected. While it is generally considered negative, we want to reflect on the unseen, shadow aspects of addiction.
The meaning of the term addiction has changed and evolved over time and can refer to a negative or positive addiction. Today there is definitely a negative connotation to the word. Among the many modern-day addictions, some are socially acceptable, such as clothes buying, screen use, beauty products, alcohol (up to a point) and some are seen as positive, such as meditation, fitness and certain diets. People joke about being addicted to shopping or exercise, but they rarely explore what is in the shadow of that behavior.
In this short article on an in-depth subject, I am going to write about the loss of personal myth, how addiction can be a reaction to this loss and a few steps for beginning to transform life’s challenges into stepping stones for growth.
“I suspected that myth had a meaning which I was sure to miss if I lived outside it in the haze of my own speculations. I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: ‘What is the myth you are living?’ I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities, which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust. I did not know that I was living a myth, and even if I had known it, I would not have known what sort of myth was ordering my life without my knowledge. So, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks.” C.G. Jung
Personal myth is elusive and difficult to describe in words. It is a subtle hum of soul and purpose that guide our lives in a magical symbolic fashion. It’s our own individual and unique story. It is the underlying ‘joy’ of being alive. Joy in the sense of purpose, not necessarily joyousness, the feeling of aliveness and purpose, whatever the external circumstances.
There is a great loss of personal myth for people in the modern world. We have been disconnected from our roots and our source, while modern life is focused on reenforcing a corrupt and unequal society. We are educated in a material world where selfish entitlement is rife. The idea of personal myth is either denies or distorted in modern culture. Society encourages a lot of addictive patterns and really discourages searching for one’s personal myth.
For example, our culture is addicted to pleasure and convenience. It has become an expectation. If we don’t have pleasure and convenience, something is wrong. We live in a world of sanitized living and disconnection. We shy away from feeling feelings, including sadness, suffering and death, even though they are a natural part of life and they have a right and a need to exist.
Due to the loss of personal myth we seek an ‘artificial paradise’. Baudelaire the French fin-de-siècle poet, called the range of intoxicants, alcoholic and otherwise, the ‘artificial paradises.‘ That is what the disrespectful use of molecules is.
The mind-altering molecules are not the problem. The problem is the intention behind the use and the consequences of use. The negative intention can be a fear of being in reality and feeling feelings. The negative consequences impact our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. There is a difference between using mind altering substances in addictive behavior versus controlled ritual/shamanic use.
Journal prompt: What do you know about your Personal Myth?
- Pick an Essential oil that you’ve always been attracted to or felt represented you and smell it as you journal.
- If you feel you don’t have a personal myth, have you had a pivotal experience, an awakening, an underlying theme that you’ve always felt that’s repeatedly appeared in your life, or a specific life experience or experiences?
- Write about it or draw about it.
In modern society, addiction is the first contact many people have with the Unconscious, also called the Shadow. People no longer believe in the devil or demons that might make us behave in ways we are ashamed of and many people don’t know about the Unconscious or don’t think it’s important or powerful. However, many people with addiction issues tell us how they know what they are doing is wrong, but they can’t help themselves. Some clients describe getting money at the ATM to buy drugs and telling themselves, ‘I know I shouldn’t do this, but I can’t help myself.” They have become aware that there are forces within themselves that are overruling their ‘free will’, i.e. they have encountered their Shadow. If they survive their addictive behavior, that is the beginning of wisdom.
Often in families, one person senses that there is something wrong with the family system. Some family systems are not empathic, they are soulless systems that will reject a member in order for the unhealthy system to be rigidly maintained. This is often what happens when one member of the family becomes the black sheep. The other members, who are not ready to question the larger family system project their shadow (that which they refuse to see or own) onto the identified patient or black sheep. The black sheep, knowing deep down something is wrong with the system may, in search of solutions, become addicted to a substance, for example. The initial impulse to change something is healthy, the route taken is not.
The person with addiction issues goes from holding the family shadow to holding society’s shadow. ‘Addicts’ are the targets of societies’ Shadow projections. Society’s view of ‘addicts’ is an unconscious projection of society’s need to change, and to acknowledge the unacknowledged problem, the ‘elephant in the room’. It is easier to project and blame that to truly look at ourselves. ‘Addicts’ take on the ‘black sheep’ role for society. Addicts have a vision for the need for the changes necessary for us all to survive and grow and they try to channel it. Society fears these changes so addicts are singled out and made scapegoats of. Even the term ‘addict’ is dehumanizing, compared with the term ‘person with addiction issues.’
Are addictions an attempt to solve problems?
At Standing Rock during the protests against the DAPL pipeline, Native American men and women spontaneously stopped using addictive substances as they found a renewed purpose and motivation in their lives. Conversely, when a traditional culture is under attack, addiction is a symptom of the destruction of the culture. Of course, colonizers all over the world have used alcohol and other addictive substances to destroy traditional cultures.
Addictions are an attempt to fix or avoid pain, unwanted feelings, emotions, feared experiences…anything we prefer to avoid.
People with addiction issues are often psychic, creative, visionary people. They are often courageous with a strength to stay alive, to continue to struggle, to not commit suicide. Part of the healing journey is for addicts to feel a sense of their own strength. The Shadow of the Addiction is the unique power of the individual.
Phillip Kravanaugh (1) suggests that we are all ‘addicts’ and that there is a meaning and purpose that it serves. He says that addiction is an attempt to resolve problems including dependency and quieting the restless inner energy. He goes on to say that all addictions are efforts to express this energy as well as to find happiness, contentment, peace of mind and serenity.
The question, we as practitioners need to ask ourselves is, ‘how do we harness our own addictive shadow to commit fully to the path of the wounded healer and how do we empower our clients to commit fully to the life journey of one’s personal myth?’
Will power cannot heal addiction
The addictive process is unconscious and so cannot be controlled by our conscious mind and decisions. People with addiction issues cannot will themselves to recover. Some emotional disorders are based on addictions, too. They are addictive beliefs and not under conscious control. When we use will power to combat addiction, the addictive energy doesn’t disappear, it just moves to another part of our lives and remains addictive.
As all addictions are trying to ‘fix’ inner feelings and disturbed inner energy, we need to work with these feelings primarily. Here are some starting points.
Four attitudes to transforming life’s challenges into steppingstones to growth.
- Beholding ourselves – This is at the heart of the work. Our primary awareness needs to be focused on our thoughts, our feelings, our physical sensations. Our feelings, thoughts and sensations need to be allowed, witnessed given permission to exist, instead of trying to cover them up or change them with addictive behaviors.
- Witnessing without acting: When we are compassionate to ourselves, we do not judge what comes up or try and understand it, we merely feel and accept all parts of ourselves. Remember, ‘to feel is to heal’. When I am working through difficult feelings, Florian holds space for me and often says, ‘all of you is welcome here’. Ultimately, the aim is to hold space for ourselves and be able to accept all parts of ourselves. Unconditional space and acceptance to feel is primordial in this healing journey in order to evolve. It is important to observe ourselves fully without acting. When we allow ourselves to fully feel, we do not have to act out these feelings. Instead, we become stronger emotionally and the vessel through which we feel them fortifies.
- Self-compassion: Being compassionate towards ourselves stops us from being hard on ourselves and judging ourselves and therefore being taken over by our self-punishing feelings and beliefs. By offering loving permission to all our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement or analyzing them, they can express themselves through us, and we can integrate them without being taken over by them. Remember, “what we resist, persists!” There is no right or wrong! These thoughts, emotions or sensation should be allowed to stay as long as needed. All we have to do is witness and allow without comparing, trying to understand, amplifying, expecting or controlling.
- Releasing: Letting go of these beliefs, emotions and sensations is how we heal. By allowing, witnessing and experiencing without doing anything to these feelings allows them to process and disappear. Many people either spend energy and much time trying to understand their feelings or resist them, both these techniques can last for years and get you nowhere. It is through the unconscious mind that feelings, beliefs and sensations are processed, analyzing is done through the conscious mind. Even if someone understands everything about every feeling and experience they have had in their lives, if they do not allow the feelings to be released fully, nothing will ever change, which is why years of conventional analysis changes little and takes years and years.
Exercise: learning to feel
- Select an oil that resonates with the heart and feelings such as rose attar, tuberose, neroli, helichrysum, melissa, sweet basil or angelica.
- Drop down into the depths of yourself, switch off any mental chatter, breathe and relax.
- When you are relaxed enough, as you smell the oil you chose, allow any feelings to arise through you. As mentioned above, no need to control or change anything, no right or wrong, there is just what is and all you have to do is to witness and allow.
- Notice the route the feelings and sensations take as they move within your body, their temperature, the form they take, any colors, physical sensations etc.
- Once you feel that the emotions have run their course, note down anything you noticed in your journal.
It is useful to stop yourself in your tracks whenever possible, each time you feel the beginning of a sensation or feeling coming up. Instead of avoiding any signs of discomfort through your addictive substance or activity, excuse yourself from whatever you are doing and take a few minutes in isolation to lie down and allow the feelings to run their course as above.
At first it can be frightening to fully accept and allow these uncomfortable feelings to be felt. With time and practice it becomes more natural. As we experience the healing that this process brings with it, feeling becomes easier and resistance lessens.
This habit is the basis of developing emotional strength and resilience. This intimacy with oneself is the basis for developing personal myth and finding one’s soul’s purpose.
As our personal myth strengthens and becomes an inner beacon for our lives, our addictions start to lose their power. The process is long, it takes time to re-educate ourselves and to work through our feelings, but in the long term it is the only way.
And also healing from/through addiction is NOT a matter of willpower. (AA Step 1: I have become powerless)
Exercise: Ask people about themselves or friends, experiences when you realized that the ego was not in charge.
- Magnificent Addiction; Discovering Addiction as a gateway to Wellness by Philip R. Kavanaugh