How I did it, why I did it, and what I learned about addiction.
Written by – Anna Mercury
I like beer. I don’t Brett-Kavanaugh-yelling-at-the-Senate like it, but I enjoy a craft IPA just as much as the next hipster. I’ve had exactly two beers since July. I like beer, but I love smoking. I kissed my American Spirits goodbye over a year ago. I like beer, I love smoking, but I especially love smoking and drinking coffee. I haven’t had coffee in months, not even decaf. But you know what I love more than all of them? Sugar. Your honor, I’ve even quit sweets.
As that old Mischief Brew song goes, “Coffee, God and cigarettes are all that I need.” Me, I guess I’m just down to God now.
I’ve been un-Facebooked for over a year. I signed off my Instagram months ago. I still technically have a Twitter and a YouTube, but I can’t remember the last time I posted on either. This blog is the last social broadcasting I’ve got left.
You might be wondering why I did this. If you already understand why, then you might be wondering how I did this. You might be wondering if it was worth it. I can sum up the rest of this article in four words: it was worth it.
I did all of this not because I had to. No doctor or therapist told me to quit. I wasn’t experiencing any major health problems, mental or physical, from any one of these habits. It wasn’t even really about any of my addictions. It was about addiction itself — the pattern, not the substance. I quit because I just didn’t want to be so addicted anymore.
I still have some vices (matcha tea, biting my nails, compulsively following the Ghislaine Maxwell trial) but on the whole, my life is far less preoccupied with addiction than it used to be. No longer is satisfying a craving the first thing on my mind when I wake up. I don’t feel so fragile or enslaved to the siren call of a substance.
I also can’t run from my emotions as easily. I can’t numb stuff out. I can’t pretend. I’ve had to learn how to heal instead of how to cope.
That is why I quit.
This is what I know now about addiction:
First, addiction does not care what you are addicted to. You can kick the coke habit and replace it with smoking. You can quit compulsively drinking and start compulsively weight-lifting. You can stop gambling and start checking Instagram fifty times a day. Addiction is addiction is addiction. Of course, the particular substances or activities that become the objects of your addiction will have different impacts on your body and daily life, but on a deeper level, every addiction is exactly the same.
Addiction is universal. It is the act of indulging compulsively in something, regardless of the impact that indulgence has on your well-being.
I’m not sure when the drive to quit all my addictions really kicked in. I’d quit other bad habits in the past — cocaine, ex-boyfriends, bulimia —but never with this same fervor to do away with addiction altogether. This is my fifth time quitting smoking, and the first four attempts didn’t leave me inspired to quit addiction itself. They also didn’t work. This is not to say that you can’t just quit smoking on its own; plenty of people do that all the time. But for me, this was about something deeper. It had to be in order to keep me committed.
I wanted to quit addiction because I value my well-being. I want to live well and be happy with myself. If I indulge in something compulsively regardless of its impact on my well-being, then I am not prioritizing my well-being.
The second thing I know about addiction is that it’s never really about the substance. The habit has nothing to do with why you’re addicted to it. It’s the object, not the subject, of the addiction. The subject of the addiction is your pain. That’s the cause, that’s the source, that’s the origin point of every addiction — past trauma, or the generalized pain of dislocation, disconnection and not feeling a real sense of belonging.
Belonging is a human need. It is nothing like conformity. Belonging is the sense of authentically fitting somewhere, being at home in all the freedom and safety that come with that sensation. Belonging is about living in deep relationship with yourself and your surroundings, and ours is a deeply dislocated and disconnected culture. It doesn’t take any strong events of acute childhood trauma to lay the foundation for addiction; daily living in a disconnected society is traumatic enough. For more on this, I recommend the work of Dr. Gabor Maté.
The third thing I know about addiction is that berating yourself for indulging your addiction is not going to help you quit. Telling yourself you have to quit is not going to help you quit. Finding some way to forcibly remove the object of your addiction might help you quit for a while, but if you don’t do the deeper emotional digging to figure out why you were addicted in the first place and start changing your habits from there, the addiction can roar right back. It might return attached to a different substance or activity, but that itch of craving always seems to return.
To start the process of deeply understanding my addictions, what helped me most was practice called “parts work.” I learned about it from Teal Swan, but there are other teachers who may call similar practices by different names.
Parts work begins in understanding that there are different “parts” of your mind that want different things. In the case of quitting an addiction, part of you wants to quit and part of you wants to indulge. You are not going to get far by bullying the part of you that wants to indulge into submission, because it too is an authentic part of you. If you’re bullying yourself, you don’t have your whole team on board here.
Instead, you can moderate a dialogue between these parts of yourself. Ask the part of you that wants to indulge why it wants to indulge. What is it seeking in remaining addicted? What are the needs beneath the craving? And you can ask the part of you that wants to quit why it wants to quit. If you realize its only answer is, “Because I think I’m supposed to,” you’re also probably not going to get very far.
To heal addiction at the root is an act of healing yourself. It requires valuing yourself enough to want to heal, and healing enough that you value yourself. Healing addiction begins with accepting yourself where you’re at. In fact, it’s this non-acceptance of yourself in this moment that leads to the addiction in the first place, but that won’t really make sense until you’ve done your emotional digging.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of treating the symptoms. If you’ve just quit drinking, you’re not going to go back to the bar. You’ll likely need to distance yourself from the friends who drink. You’ll need to have serious conversations with friends and family about your change in habits, and you may have to make hard choices about which you prioritize more: quitting, or the relationships you have with people who make it hard to quit.
Keep in mind that anyone pressuring you to indulge in a habit that’s become unhealthy for you is saying, “I value my own comfort with this habit more than I value your health and well-being.”
As for the nitty-gritty details of how to quit an addiction day by day, the Internet is full of far more qualified sources than me to help you with that.
What I will say, from this newfound vantage point of deeper sobriety, is that it was worth it. This practice of consciously quitting seemed impossible a year ago, and now seems impossible to imagine my life without having done it. I still can’t picture my future without matcha in the mornings, and that’s okay. I ate part of a doughnut yesterday, and that’s okay. I’m not forcing myself to commit to this strictly or forever. Force and domination have no place in healing.
Healing cannot be forced, only allowed to emerge on its own from the right conditions for it.
Me, I feel more at home in myself. I feel more at peace with what happens. I sleep better. I eat better. I cook more. I move slower. I have more energy. I have less anxiety. When the tension and pain and fear arise, they digest and pass through more quickly.
Whether this was the cause of my healing or a by-product of it, I feel inspired to learn more about the world around me. I feel so much more present. When I see something beautiful, I don’t feel compelled to capture it and share it. I can just enjoy it. When my inner Gollum-like addiction voice comes out and I do compulsively take pictures, I notice how bad that instant tension feels by comparison. I put the phone away.
I’ve started learning about ecology and herbalism, for the first time in my life. I want to walk through the forest and know what all the plants are, how they relate to each other, how they relate to me. I want to be an active participant in this ecosystem — of humans, of plants and animals. I’m healing disconnection at the root.
“Coffee, God and cigarettes are all that you need,” the song goes. Me, I think God is just connection and nothing more. Turns out, that was what I needed all along.
Read the original article and more by this writer here – Medium