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Eliminate All Addictions

(Edited transcription of a talk given at a women’s and men’s liberation workshop in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, July 4, 1985)

I would like to put forth a challenge to the Communities: the elimination of all addictions. This morning I will be talking specifically about addictions to chemical substances (but remember that addictions can be emotional as well as physical), and to activities such as sex, reading, nail biting, watching TV, exercising, etc. We are addicted to whatever the content is of a given distress recording.

The elimination of addictions is absolutely crucial to completely reclaiming our humanity. It is also integral to the elimination of oppression. Some people, often Co- Counseling leaders, have found that addressing the issues of their own addictions openly has been difficult, because by the time one becomes a leader one is not “supposed“ to have any remaining addictions. In addition, there is a heavy cultural message blaming the victim which says that there is something wrong with you if you have addictions—to use the substance is “cool,” but to be addicted is weak and shameful. Due to the heavy load of self-hatred, self-blame, shame, and guilt, it has been difficult for people to openly admit that they have difficulties.

WHAT IS AN ADDICTION AND HOW DOES IT OPERATE?

For an in-depth description, Harvey’s article “The Logic of Being Completely Logical” in The Human Situation is an excellent starting point. An addiction is the insistent urge or pull of a distress recording to replay the content of that recording (to use a substance, do an activity, or feel a feeling). When complied with, it usually has the effect of taking us over and convincing us that this hurtful behavior actually feels good or is beneficial to us in some way, for example, “This alcohol tastes good.

I want more.” If you ask a baby what that first drink of whisky tastes like or what a cigarette tastes like (laughter), or if you can remember yourself, you’ll know what it really tastes like (laughter). Addictions are usually defended and rationalized, with phrases such as, “Oh, this won’t hurt me, I can stop any time,” or “Everybody else does it,” or “I need to unwind.” We usually rationalize and defend the use of addictive substances to such an extent that we end up believing the content not only of the addictive recording, but also of the rationalizations. Again, remember that we can be addicted to our feelings as well as to chemicals, for example, to acting fearfully in particular situations, to introspection, to blaming others, etc.

Chemical substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and drugs are poisons which are not fatal in small amounts. What seems to happen is that as soon as any enters the body, it creates a distress recording as a physical hurt experience. Refined sugar is an interesting substance in that in some people it sets up an addictive recording. There usually will also be emotional content to the recording as well, depending on what emotional hurt was occurring at the time of ingestion of the physical substance. Thus, there is usually both a physical and an emotional component to the recording. Distress, containing physical and emotional content, gets stored in various places in our bodies, some of which is visible by observation in the posture, shape, and movement of the person.

WHEN IS SOMEONE ADDICTED?

We have seen that an addictive recording forms as soon as any harmful chemical is taken into the body. At first, it’s not chronic. Somebody who is societally defined as “an alcoholic,” or who is addicted to a substance, has a recording which has become chronic. That is, it’s playing all of the time: “I need a drink.” The more of the substance you take in, the bigger the recording becomes, just like any other hurt that happens over and over. It snowballs, forming a chronic recording including a physical “need” for the substance, with a lot of emotional content glued in and wrapped around it. The physical component of the recording says, “I need a cigarette,” and the next time the emotion comes up, “I’m scared,” it’s attached to “I need a cigarette.” As the recording expands, more and more feelings and situations in which one feels one needs a cigarette (or other substance) occur, and one gets caught in the grips of the addiction. After a while, feeling anything triggers the “need” and you go for that substance to not feel the feelings.

People can be in various stages or degrees of addiction with various substances. If you have taken one puff of one cigarette in your life, you have a physical hurt recording about it (unless you have discharged it already), but it certainly is not chronically urging, “I need a cigarette.” Another recording can play in response to specific situations (“I need a beer after work”) or specific feelings, which is when you go after the substance. When a pattern of using a substance becomes chronic, and you want it all the time, it seems to have a life of its own, disconnected from any particular feeling, it’s just there.

Addictions masquerade as comfort, in that they numb out feelings. Inside the recording it may feel “comfortable,” but it’s a shut- down comfort. What we actually need to do is to feel the discomfort of moving out of the patterns.

Some addictions are inhibiting and some propel us toward action. Caffeine gets the body speedy and revved up, where overeating slows us down and even puts us to sleep. Sexual additions can also fall into either category, such as in the passivity of sexual inhibition versus sexual compulsion, which is an active thing.

The key to identifying an addiction is flexibility versus rigidity. The key is not whether you “feel good” or whether doing the activity “feels good.” Many things that “feel good” are actually distress recordings, and many things that feel uncomfortable are actually moving out of the distress, a reclaiming of your humanity, which is accompanied by uncomfortable and often painful feelings. Therefore, rather than deciding on the basis of feelings, think carefully about making forward-moving responses and decide on that basis. “Is this the thing managing me or am I in charge of my life in this area?”

The cultural promotion of chemical substances is directly related to oppression. The oppressive society attempts to rob us of our inherent womanhood or manhood and replace it with substances which are supposed to make us feel like a “real” woman or man. For example, “Real men smoke Camel cigarettes,” or “Real women drink champagne.” These prescribe what we need to ingest in order to be “real” women or men and attractive to the other gender.

As the alive, secure, loving feelings we naturally have when connected to our true womanhood or manhood get covered up and we feel bad about ourselves, we turn to substances which are supposed to make us “feel good.” This assumes that our natural state is to feel bad and we need assistance to correct that (to get high, unwind, release tension, gain confidence). In addition, when people feel powerless as a result of massive oppression, with part of the message being not to feel it or show it, chemical substances are turned to as a way to not feel the terrible feelings and situation. Functionally, addictive substances also serve to reinforce powerlessness, thus reinforcing the oppressive society. If a group of people is completely drunk or spaced out on drugs, it is more difficult for them to think clearly enough to take the action necessary to reclaim their power and change the situation. Addictions serve as an effective tactic to keep people down. Therefore, an important part of the elimination of oppression is the elimination of addictive substances. We must take a stand. We can’t tolerate having our bodies drugged and our brains confused. We are committed to our own and each other’s complete freedom.

COUNSELING ON ELIMINATING ADDICTIONS

In counseling about addictions, it’s important to remember that you’re completely good. When you’re counseling others on addictions, it’s crucial that you as counselor remember the humanity and the goodness of the individual who’s caught in the addiction. The person is not the addiction. The labeling of someone for life as an “alcoholic” is not helpful and reflects a lack of knowledge or faith in our human ability to completely heal from the effects of addictive substances and recordings. Take complete pride in yourself, knowing that you’re doing, and have always done, the best you can. Seek out assistance in this struggle. Contradicting the shame and isolation which accompany addictions is an important step to take.

Another important step is the decision to stop the addiction. At some point you either need to decide not to use or misuse (in the case of food) the substance and discharge feelings which result from that decision or counsel on whatever is preventing you from making such a decision or counsel sufficiently on the early chronic distress the addiction is connected to so that the addiction just drops away (you lose interest in it). When I was an assistant teacher in RC, there was a woman in our class who made the decision to stop smoking cigarettes. She cried for a whole week after quitting, staying home from work so that she could freely discharge all the feelings which were pouring out that the cigarettes had been holding in place for years.

Holding a rigid counter-direction to the addiction can be useful and often requires re-deciding many times after you have made the initial decision. If you find that you are not able to hold the direction perfectly, take the time to appreciate yourself fully for the effort you have made and whatever success you have had, instead of wallowing in feelings of self-hatred, blame, and failure. Then, re-decide, knowing that each moment is a fresh opportunity in which to hold the direction.

What we’re trying for ultimately is complete flexibility, not having to hold rigid counter-directions. Thus, you won’t need to hold the direction for life once you reclaim your flexible thinking in the area. This includes being able to choose rationally not to put any hurtful substance in your body. In addition, the addictive urge will have been discharged. Our natural state is to treat ourselves lovingly and well, never accepting abuse.

It is profitable to counsel on the aspect of your inherent humanity you would need to reclaim in order to be free of the addiction. For example, “If I knew I was ______ (secure, good enough, etc.), I would never again need ________ (substance).” Using this approach or a counter-direction, usually the emotional content will discharge first in the ways we are familiar with (tears, shaking, sweating, etc.). Then the actual physical component will discharge in yawns. Usually, the two will be interspersed, so that you may get bursts of tears, then yawns and yawns, then shakes, then yawns.

We can completely free ourselves of both the physical and emotional components of addictive patterns. They are not something we are stuck with for life.

Ann Neitlich
Belmont, Massachusetts, USA


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00