Addictions come in many shapes and forms, and function to keep us distracted from forward movement in our lives. Addiction is not just about drug or alcohol abuse, it also hides in the lesser recognised patterns of workaholism, compulsive eating, people pleasing, online shopping, and phone and internet addiction, just to name a few…

An addiction is any behaviour that we continue to compulsively engage in despite the negative consequences attached to it. Addictions inhibit us from achieving what we would like for ourselves, and from connecting with our true feelings. They disconnect us from others, and in extremes can cause isolation and loneliness, and rob us of the will to live.

Being dependent on anything that keeps us out of our authentic selves, and our natural self-expression is detrimental to our growth as individuals and human beings. It is very difficult to have a healthy relationship with ones self, when our focus is elsewhere, when there’s something in the way that takes up our time, energy, and attention. The emphasis here is on survival and soothing away discomfort, which can often feel unbearable.

Addiction expert, Dr. Gabor Maté poses the question – “Not why the addiction, but why the pain?”

Addiction, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, comes from protecting our old wounds – the things that happened to us, or did not happen. It is about masking what we don’t want to feel – whether it’s anxiety, stress, guilt, shame, grief, insecurity, frustration or disconnection. The motivation is escapism. The incentive is relief.

Addiction is a distraction from our soul and from our personal truth. It is way of coping with that which we find most difficult to cope with – fear, rejection, a lack of self-esteem and self-worth. Addiction is a way of avoiding our hearts and the whole spectrum of human emotions. Addiction is a symptom of the ego.

Individuals who are prone to addictions are usually sensitive. Many have experienced trauma or difficulties early on in life, and most feel very deeply. These patterns of addictive behaviours start out as an attempt to feel better and to find relief from the pain, because actually, we care about the way we feel, and we want to feel good!

Once addictive behaviours start to become entrenched patterns, they do so at a cost. Consequences emerge, often arising in a range of areas of our lives. Relationships suffer, our health starts to decline, our livelihoods and ability to function in the world become impaired, and we live out-of-balance with the flow of life. As our compulsion to escape ourselves and our reality continues, our wellbeing and vitality are depleted and we become misaligned with who we really are. Our authenticity is the price we pay.

Lasting relief, or the happiness our soul longs for cannot be discovered, or recovered, if we are stuck in our addictions, stuck in our wounds. The satisfaction we crave cannot be found outside of ourselves, it can only be found within.

It is easy to see how we become stuck in seeking relief through instant gratification. It is seductive to not have to feel that which pains us. To avoid and to escape, rather than learn to heal ourselves and live in the fullness of who we are. We are human beings after all, and no-one gets to escape the suffering that is innate to the human condition.

Spiritual teacher Ram Dass once said, “suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise”. So what does this mean for those of us who struggle with addictions and compulsive behaviours? How do we overcome the cycle of addiction?

This journey is an inward one. It involves healing our wounds through self-compassion and learning about our true selves. The selves we were born to be. It is about transformation and listening to the voice of the body. This is possible by engaging in inner work, such as working with a therapist to gain self-knowledge and process old hurts, doing personal growth work, becoming self-reflective, and most of all learning to live in a space of self-acceptance and learning to love the self, flaws and all.

This journey is one of putting the parts of our fragmented selves back together, it is a journey towards wholeness. It takes surrender, courage, vulnerability, and developing the willingness to face the truth.