Thursday, November 20, 2008

Addiction: A Train Ride to Nowhere

What is addiction? How exactly do people get addicted? How can they get un-addicted? Can they ever really be free from addictions? Good morning and welcome to my mind at 8am. I work with people everyday with various addictions and am fascinated with a horror-stricken fascination with addictions.

A common feature I am beginning to see emerge is the self-induced trance of an addict. This trance seems to come on once the craving for the addictive substance or activity reaches a threshold. This threshold can be different for each person dependent upon his/her stage of addiction. Once the craving reaches a threshold, the person seems to go into a trance-like state where the only goal in life is achieving the high. Once you have entered this state it is very difficult to come out of it until the trance runs its course and the individual "uses." This self-induced trance can last for days while the person fantasizes about the substance and creates plan for attaining the substance/activity of choice. While in this trance, I have seen mothers neglect and abandon children, individuals place their lives at risk, maxing out credit cards, losing sleep and interest in essential everyday activities.

Most interventions seem to focus on strategies that would prevent one from entering this phase of intense craving and plans to fulfill the craving. What I am wondering is this-- is it possible for someone to come out of the trance without using and what would this require? Someone under hypnosis would be brought out of the hypnotic state with a word or sound initiated by the hypnotist. Could we do a similar thing for ourselves? Can someone else do this for us? I certainly believe this is possible-- that there are things we can do to bring us back to the here and now, getting us off the track of addiction that leads nowhere.

In fact, that is exactly what addictions and addictive behavior is like-- a train ride to nowhere. Imagine you enjoy the feel of riding a train, yet the only train available is one that drives straight into hell and drops you off. Nonetheless, your enjoyment of the train ride is intense enough to compel you into countless rides on the train to hell. After numerous trips on this train, you know once the ride ends, you will be sweating it out in the blasting inferno of post-trip exultation. The train ride, as wonderful as it is, seems to only last an hour or so (if you're lucky), but the work required to get yourself out of hell afterwards can sometimes take days or weeks. After many repetitions of the ride-then suffer cycle, you may even begin to say to yourself, "Why am I getting on this train again? I know it's only going to leave me in the middle of nowhere!" Yet, because of the trance-like state, you enter like sheep led to the slaughter.

Now imagine you are mid-train ride and begin to realize the absurdity of the situation. What I hope and am beginning to believe, is we can stand up from our seats and make our way to the conductor. We can insist that this train to be stopped so that we can get off, and the initiating force that snaps us out of the trance is our own pain. The pain of knowing where this addiction is going to lead you is intense enough to break the spell and propel you from your cushy seat on the train. The pain of knowing you are going to hell and may one day never return is just as intense, if not more intense, than the craving that put you on this train to begin with. That is why it works, a necessary evil of nature I suppose. Pain is our friend and some of us need it in order to recover. So, here is my hope for the day-- we do not have to suffer on this crazy cycle any longer. The way I can help someone today is to allow their own pain to do its work. Realizing I cannot stop your train is the very action that gets me out of my own seat today, "Conductor, I need you to stop here. I'll not be going all the way this time."

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