We all have or had unhealthy mechanisms we use cope, our strategies to manage stress, our ways to fill a subconscious void we feel and how we numb, ignore or suppress feelings we don’t want to feel and emotions we don't want to experience. They all can offer temporary relief from existing pain, unfortunately what works for us in the short term often becomes a problem for us in the long term. The coping mechanisms and strategies can provide temporary pleasure, but ultimately no fulfilment. Sometimes we just feed our emotions instead of feeling them. It is our lack or worthiness we look to fill and the feelings we don’t like such as stress, guilt, shame, anxiety, grief, change, trauma (pain/hurt) we look to numb and supress. We might just not want to feel uncomfortable in a social environment so we have a drink, or we might not want to deal with pain of grief so we abuse drugs, or we want to buy something to ‘make us happy’ after a long day or week at work. It is varied for all of us, it is common for all of us. We all do this to a larger or lesser degree. We unconsciously develop unhealthy patterns, habits and addictions. Addiction is often masked by defensive and justifying behaviours, when we are defensive about anything we are doing, we should be curious as to why we are defending it. Some habits are new, some have been with us for years. Some are slight, some are significant. We can have one or we can have many. When we overcome one, we can easily replace with another one or two. When we reduce or remove we tend to replace, especially when we haven’t learned any healthy coping mechanisms and haven’t address the cause, we have just managed the symptoms. When we abruptly end a negative coping strategy it can feel like our safety net or protection is gone, so we look for safety in another way.
When we feel emotional pain or stress and crave relief, or we want to feel fulfilled in some way we use substances and behaviours to get that short term distraction or relief. We can use substances like alcohol, drugs, smoking, caffeine, sugar and stimulants; We can display compulsive behaviour like nail biting, picking and self-harm. We can binge on TV, video games and endlessly scroll social media. We binge or restrict food in disordered eating. We can disassociate, withdraw and isolate through working excessively, sleeping excessively or not socialising. We can have rage/violent/manipulative/blaming/angry outbursts. We can spend beyond our means and/or shop to accumulate things we don’t need. We can gamble. We can become obsessed with the accumulation of money, power or control. We can become fixated on external validation and attention, compulsive sex and promiscuity or even sympathy from others. We can become obsessed with particular body parts, our body image and wanting to change ourselves externally through cosmetic procedures. There is often negative consequences to these behaviours and actions. We experience guilt and shame about the choices we have made creating more emotional pain, so we continue to repeat the cycle over and over. What we seek from outside of us is available inside of us already. A lack of self-worth, that’s the hole, the void, the gap. When we do not have self-worth (the feelings of being worthy of love) we have a void. We struggle because we have not had our needs met, we are emotionally unfulfilled. What you seek from outside of you is available inside of you, already. Finding who we are, accepting and healing is the way to fill the void. Not through food, sex, money, alcohol, drugs or shopping. When we supress a feeling it doesn’t go away, it just gets buried and will have to be dealt with later through feeling it, or it can manifest in other damaging ways. It can create other emotions like additional stress, anxiety or insomnia. Stress and all of the other feelings we avoid, numb and supress are natural and common for all of us, they are part of the human experience. We can learn new healthy strategies to manage stress, we can learn to feel feelings, experience emotions and thrive for it.
We can liberate ourselves from these patterns, habits and addictions. Sometimes we can do it alone, many times we cannot. We can see a doctor, get a therapist, seek help and find support. The opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is needed when we are seeking belonging, understanding, safety, nurturing or love.
We can acknowledge what we do, accept that’s what we do and have done, forgive ourselves, release the guilt and the shame about it, then we can change and we start to grow. We can look to cope in healthier ways. We can cultivate self-worth, practise self-care, manage stress, feel our feelings (no matter how uncomfortable they may seem), learn new things, develop our mental skills, these are all self-care principles we can put into practice. If we have the strong motivation to do something unhealthy, we have the capability to have a strong motivation not to.
We can choose some different options instead of sleeping in, we can get up early and start a routine. Instead of eating convenience we can eat for nutrition. Instead of a TV binge, we can find a podcast and walk. Instead of playing games we can read. Instead of partying we can progress. Instead of spending we can save. If in doubt as to what to do, we can always go for a walk. We can learn to manage and help prevent the experience of stress through self-care. We can fill our voids on our journey to self-worth with knowledge and achievement no matter how small. Achievement is fulfilment. Healthy coping mechanisms fulfil as well as soothe us. Learning, healthy choices, pushing ourselves, goal achievement, creating something or anything, developing ourselves, they can all be used to help us move away from what we have always done. We can change, we can learn, we can grow. We don’t have to live like this anymore, we can feel better, get better and be better.