THE PATTERN PAGES
Although we've done a good deal of work on addictions, this is an area that is so large and complex, we can't say for sure we'll ever be done. This page will probably always be under construction. Addictions manifest in many ways, and for a variety of reasons. Although we've listed these patterns separately here, they are often combined, interlocking and interwoven, which is one of the reasons addictions are so hard to break free of. At the bottom of this page we've included some ideas for breaking addiction patterns, and links for further information.
Resistance and Avoidance
Most addictions begin with the Feel-Good Factor, with things that make us feel better, and draw us up and out of our "normal" painful existence. But almost anything can become an addiction, especially when it serves this pattern and acts as a tool for resistance or avoidance of our internal pain. Even things that seem like they'd be worse, like self-cutting, or flagellation can become an addiction.
We may begin doing something for pleasure, or need, or dark fascination. But then we discover "accidentally" (and usually unconsciously) that the behavior has a pay-off - it keeps our real pain far away from our consciousness. Then we begin to do the behavior less and less from desire and more and more for its ability to keep the pain away. It becomes an addiction, and a compulsion. And like any addiction, soon we reach a place where small levels of the behavior don't work anymore, and we need to resort to greater ... and more ... and more often ... in order to keep the pain away.
It doesn't matter whether it's drugs, alcohol, exercise, sex, movies, eating, not eating, people, knitting, or chewing your nails. When it becomes something you feel compelled to do, it's a pattern. The key is to notice how you feel if you stop doing the behavior. Can you stop, first of all? If you can't, then you know you've got an addictive pattern running. If you can stop for brief periods, how do you feel? What's the first feeling that surfaces? Generally the first thing that surfaces is a fear of feeling. It's the fear that says "If I stop doing XYZ and feel my pain, something bad will happen." The "something bad" might be repercussions you actually suffered at the hands of your parents, etc. Or it may be just that your pain will surface, and for some of us, that's bad enough. The things we've avoided for so long are sometimes horrifying to face.
The Needy Baby
Within each of us is a small part (or sometimes not so small) that is our needy inner child. This part, for one reason or another, never received what it needed from parents, the world, or God. Even if you had the best parents in the world, who made every effort to fulfill all your needs, chances are you were not allowed to cry your pain as often or as long as your soul needed to. At some point you received the message to stop, to suppress, to "grow up". Even if it was done gently, at some point, all beings in our society received this message. We hold an almost universal judgment against neediness, so expressing these inner child needs in their raw state rarely has a positive response from others. It usually triggers their own angry needy inner children, and causes them to respond to our need with anger and judgment.
So what happens to these parts that haven't been allowed to fully heal? What happens to parts that are operating in a state of lack and denial, who are not allowed to express needy baby feelings directly?
They go underground.
They try to get their needs filled in less-than-direct ways. They attach themselves to outer things, they assign meaning to things and people and activities and they tell themselves that these things are what they need, and if they can only have these things, they will feel happy and fulfilled.
But of course, the things are never satisfying. What is needed is to allow the needy baby to cry fully to heal all the old feelings of lack and need that have gone into hiding in the attic. Then we can find ways to nurture and feed the needy baby, ways that will be direct and truly fulfilling to the actual needs. Although, once the old pain is cried and healed, much of the neediness dissipates naturally.
Prisoner of War
This addictive pattern sources primarily from body, and body's despair. Body feels severed from consciousness and judged by almost all the other parts. Body has a consciousness of its own, but severed from its siblings (mind, heart and soul), and disconnected from its divinity, body becomes deeply despairing and alone. There comes a point where the feelings of despair become so enormous, it's like body "hits bottom" under the weight of all suppression, repression, oppression, judgments, and hatred. It sees no way out, no road to redemption, especially when all the religions of the world say body is the enemy, something to be left behind, something to be shunned.
And so body becomes desperate and angry, backed into a corner, a prisoner of war, a starving child in a ghetto situation. Body begins to believe that taking whatever small pleasures it can get - no matter what the cost - is fully justified. When mind tries harder to control and "discipline" body, body resorts to the hostile take-over. Mind gets shoved out of the way, and body takes over to gorge. You addicts will understand what I mean here. It's a feeling (to mind) like going unconscious. Of suddenly "coming to" and realizing you've eaten an entire chocolate cake, or drunk an entire bottle of vodka.
Body gets two pay-offs here. One is the obvious pleasure of the food, drug, whatever. But the second pay-off is the feeling of control, of having successfuly "stolen" something, despite mind's tight controls. There's a great pleasure in this stolen power. Even though it may feel sick afterward, even though it may be putting our life in great danger, body continues this behavior because these brief snatches of pleasure it receives makes it feel less powerless, less despairing, at least for moments.
Self-Hate / Death-Wish
Although self-hate acts out in many forms, addiction is one of the most insidious. Most of the things we become addicted to are not good for our bodies or souls. Even things that taken in moderation would be benign, can become destructive when taken in large amounts, or constantly. When self-hate is participating in addictions, it's like having a little gremlin sitting on our shoulder that is trying to punish us, make us suffer. The gremlin pushes us toward the addiction, whispering whatever will egg us on, including taunts from its bag of negatives about us. It may use the "you're weak" taunt in a twisted push to get us to do the addictive behavior in order to "prove" that we can only do it once. Things can get very twisty here.
The same gremlin sits on our heads afterwards, and whispers in our ear that we are awful, horrible, bad, weak willed, etc. If the addiction is one like drugs or alcohol that can affect our behavior, the gremlin gathers up all the things we might have done while under the influence - any bad or hurtful or embarassing thing - to store up in its bag of negatives to lash us with later.
This self-hate might even reach death-wish proportions, and although the death-wish might be entirely outside our conscious awareness, it still operates to fulfill itself in any way it can. The more noxious the addiction, the better.
The best (worst), most addictive substances are things that give pleasure, distract us from our pain, and drag us down into death (albeit sometimes slowly).
|"DRY DRUNK" FAMILY PATTERNS|
Much has been written on the alcoholic family and the problems facing the adult child of alcoholic parents. We just need to mention here that the "dry drunk" behavior traits do not only apply to alcoholics or drug addicts. There is a behavior pattern that acts like an addict, but may not in fact be addicted to any particular substance. The pattern may have originated with an alcoholic family situation, and 3 generations later is still manifesting in behavioral or emotional ways that do not involve drinking.
"Dry drunk" traits consist of:
These traits describe the "addict", whether or not the person is actively drinking or drugging. The person who acts as the "addict" in any family situation, basically controls everything through their behavior. But addict is really an insufficient word for this pattern.
- Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity
- Grandiose behavior
- A rigid, judgmental outlook
- Childish behavior
- Irresponsible behavior
- Irrational rationalization
I grew up in an alcoholic family, 3 generations of drinkers. The house was full of turmoil and fear and unpredictability. The children in the house learned to play their various roles. My role was responsible caretaker. When I married a man who rarely drank, I counted myself lucky. But what I found was that I had married the same family pattern in another form.
This man was diabetic, and his mother had been diabetic and had died at a relatively young age. The whole family revolved around the disease, first his mother's and later, his own. There was the constant worry, concern for diet and exercise and blood tests and insulin shots taken at the right time and in the right proportion. Because of frequent "reactions" due to eating too much sugar or taking too much insulin, it became impossible for him to hold a full time job. I took on the role of tracking his diet and sugar levels, of worrying, of calling his boss and making excuses for him. Our lives revolved around his illness. But somehow he always found the energy and health to do things that he wanted to do, such as work in the local theater group. When I finally got tired of this and tried to change my side of the pattern, he accused me of not loving him any more and he found another woman who would continue to play the codependent pattern with him.
I consider that this man was a second generation dry drunk, although alcohol was not his problem. This suggests to me that the addict pattern precedes the actual drinking or drugging problem. In other words, it's the emotional factors that are the most important and causal here. There may be a combination of Needy Baby and Self-Hate running here, as well as some of Body's Despair, which makes control the main issue. This pattern requires that the entire family focus on the "addict" and their problems, and they manipulate the situation by going further into their "sickness" when the right attention isn't paid. Inevitably, when I tried to stop caretaking my husband, he would overdose on insulin, and scare me back into line. I'm sure there are many people with chronic illnesses or problems that fall into this same category. They may not be as volatile or potentially violent as the alcoholic family, but the patterns are still insidious and damaging. For everybody involved.
|COPING PATTERNS THAT DEVELOP IN FAMILIES|
Children who grow up with a parent who runs these patterns will develop coping patterns, trying to keep themselves safe and sane in an insane situation. These are common coping patterns:
- Hero/Responsible Child: Taking responsibility allows children to displace all their mixed feelings and energy into success, caretaking, school, and/or sports. In addition to making him/herself feel more
in control, the hero/responsible child also makes the family look good, taking attention
off their problems. Unfortunately, the hero/responsible child never feels good for long;
though s/he might succeed at sports and/or school, s/he can't fix the family's problems.
Children may also express their pain and frustration by acting out, becoming trouble-
makers, even delinquents. The disruptions they cause take attention away from the
family's real problem: the alcoholic parent. The scapegoat child winds up in a vicious cycle of frustration and blame: s/he acts
out to express frustration and blame: s/he acts out to express frustration, and when
s/he gets blamed for the family's problems, that frustration increases. Feelings of guilt,
inadequacy, and anger only multiply for the scapegoat child.
Some children cope with their frustrations by becoming clowns or struggling to appear
happy and joyful. They mask inner feelings (pain, frustration, hurt and confusion) with
humor, wit, or even cynicism. Their comic or placating behavior takes attention away
from the alcoholic in the family.
- Lost Child:
Some children cope by withdrawing or isolating themselves. They deny their feelings,
pulling inward, convincing themselves that their problems don't exist and that they
themselves are invisible.
(Excerpted from the PennState Univ. Health Services page: ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS)
The important thing to remember here is that the patterns keep the real feelings at bay, and prevent actual healing from taking place. It's necessary to cry the pain underlying every pattern in order to truly stop the spinning and destructive behaviors. If you simply attempt to stop the pattern or force a change in the behavior, you'll often find yourself drifting into another addiction. You may exchange smoking for eating, eating for exercise, alcohol for people, and so on.
|BREAKING THE ADDICTION PATTERNS|
In order to change the pattern and break the addiction completely, we must get beneath the pattern to the source, to the pain running undercurrent.
As we said above, it's very common for strong addictive natures to have more than one addiction pattern running, or to have many emotional sources for their addictions. We usually call these people addictive personalities. When the patterns combine and intertwine, it's extremely difficult to break free. You may feel like you're swimming upstream against a very strong current. It would be so much easier to just let go, drift with the current, fall back into the addictive behavior! Especially when others seem to have it so much easier, or seem to have so much more "self-control". Self-control is not the issue here. So, try not to fall into the judgment/comparison spiral here, where you feel like a failure compared to others. Perhaps others who can easily quit their addictions simply have less to contend with.
Below are some tips for breaking addiction patterns. These are intended as helpful tips, and are not meant to be a replacement for getting help from a therapist or recovery center if the addiction has reached the life threatening level:
- Work in small steps: Withhold the addiction for a short period of time, just long enough to feel your pain begin to surface. While the pain is coming up, quick, grab the opportunity to let it release. Have a really good cry, let the fear/rage/heartbreak/whatever come pouring out. Even if it's just rage at "you" for withholding the addiction, let it express, for as long and as deeply as you can. When the expression reaches a natural stopping point, take some deep breaths. Feel into your body, try to feel where the desire for the addiction is, and if it's lessened. Try some of the other tips on this list. And then, if you still need it, go ahead and let yourself have the cigarette, drink, whatever it is. And don't beat yourself up for it. Each time you do this, you'll have worked through another layer of the onion of your pain, and eventually you'll reach a place where the addiction shifts all by itself.
- Feed the Baby: If your addiction pattern sources mainly from a Needy Baby, find ways to feed the baby other than the addiction. Let the Needy Baby cry, first and foremost, of course. But also let her/him speak to you, try to find the core needs. Try to find some things that will comfort and nurture your Needy Baby.
- Get support: It's much easier to work on addictions in the light, with others who are able to help and understand what you're going through. Working alone is possible, but it's so much easier to lie to yourself and drift back into addiction when there's nobody else to see it.
- Try to shift to a different addiction: While you're working on your primary addiction, you may reach a point where the primary loosens its hold, but you're not quite ready to go completely without. Don't underestimate the enormity of the terror and pain that will surface during this process! Going "cold turkey" is not possible for some of us. And if you have an addiction that is especially self-destructive, like cutting for instance, you might want to consciously redirect the addiction to something else. It's like putting a pacifier in the mouth of the addiction. And be sure that if you do this, you find something LESS destructive, not more.
- Do something active: Do something to distract yourself from the addiction. Go for a brisk walk. Turn on some music really loud and dance wildly around the room. Take a very hot shower. Get your awareness into your body and away from the addiction, and from the need/desire/pain for a moment. This tactic will only work for short periods of time. You must heal the source, not just constantly avoid the symptoms.
- Bring in the Light: Meditate as often as you can. Imagine and appropriate - bring in loving light in a form that your inner parts can accept. FEEL loving light bathing you and fulfilling you. If you can begin to imagine feeling better, more hopeful, loved, and worthy, you're on the way to beating the addiction. Imagining these feelings is also a really good way to trigger all the contrary (unworthy) feelings to the surface to be dealt with. And that's the most important tool of all.
- Clean House: Remove things that trigger the addiction. Get the stuff out of your sight, out of your reach. Make it harder to get to. Stay away from people, places, and situations that will draw you back in. This may mean you have to make new friends. Sad, but true, often addicts choose friends that will participate, or at least enable the addiction.
- Tell somebody: Some addictions live only in the dark, when you're alone, in silence and private ritual. If you tell somebody, you are no longer alone with it, and the addiction pattern can no longer hide. If you decide to see a therapist, TELL them about your addiction.
- Make sure you're getting what you need: Eat well, and enough. Take vitamin supplements, especially if your addiction is drugs or alcohol. Drink plenty of water. If you can't stand the taste of plain water, put a little lemon in it. Water can help flush toxins out of your system.
- Prepare for withdrawal: Find out what you might have to deal with in advance. If you're facing drug or alcohol withdrawal, find out what symptoms you might be facing. If you think you're ready to go "cold-turkey", you might want to prepare in advance for a few days (weeks!) of suffering. Ask for time off from work, don't try to just tough it out. Prepare your family and friends, so they know you might be cranky for a while. If withdrawal symptoms can be treated, check with a doctor, or nutritionist, and get ready in advance.
- Help Others: One of the best things about 12 Step programs is that you move from just getting help, to helping others with similar issues. By being helpful and useful, you shift your focus from self to other, which is a very valuable tool in beating the addiction.
- Visit these links for more helpful information on addictions:
* What Do People Feel Inside? - The Emotions of Families of Addictions and Trauma
* Dependency Answers
* U.S. Dept of Health on Addictions
* Drug Addiction Treatment
* Teens Health: Dealing with Addiction
* Applied Behavioral Health Care: Addictions
* The Dry Drunk Syndrome
* Growing Up In an Alcoholic Home
* Adult Children of Alcoholics - from Penn State Univ.
* Adult Children of Alcoholics - from learnwhatsup.com
* Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous - Are you a sex / love addict? Questionairre.