INSTINCTS AND ADDICTION
Here I explore the relationship between instincts and addictions. How are they related, if at all, and what are the practical ramifications in dealing with each?
First, definitions: By instincts I refer to genetic directives--inherited drives, urges, and inclinations, that is, moving forces within us. By addiction I refer to a mode of living in which something outside oneself seems to attract or pull in a particular direction or toward some thing, such as a food, drink, chemical compound, or some action which could be described as compulsive behavior.
Although addictions may be toward or to any "thing"--substance or form of behavior, we commonly tend to only label them as such when the moving force or resulting action is socially unacceptable or personally debilitating. For instance, excessive alcohol consumption is usually recognized as an addiction, while compulsive "good behavior" is seen as a virtue.
In summary, instincts and addictions, as I mean the terms here, are opposite forces--one within, the other seemingly "out there" in the thing which attracts and/or dictates. Both are commonly taken to be impersonal--that is, apart from one's sense of self. They seem to "make me" do (or want to) certain things which seem foreign to who I think I am.
I amplify instincts first. In broadest perspectives, we commonly think of these inward forces in two major categories: 1) Survival, and 2) Reproduction--that is, inborn urges to "stay alive" as an individual, and to "make more" of oneself, to "keep on breathing" and to "make babies."
Traditionally we only think of instincts in lump forms or at their crudest level--such as, #1 and #2 named above. But in reality we might more clearly think of them as continuums--that is, existing on an extended scale which only begins with these general terms.
For instance, our most primal instinct, summarized by the term survival, does indeed begin at the primal level of "staying alive" and "keeping on breathing" as long as possible; but in practice the same driving force extends on up the scale far past mere existence alone. If we think in terms of a continuum or scale beginning with minimal existence and extending on to maximum experience, then we might see basic survival (staying alive) at the minimal end of the scale, and enhanced living at the upper or end of the same scale.
Basic existence of course comes first. If our scale grades from 1 to 10, then primal survival is number 1. More than all else we are genetically encoded to "stay alive" at all costs; but once the demands of survival are met (air, food, etc.), then this same instinct urges us on to "enhanced survival," that is, to make living as satisfying as possible.
To be specific: Primary survival (#1) is best supported by the instinct to avoid pain; but once we have arranged circumstances to eliminate "hurting," we are strongly moved (by this same basic instinct, I hold) to proceed on to the opposite of pain, namely pleasure. On our imaginary scale, avoiding pain is a #1, but once we do that then seeking pleasure moves on up the scale toward #10, maximum pleasure or grandest of satisfactions.
Specific elements of survival (staying alive) include, again in broad categories, feeling and thinking. At the lower end of the scale we are moved to feel or be emotional--to, we might say, "be feeling" or "to feel at all." But the higher end of the same scale, after we "be feeling" anything we are also moved toward "feeling good." Just feeling at all (not being emotionally dead) is #1, but once emotional capacities are activated, we are strongly moved to "feel as good as possible," #10, maximum "good feelings" (happiness, joy, even ecstasy). The overall survival instinct is spelled out in the arena of emotions, beginning with #1 or activated feeling capacity, and continuing on to "feeling as good as possible" (#10).
The next to evolve major human capacity came as consciousness arose--that is, our possibility of thinking, of weighing perceptions in mind's eye and drawing reasonable conclusions. At the low end of the scale measuring thinking (#1) there are minimal degrees of sense making. At this level beliefs and ideas from others take precedence over activating one's own mind. But at the #10 level, one thinks his own thoughts, draws his own conclusions, and in general "thinks for himself."
Feeling and thinking are naturally expressed in actions which aim at enhancing both--that is, doing things in accord with emotional satisfaction and/or one's own sense making. At the #1 level, such actions are severely curtailed. What one does in the world is largely determined by external forces, such as, What They Think or what others want you to do. One in effect lives in a prison made up of dictations from outside oneself. But at the #10 end of this action scale, one freely exercises his capacity for choosing actions in accord with personal feelings and his or her own thoughts. The more fully one embraces his instinct for maximum degrees of survival experience, the freer he becomes to "be himself"--that is, to feel, think, and act honestly in the world.
Although we tend to think only at the lowest end of the survival scale where powers are most concentrated, once primal needs are met, when stomach is fed and enemies are at bay, when ordinary circumstances do not allow for maximum satisfactions, e.g., to "feel really good" or excited in life, than we are driven, as it were, to seek extra-ordinary means, such as, greater freedom or drugs which seem to make one "feel good" or "high."
I believe that an expanded understanding and definition of addiction may serve to increase awareness of a serious problem commonly faced by us who are concerned with the good life now versus later. Certainly this is proving to be true for me.
Current definitions which mainly focus on substance abuse, such as, addiction to alcohol and other drugs, fail to note many other dangerous self abuses. Traditional understanding which focuses mainly on dangers to physical health, such as, lung cancer from a nicotine addiction, fails to clarify other dangers-to-self which may be even more serious than bodily harm insofar as personal well-being is concerned.
Also, common understanding of addiction fails, I think, to explore deeper roots of the problem, namely, its relationship to freedom and self responsibility. Certainly the recognized dangers to bodily health are important, but I am coming to see that other spiritual dangers may often exceed these physical risks.
So long as my awareness was limited to physical effects only, I continued to blindly maintain other addictions which seriously undermined my current well-being, albeit blindly to me. Seeing the deeper nature of addiction and recognizing my own more clearly is the reason for this exploration.
1. The highest prices paid for addictions, even beyond bodily health, are losses of personal freedom to become and be our fuller selves in the here and now. All addictions are costly.
2. Current understanding of addiction properly focuses on physical health and related social problems, such as, damages to relationships and irresponsible behavior, but ignores other addictions which serve social and religious values while ignoring prices paid in individual happiness.
3. I belabor linguistic clarity of definitions because I think words and mental understanding are important in the healing process. Already we see addiction itself as "bad" and a serious problem. I have found this judgment useful to me in facing other kinds of addictions which are socially acceptable, even promoted as virtuous. Unless or until we see a behavior as dangerous and costly, we stand small chance of correction, especially when we think of it as "good."
4. Obviously, seeing a wider range of addictions is, in and of itself alone, will not dissolve them; but without recognition we have little chance of healing from them. Insight isn't everything, but it can be an essential beginning in movement from their bondage, especially for those which are accepted and promoted in society and religion.
5. Many serious addictions are commonly considered benign when only recognized as "habits" or "personality traits." Others which are socially useful are completely ignored and may even become the source of self-righteousness which is extremely dangerous to spiritual well-being.
6. Many social and religious virtues--that is, patterns of behavior which serve secular and religious structures and institutions, go unrecognized as actual addictions, and may even become the basis for false pride (self-righteousness). For example, blind patriotism, compulsive honesty, and indiscriminate helpfulness, while serving society and religion may cloak the fact that addiction is addiction--no matter how much its practice serves other persons and/or society and religion.
An addiction is any pattern of human behavior which occurs within the realm of human choice to either follow it or not, but is, for any given person engaged in it, as though it is necessarily followed--that it, as though it exists outside this limited arena of human options and he or she "has to" do it.
Once any such behavior is established, the addicted person lives-as-though he or she has no choice in the matter--that is, as though the power to engage in it has been taken away from the person and placed in the behavior itself (or object which is the focus of the behavior, e.g., a particular chemical such as alcohol).
The critical point in an addition is the projection of power outside of the addict and into the addiction itself--as though a real human choice, one which exists within average persons, has been lost or given away.
Once an addiction is established the person often sincerely believes and lives-as-though he or she truly lacks the power to act otherwise. He feels like "it"--whatever the addiction involves or focuses on, controls or has power over him. He does not consciously see that in reality he gives away this power which actually resides within himself.
Often an addict is blind to his own addiction and sincerely believes "I can stop any time I want to." Only an outsider may see it as such. But if the addict does not see his addiction as such, he commonly sees himself as an innocent victim of forces outside himself.
The traditional view of instincts sees these inherited forces as something you have which you should learn to control. In religions, body is commonly seen as bad, the source of evil temptations. Rarely does one identify him or herself with their (note possessive) body, such that body is I.
Traditional views of addiction take a medical model and see it as a disease. Just as germs which "make us sick" are to be treated by drugs, etc., so additions are to be treated by therapy, and/or drugs. Commonly, strong addictions are patently seen as bad. "It" gets the best of me, as though me/I are not it.
Instincts, as a name for genetic directives, are I. I do not have a body which "I" am independent of (as in Platonic thought). Instincts are not foreign to I, or bad things I have and must repress and/or control--as though they are enemies of me.
Ideally one comes to so identify with instincts (body) that "it" becomes I and I, it. All inherited capacities, as revealed in instinctive urges are embraced as the substance of who I am.
I view the disease model of addictions as a cop-out on inherited responsibility. Certainly this view may be temporarily functional, e.g., as alcoholics are "treated" in A.A.; but it often becomes a long range error because it solidifies an erroneous separation between I and it. Addiction results from partial identification of I with some instincts but not others, e.g., with urges to feel really good, but not instincts for consciousness and self responsibility.
The urge to feel good, to seek satisfaction is consciously embraced and blindly acted out. An addict does what repressed folk might want to do, but suppress. In a sense, addicts are more courageous than others in consciously daring to embody our most primal instinct in its finer proportions. They don't settle for mundane satisfactions, especially happiness sought through "being good"--that is, via memes rather then genes.
They in effect say, "I don't care what you think, I want to feel good, even "high," and I'm willing to take risks in seeking greater satisfactions than I find in ordinary life.
The error is not in embracing pleasure instincts, but in suppression of consciousness which is essential in personal responsibility. Addicts err by indulging in our more primal instincts while repressing other higher capacities, namely, consciousness and with it, self-responsibility.
The current "treatment" of the disease model is ultimately destined to fail because it merely calls for a switch from "want to" to "should do"--that is, exaggeration of consciousness and suppression of desires.
A better ideal, I hold, is to accept pleasure urges (primal instincts), add expanded consciousness, and with it the inner capacity to contain all urges and act responsibly rather than treating strong desires as though they are an enemy of self.
Consciousness is, I think, an inherited capacity evolved to mediate more primal urges in individuals who live in human community with others (in society). By consciousness I refer to the capacity for "making sense" out of one's own experience and choosing paths which maximize satisfactions (pleasure included) and minimize pain (discomfort). Consciousness, as I mean the term here, is the inherited possibility of "using one's head"--of not "doing dumb things" like hitting one's proverbial head against stone walls.
I think the greatest of human errors must have been to repress the capacity for honest conscious thinking, that is, for "thinking for oneself" rather than giving one's mind to mother first, and later to authority figures who replace her.
Addiction occurs when one activates one instinct while repressing another, for example, innate desires and consciousness. An addict "turns on" one and, in effect, "turns off" another. My overall premise is that primal instincts, recognized in dark desires, are ideally balanced with later-to-evolve capacities for consciousness--which might be called "lighted thinking." The second has evolved, I speculate, to mediate the first in society (social groups of more than one).
Addiction may result when the natural quest for feeling good, for experiencing maximum degrees of self-satisfaction, is operative in a person who has strongly repressed their capacity for consciousness, especially the ability to think reasonably.
The quest for feeling better, for "getting high," is, I think, rooted in the most powerful of our inherited drives, that is, the upper end of the survival instinct. The diligence and devotion of those who become addicted is, within itself, admirable. They are in this regard more natural, more human, than others who content themselves with existing at the lower end of the survival scale--that is, settling for lessor degrees of being themselves.
But the problem is that while those who become addicts are more diligent in exercising the drive for higher degrees of self-satisfaction, they remain more repressed in their capacity for conscious thinking. They are, in effect, wide-eyed in pursuit of feeling good, but relatively blind to our higher drive for being responsible.
The problem is not that their pursuit of pleasure is too great, but their activation of this primal instinct is not balanced by a corresponding degree of embraced consciousness. They are like little children who are diligent in openly "wanting what they want when they want it," but are yet to become reasonable in their pursuits for maximum self-satisfaction.
Credit addicts for remaining true to this most basic of human desires; but fault them for repressing (or never embracing) the corresponding drive for "making sense," for being reasonable in quest of self-satisfaction.
I theorize that the number of addicts would be greatly reduced if we could structure society to provide more circumstances and occasions for getting naturally "high"--that is, for expressing our primal instincts for seeking excitement without threatening communal necessities.
Addiction is a result of imbalance between acknowledged instincts for maximum satisfaction and embraced capacity for consciousness. The addict is more in touch with the drive for feeling good than with the ability to make reasonable decisions. He wants to live at heightened levels of satisfaction without at the same time being responsible for himself.
This is the opposite error for an average "non-addicted" person who represses urges for personal pleasure while exaggerating the powers of consciousness. He is, if you please, super-responsible but lacking in immediate well being.
Regrettably, the non addict is commonly self-righteous and translates his assumed "superiority" not by truly embracing consciousness and living reasonably, but by perverting reason-ability into a crutch for suppressing personal desires for bodily pleasures. Rather than facing jealousy of those who more nearly embrace pleasure desires and evade self-responsibility, he judges himself as better and looks down on those with the type of addiction opposite to his own. Hence the common view of addiction as a disease at best, and "bad" at worse.
Actually, the typical non-addict who maintains his self-righteousness by "trying to help" those with recognized addition, is often more addicted to his own exaggerated power of consciousness than are those who opt for "getting high" irresponsibly. The apparent benevolence of non-addicts is self-serving on a deeper level.
Such unrecognized addiction tends to maintain itself not by being truly conscious and reasonable, but by freezing, as it were, the capacity for fluid consciousness into rigid beliefs which then substitute for actual "thinking for oneself."
Ideally, recognized addicts would accept their higher degrees of embraced desire for feeling good, and give attention to becoming more aware of their neglected capacity for consciousness and self-responsibility. Unfortunately the typical "treatment" for addiction by those who blindly repress their own drives for higher satisfaction takes an entirely opposite approach.
Instead of affirming instincts for heightened self-satisfaction (more "selfing"), which addicts already do, the present mode of "help," as typified in Alcoholics Anonymous and other such groups, is to exaggerate the powers of the additive substance (e.g., alcohol) and the weakness of the addict himself.
Unwittingly such approaches confirm the "weakness" of the addict by inviting greater dependence on a "higher power" along with the "helping" group itself. Although this approach is often temporarily successful, in the long run the underlying problem remains un-faced and the addict merely shifts his "dependence" (e.g., on drugs) to dependence on the supportive group and "higher powers." As in A.A., he may indeed remain sober (which is no small victory!), but his deeper imbalance is ignored and unwittingly confirmed.
Unrecognized addiction of the self-righteous who severely repress pleasure urges while exaggerating their conscious powers, is commonly acted out in religions which ignore the actual addiction of "believers" and unwittingly support their own underlying problems.
Instead of aiding the mentally up-tight believers who live in fear of their own deeper instincts, churches, like A.A., etc., tend to confirm the intellectual weakness and support repression of desire by painting bodily pleasure as evil, etc.
ADDICTION AND COMPULSION
In my perspective, addiction and compulsion are synonyms. An addict is one who compulsively engages in some physical or mental act. Compulsive behavior is just another way of viewing addiction. The distinguishing feature of both terms is the underlying sense of "have to..."--that is, the loss of freedom to choose which an addiction or compulsion reflects. An addict lives-as-though he or she "has to" have or do whatever his addiction is to. Powers of personal choice are in effect seen to exist in the object of the addiction. For instance, an alcoholic lives-as-though "the bottle,"--whatever it contains, draws, pulls, tempts, or somehow exercises power over him. He "cannot resist" it. It makes him "take a drink," and another and another until he completely out of control of himself.
Likewise with any compulsion or compulsive habit. It in effect "makes one" do it. For example, if one is compulsive about double checking to see if the doors are locked before he is free to leave home, this habit "makes him" go back and check again if he only checked once. He is not free to leave without engaging in this compulsion.
Nor can the two be distinguished by their objects--that is, what they focus on. One may be addicted to harmful or to healthy substances, for instance, nicotine or vitamins. In either case, compulsion is related to the inward necessity of doing whatever the addiction focuses on--not on whether it is socially acceptable or viewed as "bad." One may be as addicted to a religion as another is to a harmful substance. One may be as compulsive about going to church or tithing his income as another is to smoking cigarettes.
In either case, addictions or compulsions are defined by the "have to" nature of whatever they are focused on--not by the goodness or badness of their objects. One may be as compulsive about "being friendly"--a social virtue, as another is about "being argumentative." But the addiction--as I am using the term here, is determined by the loss of personal freedom which one has in relation to compulsion itself. Somehow, it is as though the substance or habit holds power over the addict.
Certainly there are limits to inherited choose-abilities. No matter how healthy or mature a person may be, human freedoms remain limited. We may, for instance, choose whether or not we will smoke or drink coffee, but we are not free to choose whether or not we will breathe or fly--at least so long as we remain alive. But in order for some substance or action to become an addiction, it must fall into the arenas in which an average human being does indeed have the power to choose it or not. It only becomes what I call compulsive when powers of choice which are literally within an individual are, as it were, projected on or into the addiction.
HABITS AND COMPULSION
A habit may be seen as a mild form of compulsion. A compulsion is a habit that has become so ingrained (addicted to) that one simply "has to" do it. For clarity, perhaps distinguishing between habits and routines may be useful. Many aspects of daily life are routine, that is, pragmatically done in the same way each time--such as, brushing teeth after eating, driving to work by the same route each day, sitting in the same place at church, or putting on pants with either left or right leg first, etc.
Technically, we may use the terms habit and routine synonymously. But I give each a special meaning in order to see a significant distinction in regard to compulsions. A routine, as I mean the word here, is a repeated action which one chooses to do in the same way each time, but can easily change whenever he chooses to. A habit is a routine which has become so much a part of one's sense-of-self that he is no longer free to choose another way without experiencing anxiety. The stronger the habit, the greater the anxiety if one doesn't continue to act it out. For instance, one may routinely wash his hands before each meal. So far so good; but when washing hands becomes a habit (as I mean the term here) freedom to not wash (breaking the habit) is gone. Then, one simply "has to" wash or else feel very uncomfortable about eating. Eventually any such routine which is begun reasonably, may become a habit. And habits can become so ingrained that they deserve another name, such as, compulsion.
In either case, an addiction may begin with any routinely chosen act. As long one is free to vary the act, or to drop it altogether, it is simply a useful routine which may pragmatically be carried out "without thinking about it." When so, limited mind space is freed to focus on other relevant matters. For instance, if I routinely buckle my seat belt whenever I get in my car, I am free to be thinking about where I am going (or have been, etc.). But routinely buckling a seat belt may become so ingrained that I feel anxiety if I don't do so immediately, before starting the engine; then it is a habit (as I distinguish here) which may get so ingrained that it phases into a compulsion ("a compulsive habit"), which I cannot avoid acting out without high degrees of anxiety. Then it has become an addiction in the more common sense of the term.
I make these distinctions so that I may more clearly recognize varying degrees of inner compulsions, many of which begin as practical, freely chosen ways of acting, but in time become rigid habits that are compulsively carried out. When so, one has lost the freedom to choose to or not to--whatever the habit is about. He no longer "decides to" do it, with equal freedom to "decide not to." What began as a practical choice becomes so habitual that he simply "has to" do it--or so it seems. When this is the case it may properly be seen as an addiction, no matter how functional the habit may actually be.
Commonly the term addiction is only applied to acts which are seen as "bad" or socially unacceptable. Addiction to nicotine, for example, is well known to cause lung cancer, and consequently seen as "bad." But in fact one may become equally "addicted" to going to church each Sunday or making up the bed before leaving the house. Although these latter actions are socially seen as "good" things to do, they too can become compulsions. One may be as addicted to "being good" as another is to doing harm to himself or others.
I have belabored these distinctions for two reasons: First, I need to recognize that addictions exist with many degrees of power. Compulsions vary from mild to extreme, with debilitating effects comparable to the strength of the habit. Secondly, and more relevant to me at this time, I need to move past my judgments of various addictions and regularly recognize that the danger lies in any addiction itself, rather than the badness--or goodness, of the act. To compulsively tithe to the church is as spiritually dangerous as compulsively smoking a cigaret after church. I can be as addicted to ways society and religion view as "good," as I can to things seen as "bad."
The critical issue is "having to....."--whatever the action may be. "Having to be good" is as dangerous to human well being as any drug addiction. Even if the habit is socially approved and has favorable results, the spiritual danger lies in the "having to...."--that is, in the loss of personal freedom and power which come with addictions of any sort. In fact, compulsions which are socially approved may be even more dangerous than recognized addictions because they are easily hidden to oneself. An addiction to "helping others," for example, may be more dangerous than compulsive smoking because the first, being so praised in society and religion, can so easily lead to blind self-righteousness.
Also, because we so easily deceive ourselves, serious addictions may go unrecognized as such. Those who compulsively "have to have a cigaret," for example, may easily fool themselves with such ideas as "I can quit whenever I want to," or "I know I can stop because I have quit many times before," etc. The dangers of addictions exist, however, in actual "having to...," regardless of whether or not one sees them as such.
I have identified addiction with having to ...rather than with particular objects of various addictions, such as, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. The critical issue is loss of personal freedom, suppression of will power, not what (or who) powers associated with choice are given to.
Repression is the underlying psychic villain, the self-abuse one must engage in in order to become addicted. Briefly, this spiritual event can be analyzed like this: Before (or after) addiction, personal powers are generated in acts of choosing. Whenever we make truly personal decisions, bodily energy is created in the process. We in effect empower ourselves when we decide what to do--that is, "make up our own minds" about our actions in the world. Personal decisions are literally invigorating; they produce vigor (power, inward energy) within ourselves.
This force is evidenced in "feeling good" when we "think for ourselves" and make decisions based on personal knowledge, rather than being directed by others. Whenever personal perceptions--the most primal element in human experience, are imaged and transformed into conceptions (the act of "thinking for oneself") which are then given shape and form in action, power is generated in this process.
But when consciousness is repressed rather than expressed, the inward forces generated in the Creative Process are inevitably projected "out there" onto various "objects"--such as, gods and devils, other people, various chemicals and drugs, or moral principles. Once such projections have been made, then it seems like their object truly has power over us. "It makes me" do things--or so it seems.
Bodily chemistry is altered in the process of repression/projection. These psychic events are not "all in my head"--that is, mental rather than physical. They are both. Whenever conscious thinking (personal decision making) is curtailed, bodily changes also occur.
These changes are further increased when the objects of projection, such as, drugs, also have innate power to effect bodily chemistry, even without projection. Alcohol, for example, is a chemical depressant, regardless of what a drinker thinks (or doesn't). And so with many other drugs, such as, heroin, Speed, Ecstasy, etc.
When these chemically induced effects are desirable, such as, lowering inhibitions with consumption of alcohol, or hold some positive effects along with their negative consequences, then one may choose to repeatedly ingest or inject the chemical in quest, for example, of the "high" which occurs with bodily reactions to the chemical. When such choices are repeatedly made, one making them is commonly said to "be addicted", e.g., to cocain or alcohol. A.A. members , for example, are described as "recovering addicts" who need outside support for their "weakness" to the "powers of the bottle."
But the missing element in this common analysis is the so-called "addict's" repeated choices to take the "addictive substance." In quest of its apparent effects, one "feels drawn" to repeat taking it. This, of course, is obvious; less visible however, is the personal repression of "will power (human choose-ability)" with accompanying projections of same.
When these two are combined, that is, the chemical effects of the drug plus personal projections onto it, then one does indeed seem weak and "drawn" to this substance, as though it has power over oneself.
To such persons, the term addict is commonly applied, and he or she is then viewed as "addicted" to its powers and often "too weak" to resist them. In A.A., e.g., this personal "weakness" in the face of the "powerful" addictive substance, is confirmed and supported through various rituals, declarations, and relationships.
As noted before, the term addition is commonly used in reference to objects which are socially and/or religiously viewed as "harmful," "bad," or "evil." Similar relationships to objects seen as "good" are usually painted as "devotions" or "virtuous." When one represses inward powers and projects on God, for example, he is not viewed as "addicted," but is socially praised for his "devotion" to Higher Powers. He may be seen as "saintly" or "virtuous."
But I have gone through this analysis of the nature of addictions in order to clarify a life long "devotion" of my own, namely, to certain principles and practices socially seen as "virtuous." If I am correct in my identification of addiction with "having to..." rather than with the objects viewed as holding power over one, then the same stances and relationships exist in religion where they are taken to be virtuous. Compulsive church attendance and/or tithing one's income, are almost universally seen as "good."
My own imbedded habit of "being good" (as I understood good to be) has deprived me of free choice as surely as the habit, for example, of taking drugs, deprives others of their own will power.
ADDICTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS
There is no inevitable connection between addiction and consciousness. One may or may not recognize or know about his or her active addictions. Commonly, serious and costly addictions are unrecognized by those who live them, especially when the focus of the addition is a socially approved or accepted action.
Also, one may be addicted--that is, exist under its domination, while consciously thinking otherwise. For example, one addicted to caffeine or nicotine may acknowledge a great "love" for coffee or strong desire for cigarettes, but be blind to their addiction itself. "I can quit anytime I want to," such a person may consciously say and sincerely believe, cloaking their actual addiction, even to themselves. As one two-pack-a-day smoker said, "I know I can quit because I've done so a hundred times!"
Point: There is no correlation between being addicted and consciously recognizing the fact. One may be regularly paying the costs and be totally unaware of doing so. When confronted by others with the fact, he may strongly deny the addiction.
Even personal recognition can, as in saying, "I know I am addicted to coffee in the morning, but I love it too much to give it up; it helps me get started and make it through the day," obscure the fact to an addict. He may know about the addiction, that is, have intellectual knowledge of the fact, and be able to talk about it, all-the-while denying his participation on a deeper level. "His knowledge," we might say, "is all in his head."
Addiction exists whenever one "has to" do an action or carry out a habit. He may or may not recognize it as such, or have knowledge "in his head" only. In either case, addiction exists when one lives-out a compulsion, regardless of whether he knows it or not.
Addiction is determined by its "have to" nature, rather than the "badness" or "goodness" of its focus or object. Commonly, only obviously harmful addictions are seen as such, while equally costly compulsions focused on socially acceptable behavior go unrecognized as such, and in may instances are seen as "good" or virtuous.
The tell-tell nature of an addiction is the lost personal freedom which it entails. Even when its focus is publically praised and seen as virtuous, still the addicted one pays the price of lost freedom to be and become his fuller self. The price is exceptionally high when one is either blind to its existence, or, in the case of "good" addictions, becomes self-righteousness about living it out.
Insofar as human well-being is concerned, conscious freedom to choose one's own way, to think honestly and live by one's own lights, is the most basic and essential of all requirements for personal happiness--that is, heaven here. To the degree that one is trapped in a compulsive habit or mode of living, no matter if he is conscious of the fact or simply lives-it-out unawarely, to that same extent he gives away his birthright freedom to live fully in this world.
And because any addition, no matter its focus, takes away this essential freedom, this birthright of all human, its destructive nature can hardly be over-estimated. This is especially true when the focus of an addiction is socially approved and/or religiously painted as virtuous.
Common examples of addictions which fall in the latter category and are rarely seen as such include: Having to... be nice, good, clean, sweet, chaste, faithful, right, friendly, tell the truth, please others, be on time, stay busy, make up the bed, work hard, be error free, go to church, tithe one's income, obey all laws, and endlessly on.
More commonly recognized addictions include compulsions to: take drugs, have sex, break laws, smoke cigarettes, molest children, view pornography, etc.
Addiction to what is seen as good is often more problematic than similar compulsions to what is seen as bad, because of the common results of pride and shame. The first is often harder to get over, since self-righteousness must be dissolved on one's own, but shame can sometimes be healed via confession to others and forgiveness from them.
Although we typically treat unacceptable addictions and encourage those which support social values, a wiser approach might lie in recognizing both negative and positive addictions as symptoms rather than diseases and virtues.
I postulate that all addictions are but signs of deeper problems which still exist even if we succeed in getting rid of the symptoms. The current approach is like taking sedatives to kill pains resulting from cancer, but ignoring underlying causes. A healthier approach might lie in recognizing symptoms as such, easing them when possible, but mainly going after root causes.
If I am correct in my analysis, both negative and positive additions--that is, those with obvious harmful effects as well as those which benefit society (at great cost to persons who cloak their addictions with assorted rationalizations), root causes of both lie in how we respond to instincts for higher degrees of self-satisfaction.
With recognized additions, these potentially healthy urges are blindly acted out by seeking easy and quick ways to "feel good," such as, stimulating drugs one "has to have." With what I identify as positive addictions, such as, religious devotions, the same urges are repressed within oneself and kept so by judgments and projections.
Inward repression usually begins by judging the urges to be inherently bad and then projecting their associated powers "out there," as onto gods, devils, and angels of either religious and/or secular figures.
In the case of negative addictions, one "has to have" the substances which produce automatic highs. With positive addictions one "has to do" the rituals which support repression. In both cases the problem lies in the "having tos" rather than in the social effects (negative or positive).
Positive addictions are commonly supported with promises and dreams of grander rewards later if one only succeeds in suppressing pleasure urges now. In the case of religious addicts, heaven after death--that is, "feeling really good" later is a typical promise. With the secular type, dreams of bliss are focused in this world, as in, "being made happy" by a lover, if only one remains faithful and devoted to selected secular gods and/or goddesses, such as, lovers or dreams of wealth.
ADDICTIONS POSING AS VIRTUE OR HABIT
Many actual addictions are cloaked as "mere habits" or even "virtues," and remain unrecognized as the dangers they actually are or the prices one pays for living within their seeming powers.
Among such imposters are: cleanliness, politeness, being right, hurrying, winning, pleasing others, rebellion, helping others, church attendance, praying, patriotism, being good, being submissive or dominant, staying busy, being on time or late, perfection, beliefs, making money, approval (being liked), having to finish, and worrying--etc., etc.
Obviously many such actions are functional at times--serving society or persons who are recipients of the acts (e.g., helping others); but addiction is determined by "have to...," not the action or behavior it focuses on. Whenever a person "has to" do anything which lies in the realm of human choices, then an addiction exists and is operative. Just because the "have to..." is focused on something which is socially valuable (good for society) or religiously virtuous, rather than problematic in the community or praised in the church does not change the fact of addiction.
Certainly it is more useful to the community or church if the compulsive deed supports the structures and values of each, but insofar as individual well-being is concerned, an addiction is an addiction--that is, freedom squandered in "being good," for example, is just as costly as bondage to "being bad." True virtue is not inherent in any deed not freely chosen by the one who does it.
LIMITS OF CHOICE
To note the loss of personal freedom inherent in certain choices is not to assume an unlimited nature of human options. That we are created capable of deciding about doing some things does not mean we are without limits in our options--that is, free to do whatever we please if we "try hard enough," or "work at it," or "have enough faith."
Just as each human sense is limited--that is, falls within a certain range (e.g., we humans can only see certain colors; bees, for example, see ultra violet rays which we cannot see, "no matter how hard we try." Dogs hear sounds which humans miss, even if "we try hard to."). And so with our given options in life. The range of human choices is vast, greater it seems, than that inherent in any other living being; still, however it is limited.
Just as we can walk and choose our directions, but not fly--even if we strongly want to, so all our inherited options are finally limited. We can be "niscient" (knowing), but not omniscient (knowing everything). We "have to" breathe and eat to survive; no amount of willing, wanting to, or belief can change these and many other "facts of human life." Human will power is indeed vast, but still relatively limited in comparison with what we may imagine, wish for, or want to do.
Point: For any action to be an addiction it must fall within the range of our inherited options, not outside human choose-ability. But whenever we give up or fail to embrace any options which are naturally within this limited range, then we have slipped into addiction, no matter how useful or harmful the pattern of behavior may be to society and/or ourselves.
Why do I try to expand the term addiction to include many actions commonly seen as virtuous, mere habits, or simply personality traits?
First of all, because they seem to me to function the same way insofar as individual well-being is concerned. Personal freedom is lost even when the addiction is viewed as positive in society or virtuous in religion. Whether I give up my inherited freedom to "bad" or "good" actions, bondage is still bondage. So long as I name my actual addictions with benign or favorable terms, I fail to see the dangers involved.
For example, if I only see my addiction to hurrying as "just a habit," or my compulsion to "be good" as a virtue, then I miss seeing the price I inevitably pay for indulging in them. The danger is especially great when an actual addiction is affirmed as positive by society and/or religion, such as, "being on time" or cleanliness. When I am socially approved and/or religiously rewarded, then I may even try to keep the addiction operative and/or "feel good about myself (fall into self-righteousness)" when, for example cleanliness is viewed as inherently "good," even "next to godliness," one may easily ignore the loss of freedom which occurs when one blindly strives to eliminate all dirt from life.
When an addiction is mental rather than physical, such as, religious beliefs blindly accepted "on faith," one may consider himself "good" and "faithful," for giving up freedom of thought in the area of any specific belief. I find such addiction to what amounts to abandoning our capacity for reasonable thought, to often be even more costly than easily recognized physical addictions, such as, smoking cigarettes.
A functional quest, for example, striving for perfection, may easily become an addiction in which one regularly gives up freedom to be reasonable (or make mistakes) about all worldly pursuits.
I find the gift of consciousness (limited though it may be), and with it the capacity for reasoning, to be among our most precious human inheritances. Whenever one abandons this capacity, e.g., in favor of religious approval given for not thinking reasonably, or social affirmation for trying to be perfect (without errors), then a serious addiction is operative.
ADDICTIONS AND FREEDOM
Although human freedoms are limited by "facts of life," the freedom to exercise all one's actual options, to choose one's way in the world within our actual limits, is, I think, among our most precious gifts and is essential for good living. We live better when we move as intentionally as possible. We become our selves only through embracing the mental ability to "think for ourselves" and personally choose our acts in life--within, of course, actual limits of human will power.
Certainly human will power and personal choices are neither omnipotent or necessarily "right," but exercising the gift of choose-ability within their real limits is essential, I think, for living well and finding happiness in this world.
And by nature of themselves, all addictions are best characterized by loss of human choice in whatever arena the addiction is operative. Whenever we negate actual will power, our inherited ability to make personal choices on the basis of personal experience and reasonable conclusions, then we inevitably curtail the possibility of personal happiness to the degree that any addiction exists.
I am addicted to the happiness of those around me
and only risk pursuing my own
in the circle of their good graces
or when I am alone
I am especially addicted to the pleasure
of those I love
and rarely dare seek my own
until I am assured by theirs first
I am addicted to the power of female smiles
and whatever it takes to prevent their frowns
I am addicted to peace-making
and flee conflict as though it were a plague
I am addicted to the meme What They Think
and regularly worship at its throne
not daring to voice What I Think
unless or until I can feel outside acceptance
(Which is why I write often and speak myself rarely)
I am addicted to avoiding displeasure in others
and I run away in spirit if not body
unless or until I can dispel any directed toward me
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