You are not your addiction, and how to love yourself.

As a recovering addict, I spent long years active in my addiction wondering at myself, why I was the way I was, and what exactly was wrong with me. Hearing about myself in the media, about addicts and our statistics and the confusion about why can’t they just stop left me with the fierce burn of shame low in my gut.

Why couldn’t I just stop?

What was wrong with me?

What happened to that strong self will I had been so proud of?

As a strong proponent of loving oneself, my addiction didn’t jive with who I thought I was and the traits I had learned to appreciate about myself. Wasn’t I strong? Wasn’t I stubborn? Couldn’t I just stop when I wanted to?

Therein lay the problem: I wasn’t aware of what an addict truly was. All the news media I had seen and all the TED Talks about it had started with the presumption that we all knew what an addict was, when in fact they didn’t know what an addict truly was.

An addict is someone who cannot control their use of mind-altering substances.

When looked at with this definition, three key things become clear.

  1. Addiction is not about how much you use.
  2. Addiction is not about how long you use.
  3. Addiction is not about a lack of will.

Represented by friends and media, we might think that addiction is merely a lack of control, that it is somehow a moral failing, that we as people have failed ourselves by falling to addiction and if we had just tried a little harder, we would have succeeded. I want to make three things clear:

  1. You are not a bad person just because you’re an addict.
  2. Your self-will could be incredibly strong and you can still become an addict.
  3. Addiction can not always be halted merely through the application of will.
The Providence Journal states:
“… research has shown that for addicts, “just stopping” is not an option: the drugs have commandeered the brain, causing a complete loss of control.”

What does this mean? It means that the facts clearly describe something that is not a moral failure, and instead, an imbalance in the brain. Popular news channels and uninformed people tend to slam the addict, to tell us that we’re plainly at fault for our predicament. Science, however, says differently.

So how does this tie into self love, you may ask?

My addiction had been at the head of all the nasty, harmful things I had done that weren’t quite like me. My addiction had caused me to hurt my friends and my family. My addiction had pushed me to lie, betray good people, to cause harm to others all in the name of me, me, me.

Addiction will do that. It’s a terrible disease, a terrible state of mind, and a terrible monster of its own. When we act with our addiction, we do things that aren’t like us, that don’t fit into our moral compass whatsoever.

When we take actions that don’t fit in with what our values are, it takes a toll on the way we view ourselves. We find ourselves in pain, hating who we think we’ve become, and wishing that we were different people.

One thing must become clear to us in order to begin loving ourselves: You are not your addiction.

Representation in the media and misconceptions in the people around us may have caused us some difficulty in coming to this conclusion, but the research shows that addiction overrides our brain and the controls we make, bringing us to decisions that we otherwise would never have come to.

From Dr. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

“When we scan the brains of people with addictions, we actually see long-term changes in areas of the brain that govern choice and decision making. Such people are caught in a trap: part of their brain may not like being dependent on the drug, may wish that the drug was no longer a part of their life, but the brain circuits that would, in a healthy person, step in and override the urge to take the drug have been weakened. Thus the addicted person becomes increasingly powerless in the face of the great distress caused by being without the drug. It becomes a vicious cycle: the person compulsively takes the drug, and the drug erodes their self-control circuits even further.”

Our brains have been affected by the chemicals of our drug or alcohol. It’s not our fault that we have been trapped in the cycle of addiction; the chemicals we’ve used have gone from riding shotgun to taking the wheel of our decision making processes. We have not become some terrible person. We’ve merely become addicted.

What does this mean for our journey? Through research and the proper application of healing tools and lessons, we can bring ourselves out of our addiction. Most importantly, through our healing we can begin to see the line between ourselves and the addiction.

Remember: you are not your addiction.