The more I work with the phenomenon of addiction, the more fascinating it becomes as an extremely dynamic coping strategy – dynamic in the sense that it can exist for subtle and unseen reasons, complicated by one’s individual psychology. It is also maddening because it keeps people in a double bind. A definition of double bind from Wikipedia states, “A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other.”Human life to a large extent – if we have our basic needs met like food, shelter and safety – is about reaching one’s potential. Part of this process is about realizing one’s talents and abilities, while also realizing one’s limitations. Another part is about going after dreams or listening to something deeper inside one’s self that says something like, “you really need to start…..”, or “it’s time to move in the direction of….”. A lot of times we have things we want to do in life, like experiences, jobs, or relationships that we want to accomplish to feel a sense of fulfillment. Not for selfish fulfillment’s sake, but more for the sake of lining up our experiences with who we are. A good fit.
I have written before about how fear gets in our way in realizing our potential so I am not going to go too far into it here, but when it comes to feeling stuck, you can bet that fear is in the way. So if we are talking about actualizing one’s potential and reaching out to succeed, we usually have to be ready for several scary things: inevitable failure/mistakes, not going as we planned, learning new things, overcoming past experiences, dealing with new relationships, and on goes the list. Ultimately we have to risk, and if our fear wins the battle, then we stay stagnant. I will use the analogy of sitting in a chair to describe stagnation and getting up and walking toward our dreams as actualizing potential. We can often sit in that chair and wait, just watching everything from a sedentary position, and we move no closer to actualizing or going after what we want. Standing up from the chair can be scary but once we are totally up on our feet and have taken a step it can also be extremely empowering, almost literally energizing.
Back to this idea of a double bind and how addiction can keep a person stuck. The conflicting messages within this double bind would be “don’t get up and move toward anything you want, you might die” and “you’ve got to get up and reach your potential or you will die.” I used death here to illustrate how debilitating these two messages can be. Which one am I supposed to listen to? How do I cope with this stagnation and my fear of getting out of this chair? I must escape into some other “experiential” endeavor or I won’t be able to handle sitting here. Enter any type of addiction: drugs, alcohol, sex, extramarital affairs, gambling, food, work, relationships. The reason this can become a real problematic cycle is that the addiction allows you to do the very thing that is hurting you most: not realizing your potential, not stepping out into the world and engaging in it as your self. The addiction makes it bearable to sit in the chair forever, but the more you sit in the chair the more you need the addiction, and the more you use the addiction, the harder it is to get up. If you picture a cup, and filling it to the top is happiness, peace, actualizing one’s potential, then addiction is like a hole halfway up the cup where water will always leak out and you’ll never experience full happiness and peace.
As long as one continues on with a major addiction (there are lots of minor addictions) it can be extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, to move toward the thing you want. As well, many people are addicted due to the very fear of either moving toward what they want, or even having what they want. The whole process is just too scary, too possibly filled with failure and loss. One must learn to live with disappointment so they can also realize that once you start moving in the direction of your potential it can often give you the energy and motivation to deal with the disappointment. Give yourself permission to stop the addiction, to get out of the double bind, and at least try standing up – get out of the chair and let yourself start moving forward, fear and all. You will be rewarded with an internal sense of living life as you.