Have you an insatiable longing, a raging hunger, an absorbing fixation? If so, how do you know whether you're in the grip of a magnificent passion or an actual addiction?Some theorists say the line between the two is thinner than you would believe. And that obsessions, whether with drug, alcohol, tobacco, work, sex or rage, speak to driving needs for predictability and control in the face of pressures we perceive as overwhelming. Others continue further down this path and argue that addiction is a misguided quest for the love, comfort, security or ecstasy that mystics associate with a connection to the divine.
We all need passion and focused commitment to be the creative souls we are, but if you can't face life without indulging your compulsion, and it's drained your economic resources and caused suffering to those you love, it's time to redirect those powerful energies toward that which renews rather than depletes you. The discipline required can make this a painful endeavour, but remember that moralistic blame and shame don't work. Don't get caught in this vicious circle.
Different things work for different people. Some go it alone. Many credit the "Anonymous" groups and their 12-Step programs as life savers, though some studies show that they have a 7 per cent success rate, about the same percentage who experience spontaneous remission.
Others will need extensive psychotherapy or perhaps a team of healers from various traditions. Nutritionists are important as is having a strong roster of supporters cheering you on.WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"I am in AA, and you start to see patterns, people from five years of sobriety and up start getting depressed and ask, "Is this all I got sober for?' They long for the wildness and freedom of the addiction. They get suicidal, go back to the addiction or live dead, mechanical, depressed lives. The energy behind the addiction is the exact same energy as spiritual hunger. I'm trying to help people reclaim the deep treasure that is in the hunger. In it is a nugget -- a wonderful, healthy part of who you are. With the squelching of the hunger comes the death of our passion."
THEANNA PATEROPOULOS, addiction recovery specialist, Portland, Maine"In the beginning you have to quash your passions and desires because you're not capable of making any moral decisions on your own. In the 12 Steps, you make a decision to turn yourself over to higher power. Step four is a searching, fearless moral and financial inventory. If you don't buy into the higher power, your inventory won't be fearless and you'll hold onto something that will come back and bite you. I have not yet in my seven and a half years heard someone say they had a success story without the 12 Steps."
JAMES, recovering compulsive gambler, phone monitor for Gamblers Anonymous "We use the harm reduction model. The AA model isn't the model we endorse. We see substance use as a coping mechanism, a way to escape from anxiety or grief. For most adolescents, substance use is a behaviour that has filled a purpose for them. I don't usually say people have a spiritual hunger. We're a clinical service. We can't tell you what to do but we can give you information and help you make decisions.'
KAREN LESLIE, MD, pediatrician, Hospital for Sick Children "Addiction is related to an unreal expectation of life. If you're expecting to be always happy, you're going to take a substance to try to maintain that. When we expect too much of life we feed an insatiable hunger. When we're in touch with the beauty of the universe and the reality of our place in it, we can be satisfied. When we nurture our relationship to the holy, we're feeding our hunger."
MAUREEN SOUKOREFF, chaplain, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health"There's a lot of truth in what (Pateropoulos) says, based on the spiritual and psychological state of people I see. But along with this spiritual longing there are some genetic factors and neurological factors that predispose some people to substance abuse. You can give some people drugs or alcohol in quantity and they will never develop a dependence."
THEA WEISDORF, MD, St. Michael's Hospital, certified by American Society of Addiction Medicine"Spirituality is a big component of (treating) addiction. But it's not the only issue. There is straightforward stuff like eating healthy, exercising, getting the proper sleep. At first, recovering addicts often go overboard in a certain area -- especially physical health. They might forget the emotional stuff. Addiction has a cause, but the why is not as important as what you are going to do about it."
KEN PAVAO, addictions counsellor, Toronto Western Hospital