By James Duncan, C.Ht.
It’s all about the words!
I never use the term addict with any of my clients. Why? Because it is a word that has over time in our society come to represent something that allows and even justifies at times, our personal victimization of whatever the addiction is. It separates the person from the problem and makes it OKAY. Free of responsibility and personal connectivity. In western society, addiction has come to represent something of which we are victims. Pity, compassion, understanding are heaped upon the VICTIM in many cases. This opinion comes from personal experiences in this area in addition to work I have done with those challenged by extremely difficult habits.
Now before too many feathers get ruffled allow me to clarify further how, in my opinion, the above listed qualities of support SHOULD be given to the “addict” but not for the reasons or in the form they regularly are offered. They should be pitied that they made an unfortunate choice at some point that BEGAN the habit. Not that they are victims of “dis-ease”. They should be given compassion so they understand there IS support for them overcoming it. Not support of the idea that they are outside of it or “victims”. They should be given understanding so that they know that people who have never been in the situation they are in couldn’t possibly know what they have created for themselves and the effect it is now having on them and those they love. These things should be offered. But to support the victimization of addiction concept creates the very “co-dependency” that so many programs denounce. Even tough-love and interventions are designed to remove the “addict” from the “addiction” for the benefit of making them see how the THING, working as a separate entity has manipulated their lives.
An example of this is the often-recommended terminology from intervention programs such as, “The (addiction type) made you… and it affected me…” or “When you (addiction), you do (undesirable effect) and it causes me pain/sorrow/etc.” Those two examples state 1) THE ADDICTION manipulated you and me, and I, as a supportive “well” person, verified that you were controlled from outside like a pawn rather than an active participant/part of it. 2) If there is a relapse, I have given you (and I) an emotionally charged present tense affirmation that when you participate in the “addiction” that you WILL/DO act in a certain destructive way and it WILL/DOES affect me in a certain negative way. So how are we to adjust the words? Take away the power of the word ADDICTION. Don’t use it at all. A generalized overview of how western society has come to qualify habits is: A HABIT is a habit if it is non-destructive (someone who plays with their hair, or says “you know” in every sentence.) a BAD HABIT is one that becomes annoying or has a perceived negative effect but is negligible in that negative effect. (Nail biting to the point of sore fingers, cursing and swearing in everyday conversation, etc.) Negative yet not earth shattering or life threatening. Once a habit moves into something perceived as damaging and OUT OF OUR CONTROL it becomes an “addiction” in the minds of modern society. I sometimes wonder if many addictions have been reclassified as diseases by the medical and psychiatric community not because there is any scientific basis for this reclassification, but because it makes it easier to manage the overwhelming numbers and takes away social responsibility for the atmosphere that can foster such unfortunate choices. How can we be responsible for a flu epidemic or the spread of a disease over which we have no control? There is safety (and financial support) for the powers that be, in reclassification of addictions. So, by altering the terminology and way we think about it from ADDICTION back to HABIT we deflate the power of the addiction and the social hypnosis attached to it. We put it back into our own personal realm of control and personalize it again, which begins the self-empowerment process. Once something is personal we are empowered to make the PERSONAL changes needed to overcome the challenges it presents in our lives. We are no longer victims of it but are the masters of it in whatever manner we are moved to master it.
I would assert that this is very clearly demonstrated by the old saying that one must hit rock bottom before they overcome an addiction. This illustrates to me that it is not when we are at are most powerful, because at that moment of “rock bottom”, most people are often completely crushed, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is not a moment of power and determination. It is a moment of base programming for self-preservation. What makes the change is a simple shift in realization that “This is something I have to do. ME!” It is not in a moment of power over the habit but in a moment of shift in thought and belief. A belief that the “addict” must change his/her thoughts and resulting actions or lose everything. A belief that he/she can take back the control they believe they gave up. It makes no sense to think that this type of shift toward well-being and healing could take place in a period of utter mental/physical/spiritual desolation… But it does. The reason it happens is that the “addictive” thoughts, programs and beliefs become just as broken down as the rest of the mind and spirit. The protective program we were all born with HAS to kick in. It is the only one that is so deeply ingrained in us that it can still operate in such a state.
So, if we work with people facing these types of challenges, it is in the client’s best interest to begin breaking down that addictive thought/belief as early as possible by removing the power of the modern “addiction concept” created by today’s society and returning it to the personal realm of belief that it IS a personal thing. It IS a shift in thought. It is not as powerful as the label we choose to no longer use would imply. If we take away the powerful word from the mix we begin to break down the concept of victimization that much sooner and allow the healing shift to begin.
Have I known and do I know “addicts”? Yes. And their HABITS are something they can overcome when they choose to shift the thought process. Quite remarkably, the physical and emotional effects of addiction can be addressed and overcome through so many different and effective techniques. Many of them are the very same techniques used to help cancer clients be free of side-effects from treatment, or surgical clients heal rapidly without swelling or bruising or those facing allergies to overcome the allergies. It really is quite simple if you look for it to be that way.
Begin the thought shift early by removing the powerful, yet negative terminology and you do a great service to those with challenging habits. It’s all about the words!
“I have smoked since I was 13 years old. I have quit countless times, but this feels different. It’s been over a year now and not once have I wanted a cigarette.” ~ Heather