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Watch our latest interview as Joe Polish discusses addiction with Dr. Gabor Mate
An Open Letter to Anyone Struggling with Addiction
By Joe Polish
First I want to say how sorry I am that you or someone you love is struggling with addiction. I know firsthand how painful it is. Addiction nearly killed me when I was 18 years old.
What I’ve learned since then is that almost all addiction stems from trauma. This can be difficult for some people to understand; they assume trauma has to mean a person was beaten, molested or in a life-threatening accident. But we all have different levels of sensitivity.
Addiction is something you are driven to do—anything you crave that gives you temporary pleasure or relief but then causes negative consequences. Addiction is something you are unable to give up, despite the suffering it causes.
The challenging thing for people that don’t have this to understand is how someone could have that craving in the first place. They wonder why the addict can’t just make a better choice.
I’m of the belief that addiction is not a choice. Once the addict goes into a craving state, it’s beyond willpower or intelligence. Intelligence can actually be a detriment because the smarter people are, the more they believe they can think their way out of the problem.
What many don’t understand is that addiction isn’t a problem—it’s actually a solution. If you’re in pain, angst, anxiety, fear, rage, depression, sadness, loneliness or experiencing any other form of suffering, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be out of that pain. It’s how we go about scratching the itch that causes the issue.
Ultimately, addiction is a connection disorder. It’s feeling incredibly disconnected and uncomfortable in your own skin. You just want to numb out, or escape. You want to feel something—anything except the dread that comes with that craving state…a state that always has compulsivity or impulsivity attached to it.
Looking at addiction from a state of compassion, as opposed to judgment, is critical. We cannot punish or beat addiction out of somebody. Sure, we can throw people in prison, scold them or run away from them, but that doesn’t help make the cravings go away. Love and compassion are critical—though, of course, those can be difficult emotions to embrace when dealing with addicts. The symptoms of addiction can be ugly; they often involve activities like cheating, disrupting, lying, stealing and other egregious acts. That’s because addicts will do anything to get out of the pain they are in. The addict brain has an appetite for destruction and is fueled more by chaos than harmony. In other words, it’s hard for addicts to feel okay. And it’s not easy to feel compassion for someone who’s leaving shrapnel in their wake. But the more you can understand that the addict is in pain and just trying to get out of it, the easier it can be to deal with the recklessness and chaos that comes with it.
Addiction is also biochemical. You are dealing with serotonin and dopamine. Once you quit the drug or behavior, you may have to fix and repair the gut. You have to get the body back to a state where it produces “feel good” chemicals in order to cope with the uncomfortable feelings. This means exercise, yoga, meditation, float pods, the right nutrition, and more. The issues are in the tissues, and if you can incorporate movement and communities, it can help heal. Building a rapport by being around other addicts is critical. It doesn’t have to be a 12-step meeting; you just need a community—an ongoing, consistent community.
It’s a lot of work—but not nearly as much work as active addiction. And if you’re willing to do the work, there’s freedom on the other side that most addicts and their families probably haven’t ever experienced before. The bottom line: help is available. There are many people and resources available at little or no cost.