Saturday, March 20, 2010

Careless Love

We are quick to profess the depth of our love for people, ideals, things. We rarely question the validity of our beliefs in the light of reason. Addictive behavior is often grounded in a sense of love. Yet this love is often centered around fear, fear of loss, fear of being deprived of the object of our desire. One would think that true love couldnt care less. Then what is the logic behind this kind of love?

The first step towards breaking an addictive relationship, be it with a substance, object, institution, ideal or person, is to identify it as dependence and not love. This is incredibly painful and difficult, since our belief system, our self esteem, our self image, our sense of meaning and purpose seem inextricably linked with the object of our so-called love.

I have had the good fortune of having had to battle addictions for a very large part of my life. I say good fortune for a number of reasons. I have learned in the most painful way possible what a true loving relationship is all about. I have learned, often at the cost of chaos and disaster not just in my life but in the lives of my significant others, to value wisdom, faith, courage and prudence, to delay gratification, to acknowledge the value of pain, and appreciate the gifts of joy and contentment. Heavy stuff!! But truly, that is what it boils down to. In the course of my journey, I have been blessed with fortitude, gratitude, and contentment, gifts not easy to come by.

Pain and fear are at the crux of all addictions, the pain of loss, the fear of deprivation. Once one is able to see what lies at the core of one's love for a particular behavior, relationship or substance, it becomes easy to understand whether that love is life defeating or life enhancing. True love can entail pain as part of the journey, but it will also be accompanied by life enhancing vistas. Our organisms are built in a way that cannot experience the surrender of love to anything or anyone that does not sustain and enhance life.

Why then does a fix of a drug, or the rush of sex, or the thrill of vandalism feel so much like love? If one gets real, it doesn't, but the truth of that reality is so painful, that the mind deceives oneself into only processing the pleasurable short term memories of that experience. The cellular memory pushes the painful memory of heroin withdrawal into the subconscious, and only remembers how good the high feels. The compulsive shoplifter forgets the beatings or the humiliation and only remembers the feeling of power and victory when he emerges from the store unharmed and with a heavier pocket. The body knows the pain of withdrawal, the sex addict knows the hollowness that follows every conquest, the shoplifter knows the consequences of being caught, yet the pain of accepting that reality is so great, the fear of accepting the truth is so strong, that the mind tells itself that accepting that truth is as good as self destruction, and that must not be allowed. Thus starts the web of self deceit that is commonly called denial.

The only way to break denial is to starve it. Starve it of the need to defend itself unrealistically. Starve it by putting it face to face with the deprivation that it fears. This means an absolute and complete break with the object of the addictive relationship, be it a person, place or thing. It is common to seek medical management for substances like drugs or alcohol. For other addictions, a supportive environment may involve forced abstinence from the object of addiction.

The initial period is one of physical mental stabilization where the mind and body learn to relate with the environment without the filter of the object of addiction. While substances are much easier to manage in that withdrawals from them, and stabilization thereof are much more manifest, and easier to measure and monitor, addictive behaviors and relationships require much more intensive, prolonged and careful handling. When an addictive pattern has been established over years, it is impractical to expect it to reverse or disappear in weeks or months.

A lot of treatment protocols, especially in countries where regulation of mental health services are lax or missing, involve forced abstinence and involuntary confinement. Is it right? At the cost of being considered insensitive to the plight of affected families and loved ones, I will loudly say, no. I am aware of many cases where the patient is incapable of making choices that will save his life and spare the lives of his family, and it may seem the more humane thing to do. I will still hold that there are professional interventions that can be arranged that will allow a person the right to choose a life saving course of action.

Abstinence from the behavior is not treatment by itself, it is only a starting point. It is not always essential that one need to undergo formal confinement, therapy or treatment in order to overcome an addictive pattern. However, it would appear to be the most useful and one that seems to assure some certainty of long term health.

My experiences in India, in Kolkata, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, with treatment modalities, interventional approaches, as well as self help groups, including the 12 step fraternity, have shown me that most protocols presume a return to the addictive pattern as an essential part of the process, thereby assuring that the afflicted addict never gets to look at a life where he can rise above the addictive patterns he is already crippled by.

The most basic premise that all treatment protocols work with is that addiction is a disease of relapse and the recovery from addiction has to center around building a behavior pattern that prevents a relapse. If the foundation is based on accepting the futility of trying, however much one builds upward, collapse and failure are already built into the system. One needs instead to look at understanding the addictive pattern in the relationship, in the love, in the longing, and to re-evaluate it in the light of reason and faith, through the filter of values different from those that led to the delusion of love in the first place, and to replace those patterns with patterns that will contribute to life and not detract from it, that will lead to victory for all, not misery and defeat. This cannot be done overnight or with a few weeks of therapy. This has to be hand held by a long term commitment to battle our old brains, to challenge our darkness, to risk venturing into the light, and to shiver and thrill in the joy of being the light.

Mean Business, or Secret Chords, is simultaneously my efforts to heal from my addictive patterns and to be the light to those who are on their way. I have been processing this for way too long and it is likely that when I write, I may have taken some things for granted as accepted or acceptable to the reader when it really might be vague or poorly communicated. Please do let me know if there is anything I need to be more explicit about.

If you are a person with questions about addictive behavior, please share your journey here. you can post a comment or you can email me at subhorup at gmail dot com.

No comments:

Post a Comment