Willpower can only take you so far
I have an admission: I’m addicted to several drugs. I’ve been strung out for years.
I’m coming clean.
My drugs aren’t substances like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. But I take them for the same reasons as any junkie does, and they have the same effect.
It’s the same for you, too. You’ll see.
Any time I need an escape, I smoke books, snort online Chess, and inject smartphone.
Understand this: Drugs are anything you consume or any action you take to numb out or escape any experience in the present moment.
What we try to numb out can be as harmless as boredom, or as malicious as abuse.
But whatever the reason, drugs are what we turn to and cling to in order to avoid the experience. We may block the pain, but in doing so we also stifle insights, prevent joy, and never get our real needs met.
Drugs can be as simple as junk food (or any food for that matter), TV, Facebook, or sleep. Or they can be as destructive as online gambling or pornography.
Do you know your drug of choice?
Don’t tell me you don’t have one. Everyone has at least one.
What do you habitually turn to when you’re bored, when you get triggered, when you’re in pain, when you’re tired, when you feel depressed?
The point isn’t to nail you to the wall. It’s not to judge, blame, shame, or criticize. It’s to help you gain insight into yourself, identify your unmet needs, and figure out how to actually meet them.
The illusion is that the drug will meet your needs, but it is in fact the very thing that prevents you from ever meeting your needs.
This is why shaking the habit isn’t about willpower. It’s not about shaming yourself into submission.
It’s about mindfully exploring why and when you take your drug to figure out the need you’re trying to meet.
Once you figure that out, the habit takes care of itself. You simply meet the real need and you no longer feel the need to take the counterfeit drug.
It’s about far more than resisting the urge. It’s about looking at and exploring your habit non-judgmentally — just seeing it as it is bringing an objective curiosity to bear on it.
You can deny yourself your drug through willpower all you want. That’s healthy, to a certain extent.
But until you identify and meet the underlying need, the urge will always remain. It will be a constant battle, and the relentless temptation will eventually and inevitably wear you down.
The common and simple explanations for a person who indulges in pornography is that his willpower is weak and he has a sinful nature. The deeper, more complex truth is that he has an underlying unmet need.
I’m not justifying the behavior, mind you. I’m simply saying that traditional explanations give us very little insight into actually dealing with the behavior.
With traditional explanations, the answer is to beat the temptation and break the habit — while the unmet need stays under the radar.
Once you’ve identified and accepted your addiction, the first and most important question isn’t, How can I overcome this? but rather, Why am I drawn to this? In other words, What need am I trying to meet with this drug?
The addiction itself is either an aversion to a painful experience or a clinging to a desired feeling. And any internal fight does nothing but feed the aversion and clinging.
You’re not bad for taking your drug; you’re suffering.
- Recognize and accept that you have a problem. If you don’t know your drug of choice, look deeper. It’s there.
- Don’t judge, blame, or shame yourself for your drug. Just examine your habit non-judgmentally.
- Ask yourself, What need am I trying to meet by taking this drug? How can I actually meet the need?
- Then meet the real need.
You’ll no longer need to fight the addiction, because it will no longer be there.
It’s not about overcoming the addiction. It’s about meeting the need that the addiction both conceals and reveals.