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"...recovery from addiction does not mean a "cure" for a disease but the creation of new resources, internal and external, that can support different, healthy ways of satisfying one's genuine needs." Dr. Gabor Mate
April Newsletter from Pyxis Counselling Services
The growth and newness in nature at this time of year provide a lovely reminder of the potential for growth and change in our lives.  I know I appreciate this time of year for many reasons, and feel grateful to work in a field in which I am able to witness amazing changes in people's lives.  Nowhere is this more true than in working with people with addictions issues.  This month's article covers a few of the themes that come up for people in this area.

Addiction Q and A
Addiction is such a complex and multi-layered issue, but it seems that there are some common thoughts that come up in this realm.  Addiction in a broad sense can come in many forms.  Whether it is addiction to substances such as alcohol or drugs, or behavioural addictions such as shopping, gambling, eating, or playing video games, the following concepts apply to all.  Plus, for people to be at a place where they are able to reflect on these questions, they would need to be in a stage of contemplation.  Have a look back at the December newsletter for an overview of the stages that we go through when making changes in our lives.
1. How do I know if I'm addicted to something?
In his book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction", Dr. Gabor Mate defines addiction this way, "Addiction is any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others" (p. 128)  So to ask, "How is this substance/behaviour/activity impacting my life?" can be a place to start in considering whether it's a problem.  There may be consequences in any area of life, such as personal relationships, finances, work performance or attendance, physical health, or in simply having a sense of control over one's actions or behaviour.  If the negative consequences of something are outweighing the positives, or what is gained from it, then it might be a problem.  Another question to consider is: "If I asked those closest to me, would they say that I have an addiction?"

Often addiction is thought of as a clear cut category that people either fall into or not.  For alcohol use it would be having to choose one of the following: 
a) I am an alcoholic
b) I am not an alcoholic 

Another way to look at it is in degrees along a line or continuum.  At one end would be abstaining or not drinking at all, and at the other end is dependency or addiction.  
not drinking                       non-problem use                         misuse                        dependence/addiction
Identifying where on the continuum you fall, and in which direction you're heading, can be another way to look at the issue.   
2. I just need more willpower and then I can beat this addiction, right?
Often, when people come to a point of seeking help, they may say something like, "I thought I could quit or deal with this on my own, but it's just not working and I need some help".  And very often along with statement comes a feeling of shame.  (The difference between guilt and shame is that with guilt it's "I feel bad,", with shame it's "I am bad".)  Healing from the shame associated with addiction will be an important part of the process of recovery or change.  

Often a lot of damage has been done to people's sense of self-worth when they feel like they are not in control of themselves, and have tried to make changes but haven't been successful.  Much of the behaviour surrounding an addiction, such as hiding it and lying to others can add to the sense of shame.  However, addiction is not a moral failing or a character flaw.   There are differing thoughts about what causes addiction, but it appears that healing involves not only the determination to make changes, but also asking for help and support in the process, and being open to exploring the emotional dynamic that is part of the cycle of addiction.

3. I was doing better there for a bit but then went back to my old behaviour, does this mean it's all over?
Relapse is part of the process of making a change, so in fact it is a learning opportunity rather than a failure.  If someone has successfully made some changes but then falls back into the addictive behaviour, it's easy to become discouraged and give up even trying.  People can again get tangled in shame as they feel defeated or think that they just haven't tried hard enough to maintain change.  Addiction is a powerful cycle involving every aspect of a person's thoughts, feelings and behaviour, so to expect that it should be as straightforward as:

"I know drinking/gambling/internet use is hurting me therefore I should stop or cut down" and then think that this will automatically happen does not take into account the complexity of the issue.  If it was that easy there would be no need for addictions counsellors!  Information gathered from a relapse can help with the overall process - "What was different on that particular day that I ended up drinking again?  What else would I have needed at that point to avoid the slip?"

There is always hope and an opportunity to make changes in a healthy direction, no matter how entrenched an addiction might be.  The process of recovery and healing is going to look a bit different for each person because of the complex nature of addiction and the uniqueness of individuals.  Have a look at the Resources page on my website for some books and websites that provide information about addiction and addictions services.  

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback that you might have about this article.  Enjoy the beauty of spring, and I will look forward to connecting with you again next month!

Susie Merz MC, RCC


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