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Armed With Food

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

The words “armed with food….” flashed through my awareness while I was swimming a few days ago. I was astonished to hear these words (and immediately feel the connection in my belly).

When I sat later with my notebook, so I could write things down, and looked for the end of that sentence, I heard, Armed with food … I can face my life, can feel safely supported (I don’t need other people, money, or other things to support me). I’m then self-supporting/ self-sufficient; well, as long as I have food! But actually then I’m “food-supported,” “food-sustained.”

Continuing with the inquiry, I asked, “So how does food support me in terms of creating safety?” The answer arose: Food supports me by giving me a sense of assurance (the full belly sensation).

So I sat with the sensation in my belly and asked, “Is that sensation assurance?” Yes, it feels like the full belly sensation is actually assurance.

Next I asked, “Is there a danger or threat in not having a full belly?” Yes, I’m starving for assurance!”

This last response took me back to my failed marriage, years ago. There I found a sense of No matter what I do, I’m going to lose my marriage, and I have no assurance that anything else will work either. I had tried every possible way I could imagine to save my marriage and it still failed. A happy marriage and family were the most important things to me in early adulthood. I sensed that there was something deeply deficient in me.

Feeling into this “deficient me,” it became clear that I wanted desperately to have confidence, to be “armed with assurance” that I could be okay in every situation life would bring, that I would be able to handle whatever would come my way. I wanted a firm identity that was confident and capable and knew for certain that she would be fine.

As I allowed this desperate wanting to be felt, I was reminded of a sense of stillness deep down inside myself, and spent some time resting in that deep stillness. Lo and behold, the whole sense of “me” seemed to dissolve there, in that stillness, along with the need for assurance.

I realized this stillness to be my true nature, in a way, and that it was my only experience so far in life that offered a real sense of assurance. Such irony, I almost laughed – finding assurance mandates that I let go of “me” altogether!

I felt invited to keep exploring this sense of stillness, and see if I really needed to be armed with food, or anything else besides that inner stillness.

Willpower And Food

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  Something sweet is happening along my path of mindfulness with eating.

Using the Living Inquiries or other tools to help unravel an addiction with food is tricky in the sense that it’s not possible to totally abstain from eating. My relationship with food and eating for emotional comfort has provided some great teachings over my lifetime. I would do well using willpower for a while with a new diet, with the new intentions and restrictions, and then somewhere along the line I would give up as it became impossible to stay restricted over the long haul. Many times I lost weight, and then later gained it all back.

Recently I was noticing this failure of mine to use willpower to manage my eating. With willpower I can feel a contraction in my gut as I steel my will to power through with something, to force compliance of this naughty and weak self that can’t seem to accomplish the simplest things sometimes.

What came to me then is so lovely – an intention to investigate using, instead of willpower, a sense of “willingness” – to simply ask myself with respect and compassion, “What am I willing to do in this moment?”

I am truly amazed at the difference I feel, talking to myself in this kind and gentle way, opening to sweet possibilities. Willingness offers choices in each moment rather than the strict adherence to certain rules. Each moment brings new possibilities.

I’m noticing a willingness to consider things like, “How will I feel in half an hour if I eat this?” and wanting to feel light and strong. There is a sense of spaciousness with willingness that seems missing with willpower. Instead of holding myself stiffly within set boundaries, there is open space in which to create a new and gentler pathway.

In this way, “will” is still being engaged, but in a much gentler and more respectful way, which allows speaking to myself with loving kindness, such as when I slip and overeat, “It’s okay – no problem. Perfection is not required….” With “willingness” there is room to breathe, and smile.

The Living Inquiries process is allowing me to feel kindness towards myself, to quiet the judgmental thinking. It may take a bit longer to dissolve the compulsive behavior – using willingness rather than willpower – as there are many thought patterns, emotions and sensations to inquire into; but in the long run I am hopeful the results will be lasting.

In the meantime, the process itself is heartening, as I gradually learn to love myself.

Innocence

By Greg Ascue.   One thing I like to communicate to people about addictive and compulsive tendencies is how innocent, predictable, and natural some of this is. Humans are born with the biochemical capability to become addicted. We are born into existence with deep, built in impulses to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. At a certain level, it’s almost mechanical. At this level, what happens is simply the body’s attempt to protect, preserve, and enhance life. These impulses influence almost everything we do. Knowing this helps (I believe) with inquiry work. Understanding and accepting how this all works allows one to go further in working with addiction. Accepting the innocence I am speaking of, frees us to address what really needs to be addressed.

These impulses provide motivation that is integral to survival (they even provide the motivation to thrive). The flight, fight, freeze response is built into our reptilian brain. We don’t have to think about avoiding a truck barreling down upon us. We just jump, it just happens. This jumping from danger is initiated prior to our having to think about it. Without this inborn response, the human population would be dramatically reduced. Correspondingly, the impulse to seek pleasure is built into this deeper part of our existence. Examples of this impulse are hunger and sexual desire. Without eating an individual would die, without engaging in sex humankind would die out. Another function of this biochemistry is to keep everything in balance (neither too much or too little pleasure – stimulation or sedation). This balancing is protective in nature, it prevents extreme occurrences (internally and externally) from affecting us too much.

It is because we have these inborn impulses and biochemical systems that addiction can occur. The process of addiction (regardless whether it is an addiction to a substance or a behavior) hijacks these natural biochemical systems. In a peculiar way, almost all we do is addiction-like because addiction is based on this same natural motivational biochemistry that drives much of everything else. The underlying biochemistry of eating and sex is very similar to the biochemistry of hyper-stimulating addictive behaviors and substances (although less pronounced). The problem here is the hyper-stimulation.

This hyper-stimulation disrupts the natural pleasure systems of the brain (and central nervous system). In the presence of hyper-stimulation, the brain seeks to regulate, and normalize (balance) the amount of pleasure being experienced. This balancing is achieved via habituation and desensitization. In the presence of too much stimulation and sedation (pleasure) for a prolonged period the brain (via the processes of habituation and desensitization) reduces the pleasure centers in the brain, reducing some of some of the receptors necessary to experience pleasure. When the hyper-stimulation is removed, people are left with less capability to experience pleasure thus becoming less capable of dealing with the normal stresses of life. This leads to an increase in the craving for pleasure (and less capability to deal with the lack of it). It is all very natural.

Overlaying these underlying natural systems is the sense of self and all of the learning, memories, and conditioning associated with this sense of self. This self is unfindable (in the sense that we use the word unfindable in the Living Inquiries). People, at some (perhaps unconscious) level, seem to know this. They know that they have an unfindable, mistaken identity, that life is not what it seems to be (or “should” be). This mistaken identity tends to foster suffering (to some varying degree). Because of this mistaken identity people invariably feel a certain amount of insecurity, anxiety, and fear (a natural response to “danger”).  Because of this insecurity, anxiety, and fear, people naturally seek pleasure to compensate. Unfortunately, this pleasure is often sought through hyper-stimulating ways – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, porn, shopping. But not knowing the source of the issue the pleasure, inevitably, does not bring about a permanent end to suffering. The pleasure fades. Then people tend to turn again to what gave temporary pleasure. Thus, the addiction cycle is born. The biochemistry is thrown off.

This cycle also leads to an increase of negative stories about the “mistaken” identity (I’m weak, I’m an addict, I’m a victim, I’m being threatened, the stress is too much to handle, etc.) adding impetus to the addiction cycle. It’s a vicious cycle.

In my experience, understanding and accepting the innocence of our bodies is a powerful step in working with addiction. My body did the best it could through (at times) almost overwhelming circumstances. When I consider, it I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the body’s efforts to perpetuate this life. The war with this physical existence can end. With this kind of gratitude, the inquiries can help provide freedom from addiction by working with the overlaid negative stories (and all the consequences of those stories). With this freedom one can allow what is natural to re-balance and re-generate. The pleasure centers can grow again and the receptors necessary to experience pleasure can re-generate. Via neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to heal and adapt) one can return to a more optimal place. The innocence can be re-born. Life can spring anew.