Compulsive Behaviors & Addictions
At some point, many skillful people find they are eating, shopping, exercising or checking email compulsively. Or there may be a pattern of skin-picking, hair-pulling, or other self-harming behavior. Or a pattern of self-neglect or substance use which resists efforts to control it. I emphasize that skillful people get caught in these patterns- because so often we judge ourselves and feel shame about it. Instead of shaming ourselves for being human, a more compassionate view is that the human nervous system is highly susceptible to pattern-building; addiction is simply a pattern of conditioned response. It’s how the system works: It helps us learn languages and memorize things, but it also can create addiction. Addiction has nothing to do with lack of intelligence or will power. These behaviors often begin in childhood, as a way of self-soothing, when more appropriate soothing wasn’t available. It’s crucial to have compassion for ourselves that like everyone else, we are vulnerable to addiction.
But the good news is that these patterns are re-trainable. My practice specializes in providing a balanced array of treatment options, drawing on traditional and less-traditional sources.
Since addiction is partly physical and partly emotional, mind/body treatments are especially relevant. The addictive urge is often felt as a physical sensation or agitation in the body combined with an idea of how to relieve it. Many clients benefit from learning ways to steady the nervous system with relaxation and breathwork drawn from yoga and meditation.
What is not often well understood is that yoga is a tradition of self-mastery of the nervous system. Though it has morphed into a trendy form of exercise, it was originally intended to teach self-control, primarily through breathwork and education about how the mind and body work. Instead of relying on talk therapy alone, people who learn yoga-based self-regulation have a set of hands-on tools. Similarly, the meditation tradition has long taught how to stop unhelpful behaviors.
These methodologies work directly with the physical and mental aspect of the craving. Mind/body tools, combined with 12-step work and, if appropriate, counseling and psychiatric supports, make a powerful set of resources. Even if you’ve sought help many times previously and had limited success, it’s important to know there are additional tools available which can help you tip the balance to reducing and eventually stopping the addiction.
I’ve intentionally cultivated a flexible structure in my counseling practice that allows for these more ‘holistic’ forms of support. For some clients, that means longer meetings to allow time to practice new skills and make therapy more proactive and less theoretical. Many find the key to success is having a structure and a support person to develop the new behaviors with. For this reason I offer a more comprehensive form of support- sobriety coaching, which may involve home visits, daily phone calls, and creation of a personalized daily recovery plan.
One of the best resources for addiction is the 12-step programs. Though it can be scary to consider attending a 12-step meeting, many find that the wealth of resources available is well worth the discomfort. I can provide support and guidance in taking these initial steps toward exploring the 12-step groups as an option.
Success in dealing with any addiction tends to be more about taking action than understanding the cause of the problem. A crucial piece to keep in mind is that setbacks are an inevitable part of the process. We learn not to judge ourselves if we slip back into an old behavior temporarily- the judgement only adds to the suffering!
Please feel free to contact me for an initial confidential consultation about options and how to get started.