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Addiction: The Sacred Disease

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Another shining star has fallen from the entertainment firmament and the world is left a little less bright, a little less beautiful, a little less magnificent. Addiction has claimed another brilliant soul and we are left to wonder: How did this happen? How could someone so gifted, so talented, so accomplished, so successful, throw it all away for drugs and/or alcohol? What possesses a person to reach for a drink, a bottle of pills, a syringe of dope, when they know what it can do to them?

They've seen other incredible artists disappear down the rabbit hole of addiction -- they've seen friends and colleagues die tragic, untimely deaths -- but still they pick up the drugs. They go for the high, the fix, the hit -- a little something to help them make it through the night.

I know what makes them do it... because I'm an addict, too. Pills, booze, cocaine, amphetamines, compulsive overeating, compulsive spending, crazy dangerous addictive relationships -- been there, done that.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, a self-confessed "hopeless nicotine addict" who struggled with bouts of depression, and author of The Road Less Traveled, offered the best analysis of addiction I've ever heard during a lecture he gave in 1991, "Addiction: The Sacred Disease."

Dr. Peck's thesis:

At birth, humans become separated from Source, from God. We are all aware of our separation, but some of us are more sensitive to it than others. We sensitive souls feel an emptiness, a longing, what many of us refer to as "a hole in my soul." We sense that something is missing but don't know what it is. We long for relief from the aching void inside ... but we're confused about what will ease our existential dis-ease.

At some point in our lives (often quite young) we stumble across something that eases our discomfort and makes us feel better. For some it's alcohol; for others it's drugs; for still others it's gambling, sex, compulsive spending, Internet porn, or some other substance (or activity) that hits the spot. "Ahh," we sigh, "I've found what's been missing. This is the answer to my problems. I feel so much better!" We have discovered our new best friend -- our drug of choice.

In his psychiatry practice, Dr. Peck treated a number of alcoholics and addicts. Peck said that compulsive/addictive people, as a group, are more sensitive, more intelligent and more creative than the general population. Peck observed that it is precisely our sensitive/intelligent/creative nature that makes us more susceptible to alcohol, drugs and other addictions.

Addicts feel everything so intensely -- as if our nerves are on the outside of our skin, rather than the inside. Addicts are restless, irritable and discontent. Many of us feel almost like aliens -- disconnected from family, friends and community. We sense we are "different" in some way from everyone else -- we don't feel like we fit into the normal world.

Addicts vacillate between self-loathing and grandiosity. We are plagued by self-doubt, insecurities, anxiety and filled with fears, resentments, guilt, and/or shame. We aren't comfortable in our own skin. Life is just too intense, too difficult, too stressful to endure without some form of self-medication.

Peck suggests that what addicts/alcoholics are really hungry for is Spirit... but we settle for spirits. Alcohol is a form of "cheap grace" -- as are all drugs. What we addicts really yearn for is a connection to God, alignment with the Holy, reunion with the Divine. It is a deeply spiritual hunger -- a longing to go home, back to Source.

However, we are confused about what we're longing for, so we go looking for love in all the wrong places: a bottle of booze, prescription pills, a syringe of dope, a casino, a pack of smokes, compulsive spending, Internet porn, or the bed of a new lover. We addicts will reach for anything to take the edge off, to smooth out life's rough spots, to numb the pain, to help us deal with life.

In my personal experience and that of my addict friends, Peck's analysis is right on target. If you want to know what drives bright, talented, creative, intelligent people into addiction, the most important thing to understand is this: Addicts just want to feel better.

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BJ Gallagher is a sociologist and author of over two dozen books, includingWhy Don't I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me?