I have worked in the addiction field for 40 years, since I began researching my book, Love and Addiction (1975), about addictive sex and love. I take a non-disease approach, since I find the idea that you are born to be a lifelong addict unhelpful.
I created the Life Process Program for the St. Gregory Retreat Center. Although we deal with substance addictions at St. Gregory, my model of addiction applies to all kinds - gambling, sex, binge eating and anorexia, et al.
Here are the seven elements to our recovery program, ones you can apply to whatever concerns you:
1. It's not the addiction, it's the rest of your life. You've been thinking about that damned addiction for decades, so more thought in that direction has limited value. What you need to think about is fulfillment in the rest of your life - including relationships, work and educational goals, community, life satisfaction. Then the addiction might not just melt away, but it will sure be easier to manage.
2. What do you value? Everyone has a reason to quit. You've thought about how your habit is hurting your health, your self-respect, your family, your career goals - pick one suit in that deck of cards and play it. Run through the connections between what you are doing and what really matters to you. Think of the smoker whose daughter says, "Why are you killing yourself daddy. Don't you love me?"
3. Get in with the in crowd. It is so obvious and it's been repeated so much - but I have to restate it. Hang out with people who behave the way you'd like to, and are the kind of person you'd like to be. If they don't want to spend all night smoking, drinking, and doing lord knows what - well, you'll have to learn to do the kinds of things your role models enjoy. Then, pretty soon, you're like them!
4. It works - I can control myself! Savor the rewards of your new behavior - your new self - the respect, the clean air, the free time, the productivity, the health - the happiness. You can do it - you've done it before, either with this addiction or some other. Pat yourself on the back - you're a mover and a shaker. Just look modest when people ask you how you quit, lost weight, or got going on that health regimen - nobody likes a braggart!
5. Engage your loved ones. It's a fine line between blaming others for - or worse, implicating them in - your addiction. But your life partner and others close to you are keys to recovery. Think about the ways they feed into your habits. Then think harder about how to ask for their help in reversing these patterns - remember, you're requesting help, not accusing them.
6. What's your plan? Being addicted is usually not planned, like those ads that mock the idea of kids saying they want to grow up to be alcoholics. So you have to plan your days, your career, your relationships. I know - you were Mr. or Ms. "What, me worry?" But look where that got you! You need a daily planner; you need a life plan.
7. Aim higher. When you think about an addictive habit, it's so puny, so trivial - feeding your urges, your face. Let's come up with something bigger to focus on. Politics? Poverty? Community? Religion? Art? Your own family and life goals? You tell me what you think is really worth devoting yourself to in life.
And, remember: nothing, nobody is perfect. If you count the people who never take another dance with their monkey - or at least sample some other intoxicant from the one they nailed themselves to a cross on - you don't even have to use all your fingers. The goal is to avoid relapsing into your former addict identity and lifestyle. You can always climb back up, even after you've descended a couple of steps. Just do it!
This is what we do at St. Gregory. Join us at home.
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