One of the themes that often come up when dealing with addictions is the tendency for self-destruction – when the drive to use drugs, alcohol or other compulsive activities renders a person unable to stop that behaviour but to spiral faster and faster into destroying himself. Why do some people seem to have this need to destroy themselves? What can they do to break out of this obsessive drive that seems to grip them so powerfully?
Whether a person is dealing with an obsession with drugs, alcohol, money, sex or food, the nature of this obsession is the same. The greed for more (in quantity, frequency and intensity) escalates as the person breaks down more and more boundaries that have previously defined what kept him safe. These boundaries may relate to the physical body (what is and isn’t acceptable for what we do to our body), social circle (who is and isn’t appropriate for us to hang out with), our moral codes (what behaviours we will and won’t accept from ourselves), and our dignity (what we will and won’t tolerate from others). Deep in the throes of addiction, gripped by obsession, we cross that line again and again, pushing our boundaries further and further away from us.
These internal boundaries, which once prevented us from hurting ourselves and others, now can no longer keep our behaviours in check. We’ve freed ourselves from our own protection and left the door wide open for careless indulgence in our drug, and we descend madder and madder into a tight, small hole of existence where the only thing that keeps us going is more drugs, even when it’s become obvious that we are destroying ourselves by continuing in that cycle. Our mind directs this breaking-down of our boundaries, it has a life of its own and we can’t do anything to stop it from running our lives.
Or is it? Are we really that powerless against our own mind? If the mind is such a feared entity, then to conquer addiction we must find a more powerful adversary to fight the mind’s war of self-annihilation. But before I get into that, let’s look at what makes the mind do what it does in promoting self-destruction.
A lack of self-worth, while cliché-sounding, is a good place to start. If you had a total conviction of the true worth of yourself, you would not be driven to hurt yourself. If, on the other hand, you have any doubt about your true worth, an inkling that you might not be worth much at all, that small seed of doubt can be massaged into a full-grown conviction of your unworthiness when the mind provides enough evidence for it.
When you are lacking self-worth, you’d tend to believe that you do not deserve to experience positive things and to sabotage the good that you do have. This pattern might have been kept under wraps in normal circumstances but in the throes of addiction when the evidence stacks up with each episode of using, it becomes increasingly exaggerated until you are literally attempting to destroy yourself.
Guilt and shame about past or present behaviours can cloud a person’s view of herself. They promote a self-punishing mindset. Guilt makes you look for punishments, and when it is not apparently forthcoming from others, you tend to inflict that punishment on yourself. This is especially prevalent in situations where you are keeping a secret – if only you are aware of what you have done, then that punishment can only come from yourself. That guilt which only you are aware of can drive you to subconsciously inflict damage on yourself. Like guilt, shame makes you want to punish yourself – if you feel that the person you are is unacceptable, then you would tend to seek punishment, or punish yourself.
Unresolved anger is another emotion that promotes a self-punishing mindset. When you’re angry with someone, eventually you will take it out on yourself. If you have a tendency to be passive or passive-aggressive (i.e. instead of asserting your feelings you keep them to yourself to avoid confrontation, but the feelings remain in you), your anger will likely build up until you explode in a fury against others. A lot of times, however, you will seek ways to deal with that anger before you explode, and one of the easiest ways we know is to punish ourselves. Sometimes, even when we have asserted ourselves, we are still left with the feeling that justice has not been restored. In the absence of a way to right the wrong, we berate ourselves for not being able to ‘fix’ the situation. Why can’t I handle this? you scream inside. Your mind begins to find a list of reasons, usually about you being a failure, inadequate or stupid. That anger is eventually turned against you.
These underlying beliefs and attitudes towards yourself give rise to a mentality of self-punishment, which if unexplored can drive you to destroy yourself. Trapped in the cycle of self-destruction, you generate more emotional pain and mental anguish, until there seem to be no escape or respite.
Spirit is the true direction. It is the true power. The mind is nothing compared to spirit. Spirit can befriend the mind to take away some of its power. The mind can absorb the influence of the spirit’s magical pureness and transform itself to be outward expanding, taking us to a positive outlook. Spirit can lift us from the mind’s manipulations and show us a better way of being, that there is a more worthwhile pursuit other than destroying ourselves. Spirit can wipe out the mind’s ego trip.
There’s a hidden element in our path of self-annihilation – an attempt to find out what is left after we’ve destroyed ourselves. It’s our unconscious search for spirit, guided by a belief that there must be something more than just this form of existence that we know of. But we go about it the wrong way – we fight, we conquer, we destroy, when the way to spirit is to relax all resistance, give up all judgements and see what’s left there. Spirit is found not by doing something but by undoing. If you simply relax into being, you will see and feel spirit right here. It has always been here.
Pick any scene you like. Coming to in a drunken mess. Stuffing yourself with food uncontrollably until your stomach aches. Screaming at your loved ones when they try to show their love to you. Locked in a compulsion to buy more and more to make you feel better about yourself. In each of these scenarios, you’re bound to be left in a state of self-loathe and self-pity, with hopelessness draining the life out of you.
No matter how hopeless you feel, look for the tiny spark of light within you. At first, you may only sense a vague, dim spot among the darkness. Focus on it, until it grows bigger, and bigger, and it overwhelms your entire being. This spark is your all-healing spirit. Inside of us, there is a part of us that has remained pure and sacred no matter what kinds of trauma we’ve experienced in life. I call it our Sacred Self. In all our struggles and turmoils, we tend to see ourselves as damaged; to see that there is a part of us that is uncorrupted, unpolluted, untouched by it all can be very healing. Once you acknowledge this part of you, it will expand, and very quickly, you’ll be able to see your situation more clearly, ideas will come to you as options to get yourself out of your situation, and you won’t feel so lost and forsaken anymore.