I’ve seen a lot of fascinating videos and articles lately on addiction.
They’ve been popping up in my Facebook news feed, and I’ve taken great interest in them.
The overall message I get from them is this: There’s a gradual change happening in how we see the nature of addiction.
This week, a TED-talk by journalist Johann Hari showed up in my Facebook news feed*. I decided to watch it and as this charming British gentleman described his findings from his 3-year odyssey into the world of addiction, I smiled ear to ear.
Here was another smart, open-hearted individual that confirmed an idea that is at the heart of the Reclaim your Inner Throne training:
Addiction arises from a lack of love and connection.
* All articles and videos referenced are listed below
“The opposite of addiction”
After making a very convincing argument for his views on addiction, Hari ends his talk with the punchline “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection”. (which may be my most favorite ending to a presentation ever)The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection. – Johann HariClick To Tweet
He has gathered support for this perspective by referencing, among others, Professor Bruce Alexander and his “rat park”-experiment.
In the 1960s, researchers decided to carry out some experiments on lab rats living in tiny “skinner boxes”. These are tiny cages, in which the rats can barely move.
The researchers wanted to see what would happen if they offered the rats plain water and water laced with narcotics.
Which water would the rat choose?
The answer was clear: The rats chose the narcotics-laced water and eventually drugged themselves to death.
This research became a big deal in the media of the time. Drugs were clearly irresistible to rats, and by extension also to human beings.
The research was taken as an alibi for a zero-tolerance policy against drugs. It was used to defend, among other things, draconian sentences against addicts. For the common good of course!
After accepting this research for a while, Alexander had a moment of clarity. He realized that these rats lived lives of solitary confinement, with no room to move around.
He realized that solitary confinement drives people crazy, and proposed that a human being living under the same conditions would choose drugs over sobriety.
To investigate his theory that lack of connection might be the source of the rats’ self-destructive behavior, he built “Rat Park”, a little heaven for rats.
Yet again, the answer was clear: The rats were too busy playing, fucking and having a grand ole time to be interested in getting high.
In another TED-talk (watch it below), Dr. Gabor Mate explains that the brains of children adapt and evolve in response to their environment.
Human beings need hormones like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins to be happy, but when a child is is abused, the human organism will not develop the capacity to produce such hormones.
So when an addict squeezes that delicious heroin into his veins, he is not deliberately bringing about his own destruction; he is experiencing, for a brief moment in time, the happiness of the hormones his body can’t produce, and the feeling of being in connection with something, something that makes him feel good.
Our cultural response to this desperate plea for connection is jail sentences and pariah-status. More disconnection. Observing this, Mate says that if you would design a system to make addiction worse, you’d design the one we have.
In other words, we couldn’t have come up with a worse response to addiction if we tried. Why are we getting this so wrong? And why are we as a society still idealizing that barren, cool promise of “sobriety” over the warmth of human connection?
I think the answer to that is fairly obvious: We don’t know how to connect. And furthermore, it’s too painful for many of us to see the depth of our own loneliness and addiction in the mirror of someone else.
So instead, we stay cool. Distanced. Reasoned. Comfortable.
Man! Tone down your addiction slightly so I can keep escaping myself, will ya?
Words from an addict
Time to get real.
You’re an addict.
As am I.
You’re addicted to your smartphone. Probably to Facebook and e-mail. Maybe to certain ways of thinking and judging. To Netflix or TV. You may be addicted to being the victim. Maybe you are addicted to coffee, nicotine, alcohol.
Plus you may habitually slip choice words into sentences to take the edge off an uneasiness that arises when you don’t, and you likely have repetitive ways of moving parts of your body when your nervous system provides you too much excitement.
Your list of addictions is long. Trust me. (Mine is too. It’s okay.)
And they’re always about getting relief from discomfort.
I got the idea from Christine Caldwell’s book “Getting our Bodies Back” that our addictions are responses to unbearable circumstances.
That definition has never failed me since. If I didn’t notice that I felt lonely, I might wake up to it when, in the middle of consuming food, I realize I’m not hungry.
We become machines of repetition in order to protect ourselves from the pain of being a vulnerable human being.Addiction turns us into machines of repetition, experts at numbing our feelings of vulnerability.Click To Tweet
Yeah, that’s an unpleasant truth.
And here’s another:
Any work you do on yourself is practically a waste of time if you simultaneously ignore your addictions.
Yes, you can go to a workshop and feel as if you’ve done deep work on yourself, but is that because of the power of the work or because you experienced connection?
A bit of both probably.
But then you come home, and the reality of disconnection sets in. Maybe you live alone. Maybe your girlfriend doesn’t want to hang out with you. Maybe your husband doesn’t listen. Maybe you walk down the street and see vacant faces pass you by. Maybe your circle of friends are more into getting numb than getting real.
Whatever it is, you notice your old, addicted self return, and you’re back to where you started.
You then start longing for the next workshop.
We can easily spend a lifetime like this.
Addiction as gateway to initiation
This is the insight that gave birth to Reclaim your Inner Throne: Stripping away addictions puts me face to face with emotions that I have been unwilling to feel. And if I get to experience sufficient no-nonsense love and connection while these painful, traumatic emotions wash over me, I will have a chance of coming through that fire.
It’s a fire of purification, make no mistake. Balls to the wall intense.
“What’s the good thing about this”, you might ask.
The good thing about this is that these fires burn away what separates you from yourself. All the stuff you’ve been running away from finally catches up with you, and you may have a deeply honest moment with yourself, perhaps for the first time in your life.
Yes, my friend, that is the nature of initiation.
You are brought face to face with reality. And it humbles you. (I’ve learned this the hard way.)
Different men react differently to this. I see clear parallels between a man’s level of trauma and the ferocity of his addiction. When these men are brought through the gateways of initiation, they will tend to exhibit destructive, even violent behavior.
In this last training, one man did get violent. Our job as initiators is to be targets for that violence, clearly communicating our boundaries, our anger, our compassion (if we’re that enlightened) while committing to staying in connection.
Other men disconnected. We had to hunt them down, call them on their lone wolf mentality, and bring them back in. Again, we took a stand for connection.
Whatever their way of not feeling, we have to be with them and meet them in it.
And the truly magical part?
As long as we commit to truth and connection in the face of addiction, this process is the breadcrumb trail that leads to our greatest Soul treasure. Our greatest genius tends to be protected by the dragons of our greatest pain.
This is a core principle of Reclaim your Inner Throne.Our greatest genius tends to be protected by the dragons of our greatest pain. Click To Tweet
Rat Park for men 🙂
Reclaim your Inner Throne is part fierce alchemical crucible, part rat park. It ain’t easy work, but the joy that arises as you do it is profound.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Mate, Alexander and Hari approve of the method.
Finding strong confirmation in the world of science for the approach to addiction used in RYIT further strengthens my conviction that what we do here is important.
PS! If you would like to start the work of mapping out your addictions right away, download this addiction guide from inside the training, free of charge. It’s my gift to you.
PPS! There’s way more to RYIT than addiction work.
- The view from Rat Park by Bruce Alexander
- The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think, by Johann Hari (The Huffington Post)