What makes your habits tick?

Unhealthy habits cause pain. Both to those who suffer from them and to the people around them.   If we accept the common view that addiction is an incurable “disease”, how encouraging is this?  And most of all, is it true?

There was a day in each of our lives when we were free from the habits we are suffering from today. A day when the first seed was planted out of which grew the behavior or the thinking that is bothering us today; whether it’s the first drink, the first cigarette, the first line of cocaine, the first shot of heroin, the first cut, the habit of over- and/or undereating, obsessive thinking or phobic fears.

Why is it, that over time this seed turned into a pattern, a habit, that is so hard to get rid of. It is this question that we must ask ourselves to get to the root of the problem. And it is the answer that is at the root of recovery.

Uncovering the perceived benefits of habits is the beginning of recovery

If you are aware of the unhealthy habit in yourself or in someone else ask yourself this: what do I get out of it? There has to be some perceived benefit to it. Why else would the habit be there.  The problem is that in many cases the individual is no longer aware of this benefit. We have to go back to that first time, when the seed was planted so to speak,  to understand how this works.

So go back in time. And try to remember the “first time”.

What happened? When we had our first alcoholic beverage? Were we overcome with a euphoric feeling, of belonging to the group we were in? Did it give us a wonderful “buzz”, did we finally feel “grown-up”? When we had our first cigarette, did we feel like we belonged with the “big guys”, were we accepted amidst their ranks? When we were “high” for the first time, how did we feel? Did we have an incredible sexual experience? Or – on a more subtle level – when we lost weight, did we get complimented or did we feel pride? When we cut ourselves for the first time did the pain make us somehow feel better? When we screamed at the top of our lungs when we saw a spider in our bedroom, or when we woke up from a nightmare, were we immediately surrounded with the loving and caring attention of our parents or a loved one?

Try to really mentally picture the whole situation of this first time.

What we have to realize is that our behavior centers around the so-called pleasure and pain principle. We like to feel pleasure and we want to avoid pain.

When we apply this to our “first time” what pleasure and pain factors come into play.

Were we craving attention (pain) from older kids or from our parents? And did drinking, smoking, cutting or losing weight give us soemthing we were lacking (pleasure)? Were we afraid in the dark at night (pain) and did screaming cause our parents to show up by the side of our beds and have us sleep in theirs (pleasure). Did we feel left out at school or were we bullied (pain) and did excelling in sports or math make us popular (pleasure). It did in some way. It made us feel better. That was our reward. And each subsequent time we felt “pain” we did it again, to have that “pleasure” again. Than one day, it didn’t work. So what do we do. Try it again, more, in larger quantities or more often. And yes, sometimes that worked. We learn that the behavior gives us pleasure. We mentally equal the behavior to pleasure. We believe in it. A belief that over time becomes engraved in our thinking. A belief, a conviction so strong that it makes us deny the negative consequences. Our belief distorts our perception of reality. What once was a reality has turned into a belief in an illusion. The benefit we still believe in is precisely what causes our pain and suffering. And remember: we want to perceive what we believe.

In my opinion addiction is not a disease. It is mistaken behavior. Mistaken because it is based on what we wrongly perceive as benefits. And mistakes in perception can be corrected by changing our beliefs, by changing the way we think, by embracing the undeniable truth of reality.

It is obvious that unhealthy habits can cause a variety of diseases (liver or kidney failure, brain damage, dehydration, etc.) and it is equally obvious that these consequences may require medical care.  But let’s acknowledge that  they actually are the symptoms of the unhealthy habit and not its cause.

By carefully and thoroughly looking at the sometimes very subtle pleasure and pain factors we can become aware of the root, the origin of the behavior that is causing us pain and suffering now.

In previous posts I have discussed how our own mind and our own perception stands in the way of seeing this clearly.

As long as we believe in the illusion that the unhealthy habit gives us pleasure or that it helps us to avoid pain, we will behave and choose accordingly.

The fact that you are reading this post may be a telling sign that you are beginning to change this belief and that you are lifting the veil of illusion.

A very helpful way of making yourself aware of this illusion is this:

How much pleasure is your habit truly and honestly giving you lately? I think I know the answer… and it is the first step towards your recovery.

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