“Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.” — Rabindranath Tagore
Life can be wonderful, grand, and exciting – at least, at times. But those moments are more the exception than the rule. More often, life is full of drudgery, boredom, pain, and sorrow. “Fun” is precisely “fun” because it is so rare. Disappointment, pain, sorrow, and other negative emotions are strangers to no one in life who is truly honest with himself or herself. As Dr. M. Scott Peck once said:
“Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
LifeStar of the Central Valley understands and embraces the truth that amidst life’s difficulties, we can find happiness and joy, healing and growth – but not while clutched in the throes of addiction’s grasp. We cannot be happy in addiction, rather, we find happiness from addiction when we forsake and overcome our tendencies to run away, numb out, avoid, or escape life’s difficulties through acting out behavior. All addiction, including pornography and other forms of sexual addiction, have one essential feature in common: we either don’t know how to or don’t want to deal with a negative emotion so we try to avoid or assuage the pain with something like sex, alcohol, gambling, food, drugs, compulsive shopping, or other substances or processes. But those substances and processes don’t ever solve our problems. They just “kick the can down the road” for a little while. Later, the problems will return with a vengeance compounded with the shame and guilt of the addictive behaviors and the lies and deceit that hurts the people we love.
The secret to conquering addiction is to face our fears, pains, disappointments, insecurities, anxieties, boredoms, depression, and a host of other negative emotions rather than running away to our favorite addictive vice. Developing the discipline to address the heart of the matter – starting with the heart – is the key to beginning the addict’s healing and recovery.
Whenever I receive new clients into my Phase Two LifeStar group, I always give them the following diagram I designed to explain the process of addiction:
I explain that we all want to be happy, but when we experience any of a variety of negative emotions, those who are “not good at feelings” often try to run away from, ignore, escape, or assuage their negative feelings by acting out (using porn, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, food, etc.). The first bump or hill represents the first time we tried to numb out the feelings through addictive acting out. Most addicts will tell you their first high is their best and they spend the rest of their addiction trying to chase the feelings they felt the first time they got high. Notice, however, that the high never reaches all the way to happiness. That’s because addictive numbing behavior is a counterfeit of happiness – not the real thing. Soon the addict will come down from the addictive high but notice that it always leaves them a little lower than where they started. The problems they wanted to avoid come back (because addictive acting out never actually solves anything) compounded with added shame. The addict resolves never to do it again, but soon life hands them more experiences full of accompanying negative emotions. They can only “white knuckle it” for so long before they act out again. Only this time they don’t get quite as much relief or “kick” as they did the first time. That’s because of a thing we call “tolerance.” The red curves represent the tolerance factor – that they need more and more to get the same feeling as they did the first time they got high. If a magazine with women in swimsuits got them excited the first time, now they need more and more hardcore material to get the same effect. The problem just grows and grows. The compounding effect of addiction is insidious. Like Hercules cutting off the heads of the Hydra, the negative emotions return exponentially. That is why we often call it “Pain Squared” or Pain2 in the cycle of addiction. By the end, their highest highs are so much lower than their original low. In reality, the numbing acting out behavior exacerbates problems and never solves them. To defeat the demon of addiction, we must go into the “belly of the beast” and get to the heart of the matter. The “heart of the matter” may be a little different for everyone. No two hearts are exactly alike. But the therapists here at LifeStar of the Central Valley are here to help the addicts face the fears and concerns of the heart, guiding them on the path of recovery. Along the way, we assist the partners with the pains and hurts they’ve endured from the terrible effects of addiction incurred by their loved ones.
As the new Clinical Director of LifeStar of the Central Valley, I am eager to work with participant and partner alike in helping you and your family find happiness, healing, and hope on the path to recovery as together we seek to help you face the heart of your matter in life.