From video gaming, porn and gambling to dysfunctional eating patterns and other drugs, addiction plays out in any behaviour that will allow temporary reward or relief. I say the above examples as it does not matter what the external behaviour or activity is that one pursues, the issue with addiction is the internal relationship that one has with that behaviour.
Addiction to activities is not rare. Repetition, patterns and habits, all makeup everybody’s world. If we look at mobile phones, many people have an attachment to current technology, endless viewing, scrolling, distracting. Yet, it serves a purpose, being soothing, comforting or relieving. If we can understand this normality of life, we can start to understand more about those that step into a realm of addiction, again serving a purpose creating difficulty to give up the behaviour despite suffering from the negative consequences.
Gabor Mate addiction specialist said, not all addiction is manifested in abuse or trauma, but can all be traced back to a painful experience (Gabor Mate, 2009, p. 38). This pain does not have to be ever-present, sometimes it lurks or at times is hidden but it is present in the gamer, the workaholic or the self-destructive and self-sabotaging.
So, if addiction to an activity or behaviour is helping you deal with some pain, then where does this pain come from? If using drugs, staring into a screen or engaging in risk-taking behaviours stops me from feeling, then why is that I don’t want to feel? That’s what I believe is important when we look at addiction.
Let’s take a young male who plays video games. A source of connection with an online community, a developing of motor and cognitive skills as well as providing a reward and pleasure system for himself. However, when we look further into this young man’s reality; a past upset within his family system, or perhaps an exclusion and isolation at his school creating a difficult discomfort and loss of belonging. We see the young man turn to escape into his own world toying with this behaviour, filling the void and being his new activity that just makes sense for him, serves him a new purpose.
This is starting to make sense. A painful experience that rushes back from time to time, causing pain, fear and shame. Then trying to find a place that holds this all together, protecting the self from the fears of being uncomfortable for a couple of hours of gaming time, until the drug where’s off, until there is no more money left to gamble. These immediate releases can still leave a person being stuck or empty experiencing feelings of hopelessness and thinking that they are not enough.
When we can understand some aspect of the process of addiction then we can find reasons and find ways to support and reach out to others. A disconnect from reality is created so that one does not have to face their truths. However, the opposite of addiction is connection. These behaviours or activities that we choose, give short term effective relief, but they, in turn, come with negative consequences, a loss of connection. Loss of connection from the important people in your life, the things that you use to find enjoyable but most of all a loss with yourself.
Connection is key. The hardest step in this journey is connecting with yourself and being with discomfort. We can not do this alone. Finding a relationship with others, whether it be professional or another person to be with you, connect with you that relates to you. This will give your painful experience a voice. A voice that wants to be heard, seen and validated.
If connection is something you want to get more familiar with and want to start giving yourself a voice, Jackson is a specialised therapist that can work with you to help you understand what it is you face.