Survival-anxiety can clothe itself in a multitude of ways. With an unlimited wardrobe and an endless number of disguises to choose from, it can grasp onto and create addiction to anything or anybody.
Our societal tendency is to label an addict as someone who is dependent upon a substance, such as drug or alcohol. In actual fact, we can become addicted to anything: to the internet, to television, to eating, to a particular relationship, to exercising, going to church, to cleaning, shopping, sleeping, getting angry, crying, conversation, silence, staying in the house, getting out of the house, golfing, sex, buying and selling stocks, walking, meditating, reading spiritual books…the list could go on and on.
When in survival-anxiety, we are more likely to fixate and become dependent upon something we deem as reliable. That which we fixate upon and create dependency to, can be any object, behaviour, event, person, activity or substance. There may be little logic or rational behind what we choose as reliable or dependable.
Technology has provided so much more to fixate and attach onto. Internet usage, video games, cell-phones (such as the constant need to check and re-check cell phone messages or texts), i-pod and television saturation have become serious addictive problems for children and adults alike. Food outlets selling low nutritional, high salt and sugar abound in all countries in the world. Shopping malls and stores are brim full with every kind of purchasable product, credit is highly accessible and credit addiction is at an all-time high – it has become common place to be in possession of a bundle of credit cards each carrying many thousands of dollars of money owed at substantial interest rates. In many Western countries liquor can be bought virtually on every street corner. Casinos, more numerous than at any other time, are often within a short drive of wherever you happen to live. Seemingly every other commercial on U.S. television urges Americans to strongly persuade their doctors to prescribe them the drugs and medication pharmaceutical companies feel will be beneficial to their health and medical condition, thus increasing the potential of addiction to prescription drugs. We live in a highly affluent time which carries with it many benefits, but also many varieties of potential addictions to choose from.
Technology usage, under-nutritional food, credit card debt, gambling, drug and alcohol abuse through education and awareness have become some of the more known and obvious addictions, ones that in certain circles, are being discussed, and ways to address these addiction are being explored. However, addiction can just as easily be attached to everyday activities such as exercise, reading, saving money or working hard. Even parenting children can become a lifeline and therefore an addiction. Giving therapy sessions was, for me at one time, an addiction, in that it was being used to distract me away from my own survival-anxiety. These are the hidden addictions. Hidden addictions are those disguised within societal or cultural norms. There was a time when we in Canada would see a message pop on our television screens during commercials between programs from the Canadian Government, encouraging Canadians from all walks of life to exercise regularly, for the benefit of our physical and emotional health. However, if I am exercising, reading, saving money, or working in my practice to cope with my anxiety, then whatever the behaviour or activity is it is an addiction.
Stating that anything could be an addiction will likely cause confusion. As well, it could lead you to analyze everything you do in life with the question, “What if this is an addiction?” This is a useful question to ask and to continue to ask of ourselves. However, the relationship or attraction to a substance is only an addiction if it is an extension of our survival-anxiety. Rather than permit us to directly confront or deal with the anxiety and the events and circumstances that may at one time have initiated survival-anxiety, addiction will, in a sense, spirit us away from any expectation or discomfort associated with the anxiety.
My work day is often intense. In my private therapeutic practice, I listen daily to people’s problems. I hear of tragedies and challenges and sometimes of abuses suffered both past and present. As well, I witness change and am lucky to be present to moments of joy, of attainment and to the satisfaction of people reaching and sustaining improvement in their lives. Although my work is challenging, it is highly rewarding and I have so much passion for it.
At the end of my day, after seeing a string of clients, I do not want exposure to intensity. My wife knows that telling me about a problem she has encountered during her day is best put off for an hour or so after I’ve done my days work with clients. I want to unwind, to distract, to do something with little or no intensity. I have a variety of choices, from going for a walk in the forest opposite my house, listening to some of the music I love, or working in the garden. Often I will go and lie down and watch a little television. As long as the program I am watching is not too intense, I find television to be a great way for me to distract and unwind. Yet technologies such as television were listed earlier as being one of the more addictive activities of our age. In my case, however, it is not an addiction since television is not serving to distract me from anxiety and I am consciously choosing it as a remedy to my work intensity from a variety of other choices I have, and I am willing to take the time out to choose from my available choices. There is no instant gratification. In fact, it is the opposite of instant gratification. Time is involved in the choosing. If survival-anxiety were involved, because of the perceived threat to my survival I would grasp onto the television and run to it every time, unthinkingly, to settle the discomfort, or the potential of my survival-anxiety discomfort showing up.
As we will see in the chapters ahead, time and choice are two important factors in determining the difference between addiction versus behaviours that are non-addictive and therefore healthy and beneficial to ourselves and to those close to us.
What behaviours, activities or interest qualify as addictions for you?
What behaviours, activities and interests that are not addictions for you personally?
How does the addiction(s) serve or support you? Does it act as a distraction away from moments of anxiety?
Would you add any addictions to the lists above?