We tend to think of addiction as an uncontrollable need to repeat behaviours that are less than desirable. Perhaps by “addiction” we think of substance addictions, like to drugs or alcohol. Or to “impulse control” behaviours like gambling or shopping. But it’s actually much deeper than this.
Clear people have observed that addiction is the result of unresolved emotional trauma. Not willing or not knowing how to face it, we end up finding less healthy ways of expression and avoidance that may show up as addiction. Certainly as regrettable behaviour, the adult version of a child “acting out”.
“All addiction is caused by suppression of feelings. If we could learn how to Feel our emotions rather than judging or fearing them, ALL addictions and recovery programs would literally cease to exist.
What complicates this issue even further, is that letting go of a substance or behavior that’s helped you ‘change the channel’ on difficult or painful feelings for many years, is like saying goodbye to an old friend who’s been the only truly reliable source of comfort or connection, you’ve ever known. In short, it’s always been there for you if you’ve had a need~ so even just the thought of walking away, triggers significant feelings of loss.”
— Shari Schreiber
Nancy Shipley Rubin speaks similarly of the Protectors, the defenders of the status quo energetically.
But why does unresolved stuff show up as addictions? This points to a deeper mechanism at play. One where we have to generalize the above quote a little further.
Most people are what is known as ego-identified. We experience ourselves as a me, a person who is having my thoughts and my feelings. This is part of a natural process. When a child is young, they are closely identified with their mother. Part of becoming a toddler is learning to recognize self as separate from mother, then of the world. Eventually we reach the stage of development where ego dominates. At that point, many stall and become rooted there.
Out of touch with our higher Self, we’re unconscious of consciousness, the subject, and thus become identified with or caught in the objects of experience, including our self-concept or ego. We get lost in what we’re experiencing. This is ego-identification or object-identification.
When you read this sentence, are you aware of who you are at the same time? Or do you have to stop reading to notice? Is there a background continuity of self, even through sleep? If not, you are identified. Your sense of self is lost by experiencing things.
Because we identify with the objects of our experience as myself, we take things personally. The ego claims the contents of experience as mine and hence my thoughts and my feelings. The ego seeks to control and defend it’s position, as mentioned in the quote above. We become addicted to our story about the world, how we feel, and pretty much try to control all facets of life. We defend our position, willing to die for our beliefs.
As Patanjali observed, we’re attached to pleasure, grasping at things we want so we can latch on. But inversely, we have an aversion to pain. Both grasping and aversion lead to suffering.
What is the solution? Notice the mention of higher Self. When we discover who we are within, the subject disengages from the objects of experience and we settle into pure being, pure consciousness. When this is deep enough, we are liberated from the binding attachments of object identification. We are the Self, observing objects of experience.
“Now, one thing more to be more correct. It is not the experience of things that overshadows Being. It is the mind’s unfamiliarity with Being that helps the phenomenon of overshadowing. It is the non-familiarity of the mind with the Being, it is the mind’s unfamiliarity with Being that causes the overshadowing of Being by the experience. It’s not the experience that overshadows Being.”
— Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Rishikesh, India – March 10, 1967
Similarly there is no need to demonize the ego. It serves a natural function. But without the right approach, we become caught there. The ego makes a poor master.
Patanjali also described the mechanism to end suffering.
Yoga Sutra 1v2-3:
Yoga (Union) is the complete settling of the activity of the mind
Then the observer is established in the Self [in his own nature]
“Maybe you like to suffer. Maybe you like drama more than peace. That is all right at certain stages…but you can discover the possibility of choosing truth – permanent, eternal, never going anywhere, truth.”
— Gangaji, in a recent newsletter
When we discover who we are, those ties that bind fall away and we can live both inner being and the experience of the world together. Subject and object are both conscious. This is known as Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness, the first stage of enlightenment. (but notice there is 2. This is not non-duality.)
Most people don’t think of themselves as “addicted” but the vast majority of people are addicted to their concept of a me, to their stories about the world and/or to their emotional dramas. As noted, we hold on to what is familiar. Just like an alcoholic, we are unable to see our own bindings because they are a part of us. As long as you see your experiences, thoughts and emotions as “mine”, you are bound to them, addicted to a concept of a separate me.
This sense of me may quite naturally feel very real for you. But it’s real because you’ve lost touch with who you are more deeply within.
When we do discover the Self and are liberated, it does not mean we can avoid learning to feel again and avoid letting go of that old baggage. That’s just aversion again. As we make spiritual progress, we become less caught by thoughts and emotions. Thus they get easier to resolve and let go of. But sometimes, we still have to wade into those apparently dark corners of our psyche.
This is not to make them stronger or more real. It is to be able to see through them and let them go. They are not personal and never have been. It is only that we have forgotten who we are that we have taken what is unreal and made it real, made it a part of ourselves.
And that is quite literal. Those attachments create energetic residues, what are sometimes called stress or Stuff or the seeds of karma. We can call these the seeds of future suffering as life will bring us experiences that will trigger what is unresolved and activate it yet again. Rather than smooth flow, we experience life as a series of corrections.
Do we remain caught in the story or do we find our way home?