Our societal addiction to anxiety is epic at this point. Number one mental disorder of the world is anxiety and it’s companion, depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 45. Undiagnosed and untreated, people are on autopilot in their everyday lives perpetually bridging the gaps between their fears and the dopamine, the hormone that the brain releases that would quell it. Our “chosen” method to deal with our anxious selves is to emotionally regulate with our personal chosen “binkys” of food or phones, alcohol or dope.
But what struck me recently was the realization that what we’re afraid of may not be there anymore. Let’s be compassionate and know that we adopt our coping mechanisms honestly. Each of us anxiety prone people initially used food or alcohol or whatever chosen pacifier because there was something not good happening that we needed to self-soothe ourselves for. A fear of abandonment is a fear of death. My personal coping choice has been to over-drink wine. As a child of an alcoholic, I’ve always been concerned for myself although I never became an alcoholic.
When I began to truly want to shed my extra weight, I knew that those empty calories of wine were my “one thing”. That one thing that I’d lose the weight if I gave up. I began to look at why it was that I thought I needed to overindulge and what I saw was a habit of treating myself for the anticipated worry and stress of my life. Except, I couldn’t see how my life was truly that horrible any more. Yes maybe back in my first marriage but this life I have now ain’t too bad.
What I realized was that the assumption that I had something to be worried about was also an addiction. I was addicted to anxiety. By reverse substantiation, I was assuming something was still wrong because I kept treating myself as if there was. And then I realized that the only way to truly prove that my life now isn’t all that horrible, was to take away that very element (wine) which by its use seemed to keep proving I had something to worry about.
Addictions are two-fold. They are adopted to regulate our emotions but the unseen element is our bodies production of the hormone dopamine when it anticipates the reward is coming. People who “cut” themselves or play with their phones have the same addiction in common. They are hooked on the happy hormonal release of dopamine they get just before engaging in these acts. The same for overeating or smoking. Read this brief post on our hormones.
My friend and fellow blogger Heather Serody, author and creator of the blog Thrive in Midlife, wrote a very interesting series on how she overcame her over-drinking. Find the worksheets and links to her three pieces on How to Overcome Over-drinking Here. She discovered that the first part of breaking the cycle was abstinence. Allowing ourselves to cope without the crutch can be just the thing to prove to ourselves that the need for the addiction isn’t really there as much. Mind you that before or simultaneously, you may also want to have a talk with yourself about which fears are your go-to Cognitive Distortions; lies you tell yourself about how disastrous it all is and how it will always be (my preferred cognitive distortions are catastrophic ones). There are more than a few that we offer ourselves to perpetuate our anxieties.
I also feel like our addictions become our pink elephants which also run the circus. I wrote a piece called Our addictions take on a life of their own in which I discuss how our fears have us so convinced that we will die without our addictions, we have no other options in light of this absolute but to continue feeding the fear beast and it’s dopamine addicted keeper.
A shortcut and circle has been made.
Anxiety equals feed or die and repeat.
We are intelligent beings whose quest for knowledge has placed cell phones in our hands and a couple of guys on the moon. Yet, when it comes to our own inner workings, we are not encouraged to understand ourselves. We are in fact encouraged to continue to watch Television news in horror so that we can become anxious and then go buy whatever we deem necessary to regulate our emotions. There is no profitability in self-discovery unless you’re in the self-help industry I suppose.
I abhor the concept that I’m a lemming destined to do the same exact thing everyday for the rest of my life as everyone else is doing. Call me a punk but if I really do have a choice everyday on what I do and who I am, let me be fully aware of how far that freedom extends. I don’t intend to continue to let fear control me if I can outsmart it and graduate to a better way of living.
“Fear, anxiety, and the addictions they create keep you from living, from hoping, and from moving. You are standing on the shoulder of the road of life while people are passing you who owned their choices and chose life over death or misery. You wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone so why are we living this fear loop for years? Because we don’t recognize our choice to choose hope.” From a blog post Addiction Pimps Out Your anxieties to Feed it’s Need
If any of this brings you relief to read it, you are not alone and I urge you to follow your inquisitions down whatever rabbit hole you need that you may truly understand that you are in control of your life. That the behaviours that we exhibit do not define us and we have all the power we give ourselves permission to have to fight back for the control. We can choose to return ourselves to ourselves.
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