This post is excerpted from Lightning Path Workbook Two: Healing. To get started on your journey of healing and connection, visit the main page.

You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all…. [It is]] no exaggeration to say it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict. William S. Burroughs, Junky.

So far in this workbook, we have looked at the issue of help and the environment. We have emphasized the need to focus on creating a healthy, protective, and nurturing environment so you can protect, clean, and treat your wounds, especially when they get infected. We have also said, if you find you need help, get help. Getting help may be particularly important if you find your wounds are infected, or you are dealing with serious emotional sepsis. When wounds are infected, right environment and simple affirmations may not be sufficient. When wounds are infected, you may need competent and professional help.

This is especially true when it comes to the third point in the LP HEALING Framework, Addiction. For your information, an addiction is anything upon which you, or rather your physical unit, has a biological, psychological, or emotional dependency. An addiction is something you do that you cannot stop. You can get addicted to anything. As you will see, you can get addicted to substances like money, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, cannabis, and fentanyl, in which case we would day you have a Substance Addiction) and you can get addicted to behaviours like shopping, exercise, sex, technology (i.e., smartphones), and even social media use, like Facebook,[1] in which case we would say you have a Behavioural Addiction. You can also become addicted to other people, something typically known as co-dependency but what we, for reasons that will become clear shortly, would prefer to call a Relationship Addiction.

How do you tell if you are addicted to something? The test for addiction is quite simple. If there is a substance or activity that you cannot stop, and that you justify and make excuses for, you are addicted.[2] You are addicted to alcohol if you cannot stop drinking for any significant length of time. You are addicted to shopping if your week is not complete without a consumer purchase of some sort. You are addicted to gambling if you compromise your financial security and obligations to feed your fix. You are addicted to social media if you spend all day long peering at your screen and not growing or learning etc.

What causes addictions? In the not-too-distant past, scientists explained addiction by blaming the addicts themselves, basically suggesting that there was something wrong with them. Addicts were “bad, crazy, ignorant people”[3] who were addicted because they were weak or had moral failings. Of course, scientists have now admitted that there is no such thing as an “addictive personality” or genetic causation; unfortunately, science’s understanding of the causes of addiction hasn’t advanced that much beyond this appalling “blame the victim” strategy. Nowadays, folks are just subtler about it, blaming an individual’s defective neuro-mechanisms,[4] their lack of “psychosocial skills,”[5] the presence of “outlying traits” [6] (read “abnormal”), how individuals interpret their “experiences,” [7] and even difficulty with “self-regulation.”[8] As one scientist puts it:

When genes are abnormal, brain enzymes and other proteins that are involved with neurotransmitter function may be abnormal. For example, the production (synthesis) or breakdown (metabolism) of dopamine is the responsibility of various enzymes. If the person has a genetic defect such that the enzymes that make or break down dopamine are faulty, then the amount of dopamine in the brain will be abnormal. Also, the response of that person’s brain dopamine systems to changes in the environment may be abnormal as well. In the mesolimbic system such abnormal” functions of dopamine may lead to distorted mood, such as too little pleasure from positive experiences or too much pain from negative interactions. The person with such a genetic defect may be especially susceptible to the ability of cocaine to elevate brain dopamine to levels that are closer to “normal.”[9]

Are “bad genes,” “brain illness,” lack of social skills, or “faulty” readings or reality the cause of addiction? Absolutely not. All these explanations, and when we say “all” we mean “all,” blame the victim. These explanations conveniently, and intentionally, divert attention from the real culprit which is our toxic environments, toxic societies, toxic cultural practices, toxic educational practices, and toxic religious practices.

It is the avoidable toxicity of our collective
human realities that are the proximate causes of addictions.

Remember, toxic socialization involves violence, the frustration of needs, chaos, destruction of attachments, and indoctrination. Violence and assault (i.e., yelling, name-calling, shaming, physical assaults etc.), the neglect of our essential needs (i.e. emotional withdrawal, enmeshment, triangulation etc.), the experience of chronic chaos at home and in the world, the destruction of our attachments, and the profound guilt and shame we experience as a consequence of the disjunctive and harmful actions we engage while trying to survive and defend ourselves while in a state of indoctrinated disjuncture/disconnection,[10] all make us feel bad.[11]

When we live in toxic environments and
are subjected to toxic socialization, we feel bad.

Nobody wants to feel bad, especially when it is ongoing. Not only does it feel bad, but it is bad for the health and well being of the physical body. Thus, we have an instinct to avoid pain programmed into our body, and that is exactly what we try to do. When our environments are highly toxic, when our needs aren’t being met, when our experiences of life are highly painful, we have an instinct to try and do something about it. At first, we will first try to halt the assault, reduce the toxicity, and cry out to have our needs met. As children, we might scream for our needs to be satisfied and beg and plead for the violence to stop. As adolescents, we might desperately point out the hypocrisy and the toxicity. Unfortunately, however, our societies are so toxic that our efforts to stop the toxicity and get our needs met typically fail. As children we are either ignored or told the toxicity is “good for us” (“Spare the rod and spoil the child”), that it “builds character,” or that we did something to deserve it (karma, original sin, etc.). As adolescents, our insights and requests are dismissed, and we are told we are “going through a phase,” or that it is our genetic/moral/spiritual weakness that makes us vulnerable. As adults, we are expected to be able to “deal with it,” otherwise we are labelled weak and whiney. When our efforts to reduce toxicity and improve our environment fail, as they inevitably do, we

  1. seek out things that calm the internal chaos caused by the violence, neglect, and chaos of a toxic environment (soothing, in other words),
  2. look for ways to escape the environment (we escape the house, we run away, we take drugs),
  3. seek out “things” that make us feel good or
  4. find things that satisfy a need left unsatisfied by toxic socialization, for example, the need for parental love.[12]

This is where addictions come from. Addictions come directly from our self-soothing attempts to escape from our hellish experiences and feel better, or to satisfy some unmet need, when we either can’t improve our environments or can’t get our needs met authentically. We take pharmaceuticals to calm our frazzled nerves. We start smoking because it calms us and helps us “fit in” (satisfied a need for belonging). We drink alcohol because it helps us fill “the hole” left by a parent’s failure to provide unconditional love.[13] We shoot heroin because a) it helps us escape, b) blocks out our pain and calms the chaos, and c) makes us feel good. We go running because it a) gets us out of our toxic environment, b) calms us, c) releases “happy chemicals” in the brain, like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, and even d) helps us lose weight and look good so we can meet an essential need by “belonging” to the “cool people’s club.”

It is the same with all addictions. We do it because it soothes us, helps us escape, makes us feel good, or satisfies an unmet need.

Do you get the picture?

When our environments are toxic, we look for ways to compensate/cope/escape. It is this natural desire to Self-Medicate that is the cause of our collective addictions.

Put this way, this seems like common psychological sense, and it is. We do substances and engage in certain behaviours because the substance or behaviour helps us in some way. But self-medication doesn’t explain where addiction develops, especially when it comes to addictions like running. Lots of people run, but not everybody gets addicted to running. Everybody self medicates, but not everybody gets addicted to medication

As it turns out, the addiction itself arises from two places.

On the one hand, addiction arises because substances like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, are all physically addictive, in some cases, as with Fentanyl and related opiates, powerfully so. But the physically addictive properties of some substances are not the only, nor the most important, mechanism at work. As Szalavitz explains, “only 10%–20% of drug users become addicted to substances like marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.”[14] That’s a remarkably low percentage, considering common perceptions about the dangers of things like heroin. Thus, the addictive properties of some substances do not explain why a) most people who try addictive substances don’t become addicted and b) why some activities such as shopping, social media habits, or hoarding (none of which could be physically addicting) become addictions nevertheless.

To understand why this is, we must understand the reward/reinforcement mechanisms in the brain, specifically the role of dopamine. Dopamine is a learning chemical. When dopamine is released in your brain, your brain “learns” something, specifically an association. When we endure toxic environments, we look for things that help us cope. When we find the “thing” that helps us escape, calms us, makes us feel good, or meets a need, dopamine, a chemical long linked to addiction,[15] is released. Dopamine programs your brain and attaches you to whatever substance or behaviour is meeting your need, helping you escape, making you feel good, etc., so you will do it again in the future. As psychologist David J. Ley says, dopamine release is “like a little red flag to your brain, saying ‘hey, pay attention, this is about to feel good, and you want to remember this, so you can do it again.’”[16] The more dopamine is released in relation to your “thing,” the more attached to your “thing” you become, and the more addicted you are. In the case of a behaviour addiction to running, when you repeatedly go running to escape and to trigger endorphins, you slowly become neurologically attached to that activity.[17]

Of course, not everybody who runs is addicted. If you go running not to escape or feel good but to exercise and stay in shape, dopamine is not triggered in the same way. Addiction is caused by a response to toxic socialization that, when paired with dopamine programming, leads to a substance or behavioural attachment. Put another way, if you experienced toxic socialization, if you live in a toxic environment, you are prone to developing addictions because you will be motivated to find something that offers relief/release/pleasure/escape.

At this point, you should have a decent understanding of addiction. Addiction itself consists of the physically addicting properties of some substances and (more importantly) the Toxic Dopamine Attachment (or just Toxic Attachment[18]) that occurs as an attempt to adapt to a toxic environment and society. Dopamine release is a neurological reflex, and the Dopamine Attachment to substances and behaviours that result from it is a natural consequence of this design feature of the human physical unit.[19]

This dopamine attachment is important, critical, indeed central to understanding and healing from “addiction.” In fact, we would hazard to say that it is not really “addiction” so much as toxic attachment that is the issue. We would suggest that we shouldn’t even really be calling it “addiction,” since the “addiction” itself is secondary to the toxic attachment. We prefer to say people develop Toxic Attachments to substances and behaviours, for the reasons already outlined above. When an individual is in the “throes” of alcohol addiction, we would prefer to say they have an Active Substance Attachment to alcohol, and the attachment is toxic. Similarly, instead of using the word “clean”[20] to describe someone free of “addiction,” we would prefer to say they have an Inactive Attachment or Broken Attachment to alcohol. Inactive attachments are not the same as broken attachments. An inactive attachment is an attachment that still exists, i.e. vestiges of neurological attachment remain and may become active once again, but they are not dominant or overpowering. Because vestiges of neurological attachment still exist, inactive attachments are prone to reactivation, especially when toxic conditions are still prevalent. On the other hand, a broken attachment is an attachment where the neurological attachment no longer exists. While one can inactivate an attachment over a brief period (a few days to a few months, depending on the addiction), it can take many years to completely break and attachment.

A good example here is smoking. An individual can quit smoking (i.e., inactivate their attachment) after only a few days, perhaps a week or two. However, the attachment remains and may be reactivated after only a single cigarette. It takes many years to break completely and attachment to the point where smoking a cigarette will not reactivate the latent attachment. Speaking from experience, you can inactivate a toxic attachment to cigarettes in only a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. However, breaking a toxic attachment to cigarettes takes much longer than that.

Moving forward from here we will refer to “addictions” as toxic dopamine attachments or just toxic attachments (TA) for short. We will further refer to addictions as either active, inactive, or broken. Thus, if you’re an alcoholic, you’re not an addict, you have developed a toxic attachment to alcohol. If you are a shopaholic, you are not addicted to shopping, you have a toxic attachment to this horrifically toxic behaviour. If you have your one-year coin you have not been “clean” for a year, your attachment has been inactive for one year.

You can see at this point that we can become “attached” (i.e., addicted) to anything. Anything that gives escape, relief, or pleasure, and that repeatedly triggers dopamine expression in the brain, can become a toxic attachment, especially when the substance or behaviour is in response to toxicity, neglect, anguish, etc. It is not about “bad genes,” weak moral character, faulty learning, or whatever; it is about this shitty world we live in and our brain’s evolutionarily designed ability/attempt to cope with the toxicity and pain. The mechanism is simple. We become attached to substances and behaviours because they help us cope and survive.

Toxic socialization causes toxic attachments
to both substances and behaviours.

At this point, we should note that toxic socialization is not the only cause of addiction. Other factors are involved. For example, Pushers push us into addiction and Enablers encourage it. We’ll look at pushers and enablers more in the section on Lies and Ideology later. Similarly, Genetic Trauma makes us susceptible to toxic attachments. Finally, we often turn to substances and behaviours when we are dealing with the anguish, guilt, and shame caused by Wrong Action. It should be noted, these additional factors are insufficient by themselves to cause addiction. Toxic socialization and the accompanying environmental toxicity are the necessary and sufficient causes of our challenging toxic attachments).

A few examples should make this all clear.

Consider cutting as an example of a toxic behavioural attachment. For those of you who don’t know, cutting is a deliberate act of self-harm. When someone cuts, they use a sharp object to cut into their flesh. Cutting is a serious mental health problem. We know of children, mostly females, as young as ten who cut.

Why does cutting start and how does it become an addiction? Cutting starts for all the typical reasons. It can start as a distraction/escape from the pain and anguish caused by violence and chaos in the home or some traumatic event. Physical pain is less painful than psychological and emotional pain; thus, cutting provides relief and escape from physical and emotional pain by drowning out the physical/emotional pain. Cutting may also start as a desperate plea for help or change. A kid who cuts is asking for help, crying out for attention, and making a physical record.  A kid who is cutting is attempting to send a clear message to parents and others: “pay attention to me, I’m in need, I’m in pain, and something needs to change.” Cutting is thus an attempt to effectuate change, to get a need met for safety, esteem, and power, in an otherwise toxic environment.[21] Cutting also starts because physical harm releases the “feel good” endorphins in the brain.[22] Thus cutting provides many of the “services” that typical attachments provide. Cutting provides escape, distraction, endorphin release, and at least at attempt at needs satisfaction. As with all other attachments, we become gradually attached as the dopamine “hits” us. The more often we cut for relief, distraction, etc., the more dopamine is released, and the more attached we become to the cutting behaviour. Eventually, we become so attached that we are recognized as “addicted” to the cutting.

Cutting is not the only serious behavioural attachment we may develop. As many reading this will be aware, we can also develop toxic attachments to social media. The mechanisms of toxic attachment to social media are identical to the mechanisms that attach us to cutting. We use social media a) as a way to distract/escape from chaos and violence in the home environments, b) as a way to get some essential needs met that are not otherwise being met in the home or in our relationships, and c) because the “likes” and shares we get release endorphins. When dopamine is released, toxic attachment to the social media platform develops.

Consider platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These platforms provide a window into alternate realities that may distract us from the chaos, violence, and emptiness of our real lives. Also, on these platforms, “likes” and “retweets” give us superficial jolts of self-esteem and belongingness, two of our seven essential needs. When a post is liked we “feel good” about ourselves. These hits, these little “moments of distraction” and “moments of inclusion,” give us pleasure and, through the magic of dopamine, eventually become addictive. This is not rocket science. In fact, it is well-known science. Facebook, and no doubt other platforms, were deliberately designed for behavioural addiction.[23] The creators of Facebook literally set out to make you dependent on the platform. If this sounds like an awful thing to you, it is. At least one former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, feels “tremendous guilt,” as he rightly should, at the damage these platforms, which he helped develop, are causing.[24]

Lightning Path Addictions Analysis

When we examine attachments to Facebook, cutting, alcohol, and shopping as we have done above, i.e., when we identify the behaviour or substance and clarify the reasons why we are attached (meet a need, escape from violence, etc.), we are engaged in step one and two of a Lightning Path Attachment Analysis (LPAA).[25]

Step one of the LPAA is identification of the toxic attachments. This step is easy. If you can’t stop the substance or behaviour, you have a toxic attachment. For example, at one time, “I was addicted to cigarettes.”

Step two of an LPAA is clarification of the attachment. In this step, you figure out why you became attached/addicted in the first place. To do this, simply ask yourself the following questions: “What am I escaping from and how does the attachment provide that escape;” “What do I need relief from and how is the attachment providing that relief;” “How is this substance/behaviour distracting me;” “What needs is this attachment meeting?” Finally, “Is the attachment helping me deal with guilt and shame.”

Moment of reflection: Pause for a moment an identify one of your addictions. It could be smoking, work, an opiate, etc. Now, identify the reward. Ask yourself the question, what pain does it give you relieve/help you escape from? What need is being met? Does it help you cover negative emotions like guilt and shame? You may have to dig deep into your childhood in some cases. Write your response in your HC Journal and share online in the HC Journal forum if you wish. https://www.lightningpath.org/forums/

Identification and clarification are straightforward, if not always easy. For example, I (Mike S.) used to smoke. I started smoking because, at the age of nineteen, I had no significant attachments in my family (single parent mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins that “looked down” on us) and because I had a consequent unmet need to “fit in” and belong, I found smoking as a way to satiate my unmet need for belonging. I started smoking so I could fit in with friends. Even though it was thirty-five years ago, I still remember the motivation and the wonderful feeling of “fitting in” that I got from smoking the first time. I needed that feeling so bad that I ignored the physical distress (nausea and headaches, etc.) caused by the poisonous cigarettes. I needed to fit in more than I needed to feel physically well. It was the underlying need that drove me past the poisonous cigarette stick.[26]

Or consider my partner Gina R.’s addiction struggles. My partner started smoking and drinking for the same reasons as I did, i.e., not because she liked the taste of alcohol or cigarettes but because she wanted to fit in with her family, and because her family members “pushed” her into consumption. They said things like “if you are not going to drink then at least look like you are partying with the rest of us and smoke.” Continued “pushing” by family, combined with her need to fit in, and the addictive properties of the substances eventually led to toxic alcohol attachment and toxic nicotine attachment.[27] Interestingly, even when she had committed to deal with her addictions, family members resisted her healing. They “pushed back,” making her feel like if she wanted to be a part of the family, if she wanted to “fit in,” she needed to continue to smoke and drink with them.

At the point where you have identified and clarified your addictions, you are almost ready to move to the treatment stage. Before you do that you need to conduct step three of an LPAA which is a categorization of the attachment on a continuum from toxic to fully benign. We should say that a substance or behavioural addiction is not necessarily a problem and doesn’t necessarily require treatment. One can be addicted to coffee, alcohol, running, sex, or whatever and not experience serious issues. Addictions only become problematic when they cover over unresolved trauma and damage, or when they have a negative impact on you and those around you. For example, an addiction to coffee only becomes a problem when you drink too much daily, and this undermines your health. Similarly, an addiction to alcohol only becomes a problem when you are a) using alcohol to escape, provide relief from toxic environments or internal pain and anguish and b) cannot control your intake and therefore drink too much, too often, and to the point of Crown Stupification[28] and disconnection. Finally, an attachment to sex only becomes a problem if you’re driven by unresolved trauma, married, in a relationship, and hurting the people you are cheating on and hooking up with.

When it comes to assessing the extent to which an addiction is problematic, there are lots of different things to consider. In the case of running or shopping, you need to consider the fiscal impact and lost time with your family and children, if you have them. In the case of alcohol or other harsh substances, you need to consider the long-term impact on your self, your physical unit (i.e., your mind and body), your family, your work life, and so on. For example, alcoholism can a) prevent you from connecting with and “self-actualizing”[29] your Highest Self, b) cause physical and neurological damage to your body, and c) cause you to harm the ones you love, especially when you’re a ‘mean drunk’ and you lash out at the ones you love. For all the reasons above, and some more that are not enumerated, attachments to alcohol are almost always a serious problem.

Moment of reflection: At this point pause and examine the addictions you previously recorded in your HC Journal. Are any of these addictions problematic? That is, do they harm you or the people around you in any way? Do they negatively impact your home/work life? Do they disconnect you from Highest Self? Write your response in your HC Journal and share online in the HC Journal forum if you wish. https://www.lightningpath.org/forums/

To summarize, an LP Addictions Assessment involves three steps, these being:

  1. Identification of the addiction
  2. Clarification of the causes
  3. Categorization as toxic or benign

Moving towards treatment, you can safely ignore benign attachment (a mild attachment to coffee, wine, etc.,) and focus primarily on your most toxic attachments.

As a final note, keep in mind when conducting an assessment on your addictions to see if they are problematic or not, there is a well-established tendency for addicts to lie to themselves and others to downplay their toxic attachments. We’ll talk more about the tendency and reasons for lying in the next unit. For now, when conducting an LPAA, you should ask friends and family what they think about your toxic attachments and whether they are toxic or benign. For example, if you drink, ask your wife or friends if they think it is a problem. If they say yes, then regardless of any lies you tell yourself, you have a toxic attachment problem.

Treatment

At this point in your reading, you should have a good understanding of the nature and cause of addictions, you should have identified your addictions, and you should have honestly assessed whether the addictions are toxic and problematic, or benign and “nothing to worry about.” Remember, they are problematic if they a) cover over unresolved toxicity and trauma and b) negatively impact you, your life, your family, and this planet. Some addictions, like running or coffee, may not be problematic at all unless you are harming yourself and others in the process.[30] Others, like addictions to heroin or shopping,[31] will be.

At this point, the question becomes, how do you treat the addictions that you and your loved ones deem as problematic? Unfortunately, treating addictions is complicated and difficult not only because the neurological attachment is complex and multifaceted, but also because the addictions can rewire the brain to the point where you develop a Hard Dependency. A hard dependency occurs because some substances and behaviours cause damage by rewiring the brain. This brain damage, this rewiring, can make you physically dependent on your substance or behaviour for proper brain functioning. Inactivating and breaking toxic attachments to substances and behaviours is even more difficult when you are dealing with a hard dependency.[32]

At one time, treatments for toxic attachments to substances and behaviours involved “cold-turkey” breaks and complete abstinence. While complete abstinence may be a long-term necessity for some toxic attachments like alcohol,[33] going “cold-turkey” is hard and most people cannot do it without, sometimes quite costly, assistance. This is not because they are weak but because the attachment is strong, the neurological reprogramming deep, and the damage often severe.

Whether or not cold-turkey is something you want to try is up to you. If you can go a week without smoking, a month without coffee, a year without alcohol, etc., you can consider the toxic attachment inactive. Remember, it takes a lot longer to break an attachment. Also remember, until your attachment is final broken, you are susceptible to reactivation.

In general, we do not recommend a cold turkey approach not only because this can cause a lot of pain and distress, especially when a hard attachment has occurred, but because until toxic attachments are broken, they are susceptible to reactivation. Depending on the addiction, we recommend a more gradual reduction of use combined with an insistent reprogramming of attachments.

Why do we recommend this?

Remember the function of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine rewires the reward structures by attaching you to substances and behaviours that offer relief from the hell of toxic socialization. This original toxic rewiring took place over time and as a consequence of many experiences. If your toxic attachment is drinking, for example, it took a lot of “pleasant” feelings/experiences of numbness, detachment, escape, to get your brain rewired and hard attached to the substance. As William S. Burroughs says, “it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict. That’s because it takes about that long to hardwire your brain and create the hard attachments that function as chronic addiction. Unfortunately, it is also going to take a year, and several hundred new experiences in non-toxic environments with non-toxic attachments, to break the hard attachments and rewire the brain. You simply cannot skip these experiences and go cold turkey. If you don’t go through the experiences, the rewiring never occurs. If the rewiring never occurs, all you’ll is inactivation of your toxic attachments. If all you accomplish is inactivation, the wiring will always remain and you’ll be prone to reactivation.

So, how do you rewire your brain and break your toxic attachments? The first step towards breaking your brain’s toxic attachments to substances and behaviours is to detoxify your environment and your life. Remember, addictions start as a way to deal with the pain and anguish you experience from toxic socialization. If you don’t clean up toxic environments, if you remain steeped in the hellish fires of toxic socialization, you’ll find it impossible to rewire your brain. It is just the way it is. Getting away to a safe place for a period of time can help, addiction retreats can help, but if you keep coming back to toxic environments, if you continue to swim in toxicity, you will continue to look for relief/escape/satisfaction, and dopamine will continue to attach you to toxic substances and noxious behaviours. If you want to heal the toxic attachments, you have to remove the principle driver, which is toxicity in your life. There’s no other way forward but that.

How do you detoxify your environment? As regards cleaning up your environment, you have two choices. You can either educate the people who make up your life about the consequences of toxicity and the impact it is having on your addictions and ask them to heal with you, or you can exit your toxic relationships and toxic families and begin to build up new ones. The easiest and least disruptive solution is to educate your family and friends about the consequences of toxic socialization and its impact, and request assistance from them in said detoxification. For guidance on detoxification, refer to Unit “E” on the environment. If possible, we recommend you immediately institute a no violence rule and work together to remove all instances of emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual violence and exploitation. There can be no compromise here. If you want to deal with your addictions, you must create healthy, non-toxic spaces within which you can heal and reprogram.

Unfortunately, it has to be said, it won’t always be possible to educate your family and friends and elicit their help. Many of you will find that when you point out the toxicity and make an appeal to family and friends for a change, you will be attacked. When you point things out, parents, partners, and friends will lash out in anger at you and even engage in violent emotional, psychological, or even physical assault. If this happens, if attempts to educate and enlist the authentic support family and friends elicit only defence and attack, do not waste your time–do not hesitate—break your attachments and find new family and friends. This might sound harsh, but it is a necessary and increasingly common practice,[34] as for example amongst the LGBTQ community who often experience harsh violence at the hands of their old energy family and friends. If your family does not move forward with you, you have no choice but to remove them from your life, or dramatically limit your exposure to them. You will make slow to no progress in dealing with addictions if you do not detoxify your life.

For your information, detoxification is part of the process of establishing Right Environment. We discuss right environment in more detail in Lightning Path Workbook Three: Connection, in the section on Alignment.

As you detoxify your environments, the second step to treating addictions is not to eliminate your attachments (because then you will end up a lonely Buddhist monk in an emotional and creative silo of your own making) but to rectify your attachments. You rectify your attachments by finding better ways to self-medicate, and better ways to meet your needs. For example, if you suffer from anxiety and PTSD and smoking helps calm you down, rectifying your attachments require you learn to do something else to calm yourself down instead. Instead of jumping straight to the cigarette, do some yoga and stretching. Instead of running off to the casino, do some mindfulness and meditation. Instead of pouring that drink, get some love from a loved one, or brew yourself a jasmine tea and take a hot bath. Stimulate natural endorphin release with sex, laughter, purpose, giving, exercise, healthy diet, etc. Putting a healthier activity or substance in front of the addictive response will encourage dopamine attachment to the new activity or substance, thereby rewiring your brain.

You may think it silly at first, especially if your toxic attachments have a loud voice, but you will find that the more you put “something before” the toxic attachment, whatever it is, the more attached you will become to the new thing and the less attached you will become to your addiction. You’ll still be self-medicating, of course, even if you are medicating with jasmine tea, but that’s OK. Given just how toxic this world still is, there’s absolutely no shame in that; and at least you’ll be medicating with real medicine (yoga, love, meditation, cannabis,[35] etc.) and not the toxic crap still on offer by the corporations of this world.

We have to say,  detoxification and rectification are challenging, and breaking your attachments won’t happen overnight. You should be realistic about how long it takes to break the physical addiction and toxic attachments. In other words, don’t kid yourself. This will not be easy. Inactivating and deactivating your toxic attachments will require an ongoing act of willpower. Therefore, cut yourself some slack. If you still need the cigarette, casino, or drink after you’ve put an alternative activity or substance in between, that’s fine. Do not torture yourself. Do not shame yourself. But, use your willpower. Resist as long as you can, then do as little of the addiction as you require, and remind yourself how good if felt/will feel to stretch, meditate, drink tea, and get love.

Also note, being addiction free doesn’t necessarily mean giving things up, it just means breaking the toxic attachment and using experience to reprogram your brain. You might be addicted to shopping, for example, but when you break this addiction, you will still shop, you just won’t “enjoy” it so much, and you will be in control. The same thing goes for some of the other addictions people have. As long as you are in control, as long as there are no neural vestiges of previous toxic rewiring, occasional use of a substance is fine, so long as it causes no harm to the physical unit. On the other hand, if you can’t gain control, or if the substance is simply too dangerous (e.g. opioids like Fentanyl), total abstinence may be the only option.

To summarize, in this unit we have examined addictions. We have seen that both substances (i.e. smoking, alcohol, heroin) and behaviours (i.e. social media, running, etc.) can be addictive. We have learned the difference between active addictions and inactive addictions. We have also uncovered the actual causes of addiction—not “genetics” or “moral strength” but toxic environments and a toxic socialization process characterized by violence, chaos, neglect, destruction of attachments, and indoctrination. We have learned that addictions start as attempts to cope, to self-medicate, escape, or meet unmet needs, but because of the dopamine reward mechanisms of the brain, we eventually develop toxic attachments. We have seen that to treat your toxic attachments, you must combine Identify, Clarify, Categorize, Detoxify, and Rectify. You must identify your addictions, clarify their source, and categorize those that are toxic. Then, you must detoxify your environment and rectify toxic attachments by willfully reprogramming your brain.

So far in this workbook, we have discussed getting help, detoxifying your world, establishing right environment, cleaning and treating psychic wounds, and identifying and treating toxic attachments as necessary steps in the healing process. Unfortunately, treating your wounds and healing your attachments is challenging, not only because the attachments are hard-wired deep in the brain, but also because we are not always honest with ourselves about our damage, distortions, and toxic attachments. To be perfectly blunt, when it comes to our health and well being, when it comes to the reality of our pain and our suffering, and when it comes to the severity and damage caused by toxic socialization and toxic attachments, we lie, lie, lie, lie. We lie to ourselves. We lie to our families. We lie to our partners We lie to our doctors. We lie to workmates. We lie to everybody. No sense in denying it, because we all we’ve all done at one time or another. When it comes to the realities around us, we lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, and when we are done lying, we lie and lie some more.

Unfortunately, if you are serious about treating your wounds and your addictions, if you are serious about healing and reconnecting, you’re going to have to stop lying. If you don’t, sorry to say, there is no way forward for you. Don’t worry though, it is not as hard as you might think, at least once you know all the reasons you have learned to lie. It is to the reasons for lying that we turn our attention to next.

Endnotes

[1] Mike Sosteric, “Why We Should All Cut the Facebook Cord. ,” The Conversation  (2018).

[2] Carlton K. Erickson and Richard E. Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3 (2001).

[3] Erickson and Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” 7.

[4] Marc A. Schuckit, “An Overview of Genetic Influences in Alcoholism,” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.1 (2009).

[5] Kenneth E. Leonard, “Perspective: Beyond the Neural Circuits,” Nature 522 (2015).

[6] Maria Szalavitz, “The Addictive Personality Isn’t What You Think It Is,” Scientific America 2016.

[7] Presumably, if one “interprets” an experience the “wrong” way, one can become addicted. Szalavitz, “The Addictive Personality Isn’t What You Think It Is.”

[8] For the record, I find this author’s “self-regulation” thesis to be absurd. Her notion that addictions are “developmental disorders,” “learning problems,” that can be “outgrown,” is merely a restatement of “blame the victim” arguments she herself attempts to debunk, i.e., old “morality” or “character disorder” arguments. We have to say, the mental and spiritual gymnastics required to support and deny the exact same position are impressive.

Although, to be fair, she does get close. According to her “…addiction is a learned relationship between the timing and pattern of the exposure to substances or other potentially addictive experiences and a person’s predispositions, cultural and physical environment, and social and emotional needs.” She even points directly at the environment when she mentions autism and maltreated children: “solutions. In fact, severely neglected children often develop autistic-like behavior such as constantly rocking as a way to soothe or stimulate themselves—and maltreated children often appear to have ADHD because they are hypervigilant to “distractions” like the sound of a door slamming.” Maia Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016).

In the end, however, she finally says addiction is a “learning disorder” and “compulsives self-medication,” thereby placing the blame squarely in the individual’s lap, where The System needs it to be. and now what it really is which is a perfectly reasonable adaptation to a highly toxic environment.

[9] Erickson and Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” 10-11.

[10] As explained in more detail in LP Workbook Three: Connection, disjuncture occurs when we engage in actions that our out of alignment with your own Highest Self. Explain disjuncture. Separation from HS. Causes pain. Makes you feel bad. More in this in ALIGNMENT section in WKBKIII

[11] Neurologically, are brain’s neurons are firing in attempts to cope as we are chronically washed in toxic stress hormones.

[12] A rather interesting take is provided by the article “Is addiction an Attachment Disorder?” which says that alcoholics had terrible parents and as a result didn’t “attach.” Thus, attachment disorder is cause of addiction.

This is one not inaccurate way to look at it, but it too narrowly focusses on one essential need, love, and ignores six others, failure of which to satisfy can also lead to anxiety, anguish, pain, and addiction. Alcoholics Guide, Is Addiction an Attachment Disorder?, 2014, Inside the Alcoholic Brain, December 12 2018.

[13] Alcoholics Guide, Is Addiction an Attachment Disorder?

[14] Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction.  273.

[15] Trevor W. Robbins and Barry J. Everitt, “Drug Addiction: Bad Habits Add Up,” Nature 398 (1999). Note the title of this article. Despite talking about genetics and the neuropathology of addiction, the authors (or the editors) insert a statement that blames the addict.

[16] David J. Ley, No, Dopamine Is Not Addictive, 2017, Psychology Today, Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201701/no-dopamine-is-not-addictive, January 6 2017.

[17] Interestingly, this is the source of the problems with “self-regulation” noted by Szalavitz. It’s not that children have a “self-regulation” problem or a “learning disorder,” its that dopamine attachment caused by the need to cope with/escape from toxic environments causes and attachment that is so powerful you simply cannot stop the behaviour. Problems with self-regulation are caused by toxic environments combined with dopamine attachment. Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction.

[18] https://spiritwiki.lightningpath.org/Toxic_Attachment.

[19] For evolutionary reasons, your body has basic “Life Algorithms.” These algorithms increase the functional capacity and survivability of the organism, i.e., your physical unit. One such algorithm is the Pleasure Algorithm. This algorithm causes your physical unit to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. This algorithm includes the capacity for “self-programming.” Thus, when your body experiences pleasure, it programs itself to seek out these pleasures again. This programming is accomplished, as we have already seen, via the attachment mechanism of dopamine.

[20] Note, using the word “clean” to describe someone free of an addiction implies that the when addicted the person is “dirty” and contaminated. This terminology characterizes a person struggling with toxic attachment in a judgmental and extremely moralistic fashion. We should never use the words “clean” and “dirty” since these terms ignore the environmental and neurological contexts, implies personal failure, and encourages and contributes to shame and guilt, which further exacerbates the “need” for escape Our advice is to use the terms “active” and “inactive.” Someone who is using has an active addiction. Somebody who is “clean” has inactivated their addiction.

[21] Certainly cutting is not the most effective way of to effectuate change since an individual who cuts is often pathologized and dismissed. However, one cannot expect a twelve year old child to be able to conceptualize the reality of their toxic environment, or be able to lucidly communicate the need for change to parents and authorities who a) think within the primitive confines of old energy archetypes and old energy psychology or are b) in a state of denial regarding their own mental health issues, and their own contribution to the toxicity of the situation. As a child, telling my mother she was hurting me, and asking her to stop, only made the whipping, the emotional assaults, and the denials more violent.

[22] B. A. West, “Understanding Endorphins: Our Natural Pain Relief System… Part 6,” Nursing 11.2 (1981). A highlighted version is available

[23] Hilary Andersson, Social Media Apps Are ‘Deliberately’ Addictive to Users, 2018, BBC News, Available: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44640959, November 24 2018.

[24] Chamath Palihapitiya, “‘Tremendous Guilt’: Ex-Facebook Exec’s Regrets on Ripping Apart the Social Fabric,” 2017.

[25] https://spiritwiki.lightningpath.org/Addiction_Analysis.

[26] That an emotional need to fit in is more powerful than a physical need to feel well should be no great insight. The people who get paid to manipulate you, i.e., marketers trying to sell you products, know this well. It is why commercials aimed at the young often show a bunch of young friends “fitting in” and belonging with each other. The subliminal message sent is “consume this product if you want to fit in.”

[27] Gina’s account is quite interesting because it highlights the function of PUSHERS. Pushers are people who push you towards the development of toxic attachment. They do this for various reasons. If they are dealers, they do it for money. If they are family and friends, they do it as a way to justify their own addictions and to avoid the shame and guilt of drinking/smoking to excess around people who do not. Whether they are doing it for money or because getting others addicted makes them feel better about themselves doesn’t matter. The point is, people push addictions and they are often effective at getting others hooked, especially when the pushing is combined with other “risk factors,” like the toxic environments of a toxic socialization process.

[28] https://spiritwiki.lightningpath.org/Crown_Stupification.

[29] As Maslow would have said A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.) (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)..

[30] As strange as it may seem, it is possible to harm others even when you are engaged in “healthier” addictions like running. We remember years ago driving through Banff in Canada and seeing a young women running through the streets in a fashionable jogger outfit, with her five year old child panting and struggling to keep up behind her. This women appeared to be so addicted to running that she would torture a young child just so she could get her fix.

[31] Addiction to shopping, which judging by the ridiculous displays that occur in North America during the Black Friday to Christmas season, and by the constant need to have the “newest, latest, and greatest” thingamabobby just so you can be cool, stand out, fit it, and be “happy,” is a problem for the addict, their families, the environment, and the children who are exploited just so you can have the latest and greatest “iThingy.” Addiction to shopping, which is something encouraged by the manipulations of the marketing industry, is destroying the planet. Shopping is therefore a problematic addiction no matter if you have the money to spend to infinity or not.

[32] See for example Andrew Holmes, Paul J. Fitzgerald, Kathryn P. MacPherson, Lauren DeBrouse, Giovanni Colacicco, Shaun M. Flynn, Sophie Masneuf, Kristen E. Pleil, Chia Li, Catherine A. Marcinkiewcz, Thomas L. Kash, Ozge Gunduz-Cinar and Marguerite Camp, “Chronic Alcohol Remodels Prefrontal Neurons and Disrupts Nmdar-Mediated Fear Extinction Encoding,” Nature Neuroscience 15 (2012).

[33] https://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-rehab/alcohol-problems-and-the-need-for-complete-abstinence/

[34] Brianna Sharpe, “‘Chosen Families’ Give Lgbtq Parents and Kids the Support They May Lack,” Huffpost 2018.

[35] https://spiritwiki.lightningpath.org/Cannabis.

 

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