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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

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The New Female Mystics: Post-Modern Gurus

The New Female Mystics: Post-Modern Gurus

A notable exception to the No Logo rule is Byron Katie, who calls her work, well, The Work. But she’s the best example of a self-schooled female mystic. For two years, Katie was so maniacally depressed she rarely got out of bed. A mother of two boys and a teen-aged girl in Bakersfield, CA and an alcoholic, she ended up in a local halfway house.

When Katie awoke one morning to find a cockroach crawling up her foot, she had an out-of-nowhere epiphany. “All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, was gone,” she recalls. “The only thing that existed was awareness. I was seeing without concepts, without thoughts or a story. There was no me. The foot and the cockroach weren’t outside me. There was no outside or inside.”

During the two decades since that halfway-house psychic makeover, Katie, now 63, has drawn audiences in the thousands to lectures and workshops, offering others the same experience. She typically charges no fee. To both experts and lay people alike she appears to live in an elevated psychological state utterly free of internal conflict, akin to a yogi or a lama. Katie herself claims that she does not even see herself as a spiritual person.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

A FAMILY AFFAIR

December is high-season for socializing. But office parties or holiday family get-togethers can spin off a yin-yang quality. Yes, they are peak moments for comfort and genuine joy. They’re also forums for Pulp Fiction-style medieval moments: heightened emotions, childhood memories and other id-stuff will magnify the dark side of people’s addictions.

How many times have you seen a colleague, sometimes married, who drinks too much at the corporate holiday event – and makes a scene that’s practically X-rated?

Every police station, hospital ER and women’s shelter in America knows that the highest incidence of drunk driving, domestic violence and other forms of strife are recorded during the last month of the year.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

ADDICTION FOR DUMMIES

In the mainstream media’s portrayal, your personality is a construct governed by a matrix of chemicals. Addiction is a deficit caused by an imbalance in the chemical cocktail that is you. Look no further than the cover story Time magazine put on newsstands in summer 2007, How We Get Addicted. We read it, so you don’t have to. The premise:

Armed with an array of increasingly sophisticated technology, including fMRIs and PET scans, investigators have begun to figure out exactly what goes wrong in the brain of an addict–which neurotransmitting chemicals are out of balance and what regions of the brain are affected. They are developing a more detailed understanding of how deeply and completely addiction can affect the brain, by hijacking memory-making processes and by exploiting emotions. Using that knowledge, they’ve begun to design new drugs that are showing promise in cutting off the craving that drives an addict irresistibly toward relapse–the greatest risk facing even the most dedicated abstainer.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

BIG PHARMA’S PRESCRIPTION

The Time cover story, How We Get Addicted, is essentially a re-packaging and re-telling of an exhaustive 2007 HBO documentary series called Addiction. It consists of a 90-minute feature, followed by 13 half-hour episodes, that focus on the physiology and medical treatment of addiction. There are lots of victim stories, PET scans and brochure-ware for new drugs like Topiramate that can ostensibly “re-set the brain.”

Talking heads also editorialize about the problem of denial. But isn’t the more common problem that addicts are the first to know what their afflictions are doing to their lives and loved ones? It leads to a self-bashing loop inside their heads that simply adds a whole new layer of stress — and secondary tier of pain that they’re compelled to medicate even further.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

“TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS” and D. W. WINNICOTT

In the object relations school of psychology dominated by the likes of D. W. Winnicott, one of the 20th-century greats who built on the work of Freud, lovers are like Teddy Bears and the chihauhau (Tinkerbell) that Paris Hilton is holding in this photo. Winnicott called them transitional objects. The original object is your mother’s breast — a primal archetype because we humans depended on the breast for our very survival through the ages.

According to Winnicott, one of the most important skills we develop as a toddler is “object constancy,” and we learn it at about the age of three. Without it, loss and abandonment would feel intolerable. At the point our psyches download that feeling we let go of clinging to our mother’s breast because we sense a connection with “mother” even if she isn’t physically in a room. We comfort ourselves with co-called transitional objects like a soother or a stuffed animal.

Healthy adults feel a natural connection with intimate partners, God or other forms of “new breasts.” An aloof mother like the Julianne Moore character in the movie The Hours can produce a clingy kid whose fear of abandment is magnified — and an addict as an adult.

Addiction is a form of clinging. The addictive substance — whether its sex, drugs or booze — has become the transitional object.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

RE-INSTALLLING “OBJECT CONSTANCY”

What do you do if you’re hooked on transitional objects like sex, drugs, alcohol or other addictions? Even if object constancy has been wiped from your system by abuse, or worse, the good news is that it can be re-installed. By you! We all have the power of self-love in us — it’s coded into every cell of our bodies — and a few self-administered shots for a few moments can carry us through hours or days.

Use this context, give addiction a quarter turn, and see it as a tool of grief and pain avoidance — just as worry and control are. The antidote to control, and living in fear that our connections with beings closest to us will be breached, involves the opposite of clinging and addiction. Fear thrives on low self-esteem and distrust. The behavioral cure is to build self-affirmation through core values that sound true to you. It is also about considering a spiritual purpose for yourself, as opposed to career and relationship benchmarks.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

TRAUMA, the FIGHT/FLIGHT RESPONSE and ALCOHOL

A couple of things occur when people get hit by a trauma like a car accident, natural disaster, major surgery, job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, the death of a parent, rape or other violent crime. The object constancy that D. W. Winnicott suggests is installed in our psyches around the age of three can be wiped out like a deleted computer file. The other thing that happens is that our nervous systems, spiked with adrenaline and other stress hormones, go into hyper-drive. “It is as if the nervous system is wired for 110 volts and is hit with 220,” write psychologists Diane and Larry Heller.

We climb a roller-coaster to a state of high activiation, the term of art popularized by the pioneering biophysicist, Peter A. Levine. Most mammals instinctually come down the roller coaster by discharging the intense energy of activation, also known as the fight or flight state, by literally shaking it off and sounding off — kind of like the way King Kong goes bat-shit after beating off attackers by roaring and chest-thumping.

But evolution gave humans a manual over-ride in the brain’s center of thought and language. Instead of spontaneously discharging our nervous systems, many of us unwittingly turn to alcohol or drugs to cycle out of high activation after a trauma. Legendary billionaire Howard Hughes is a case study.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

A NEW TREATMENT CALLED SOMATIC EXPERIENCING

After a trauma jolts you into a state of high activation, one of the simplest ways to discharge the intense energy trapped in your nervous system is by doing vigorous workouts like biking, kickboxing, or heck, chopping wood. But if Howard Hughes were alive today, we would advise him to try a more powerful and targetted approach to recover from his 1946 plane crash: a cutting-edge therapy called somatic experiencing.

One of the problems with traditional psycho-therapy is that you can develop a new understanding of yourself and have amazing breakthroughs in self-awareness but they often fail to translate into real change. The realizations you get from talk-therapy are still only thoughts in your head. Somatic therapists seek to anchor those realizations to felt-shifts in your body. They do this by inducing mild states of hypnosis, using sound, touch and other sensations.

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Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

Addiction: 9 Causes and Cures

ADDICTS + ARTISTS = THE MOST SPIRITUAL BEINGS

M. Scott Peck, the top trans-personal self-help author of the 1970s, famously called addiction “the sacred disease.” He argued that alcoholics and addicts are often the most inherently spiritual people because they’re seeking to escape the confines of a personal story and tap into something larger than themselves. It’s one reason that addiction shows up so often in artists. Poet Samuel T. Coleridge was a heavy opium user 200 years ago, and 19th-century painter Vincent Van Gogh was an alcoholic who favored absinthe. Throw a dart at a board full of modern music icons from Bob Dylan and Keith Richards to Ray Charles and Johnny Cash — all drug addicts.

The most famous example of a spiritual teacher who was an addict is Byron Katie. A hardcore alcoholic — and mother of two boys and a teen-aged girl in Bakersfield, CA — Katie ended up in a local halfway house. Katie was miraculously cured when she awoke one morning to find a cockroach crawling up her foot, and had an out-of-nowhere epiphany. “All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, was gone,” she recalls. “The only thing that existed was awareness.”

After Katie became a post-modern mystic with an international following, she reflected on the roots of addiction:

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