It’s a fact. Human beings like habits. We do things, repeatedly. Every day. Over and over again. Because we’re used to it. It makes us feel good; it gives us a sense of comfort and control. We have hundreds of habits that help us through the day and that bring a kind of structure into our lives. A lot of these habits we’re not even aware of. On an automatic pilot we keep on repeating certain compulsive behaviour, often being rewarded by an instant gratification. When we take a closer look, we often see that these habits are not serving us really nor contributing to our wellbeing and happiness. Although it may give us a sense of pleasure on the short term, the long-term effects can be self-destructive one way or another. It becomes really tricky when we believe we can’t live without these habits and get dependent.
Addiction is a chronic condition that causes us to lose our ability to resist a craving, despite negative physical, personal, or social consequences. We seek out nicotine, alcohol, drugs and food because it makes us feel good or lessens feelings of stress and sadness. Not only substances are abused for this purpose, we all know the common pitfalls of over working, exercising or dieting. We go to the extreme in order to numb, cope with life and make our living seemingly pleasurable and rewarding.
If we look further than the short-term gratification, we find that what’s underneath every unhealthy habit is not so much the craving for the substance or activity as such. The world is too overwhelming, full with emotional distress and we don’t how to deal with it. So we’re going to extremes to find external means to fill an existential hole within. A big gap that consists of a deep feeling of emptiness, non-fulfilment, loneliness and not wanting to be here. A lack of love, self-care and compassion. A disconnection with our true selves and the world around us.
What does help? Connection is the key.
An existential hole can only be fulfilled with existential matter. External means will never create this sense of fulfilment. Instead, it’s good to focus on what’s the essence of what makes us human beings. Connection with others and connection with ourselves. More than any other existing life form on this planet, we have this great ability to connect with each other, to love and care and communicate this in all kinds of ways. This process of giving and receiving from the heart creates a deep sense of fulfilment that literally fills our cup. The connection with ourselves lies in our high-developed consciousness which makes that we are able to live life with awareness; a crucial factor that is needed to not act upon primary instinctive responses that are often related with addictive behaviour.
Practice yoga and mindfulness. Nowadays there are many programs available to treat addiction and substance abuse. An increasing number is focusing on a more holistic approach, encompassing a variety of mindfulness based methods and tools in order to create more awareness on body and mind. Yoga as a complementary health practice is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to cope with potential triggers and daily life stressors. The word yoga means ‘connection’ and its practice connects body and mind and a deep connection with ourselves. Yoga has been used for thousands of years as a means of promoting physical, mental and spiritual health and is seen as a very beneficial coping tool in recovery. The physical benefits support increasing strength, flexibility and dealing with withdrawal pains. Breathing exercises, gentle motions and a mindfulness-based approach reduces stress, cravings and treats any psychological distress or trauma. The improved circulation lowers blood pressure and increases oxygen flow to the brain that has a mood altering effect on the accompanying depression in recovery. Self-awareness and self-discipline is enhanced through the practice of yoga and its full on exposure therapy nature. Moreover, the origins of yoga are believed to have existed before many other belief systems were born, which provides a solid foundation for a connection with a higher power that has proven to be the crucial step in 12 step recovery programs.
Practice love, kindness and compassion in sharing with the world around us. Love is the indispensable and essential foundation not only for the growth and purification of the individual as for the construction of a peaceful, progressive and healthy society. It helps to increase positive emotions like joy, contentment, and gratitude and reduces negative feelings like sadness, loneliness and disconnection. Through giving and receiving love and kindness, we feel socially supported, a sense of belonging and purpose in life, which increases life satisfaction and reduces depressive symptoms. A lot comes down to the expression of our feelings and sharing our inner lives with others, whether this is in a romantic relationship, with friends, family, colleagues or strangers. It’s all about approaching the other with an open heart coming from a place of compassion and acceptance. This can also be done through giving back, volunteering, doing something for someone else without getting something in return. Loving-kindness specifically can be practiced through meditation. The word chosen by the Buddha for this teaching is metta from mitta, “the true friend in need”. Metta in the Buddha’s teaching finds its place in contemplation designed to develop a sound pacific relationship to other living beings. Asking for help and guidance is another way to connect with others. It requires a lot of courage to come from a place of vulnerability and not knowing, trust and surrendering to the support of others, which immediately creates a solid and strong bound.
Everything we give attention, grows. If we let connection to be our new healthy habit we can bring more life into our human existence and fill the holes within and become whole again.
Written by Anouk Prop