We are the same as every living thing – in that our environment shapes us. In fact it will shape us to the extent that we either grow to our full wonderful potential or we can fade and die.
An analogy that makes it plain to understand how vital our environment is to us is to realize how we care for plants in our garden. We know it is essential to have the correct soil, to keep the soil in the best conditions possible by ensuring it has enough water and nutrients, that the plant has sufficient sunshine and doesn’t get too hot or cold.
We know that if we neglect any of these, the plant will wilt and if left uncared for it would eventually at some point die. The environment we live in is just as vital to our wellbeing.
This means not only our home, but also the community and even country we live in. Our environment needs to be a sanctuary and provide what we need to grow and thrive.
Mental, emotional, spiritual and physical
Human beings are social creatures. We were made that way, as part of our survival as originally we didn’t have so much to protect us as many animals do, such as long sharp fangs or pointed claws.
Likewise we don’t have fur to keep us warm. Then there is the fact that human babies are born far more underdeveloped than almost all animals.
For the first 12 months a human baby is totally dependent on the adults around it for food, shelter and warmth as we can’t even walk for usually around nine to 12 months old. Yet, most baby animals can walk within days and sometimes hours.
A human brain doubles in size in the first year. So it’s growing rapidly – and the environment around it will influence how it develops.
Negative consequences on our cells of being in a frequent or continual state of alert at real or perceived dangers has been scientifically proven. Stem-cell biologist and author Dr Bruce Lipton has explained how the trillions of cells in our body are either growing and maintaining our health or in a defensive mode when they cannot grow as they should.
Being in a damaging environment like this means we’re more likely to become ill – that can be in a mental, emotional or physical sense. Increasingly, experts such as Dr Lipton and physician, author and trauma expert Dr Gabor Maté are stating how mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of us are all inextricably linked.
Disconnection is a major part of all mental health problems. Frequently, people who are suffering from such as addiction, anxiety or depression will feel alone and disconnected from other people.
So the world around us and the people in it are vital to our wellbeing. We need to feel connected.
No main is an island
Renowned psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) used another plant analogy that explains this so well. Talking about a plant’s rhizome, which is its stem that is continuously growing underground, he said: “Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome.
“The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity.
“Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.”
So underneath the soil there are roots, there’s the soil, there are nutrients in the soil, and vital things for the life of the plant happen in the soil when it rains. Then above and around the plant there’s the air and oxygen, the sunshine, the rain, night and day…
If the plant ignored all of these other parts of it, and relied solely on itself, it would soon wither and die. It can be said that’s the same with us if we ignore connections around us.
The war on drugs
Portugal’s decriminalization and changed policy on illegal drugs in the past decade proves this point. Instead of spending money on the “war on drugs”, the country – that had one of the highest number of drug users in Europe – started to spend that money on rehabilitation and to allow users to integrate in society again.
For instance, a group of three people who’d been carpenters until their drug use had put them out of action, were encouraged – with financial help – to start up a small carpentry company to do their work around their community. This gave them a connection again.
There’s a strong point here that for many addicts the connection they have with their drug replaces any other connection. It becomes their number one and sometimes only “relationship”.
Within a few years of this new policy Portugal saw a huge improvement. For example, Portugal’s drug death toll plummeted to three per million compared to the European average of more than 17 per million.
People need people
It’s also one of the reasons the Twelve Steps group meetings and regular one-one-one therapy both work so well. There’s connection between people – and what they think and feel.
Sometimes when people have grown up in an environment, their home and/or community where there was little positive and loving connection, therapy might be the first time they have ever felt validated and valued as a person. Feeling unloved as they may have in this way leads to all sorts of emotional and mental health problems.
Of course, if the environment someone has grown up in – or it could be they presently live – is one where abuse and aggression is commonplace, it is bound to have negative consequences.
So while a great deal of recovery is about working on inner feelings and beliefs, the external environment has to be considered as it certainly plays a major part in someone’s wellbeing.
Today while there are more ways of connecting than ever before, there is actually less real connection. Communities were stronger in the past and all generations of a family used to live closer to each other.
In general, people had more time for each other even including those in their household. There was more connection.
It is like if we took a piece of coal from a glowing fire… on its own without the warmth of the fire the piece of coal would soon go out. People need other people: we need connection and relationships.
Many people with an addiction seem to fall into a relentless battle where they stop because they know they have to stop. But then they cannot stay stopped.
In fact this is so well known in recovery communities there’s the phrase: stopping is easy; it’s staying stopped that’s the difficult part.
So someone may do this repeatedly for years. They stop and then after a certain period – that could even be of several months or more – they find that almost as if against their own will they have started again.
It’s disheartening, frustrating and causes great anguish, despair and sometimes anger. Not only for the person trying to quit, but also for all those around them.
Some people eventually just give up on giving up. But there is always a way to stay stopped.
Thankfully, there are proven methods that can help anyone to stay stopped from any addiction.
Keep it in the day
One of the first phrases that people in recovery groups and/or therapy may well hear is “keep it in the day”. It’s also said that quitting an addiction should be taken “one day at a time”.
This breaks it down and makes it seem much less daunting. You don’t have to think about giving up forever – just for this one day.
But then repeat this, one day at a time (often abbreviated to “odaat”). There are people with, for instance, 40 years sobriety from alcohol addiction – who still take it just one day at time.
Sometimes if a day seems too long, break that down. So, make it for one hour or even one minute at a time: that is, “just for the next hour/minute I won’t drink or use or do my addictive behavior…” Then keep repeating this.
Avoid tempting places and behaviors
There’s a famous soccer player in England called Paul Merson with a well documented struggle with drink who said: “If you keep walking past the barbers, eventually you’ll get a haircut.”
Although humorous, it makes a serious point. Many people quit such as an alcohol addiction, but still go to bars…
The word “temptation” derives from a Latin word temptare meaning “handle, test, try”. So putting yourself in the place or places where you used “do” the addiction means you are giving yourself a test.
One day you might not pass the test. Then you are back under the power of the addiction.
It’s the same if your addiction was, say, shopping. If you go to the shops or start browsing online, there could be problems ahead once again.
Stick with the winners!
This is similar to avoiding places – but is directed towards people. Those people we often drank with or got drugs from or gambled with – and so on.
If you really want to stay stopped from an addiction, certainly in the beginning and for some time at the start it’s best to avoid these people. Just as is the case for most people with avoiding certain places, this is not likely to be forever.
But just until you know in your heart that you can handle the test of being in these places and among these people again. Although when many people in recovery reach this point they realize they don’t actually want to go to those places again or be with those people.
There’s a phrase frequently heard in addiction recovery circles that is “stick with the winners”. It may sound harsh, but really is just to get you considering who you’re keeping company with at any given time.
We also need to look out for people who cause us to have strong emotions or who trigger us. This could include family, friends or colleagues.
It would be best to avoid these people in most instances. But if that’s impossible, such as with some family members, at least be aware that you need to keep alert.
Also perhaps do some mental and emotional preparation before you see them – such as meditate or read something that inspires you to stay stopped from your addiction. As well, try your best to limit the time you spend with anyone like this.
Watch out for social media
Many people who are addicted to something will find they get triggered when they have negative emotions. They seek to change the way they feel – and turn to something they have found achieves that, albeit in a short-lived way that’s always detrimental in the long-term.
Social media, as well as being something to which many people get addicted, can also be a trigger. People look on Facebook, Twitter or suchlike and they feel angry due to some political opinion.
Or they feel extremely envious of someone’s house, car, latest holiday or that they have a loving partner (or so it seems). Then there’s that other person posting and boasting about their work achievements – and that leaves a feeling of being less than because self-esteem is already low.
Similarly, be aware that as well as social media, things such as the news, soap operas, song lyrics, movies and documentaries can all change the way we feel for the worse. As well, for some people watching sports can do this.
It’s not to say you necessarily need to stop these pastimes outright or forever. But if you know they lead to an addiction or even craving, perhaps they are best limited or totally avoided.
Develop what is known in recovery communities as “an attitude of gratitude”. It will help you focus on positives.
It’s a way of making sure negative feelings don’t get overwhelming. Gratitude lists – when you write down things you’re grateful for – are simple and wonderfully effective.
It’s important to write these regularly, such as just before you got to bed and then read them first thing in the morning. But of course they can be written any time to help chase away negative feelings.
Sometimes you may have to force yourself to write one, and this is especially beneficial when you really don’t feel like it. But they always work because such as anxiety and depression cannot exist while you are focusing on gratitude.
It is full of positive ways to live, one day at a time. This is for everyone, not just people who are addicted to something.
Live well – and say sorry
Following on from the Just For Today card is this: to live the mantra – how can I help others? See what you can give to the world.
Many people who are addicted take from the world, including such as from their work, other people, family and friends. This is not because they are bad people, but because they feel empty and consumed with pain – and are simply desperate to fill up their emptiness and block the pain.
But the best way to do this is quite the opposite of taking. Whenever we give, we gain.
So help others and always see what you can give to the stream of life. Be kind and generous.
This includes saying sorry as promptly as you can when you realize you’ve said or done something that might have caused harm. Never say “Sorry, but…” – just sincerely saying “Sorry” is best.
Many people who go to AA Meetings say AA could also stand for Altered Attitudes. This is because if you are stopping an addiction you need to learn to live a new way, where you change your responses and reactions to certain things that are a part of life.
It is necessary to work on self-esteem, self-love and self-confidence. This is an inside job.
Then when you feel stronger from the inside, outside things won’t have such a negative impact. Acceptance will come easier – and people feel calmer and more assured about life.
Meditation has for centuries benefitted people around the world. There’s no one way to do it, but many people who are experts in it speak about seeking calm and stillness, of being an observer of the moment without any judgement.
It’s been proven to be especially beneficial as a way to start the day. If we begin the day calmly like this we will have more energy for dealing with anything that the day ahead might bring to us.
This is for people who once felt hopeless. There are many reasons why they are thought to be so beneficial – one of those being that a group of people together is stronger than a person alone.
Another reason why Twelve Steps group meetings are so beneficial to so many addicts is that they are often what leads to someone starting the Twelve Steps recovery program.
You don’t have to do the Twelve Steps if you attend any of these meetings, but it is one of the main reasons for them. Many people in Twelve Steps recovery compare the meetings to the physician’s waiting room and the Twelve Steps are the medication you’re given to get and stay well.
Therapy is of course a hugely effective and proven way of quitting an addiction and staying stopped. A good therapist will offer methods to live well day by day and also look back at your life, such as at family history or help you deal with a trauma.
Here at Tikvah Lake Recovery we specialize in offering daily one-on-one therapy. In our experience this is by far the best sort of treatment.
We can also offer you an introduction to the Twelve Steps. We listen carefully to all of our guests and then personalize the treatment so that it works as swiftly as possible and gives the strongest and most enduring recovery possible.