Saturday, January 22, 2011

Addiction and the Shadow

"Addicts who relapse have become a standard feature of the psychological landscape. But what do they really represent? I think they are an extreme example of a common situation: a divided self. For addicts, the separation between the "good me" and the "bad me" cannot be resolved. Normally, the tactics for dealing with one's dark side come rather easily. It's not hard to deny your bad deeds, forget your wicked impulses, apologize for getting angry and show contrition for your misdeeeds. Addicts cannot settle for these easy prescriptions. Their darker impulses preoccupy them without the normal checks and restraints. Even access to simple pleasure is denied. The demons inside undermine pleasure and spoil it; they mock happiness; they remind addicts repeatedly of their weakness and badness.

Let's say that this description is roughly correct. I have left out some important ingredients. Habit plays a strong part in addiction. So do physical changes in the brain - substance abusers have attacked the receptors in the brain using alien chemicals hat in time destroy the normal responses of pleasure and pain. Yet these physical aspects of addiction have been grossly overstated. If addiction was primarily physical, then millions of people wouldn't be casually using alcohol and drugs. Yet they do, with relatively little long-term harm and minimal chance of addiction. Without entering the heated controversy over addiction and its causes, one can step back and see it not as an isolated problem, but as yet another expression of the shadow.

Therefore, to treat additions, we much approach the shadow and disarm it.

Addicts are trapped in a fog of illusion. Inside that fog, nothing exists but craving and the terror of not getting a fix."

-Deepak Chopra, The Shadow Effect, pp 15-17

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