Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Challenges of Self-Identification and Addiction

Are you addicted to your sobriety?

At its core, addiction of any sort is about making some behavior - any behavior, and sometimes not even a demonstrably destructive behavior—the centerpiece of one's life, and doing that to the point where the choice interferes with what might be defined as typical social functioning. The question we must ask in this is whether there is a place to stand where sobriety itself does not become another form of addiction.

Is addiction a disease? Is addiction a behavior? Is addictive behavior a symptom of a more subtle and underlying obsessive-compulsive system? Does addiction even exist? Is addiction treatable? Is there such a thing as true recovery, or is there only "recovering"? What came first, the chicken or the egg, and what, by the way, is the nature of God? It's all pretty much the same thing—everyone has an opinion, everyone has a position, and there are no hard and fast answers.

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One thing is clear. This thing that we label addiction interferes with our ability to function effectively in the world and within ourselves. It is an obstacle, and, for us to have a clear path on our journey - both inward and outward—we must clear away the obstacles; something that, in the case of addiction, intends sobriety. But what, as one of my patients asked me this past week, if that sobriety breeds fear - fear of one's addiction? Do we, in our sobriety, then choose to live in fear?

The question brought me back to the conundrum that we have posited before - how do you let go of the ego without grasping at letting go of the ego? In this case, how do you let go of your addiction without grasping at letting go of your addiction? More to the point, how do you live in your sobriety without grasping at your sobriety?

Grasping is attachment and attachment is fear—in this case, fear of loss—and living in fear for the sake of your own peace of mind is no peace of mind at all. Oh, ma-a-a-an (rising inflection) - this is the stuff that keeps me up at night.

I am going to take a position on addiction for the sake of this conversation. That position is not intended to engender debate, as that debate is endless.

My personal belief is that addiction is an obsessive-compulsive system, and that the behavior associated with that system (drinking, drugging, gambling, spending, sex, etc.) is a symptom of that underlying system. The manifest symptom is prompted by underlying vulnerabilities that are unique to each individual, so the symptomology of addiction is typically tied to the individual personality matrix of the addict.

If we take this position,—holding space for the possibility that alcoholism may be a disease with organic antecedents—letting go of our fear of confronting the emotions, situations and feelings that lead us to our avoidance and prompt our addictive behavior leads us then to sobriety. If, however, we build our investment in sobriety around our fear of addiction, rather than a genuine intention to set aside our avoidance and confront our deeper condition, what and where does it really get us? Not much and nowhere, except, for all intents and purposes, providing us with another centerpiece. No digging in the dirt, just a prettier garden. Not a bad start, but only a start - no finish.

Addictive behavior is a survival mechanism prompted by fear, shielding us from confronting our deeper demons by providing us with a superficial demon. Sobriety is also a survival mechanism, providing us with a vehicle for setting aside that superficial demon, also prompted by fear - a fear of our demon. Maintaining our sobriety can easily become our new demon - a demon disguised as an angel - and thus itself be an obstacle to getting to heart of the matter, the engine of our addiction.

Buddha said, "All things in moderation—take the Middle Way." My friend Alfred is an alcoholic and has been sober for 41 years. He is also a professional bartender - something he calls his "13th Step". He says that this reminds him why he doesn't drink, and is also quick to point out that, for him, sobriety is not about being a sober alcoholic, but, rather, about simply not drinking. This is a brilliant snapshot of the conscious work that can be brought to bear around addiction, sobriety and integral living.

Exploring how to make your sobriety part and parcel of your life without making it the overarching imperative - your new demon -- is key to advancing your full potential and finding balance in your life. And, apparently, Buddha whips up a helluvan Appletini at the country club in Westport.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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