Friday, November 16, 2012

Overcoming Addictions

I recently attended a meeting where a couple therapists discussed how to counsel people with addictions, specifically an addiction to pornography. I thought a lot of the things they said were awesome, so I wanted to pass them along. 

One thing they talked about was how to know if you have an addiction, or if it is just a bad habit. Here were the signs of an addiction that he gave:
·      Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop
·      It is interfering with life functioning
·      It is building and increasing in intensity
·      It causes personal distress
·      Engaging in risky behavior (example: viewing pornography at work even though it could result in being fired)
·      Constantly thinking or worrying about it

I thought that was a good list, and it reminded me that although I try to talk myself out of it sometimes, I am an addict. Sometimes more than others, but I related all too well with each of these to deny it.

At one point, they listed tempting thoughts that addicts have.
·      My life is already messed up
·      I already messed up today
·      I’ll stop tomorrow
·      What I do doesn’t matter to anyone
·      I’m useless anyway
·      A little won’t hurt
·      I just need a break

Again, these all hit incredibly close to home. I’ve thought each of these before, and sometimes it can still be a battle to keep myself thinking positively. 

He talked about the brain. I’ve read a few things about addictions and the brain, but he said some things that I hadn’t heard before, and I don’t know all the technical lingo, so I’ll do my best to describe it from what I remember. Basically he said that pornography is a drug, and it creates a release of dopamine. Then there are dopamine receptors (I think), which make the connection with the dopamine. Well then when the dopamine is gone, there is a deficiency in the brain, and so it begins to crave it. When something triggers it, the brain automatically starts the process on its own. So basically what I took away from it was that when something triggers you, the brain will automatically start the process, and this is why you can have an awesome day, full of the spirit, etc. and then find yourself looking at pornography just minutes later. I’ve had that happen so many times, and it is so discouraging. The good news is that this damage to the brain isn’t permanent; however, it takes a lot of time and work to change. 

They talked about ways a spouse can help. I’m not married, so you’d think this wouldn’t apply at all to me, but there was something that almost brought me to tears. He said one of the worst things a spouse can do is to have the addict promise that they will never slip again. The promise that should be made is that they will never give up, never stop fighting, and trying, and learning. I have promised myself time and time and time again that I would never have another slip up. And every time I’ve made that promise, I’ve broken it, and that is incredibly deflating, discouraging, and depressing. But I know that I will never give up. I will never stop fighting. I am so glad he said that, because it made it okay for me to just focus on the things I am going to do, and how I’m going to make it.

Speaking of slip ups, he said that addicts have a tendency to think they are back at square one whenever they have a slip up. This thinking should be discouraged. If you have just gone 3 weeks without a slip, and then have one, you aren’t at zero. You have still progressed through those weeks, and although you have had a small set back, you are still much better off than you were. Instead of 21/21, you might be 20/21, but that is still awesome progress.

Identify the reasons you want to change. If you aren’t committed to the change, it isn’t going to happen. List the advantages and disadvantages of changing. Once you see that by not changing the behavior you are giving up something of incredible worth for something meaningless, it will provide additional motivation.

Other recommendations he had were to engage in a consistent exercise plan. I know from personal experience, that I am much better off when I am exercising, just be careful that it doesn’t turn into an addiction to exercise, cause although that is less bad, it still isn’t healthy. Also, be as social as possible, it will help build meaningful relationships, and it helps to stay connected to real people.

Most importantly, involve the Savior in the work. All change comes through Him. I know that is true. I know that the Atonement is real. With addictions, it isn’t enough for someone to tell you to stop it, and to just pray and read your scriptures more. Outside help is often needed, and that is okay. In fact it is good. Though difficult, talking with others about my struggles has brought much healing and peace.