It’s not easy – and you can do it.
When we hear the word ‘addiction’, the first thing most of us probably think of is substance abuse. If someone is an ‘addict’, we often assume they have a drinking problem, or they’re on drugs. But there are lots of things we can be addicted to: sex, work, food, selfies, shopping, watching porn, texting (it’s actually called nomophobia), exercise, attention, approval…the list goes on and on. Therapists call these ‘soft’ addictions, but don’t be fooled: they’re still incredibly hard to quit.
Some ‘soft addictions’ are more tangible than others, and the less-concrete ones might be harder to pinpoint. If you’re trying to quit smoking, it’s easy to know if you’re successfully kicking the habit, because you’re not lighting up anymore. But if you’re trying to quit overeating, you can’t just stop eating altogether. And we all need love and attention – it’s part of being human – so how do we know when that healthy, normal desire has crossed over into addiction?
Psychology Today says there are a few clear signs that something has become an addiction. For example: you find yourself engaging in the questionable action more often, you feel anxious if you stop, you keep telling yourself you’ll quit but are unable to, you need to do it more and more to be satisfied, and it begins to disrupt your everyday life (that’s a big one).
Some things, like exercise, might seem like harmless, even healthy, addictions. But being addicted to anything is cause for concern. Psychotherapist Sherry Gabba, author of The Law of Sobriety, says even ‘good’ addictions can become a gateway to other, more destructive addictions.
“How many people do you know that are addicted to their job, addicted to working out, addicted to their kids or addicted to having the latest technology or gadget?” says Gabba.
“These types of addictions may be ruining their lives, sense of self-worth and self-esteem in ways that are very similar to drug use, gambling or out of control alcohol consumption.”
So if you’re trying to kick an addiction – whether hard or soft – here are nine things to keep in mind as you embark on your journey to emotional freedom…
1. Know you’ll never be ‘ready’
There’s never going to be a perfect time to quit your addiction. Telling yourself that there will be is just a delay tactic that will keep you from ever actually quitting. Choose a time to quit (how about now?) and just do it.
“You can be scared, anxious, cynical, or ambivalent and still make this decision,” says author Susan Shapiro, who co-wrote Unhooked: How To Quit Anything with the addiction specialist who helped her kick her own cigarette, marijuana and alcohol habits.
2. Have an accountability partner
Having friends is key. Having one designated friend who will back you up in case you’re about to slip up is even better. In the 12-step world of Alcoholics Anonymous and related groups, everyone gets paired up with a sponsor to call in case they need support. So get yourself a ‘sponsor’, and commit to reaching out as needed.
3. Be willing to be very uncomfortable
“Do not expect to quit and feel better. It does not work that way,” says Shapiro, who recommends making peace with the fact that at first, you’re going to feel worse.
“Once you give yourself permission to suffer and be sad, you have already lessened the suffering you will go through because it won’t take you by surprise. You will be more prepared for the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.”
4. Remember that feelings aren’t facts
This is a popular saying among 12-steppers, and one that is easily misinterpreted, because it can sound like a dismissal of your feelings. It’s not that your feelings aren’t valid or important. They are! It’s just that they aren’t necessarily based in reality. For example, you may feel like a useless pile of garbage that no one cares about, but this is not actually true. Let yourself be comforted by the thought that your feelings will come and go, and are not, in fact, reliable narrators.
5. Pick up a new hobby
Therese Borchard, associate editor at PsychCentral, says keeping busy was vital to her efforts to curb her addictions.
“The fastest way to get out of your head is to put it in a new project,” says Borchard.
She suggests “compiling a family album, knitting a blanket, coaching Little League, heading a civic association, planning an Earth Day festival, auditioning for the local theatre, or taking a course at the community college.”.
6. Sweat it out
Exercise is a natural source of endorphins, our bodies’ natural painkillers. As long as you’re not trying to overcome an addiction to exercise itself, getting out for a run or heading to the gym is a great way to ease the pain of weaning yourself off whatever it is you’re withdrawing from.
‘I don’t know if it’s the endorphins or what, but I just think much better and feel better with sweat dripping down my face,’ writes Borchard.
7. Write it out
Shapiro says writing is a powerful tool to combat addiction.
“Jot down your feelings, your food or drug intake, your plans, or poems, songs, or adages you like. Get specific about your habits. Instead of identifying ‘smoking,’ admit that you’ve ‘smoked a pack a day of Marlboros for 20 years’ and all the methods you’ve tried to quit in the past. ‘Overeating’ is too general; emulate the novel Bridget Jones’ Diary and detail: ‘pigged out on cookies at 2:00 AM again.'”.
8. Have a plan
Inevitably, you’re going to run into a rough patch or two on the road to recovery. So have a plan for when it happens. Call your accountability partner, go to a meeting, or reach out to a professional. Don’t try to go it alone: there’s help out there. All you have to do is know how – and be brave enough – to ask for it.
9. Help someone else
The last step of the 12-step program is to help others. As Borchard says, “the best thing I can do for my brain is to find a person in greater pain than myself and to offer her my hand. If she takes it, I’m inspired to stand strong, so I can pull her out of her funk. And in that process, I am often pulled out of mine.”
So if you’re struggling, offer to take a friend out for coffee with a friend who’s also facing a challenge, or call someone who’s feeling low and offer to run an errand for her. Doing this will take your mind off your own troubles and will make your friend feel better, too.
Overcoming an addiction of any kind is tough. But so are you. And you can do it.
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Comment: Have you ever beaten an addiction? How did you do it?