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  • Writer's pictureDee

Addiction Recovery: Finding Solid Ground in an Ever-Changing World


London skyline against clouds
London old and new from Waterloo Bridge, Dee, 2019

How Changes in Society Affect Addiction


“The only constant is change.” ~ Heraclitus


That quote has held true since earliest civilization, and it applies to us individually as well as to the world around us, and across time. That doesn’t mean we welcome it, or even that we accept the truism that change is inevitable.


In my own lifetime, the age of technology launched just as I stepped into the work world, and it’s been astonishing. In the last 20 years the changes seem to keep getting faster and more furious than ever. Looking back 100 or 150 years? Unimaginable!


With dramatic increases in free time, new choices in travel and communication, loosening of family ties, shifts in the workforce and economy, and the uncertainty and fear all of these factors combine to bring, it’s not surprising that we’ve developed all kinds of dysfunctional coping skills, including addiction -- habits and pursuits that are meant to help us and to enhance our lives but sometimes backfire or turn actively destructive.


Addiction prevalence and severity is a reflection and reaction to the changes in society overall, which have been seismic.


We are in the midst of an addiction crisis, which, unfortunately, is a symptom of the larger maladies of society. As Dr. Stanton Peele has said for years, addictive behavior, like any human behavior can be described in terms of the life processes that foster their development. And their solutions, too.


Point being, that when people face high stress and uncertainty, they may latch onto involvements that become both destructive and self-reinforcing.


Worldwide issues with obesity, substance abuse, an unhealthy focus on money and work, disengagement, and suicidality, mood disorders, are all indicators that things are wildly out of whack for large portions of our society. This can look like a compulsive focus on a wide spectrum of “objects”beyond substances, including work, exercise, eating, gambling, self-harm, substance use, sex … and the list goes on.



demolition wreckage Cincinnati
Change before you have to.

Quote: Change before you have to. ~ Jack Welch.

Alt-text - demolition, wreckage, Cincinnati, OH


How Social Factors Affect Addiction


There are myriad large-scale factors that have contributed to our current issues with addictive or maladaptive behavior. There is nothing new in people seeking out “illicit” or harmful substances and behavior since, likely, the beginning of time, but the world feels out of control on many fronts at the moment, and in the sphere of addiction, the numbers are horrifying.Having a clear context can help us cope and


Some of the things that have happened in the last 40 or 50 years have included shifts in the way we allocate our time, our attitudes towards family and money, accompanied by a lot of unease.


Leisure Time


As we have more leisure time, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. There is less and less value or need for simple things that gave our lives routine and meaning of sorts for a long time.


In the past, the routines of life took longer. We didn’t have so many choices. We needed to know how to create families where people had to know how to do practical things -- someone had to know how to cook, to repair things, to make money, and to raise kids, and inadequate as it was, there was some simplicity in that, AND many practicalities right along with the MANY abuses and inherent imbalances and denigration of an entire sex right along with it.


Attitudes


Many of us were raised with a sort of blanket simplistic and moralistic view of family, faith and country, whether liberal or conservative. Everyone believed in or accepted as the ideal, so many terrible constructs about family, women, gender, sexuality, race and the power of brute force and money to make the world go around. There were tons of unquestioned beliefs that permeated everything.


Our oldest generation now (my parents), specifically, were highly constrained by the eyes and dictates of society and the fairytales they had absorbed.


They did, however, inhabit a world in which even simple skills had value. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, factory work, with unions well established, became viable paths to a solid middle-class, with reasonably well-paying jobs, including good benefits and pensions.


And then the car and steel industries in the ‘70s fell to shambles.


Money and Jobs


I’m from Ohio, and it became harder to find decent, stable jobs that depended on manual or less skilled labor, and at the same time, the mom and pop stores were being decimated, along with many other traditional channels by more convenient (big, national and global) alternatives. The family farm gave way to big agra. Factory work was outsourced globally, leaving a big void, and pushing people downward into worse, lower-paying jobs with few to no benefits.


Anyway, all of these forces and, of course, the many social, political, technology … changes over the years have contributed to a more and more unstable job and career landscape. One that is more overtly competitive. There is no such thing as a 30-year career job anymore, and so people are forced to compete regularly, to retain their own jobs and value out in the marketplace, like it or not. This is a totally new norm that was virtually inconceivable even 50 years ago.


People throughout the 20th century envisioned success as settling into the good life of steady jobs with nice homes and pleasant family life.


The ‘60s and ‘70s riled everything up, and then came the ‘80s. Where greed and big money grew, and the heartland and poor people and the middle-class, to a great extent, struggled to hang on. We’ve been trying to adjust to the impacts of technology and globalization ever since.


And who knows from here! The pandemic has flipped the employee-employer relationship, which, in terms of cycles, has been a long time coming, the face of services is shifting radically, and our much vaunted supply chains seem to be falling apart.


Family Ties


Loss of family groups has happened over time, too. People have been freer to move further away, with the inconceivable changes in air travel and highways. Communications have loosened the hold that parents had on beliefs and ideas, and there are so many options that can sound appealing, to young people, and to all of those who feel lonely, marginalized, unimportant, and unsure about the world. And as families fracture, the risks of abuse, neglect, disconnection, can all spiral.


Being deprived of warmth and human bonding, when young, creates a feeling of a need to “attach,” as the psychologists say, to … something. That could translate in all different kinds of ways, later, too, when boredom, poor coping or social skills, childhood trauma, lack of perceived better alternatives, cultural expectations, family messages, internalized voices … threaten us.


Fear and Uncertainty


Feeling unmoored. Poverty accelerates this. Ignorance. Uncertainty. Covid. Wealth insulates to a great degree, but there can be a substitution of $ and status or power for people and physical comforts, and life can feel empty for lots of different reasons.


The world is scary and confusing, so we turn to all kinds of things to find that feeling of being comforted, loved, reassured, safe, interested, stimulated. And we are blessed in that. But, we have so MANY options now, that even our private lives can feel completely overwhelming (as we bring the ever-increasingly dramatic and breathless news into our living rooms, watches and computers), and everything can feel very complicated.


So much so, that we are primed to allow something that might better be an occasional treat or a brief moment of relaxation in a day into a compulsive, ultimately harmful comfort or experience.

People, substances, lifestyles, habits -- can all take on an over-sized place in life. The more hopeless life feels to us when we’re caught in this trap, the harder it feels to get out. Sometimes the only focal point in life becomes that addictive element, that self-created need, if that addictive circle is really tightening down.



sky through metal grid
Change your thoughts and you change your world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale, photo by Dee, Smale Park, Cincinnati

A Reality-based Perspective


Now, we can try to look at everything separately and individually, and we can keep on switching around between them, or we can take a step back and look a bit more broadly (individually and societally). And we need, desperately, to do that, at all kinds of levels in society.


However, as individuals, looking at society’s ills is as broad as it gets, and clearly we have limited influence.


What we can do is take a good look at reality and ourselves, examine what is going on in our own lives, and then figure out how we can resist those external pressures that push us in directions that don’t serve us well, including towards excessive drug use or drinking or other addictive behaviors, in order to live the best lives we can with the resources we have available to us.


We can learn ways to avoid “needing” to escape or busting out recklessly to celebrate, release pressure, or relieve stress, even given the highly imperfect world in which we live in today.


Foundations for Coping in Addiction Recovery -- and in Life


So what do we do?! How do we carve out a healthy and reasonable way forward, individually and collectively, in this very imperfect, ever-changing world of ours, while holding onto our values and not getting sucked into distractions that are alluring but may not really be serving us well?


I find two models overall, the most helpful:


1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has become the gold standard for much therapy today. One of its foundational branches is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), originated by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950s, which is premised on the idea that our thoughts and beliefs are often negative, untrue and unhelpful and that by challenging and changing those, we can lead happier, more fulfilling lives.


2) Dr. Stanton Peele’s Life Process Model, which holds that although our life experiences, beliefs, backgrounds, families, and level of poverty all have their effects, and maturity comes from making mistakes and gaining experience, that we can develop our strengths and learn to improve our lives by focusing on what we want and value. We can create lives that are rich, rewarding and purposeful.


REBT puts things in a framework of:

  • Unconditional self-acceptance (USA)

  • Unconditional acceptance of others (UOA), and

  • Unconditional acceptance of life and the world around us (ULA)


Dr. Stanton Peele might describe this within his Life Process Model as:

  • self-assessment

  • building social and support networks, and

  • finding purposeful direction


...as a sound foundation from which you can create the life that you want.


Finding Solid Ground in a Changing World


The pace of change is not going to stop or slow down whether we like it or not. The world is ever-changing, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence over how we react to it, and I do believe firmly that we can influence much.


What we can do is start by accepting that change is indeed happening.


It’s always a good idea to start with ourselves. From there, we can do a lot to support others while leaving them be, to live their own lives and make their own decisions. Last, I think that probably all productive action translates as doing something to contribute, and I believe we make our own meaning. A garden or a drawing or building or a life well-lived all do that. If we believe we have purpose and that our work and our endeavors make meaning, they do and they will.


Those two models dovetail very nicely. We can classify our relationships with:

  • Self

  • Others

  • The World

And we can:

  • Strive to be good with ourselves,

  • Cultivate and enjoy real relationships with a variety of people, and

  • DO things to try to contribute to the world in some way


I have found these general principles a sane and sturdy framework for approaching life and the world as it is, and being able to respond flexibly to the many changes we are witnessing and experiencing all around us at astonishing speed -- while staying true to ourselves.

It's a tough world out there. Please, contact me to see if I might be of help!


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If you’ve ever thought about trying to quit a harmful addictive habit with substances or behaviors, or if you've been over-doing it with drinking, drugs, eating, gambling, porn, etc., and would like to talk with someone about it, take advantage of a free, no-obligation, no pressure, 15-minute consultation to help you consider your options. 

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