When a person compromises his or her life with addictive habits, loved ones shake their heads and wonder why they do it. Even when addicts get clean they often continue to sabotage their lives and health with substitute habits. Addicts suffer from a soul sickness that will not be healed even if the addictive substance or activity has been removed from their life.
There are three underlying causes that are always driving the addictive behaviors. In my experience, whether an addict lights up a joint, eats a box of cookies, drinks a six-pack, or seeks nameless sex, he or she is using that addiction as a painkiller, an escape, and a punishment. I call this the “PEP check.” One or more of these motivators is at work. Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Painkiller: People use addictions as a painkiller. The pain could be physical, but most of the time, it’s emotional. They are using an addiction to numb themselves so they don’t feel anything. They may not be consciously aware of their pain, but difficult circumstances in their childhood generated feelings they were not emotionally equipped to process. So they were buried and forgotten. But when we bury feelings, we bury them alive. They don’t go away. Instead, they fester and grow more acute, driving us to seek relief.
The fact is addictions saved our lives at one time. I know that I would never have been able to survive the hell I experienced as a child were it not for fantasy, food, masturbation, cigarettes, and alcohol. Those things saved my life and kept me off the ledge. They deadened the pain of my circumstances so I could live long enough to find a solution. The irony, of course, is that addictions ultimately turn on us and destroy our lives long after they have helped save us.
2. Escape: Besides using addictions to kill pain, we also use them to escape our reality. Addicts tend to be extraordinarily fearful people, and living in fear makes reality unbearable. We take ourselves way too seriously and try to be perfect, thinking this will alleviate our fear. But instead, it generates an inordinate amount of stress and resentment. At some point, we throw up our hands and say, “Screw it!” and dive deeper into our addiction. We want nothing to do with the responsibility of trying to be perfect. Addictions allow us to escape the oppressive fear and stress that weigh on us like a ton of bricks.
3. Punishment: The last purpose our addiction fills is punishment. This one is less obvious. When anyone sets out to binge on their preferred vice, they don’t think they are punishing themselves. On the contrary, it seems that they are setting themselves up for a real treat. That hot-fudge brownie sundae is a special treat, all right, but after three bowls of ice cream and brownies, we are stuffed, and dazed from a sugar coma. The next day, we cancel plans with friends because we feel sick and bloated. We berate ourselves for losing control yet again after promising ourselves we would show more self-restraint. This doesn’t really sound like much of a treat, does it?
When you look at what your vice is doing to you, instead of what it is doing for you, you may be able to see that you are punishing yourself. And the reason you’re doing that is because you carry a burden of guilt that you have not addressed and, therefore, can’t escape. You are subconsciously taking matters into your own hands by beating yourself up. You think you are bad and deserve such punishment. And until you heal the underlying guilt, you will always sabotage your life in one way or another.
Addressing and healing these three underlying causes of addictions is vital in order to achieve lasting abstinence from your addictions, and to be able to enjoy that abstinence. When you are free from the pain, fear and guilt that drive addictions, your life automatically improves in every way.