Addictions always originate in unhappiness, even if hidden. They are emotional anesthetics; they numb pain.
The “Warm Embrace” of Addiction, by Gabor Maté, MD, is an article I read recently that made a ton of sense to me. (Note I say “me”. I truly believe this is a unique journey for each individual and I’m just putting out what resonates with me.) As I read it, there was a cacophony of bells dinging in my head. “Yes! That’s it!”. “Exactly!”. There may have even been a “Duh!” in there too. So much of it just makes sense!
At its simplest understanding, this article says to me addiction grows out of the yearning for a “warm embrace”. Some people have learned how to fulfill that need in healthy ways. Others, because they haven’t, seek to numb out the absence of that connection by using a numbing agent which, in turn, mimics that warm embrace but ultimately leaves us feeling empty and drives the desire to further numb. All this speaks to the importance, power, and need for human connection.
I am reminded of Brené Brown’s talk, The power of vulnerability (see below). I just watched it again and there are so many echoes of the relationship between addiction, numbing, vulnerability, and the need to connect.
Connection, the ability to feel connected, is neurobiological—that’s how we’re wired, it’s why we’re here.
She goes on to speak about how we numb vulnerability—and because we cannot selectively numb emotions, we numb not only our loneliness, shame, and vulnerability, we also numb our joy, our happiness, our gratitude. Perhaps that’s why our drug or behavior of choice is such an empty mirage for true connection.
Both Brown and Maté point to the importance of an infant feeling unconditional love. Brown says “When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say “look at her, she’s perfect”… That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, you know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle but you’re worthy of love and belonging.”
And Gabor Maté:
No matter how much love a parent has, the child does not experience being wanted unless he or she is made absolutely safe to express exactly how unhappy, or angry, or hate-filled he or she may at times feel. The sense of unconditional love, of being fully accepted even when most ornery, is what no addict ever experienced in childhood—often not because the parents did not have it to give, simply because they did not know how to transmit it to the child.
I know I certainly gave my parents a run for their money. I hope they don’t read this and feel any kind of blame or guilt as that’s the last thing I would want. I think what I take away from this is the idea that perhaps, come adulthood, it is our responsibility, our work, to understand how best to transmit that unconditional love to ourselves. To own both our dark and light sides, seek real connections, and dare to feel it all.