One reason why addictions are seductive and self-reinforcing is that they sorta, kinda work, in the moment. In the long term they are a growing disaster, which you experience in the moments afterward as a growing sense of futility and self-hatred. Emotional addictions are even more insidious. With a substance, you know at some level that it is a cheat – a fake comfort. Our programs for happiness, (security, esteem and control), however, feel like honest, clear thinking.
Yet they can not and will not work. Although we are designed for happiness, we are looking for it in the wrong places, says the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating.¹ Only a transcendent and infinite source can completely secure you, reassure you, steady you. To the extent that these needs are neurotic, their roots extend to the unconscious mind and only a divine light can find them all in that darkness.
Keating notes that we don’t turn to the divine therapy initially because we develop our wounds in childhood before a spiritual experience is really possible. Babies come into the world in divine and maternal fusion, a unitive though undifferentiated experience. As the child develops a Self, a private ego, that unity is lost and s/he has to respond, alone, to any deficits or defects in the caring environment. During this time, the self-reliant programs for happiness are invented.
It is also human nature to depend on yourself as much and as long as possible. A lack of this instinct is considered to be a disorder in the mental health world. How ironic that full sobriety requires a radical form of dependence on the Other.
Keating advocates a method of divine therapy called contemplation, an ancient form of thought discipline and attentiveness. Very, very simply, contemplation means to see the situation without getting caught up in it. In a focused period of contemplation, every thought is noticed and let pass (you are sitting down, inactive). Painful feelings and old memories can come up, be observed and let go without deploying any of the usual defenses. Wounds buried in the unconscious have to pass through the conscious in order to be relieved.
In the Christian scriptures, you can see why Jesus’ first word is “metanoia.” The word is usually translated as “repent,” but it literally means to change or go beyond your mind, your usual way of thinking. Nothing less will suffice for emotional sobriety, for healing, for salvation.
- Keating, Thomas. The Human Condition: Contemplation and transformation. Paulist Press, 1999.