How to Recover from Substance Abuse in an Anxious Culture
In my last blog entry, I mentioned that we would be exploring the “legs” of the addiction stool in future posts – those legs being trauma, anxiety, shame, and even connection (or connection disorder).
As we considered in the last post regarding trauma and our loss of empathy as a culture, anxiety can also show up with its roots in certain social origins as well.
With generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), trauma and shame are supporting the brain in the belief that one is in danger and therefore needs to be hyper vigilant in the assessment of his or her surroundings as well as the people with whom they share them. The portion of the brain that is designed to save our lives with its strong reward (as well as warning) mechanisms, the limbic system (and particularly the amygdala) come in very handy during these observations but can also be capable of sending false messages to us causing one to confuse feelings with facts.
For example, if we encounter a bear in the woods the amygdala sends us a message telling us to run for our lives, and we should heed its timely warnings! However, if we only experience the fear of a bear in the woods that is never seen, shows no evidence of being present, and hasn’t made the slightest sound or stirrings to indicate that it actually exists, it might be that the amygdala is working like a stuck thermostat, a broken warning system that is producing an unsupported fear that can be defined as anxiety.
Coping with an Anxious Culture
Many of us in recovery have grown to realize that the messages warning us of that unseen, metaphorical bear in the woods might actually turn out to be coming from the very culture in which we live, messages fueling our unsupported angst which can eventually become our “normal.”
Some would say that three characteristics of an addict are the state of being “perpetually restless, irritable, and discontent.” I’ve heard the same characteristics applied by advertisers to describe a consumer, which would explain our marketing strategies, social media, and twenty-four hour news cycles that perpetuate the feeling that if we blink for one moment we could miss a crucial piece of information that would save our lives which ultimately reinforces my belief that I’m in constant potential danger.
Countering these unsettling messages means that I must find a new place to direct my thoughts and focus myself. I must learn to equip myself with an exercise of intentional mindfulness where I assess what it is I do have instead of focusing on the fear of scarcity. Expressing gratitude for the life I’ve been given can make the difference between dwelling on my feelings of fear and embracing how much I have been truly given. If I can focus on even the smallest blessings in my life for a few moments, then perhaps I can accept that my anxiety is the result of a misplaced and unsupported fear – a bear in the woods that doesn’t actually exist.
Recovery is work. Naming the sources of our unsupported fears takes effort. Learning to see our fears as the result of blindly accepting the messages coming from the world around us requires paying attention to what we digest on a daily basis. Gratitude is an exercise in taking a sanity break, which leaves little room for angst as we process the inventory of our blessings.