What happens right before a craving for alcohol, nicotine, food, or whatever addiction that currently has a hold of you? It’s usually some sort of panic or anxiety attack about a certain situation where we immediately feel the need to run and hide or look for something familiar to help us deal.
It can be caused by thinking of an overblown version of a situation that has never happened, will never happen, and was completely manifested in our own minds. There’s also many times when we don’t know why the anxiety hits, it can come from a trigger word that we haven’t dealt with or are afraid to deal with, that came from some background noise.
Maybe the emotions are reactionary like having a rough day at work, fighting with a partner or a spouse, or maybe even getting a flat tire, but still none of this seems like it could be so bad that it sends a rational adult human being running for that familiar substance, whatever it may be, and start abusing it. I don’t know about you, but I used to ask myself what the hell could be so bad all the time when I drank, and I think I came up with an answer… nothing.
Allow me to explain…
Stay with me on this, it will all come together. Almost every irrational thought derives from feelings of fear, guilt, shame, lack, unworthiness, resentment, hate, and other feelings of stress. But, for the sake of the article, I’m going to lump them into fear because every one of these emotions generally stems from, or leads to fear of some kind.
Most of these fears are programmed by events that happen between the ages of 0-7, when we’re our brains are in their theta or hypnosis state. It may be easier to program fear if you had what you consider a bad childhood, but fear towards certain events can happen by accident, like a misunderstanding where you’re considered scarred for life. An example might be if someone snuck up and scared you all the time when you were a kid, and now you might always be on guard when there is no need to be. Sometimes, little jokes and things like that have more of an effect on our personalities than we want to believe.
And who can blame us? We aren’t kids anymore and we don’t want to believe that we would hold on to something so insignificant from our childhood. It’s true that we outgrow certain fears intellectually as we grow up, but many people do it by putting up walls and barriers to their personalities because they’re afraid that they may not be accepted if they act like themselves. And when you’re acting like someone you don’t particularly want to be, then drowning your fears in a bottle might make perfect sense at times because you may be forgetting who you are and what makes you happy.
It never really matters where the root of the fear comes from, whether it’s from a serious trauma as a child or a series of misunderstood events, the question you have to ask is… why are we still afraid?
Why do we hold on to fear?
Everybody has fears whether it’s public speaking, dealing with authority, buying a car, not getting into a certain college, being 10 minutes late for work in a snow storm, or even running out of booze, but why when there is no real threat?
If there is a physical threat, then fear is 100% normal and understood, but when you’re sitting on your couch, afraid to go outside without having a few drinks first, then you need to question where your fear is coming from. If you’re afraid to deal with your boss, mother-in-law, wife/husband, friends, or people in general, you should probably question where that resistance is coming from.
Fear is something that has to be created, right now, in this moment, otherwise you would not feel the anxiety when you’re not really in danger. But when an anxious craving comes on, and you are literally not in any physical danger, panic still arises and you start to look for an escape route. What does this mean when you’re not in any real danger but your brain and body thinks you are?
This means that the fear and anxiety that cause your cravings or your panic attack are feelings and emotions that you are holding onto, and have been for years. They are stored memories, or stories that you tell yourself everyday to remind yourself of who you are. Statements like “That’s just me”, or “I’ll never be good enough for…”, and don’t forget, “Bad shit always happens to me”, confirm the identity of the story that you tell yourself. The anxiety isn’t caused by what happens to you, it’s caused by the reaction of all the fear, self doubt, shame, etc., that you present to yourself in your speech and attitude.
What does Neil know about anxiety?
I’m glad you asked! I want to make sure that you know 100% where I’m coming from when you’re reading this because I remember getting defensive any time someone would question me and my unique anxiety. I know much better now that my anxiety was neither unique, nor was it incurable, and it definitely didn’t warrant 30 airplane bottles of Smirnoff per day.
Looking back, it probably started when I was a kid when all of a sudden, I couldn’t pee with anyone else in the bathroom at school. I didn’t have a problem until second or third grade, it just came out of nowhere one day, I got stage fright when I was at the urinal and it stuck with me into adulthood. It was the 80’s and I didn’t tell anyone, so it was one of those embarrassing things that I carried around with me that would cause anxiety.
By the time I was in my 20’s, I was all over the place, spending every night on a barstool and developing an unhealthy tremor in my hands. At age 30 the anxiety switch really flipped. My whole body would shake at the thought of leaving the house, and if I did make it out, my hands would shake and I would sweat and be severely jumpy and nervous. Left was right, backwards was forwards, everything was spinning, and I just wanted to run from every human being I saw.
By the time I had relapsed in my late 30’s, the anxiety I was trying to fix with Xanax, Celexa, and vodka, had started causing seizures, leaving me uncertain if the condition would stay. That’s when I knew that I have been at the event horizon of self-inflicted anxiety, but I have also learned to master it, so what you read comes from experience and not just me reading about remedies.
Now back to the fear and fixing it…
We first need to start telling ourselves different stories about who we are. Instead of saying something like “I’m horrible at cooking”, try saying, “I’m getting better at cooking”, and start cooking stuff you can cook while you tell yourself that you’re getting better, and you will instinctively get better at cooking. Tell yourself better stories about yourself by seeing the good in what you’re accomplishing rather than focusing on what you tell yourself you can’t accomplish, and your subconscious will start to believe you.
You don’t have to exactly change the story of your past because you would not be who you are right now if everything in your life didn’t go exactly as it did. But, you can change your perspective on most of the stories so they coordinate more with the actual present and maybe even a better future. Like the story you tell yourself about the girl or guy that got away, and how much you regret how the relationship ended. Instead of dwelling on a dead issue for years, be a sport and truly wish them well if you love them, and know that it was the exact right time for the separation. Holding onto the pain of an old relationship sets resistance for any chance of a new healthy relationship, not to mention causes people to resort to familiar, unhealthy habits like drowning sorrows.
When you get to the fear, the thing that you think is going to make you drink or have an anxiety attack, ask yourself what is it that you’re afraid of? Particularly, what part of the fear is it that scares you? What do you believe the fear is going to do to you? How is it going to hurt you? Why are you afraid of it? If this sensation in the body were not tied to an emotion like fear, what would it feel like? Could I live with it if it were not associated with the emotion of fear? Is it really that bad? Can it be better? Explore the feeling and see if it’s even in the right category. Getting to know these feelings will help you understand them so they don’t show up unnecessarily.
Ask yourself these questions before meditating, and ask yourself if the feeling of fear is really anything at all or is it just something we’ve been fighting for so long that if we let it in to run its course, maybe the fight will be over and it will leave. Nearly every nagging, familiar pain in the body can be associated with a stored emotion that you’ve been unwilling to face, so if you invite these feelings in, without giving them a label like fear, and make peace with them, the tension will reduce in your body and you’ll start to feel free.
These are a couple of ways to help reduce the anxiety that causes cravings that will stick and have other benefits if you stay with them. Good things in start to happen in life when we tell ourselves better stories. I used to tell myself that I was a hopeless alcoholic and then I became one, and now I tell myself that I’m becoming the best person I can everyday by helping people get through their recovery and become the people they want to be too, and that’s what I am. It’s amazing what we can learn when we forget what we think we know.
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