31 Aug How our Instincts can work against us (and what we can do about it)
“Creation gave us instincts for a purpose. Without them, we wouldn’t be complete human beings. If men and women didn’t exert themselves to be secure in their persons, made no effort to harvest food or construct shelter, there would be no survival. If they didn’t reproduce, the earth wouldn’t be populated. If there were no social instinct, if men cared nothing for the society of one another, there would be no society. So these desires – for the sex relation, for material and emotional security, and for companionship – are perfectly necessary and right, and surely God-given.”
“Yet these instincts, so necessary for our existence, often far exceed their proper functions. Powerfully, blindly, many times subtly, they drive us, dominate us, and insist upon ruling our lives. Our desires for sex, for material and emotional security, and for an important place in society often tyrannize us. When thus out of joint, man’s natural desires cause him great trouble, practically all the trouble there is.” Page 42, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Instincts Run Wild
Ah, Instincts. Run. Wild. Of course, this idea was brought to light in AA in terms of its relation to addiction. Whether you subscribe to the twelve steps or not, it stands to reason that addictive behavior generally stems from something being emotionally out of whack. In most, if not all, cases, a pretty clear line can be drawn to our misguided instincts – we drank or used to escape the feelings associated with acting out of alignment with our values. We also drank and used to escape feelings of fear – fear, of course, that was almost never related to anything truly dangerous, like being attacked by a bear. The fear we’re talking about has to do with situations that aren’t real or have not yet occurred. For example, fear of failure, fear of economic insecurity, fear of being alone, and the list goes on. When our fight or flight panic state takes over in these scenarios, however, it’s the perfect example of our misguided instincts. The bear isn’t chasing us, but we’re still running away from our problems (“running” as in drowning our feelings with shots of tequila, lines of cocaine, or other addictive behaviors).
For the record, we’re not here to push the twelve steps on anyone. Rather, we encourage those reading this to adopt any recovery program that works for them. That being said, AA’s positioning of the “instincts run wild” concept is laid out very logically and in a way that so many of us addicts can relate to. As addicts, in order for us to stay clean, we can really benefit from taking a good, hard look at how our instincts have become distorted. We also need to establish the tools necessary to maintain healthy levels of natural desires. It sounds so easy, in theory, but for the thrill-seeking addict, our basic desires for sex, security, and society can get completely twisted and often far exceed their proper functions.
When an addict’s instincts go awry, it’s very easy for them to act out. Sex is a big one that can easily go from being healthy to either becoming addictive in and of itself, or causing an addict to drink because he or she isn’t getting their perceived “needs” met. We have attachment patterns and when these attachment patterns become unhealthy, it’s easy for addicts to act out. Many addicts actually become MORE addicted to that which they can’t have, so, for example, if someone is rejected by a romantic partner, they often crave that partner even more than they did before they got rejected. The cycle for many addicts in this type of scenario is to either act out sexually with other partners without concern for the other person, or to act out by drinking or using. Or, all of the above. Of course it’s different for everyone. We all have different attachment styles, behavior patterns and so forth, but it’s a common cycle. Then, of course, there’s also the hormonal and biological element. A lot of us get addicted to the chemicals that are produced during sex, like oxytocin and dopamine, resulting in the release of endorphins. Becoming physically dependent on these chemicals can lead to some very unhealthy patterns as well, in addition to the unhealthy attachment patterns. When this occurs, it’s easy to see how something that’s supposed to be pleasurable (and also existing for the purpose of procreation) can quickly turn into something bad.
Material status is another one. As addicts, our basic need for security is often far exceeded. Sure, we live in the modern world and it’s perfectly acceptable to want more than a grass hut, a vegetable garden, and a few pigs to feed the family (although there’s nothing wrong with this either). But when our happiness and wellbeing become entirely dependent on how much “stuff” and material wealth we have or don’t have, or how much we fear we might lose, this is when problems start to arise. Once again, it’s the classic example of misguided instincts and it can easily lead us down a rabbit hole of not-so-good things.
When we examine these discontentments in detail (often in a 4th step if you do the twelve steps), we start to notice patterns. We’ll begin to see how and why they have affected others as well as ourselves. This stuff is hard to look at, but it needs to be unraveled. Also, if and when you’re feeling particularly raw, watch out for new age practices that encourage certain paths that lead to eternal bliss. If the path doesn’t involve taking a good, hard look at where your “dis-ease” is coming from, it becomes a form of spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is a way of avoiding the truth and not looking at the root cause of your addiction, and it’s become very popular lately. But it’s a dangerous practice because what happens when you bypass your pain is that it can start to manifest in other ways, namely addiction (if you’re an addict). It can also lead to depression, severe anxiety, and a whole bunch of other unwelcome emotions.
The only way out is Through
In our experience, the only way out is through, which is why long-term recovery programs tend to work so well (when we work them). There’s no short-term quick fix for addiction, just like there’s no quick fix that allows us to work through childhood trauma in one weekend or anything else that causes us deep-rooted emotional discomfort. Once we become aware of this, we can start taking baby steps toward addressing our discontent and reducing our instinctual desires to levels that allow us to maintain our recovery. Sure, it’s not going to happen overnight, but we can and do change in recovery, and the work required to make these changes is so worth it in the end. It also makes us strong, resilient, and gives us a depth of compassion and character that folks outside of recovery don’t typically experience. In recovery, we constantly get to grow and evolve as humans which is profoundly liberating and exciting. And the best part? We never have to do it alone.
Kembali Recovery Center can Help
If you or someone you know and love is struggling to stay clean, or is perhaps already in recovery but noticing other unhealthy coping strategies cropping up, Kembali can help. Contact us today to learn more about our Four Week Treatment Program and our Recovery and Beyond Program. Again, you’re not alone.