Q8 Counseling

Helping Make Sense of Life


It's All About the Ritual

Posted on May 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM

[Please note: Any case studies/people which may be mentioned in this blog are composites (unless otherwise indicated) of personal and professional experience over 25 years of people-helping in a number of different capacities and circumstances. Resemblance to any specific individual, living or dead, is purely coincidental and totally unintentional.]


"Addiction:  When you can give up something any time... as long as it's next Tuesday." ~Lemmy

We human beings tend to get addicted to things rather easily, it seems. Whether we're talking about cocaine or gambling, there seems to be a space in most people that can be filled with the ritual of addiction. That is not to say the space is not legitimate, it most likely is, but our problem is that we don't want to do the internal work required to a) determine what the need actually is (see Maslow's Hierachy of Needs) or b) fill the need in a positive, no-bite-back manner.


We blithely and blindly sail through life throwing all sorts of things at the hollow space inside us, and rather unfortunately, one or several of those things tends to become an acceptable if temporary substitute for what we really need. The basic needs we have truly are legitimate - let's not forget that. And let's not forget that not everyone has the same opportunities to experience those needs being met in positive, nurturing ways. These early experiences tend to form our perspectives on asking for what we need, how we see ourselves in relation to others, and what we think of the needs we do recognize. When these early experiences are consistently negative, the common response is to find ways to meet those needs without regard to others, by manipulating others to fulfill those needs without having to ask, or even, sadly, by refusing to acknowledge that we even have needs. Sometimes. we meet our own needs by sacrificing for others, hoping to get what we need in return - a subtle variation on the manipulation thing.

Addiction manages to temporarily meet the need in a way that the addict can handle. The thing that ties process addictions and substance addictions together, is ritual. There are very few things in life that we can count on to be totally reliable, 100% of the time. Our jobs change, our performance is up and down, even longtime and much-love partners can let us down. But the ritual and the outcome of addiction is the same, every single time.  Whether to a process, or a substance. it is the ritual that draws in the addict, that fulfills the need, that is the lover of the addict. ('Lover' or 'mistress' is the most commonly used description by an addict of the place the addiction holds in his/her life)

This ritual follows a well-worn and predictable path. From the triggering event (easily identifiable in the beginning, not so much latterly) to the thoughts, to the actions taken to fulfill the need, it is the ritual which brings a (false) sense of comfort to an addict. Each ritual is unique to its adherent, but the foundational basics are the same. A triggering event produces internal feelings of discomfort or emotional pain, and the person initiates a ritual intended to assuage, or mask, or remove the discomfort. This ritual begins with a thought pattern that eventually becomes so ingrained, that the person no longer feels as if there is an actual decision to engage in the addiction. The person engaging in this ritual takes comfort in the predictability and reliability of the process. For short period of time, "Everything will be right in me and with the world."

The aftermath, however, is more shame, more self-loathing, and the cycle begins again. This is the nature of addiction. Substances also cause physiological dependence which adds to the destructive nature of the addiction. Both types of addiction cause personal anguish. family distress, economic consequences, and eventually, most people's lives implode under the weight of the addiction.

If you think about your life in terms of rituals, you're likely to find things that you do in times of emotional stress that help relieve the internal pressure, and allow you to carry on with your life. For a person with a genetic pre-disposition to addiction, and a chronically stressful life, those ordinary routines can become more than just a temporary 'fix' to an unpleasant situation. Addiction is both a disease and a habit. For anyone caught in that trap, the only way out is the opposite of what got you there in the first place. 

Admit you no longer control your own life.

Let others support your process of becoming whole and healthy again.

Ask for help.

Kuwait has a thriving 12 step program, and there are several private psychological practices with professionals well-versed in working with people in recovery. The Soor Center also has information for good residential treatment programs outside of Kuwait. All you have to do is ask. 

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