Addiction & Survival:

How The Disease Of Addiction Originates

Addiction & Survival:  In a dysfunctional family where there is alcoholism, drug addiction, eating addiction, work-aholism, sexual addiction, gambling addiction or any other addictive disorder, the members of the family develop defence mechanisms and survival techniques on an unconscious level that make it possible for them to live in the system.

For example, if a ten-year old child lives in a family where Dad is a rage-aholic and throws things when he gets angry, children will probably develop behaviours that enable them to survive in the home. They probably know with ninety-five percent accuracy when Dad is about to rage and what precautions to take to feel safer. It may involve hiding in a closet, emotionally detaching by reading fairy tales, or it may be to eat so as not to have to feel the rage or tension in the home.

When these children grow into adults, they will take with them those survival skills that enabled them to survive. They may find themselves in situations similar to those they grew up in. Many of us from dysfunctional families are still using survival techniques from childhood in our present-day lives, but it may not be effective anymore. What it does is keep us from knowing ourselves.

The disease of addiction is a survival technique. Some may find it useful, dealing with the many unspoken feelings of fear, loneliness and shame that were not safe to share. We also may have discovered that even though our family situation was chaotic, we could control how we felt. We began to realise that there were ways to control how we appeared to the rest of the world on the outside – if we are acceptable on the outside, maybe we would begin to feel acceptable on the inside. To be in control gave many of us a false sense of security by keeping us from feeling the pain around us.

I realised that this false sense of self kept me walled away from who I really was. If the wall began to crack, the feelings of pain, shame and fear could quickly be covered by using. A substance of choice became a best friend for many years. But eventually the friend that once kept us safe and insulated began to turn on us and we were trapped in a way of life that was void of any hope for growth.

The shame of the addiction perpetuates the addictive behaviour.

I found that with alcohol I could control my addiction and feelings about my addictive behaviour. In time, I lost also to alcohol. Addicts may achieve sobriety and recovery from one substance, but find that another is becoming a problem. Switching one addiction for another is called cross-addiction. As long as we fear our feelings we will continue to cover them up.

In most families there are unspoken rules. These rules are also developed on an unconscious level and were the rules our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents grew up with. These rules perpetuate the cycle of shame that can make us vulnerable to addiction and its continuation.

Don’t Talk About What is Really Going On

When unresolved issues in a family are not discussed, they will be acted out by the members of that family. Everyone is aware that there are a number of problems in the family, but nobody feels safe enough to talk about it.

If it is ignored, it will resolve itself. I have seen seriously addicted individuals continue to live their life in their disease while the entire family denies that there is a problem – reality is not visible. If it is not discussed, it does not have to be explored. For those who are aware that there is a problem, there still may be some resistance to addressing the dysfunction, such as “I know I’m addicted, but if I talk about it, I will hurt and probably have to change”.

Certain Feelings are Not Acceptable

In this second family rule feelings are the enemy, especially feelings of anger, sadness, shame, guilt and pain. Some may even fear that their feelings will either become overwhelming and out of control or that feelings will kill them. If a small child grows up in a family where Mom loses control and rages every time she is angry, the child may grow into an adult who fears his own anger and the anger of others. When he does feel anger, he will probably try to cover it up or ignore it. Human beings were given feelings for a reason; if we do not process how we feel about what is going on around us with our feelings, they will come out in a dysfunctional manner. Getting angry does not mean losing control and raging.

Research is beginning to find that many physical illnesses are related to an inability to process feelings and deal effectively with the stress that is created by not listening to how we feel.

In a healthy family all feelings are accepted and validated.

If we are allowed to feel our feelings, we can pass through them and learn from the experience in the process. If we are denied our feelings, they will eventually come out in some form that may not be appropriate. Addiction kept me from dealing with feelings of anger, shame, unworthiness and fear.

Don’t Trust – The World is not a Safe Place

This third rule means many have an extremely difficult time with trust because it is not acceptable to talk about what is really going on around us or to experience all our feelings in a dysfunctional family. We find it difficult to trust ourselves, others and sometimes even a Higher Spiritual Power.

For example, if Mom or Dad breaks promises and denies the problems in the family that are difficult and painful to expose, children learn not to trust. In a dysfunctional family, members also learn to discount their own perception about what is taking place.

Children may also view Mom and Dad as the Higher Power because they provide food, clothing, shelter, nurturance, love and emotional support. If parents are not emotionally available for their children, the children may develop a concept of a Higher Power that cannot always be trusted to be available. Children use magical thinking: if Mom is unavailable, the children may begin to believe she isn’t available because they are bad. The children’s feeling of shame begins to build within to become a shame core. They may act out with eating disorders, using chemicals, fighting at school, sleeping difficulties or regressing to earlier behaviour such as bed-wetting.

Many of us believe that one day everything would be fixed if we just ignored it. It is hopeful we eventually discover that we have a responsibility to ourselves to break these family rules. It does not have to do with not loving our families or blaming them, but instead with learning how the family system has impacted our lives. Many of us are not capable of making changes within our lives until we know what we need to alter.

Beginning to explore the patterns in our family system is an appropriate place to start.







Eating Disorders and Control

Eating Disorders and Control

At Oasis Counselling Centre we believe that an eating disorder is all about the need to control. To be ‘out of control’ is to be ‘bad’. The eating disorder, particularly anorexia and bulimia, are almost symbolically exact replicas of this need.

“If I can control what I eat and what I weigh, I prove that I am in control.”

Paradoxically this does not seem to lead to happiness but to despair.

The need to control means that all feelings have to be shut off. Rigid boundaries are set that keep people, social life and anything or anybody good out. The act of self-denial around food is replicated in all areas, any needs are denied and seen as signs of weakness. This rigid and inflexible way of being, in order to feel in control, is of course another paradox. Women who feel self-confident and at ease with themselves are much more able to ‘go with the flow’ and accept life on life’s terms and therefore feel more in control of their emotions.

It seems that it is often a desire and need to be perfect that can be seen as a cause of the eating disorder. The need for perfection can start at an early age, perfect school grades, perfect clothes, perfect athletic performance – the list is probably endless. Of course these people or children are often high achievers but again it is seldom, if ever, satisfying to them; as they grow up they will need to achieve what they perceive as the perfect body shape and size. Orthorexia, the need to eat only ‘perfect’ ‘pure’ foods and to look down on those that do not is another way to control.

Over-exercising has been included in the bulimia nervosa category of disorders but this may soon become a classification on its own. It is a dangerous compulsion that leads to physical injuries, pulled muscles, shin splints, ripped tendons and stress fractures all ignored by the exercise addict. It has become another controlling behaviour that denies nutrition and energy to the body to control weight gain. We have probably all seen men and women running in the area of our homes that look as though they are near starvation and yet keep running to keep the ‘fat’ in check.

Treatment for eating disorders is notoriously difficult. The fear of loss of control extends to therapy and the belief that ‘they’ just want you to be fat. So first a trusting relationship needs to be built. The depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and despair needs to be looked at and spoken about. It will help to be in a group with others who have similar problems and probably similar reluctance to letting go of control. Being able to see the insanity of the obsession in others can be a great relief. As others seem to get better perhaps hope may dare to emerge.

Without hope there is no recovery.






Five Myths about Substance Abuse and Addiction

  1. “Overcoming addiction is a simple matter of willpower”:

Prolonged exposure to drugs/substances alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.  This is one of the hardest myths to overcome.

  1. “Addiction is a disease; there is nothing you can do about it”:

Myth number two.  Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, but that does not mean you are helpless to it. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise and other treatments.

  1. “Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better”:

Myth number three.  Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process – and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes and the harder it is to treat. Do not wait to intervene until the addict has lost it all.

  1. “You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help”:

Myth number four.  Treatment does not have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, friends or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their drinking clears, many former resistant addicts decide they want to change.

  1. “Treatment did not work before, so there is no point trying again”:

Myth number five.  Recovery from drug/alcohol or any addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse does not mean that treatment has failed or that you are a lost cause. Rather, it is a signal to get back on track – either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.



Definitions of Recovery

Definitions of Recovery:


Warning Signs of Relapse

Terence Gorski, an expert in relapse prevention, has made a list of thirty-seven common warning signs of relapse, which make up the relapse process. These are in a progressive order – going from the least significant ones to the more crucial ones. The sooner you recognise what is happening, the easier it is to turn around.

Once you understand and identify those that are of danger to your recovery, work can begin on setting up a relapse prevention plan to deal with life without a return to using.

  1. Apprehension about Well-being: Initial sense of fear; uncertainty, lack of confidence in ability to stay clean.
  2. Denial: To cope with apprehension, anxiety and stress. Almost identical to that felt during early stages of treatment. Most people are aware of this when looking back, but not during.
  3. Adamant Commitment to Recovery: Convinced that they will never use again. This is sometimes blatant and upfront, but mostly a very private decision. Many are anxious/hesitant to share this with counsellors or fellowship members. Once convinced that they will never use again, the urgency of a daily programme fades away.
  4. Compulsive Attempts to Impose Recovery on Others: Generally in private judgements about friends/spouses’ using and the quality of AA/NA programmes. More focus on what others are doing than oneself.
  5. Defensiveness: Increased defensiveness regarding problems or recovery programmes.
  6. Compulsive Behaviour: Behaviour becomes more rigid and repetitive. Control conversations through monopoly/silence. Overwork and get compulsively involved in other activities. Non-structured involvement with people is avoided.
  7. Impulsive Behaviour: Compulsive behaviour gets interrupted by impulsive behaviour. Overreaction to periods of stress. These can affect major life decisions and commitment to ongoing treatment.
  8. Tendencies Towards Loneliness: Isolation/avoidance increase, usually with valid excuses. Compulsive/impulsive behaviours rather than responsible involvement with others.
  9. Tunnel Vision: Viewing life in fragments. Focusing exclusively on one area, avoiding looking at others – pre-occupation with the negative, seeing themselves as being treated unfairly.
    1. Minor Depression: Symptoms of depression appear and persist. Listlessness, feeling flat and oversleeping become common.
    2. Loss of Constructive Planning: Skills of life-planning fade. Attention to detail decreases, wishful thinking begins to replace realistic planning.
    3. Plans Begin to Fail: Lack of planning, failure to follow through, lack of attention to detail or being unrealistic – plans begin to fail.
    4. Daydreaming and Wishful Thinking: Concentration fades, is replaced by fantasy. ‘If only’ syndrome becomes more common. Fantasies of escaping or being rescued.
    5. Feeling that Nothing can be Solved: Failure pattern develops when plans fall through, feelings become overgeneralised. Thoughts of “I’m trying my best and it still isn’t working out”.
    6. Immature Wish to be Happy: Conversations/thoughts become vague. Desire to ‘be happy’ without defining how to attain it.
    7. Periods of Confusion: Confusion periods increase in frequency, duration and severity.
    8. Irritation with Friends: Social involvement with friends, family, NA/AA contacts and counsellors get strained and full of conflict. This increases when the recovering person is confronted.
    9. Easily Angered: Anger, frustration and irritability increase. Overreaction/fear of overreacting becomes more frequent.
    10. Irregular Eating Habits: Overeating or undereating. Regular meal structure stops, well-balanced meals are replaced with junk food.
    11. Listlessness: Inability to initiate action, to concentrate; strong feelings of anxiety and apprehension develop. Feelings of being trapped.
    12. Irregular Sleeping Habits: Insomnia, restless nights or sleeping marathons.
    13. Progressive Loss of Daily Structure: Daily routine becomes haphazard – irregular hours of sleeping/getting up; no set mealtimes, poor social planning, frequent missing of appointments. Feeling rushed, overburdened at times and at other times having lots of idle time.
    14. Periods of Deep Depression: Depression more frequent/severe, usually during periods of non-structured time. True isolation; complaining that nobody cares, yet reacts angrily/irritably towards anyone that tries to help.
    15. Irregular Attendance at Treatment Meetings: NA/AA attendance erratic. Therapy sessions cancelled/missed. Rationalisations used; effectiveness of treatment questioned.
    16. Development of an “I Don’t Care” Attitude: Usually masks feelings of helplessness and poor self-esteem.
    17. Open Rejection of Help: Cut themselves off from help, either openly/angrily or by withdrawing from it.
    18. Dissatisfaction with Life: “Things are so bad I might as well use – it can’t get much worse.” Defences are failing; sees how unmanageable their lives have become, AGAIN!
    19. Feelings of Powerlessness and Helplessness: Inability to action. Thought-processes scattered, judgement becomes greatly impaired.
    20. Self-pity: Often used as an attention-seeking device.
    21. Thoughts of Social Use: Thoughts that using might normalise feelings/emotions. Idea that they might be able to use in a controlled fashion start. Some ignore this while others obsess on it.
    22. Conscious Lying: Denial and rationalisation become outrageous, even the addict recognises them, but feels unable to stop.
    23. Complete Loss of Self-confidence: Feeling that there is no way out of where they are/how they feel. Often become overwhelmed by inability to think clearly.
    24. Unreasonable Resentments: Anger at the world, but nothing can be done about it. Sometimes anger focuses on scapegoats and then on themselves.
    25. Discontinuing all Treatment: Stop attending NA/AA, counselling; non-appearance at aftercare, alienation of all help from friends/family.
    26. Overwhelming Frustration, Anger, Loneliness and Tension: Totally overwhelmed by feelings: no option but to go crazy, commit suicide or use. Intense fear of insanity. Feel very desperate, using is usually impulsive.
    27. Start of Controlled Use: Effort to control using – usually quantities; or change drug of choice.
    28. Loss of Control: Control is usually short-lived. Returns to full-blown addiction with consequences as severe/more severe than their last episode of active using.



Oasis Counselling Centre Outing:  Outward Bound

The agony and the ecstasy…

Excruciatingly beautiful, exhilaratingly painful…

There just is no in-between when you take a group of Oasis clients to a fairly rugged, outdoor activity centre. You could be asking: “What is nice bunch of – mostly – city-slickers doing in a place like this? Well, I think you will have a variety of answers and most of them will not be on the positive side! That is to say: before the course starts…

Before we leave Oasis we get the usual questions: “I can’t ruin my shoes, they are designer Nikes”; “What about snakes?!”; “What about mosquitoes-spiders-flies-crocodiles-wild animals???”; “Will we have a room to sleep in?”

Anxiety, fear, nerves. These are all normal feelings – not only of things that go crawling in the night, but of being made to ‘look like a fool’ in front of your peers and Oasis



staff; being the one who can’t do all the activities. Being afraid to death of heights – and you KNOW there will be height challenges.

Yes, the challenges just keep coming:

The Jacob’s Ladder, where a team of two has to climb to a height of ten metres on horizontal wooden beams suspended from cables – to ring a bell at the top.

The Trapeze – a really scary ten-metre pole, which you have to climb, get right on top and jump two metres far to catch a trapeze!

Then there is abseiling, kayaking, the ‘spider’s web’, etc…

This is where teamwork becomes extremely important. All your peers are focused on helping you at the most difficult parts of the challenges. Everyone understands how difficult it is, as they have their own fears and doubts. They are there to hold the ropes safeguarding you; they are there to encourage and guide you when you might feel that you can’t go on; they are there to understand and – if worst comes to worst – catch you if you fall.

Always by the end of the course everybody has conquered all or most of the challenges. They walk away surprised by their new-found abilities and how easy it can be if your head allows you the option of trying… And with a feeling of pride – good pride!

We are all dependent on someone in our lives for these very important things. Often we don’t want to ask for help, but we secretly wish that there were people out there who will be there to catch us when we fall. We just need to learn to ask for help – to reach out and trust. Trust…

As time goes by at Oasis, a huge amount of trust develops between peers with their peers and with their Counsellors. Bonds are formed between people who see each other’s worst and best. Bonds that may well last a lifetime, as they come to feel the care and love from people who accept them for who they are, but are firm enough to help them where they make life difficult for themselves and others.



Steve Tyler on Recovery and Addiction:

Steve Tyler


“I did it so much I couldn’t stop and then I had to ask myself and face myself to see why I couldn’t stop.”

“My sobriety cost me nothing less than everything.  It’s serious when you lose your kids, your wife, your band, your job…  And you’ll never understand why, because you’re an addict.”

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