Monday, February 15, 2016

Is Fear A Kind Of Addiction?

No thanks.

It is not a secret that I am afraid to fly.  Having a rather domestic life, I haven't had that many opportunities to fly in the past 20 years so it hasn't been a big problem.  In 2009, I went to Berlin for an art project and, two years later, I flew to Korea, again for an art project.  Both were long flights but I managed them with the help of some Atavan and a Norman Fischer essay on shikantaza.

in the past six months, I deliberately created two opportunities to fly and it really did not go well in either case.  Most recently, it was the night before my flight and as I wrestled with my demons - in tears at times - Lucy came home.   I was sharing a little with her and she called out from the kitchen, "Have you built up a big rationalization of why you can't go yet?"  Ouch!  But the truth is - I had done exactly that.

Looking closer, there is something deeper than just fearing flying.  If I am perfectly honest, the actual experience of flying is kind of exhilarating once the plane is in the air - I mean, how could it not be?  So clearly there is something else going on, and maybe that is case with any kind of deep fear or phobia.  Talking with a close friend, he suggested that there was a similarity between this fear and what goes on with someone who has an addiction.  Certainly, I can see how I am letting people down: making promises and failing to live up to those promises because this force is leading my behaviors.  The urges feel overwhelming and the "solution" in my mind (cancel the flight) feels correct even when I know, in my heart, that each time I don't fly at the last minute, I am reinforcing something that isn't healthy.  I think the analogy with an addiction has some merit.

Perhaps, like an addiction, the first step is admitting that you have a problem and asking for help.  I can see that I do need help with this fear and whatever it is that lies behind it.  The feeling of the fear is miserable.  It is awful on every level and yet it is my go-to reaction.  So what's up with that?  I assume people with addictions can see how it is ruining their lives and hurting people around them, and yet they still make that move to pour another drink or light up one more time.  Reflecting more, I wonder at how it happens that I allow myself to be in that state of extreme fear.  It's not like I have no tools for settling my mind!  My experience this past time wasn't that I couldn't access those tools, it was that I didn't even remember them!

The one thing that I did differently this time was that I didn't beat myself up about it.  Yes, it needs some attention and to be addressed but, also, it is part of being in the human realm.  I don't need to make it a big deal and yet, I shouldn't ignore it either.

How about you?  Any big fears that are also no big deal?


Jan Morrison said...

Yes! And drama is the common addiction. I work in the world of addiction treatment and I can tell you, underneath all addictions is drama. Scaring ourselves, or getting enraged, or passionate - releases lots of super powerful chemicals into our bloodstream. We get addicted to that which is why folks need to work with their resilience, their trauma, and their childhood decisions. Mine? Adult paperwork. Hate it and set it up over and over to put me into a state of fear. But I'm outing myself these days so hopefully I'll be able to put that into the past!

Robyn said...

Hi Jan, can you say more? I don't quite understand...people take drugs or drink or are afraid to fly for drama? It doesn't quite add up for me....but I am very curious to hear more!!

Jan Morrison said...

What I was trying to say (a couple of weeks ago and six airplane rides later!) is that the base addiction is to passion, aggression and I suppose ignorance. We do get addicted to passion and aggression because when we experience it we get a big dose of chemicals like dopamine in our system. Even though these are uncomfortable feelings (even the mad passion for something we don't have) we get accustomed to the rush in our system and want more. So yes, you can be addicted to fear. When I had many survivors of childhood sexual abuse in my practice I noticed that many of them were very attached to watching scary movies. The feeling of terror was something their system craved and they needed to go through a withdrawal of that just like we go through a chemical withdrawal in detoxing from drugs or alcohol. Folks who are addicted to chemical substances like crack or alcohol also have the 'drama addiction' underneath. That's why it isn't enough to stop the substance - that makes for what is called in AA as a 'dry drunk' - someone who has not done the work of finding out what is under the drug. I work with alcoholics and drug addicts in my work at a treatment centre for first peoples. We treat the trauma underneath more than the specifics of drug addiction. And people have to go through what I label 'a wallpaper stage' in their healing. Life is kind of pleasant but boring without our drugs - like wallpaper - and that is when we can be prone to relapse (shopping spree if we are addicted to consuming; trip to the casino, meaningless hookups, etc...) I counsel people that if we can just sit with it and keep looking at our minds we can get through to the true beauty of a life without escaping through chemicals or induced states of stress. In terms of big fears like yours about flying you can do some things to change your habit of reacting with fear - I find that EFT (emotional freedom technique or tapping meridian points) works pretty amazingly. Then you can calm that nervous system and see if you can find out what is underneath - for many people who grew up with some form of trauma for instance - flying means someone else is in charge of your safety and if that wasn't good when you were little it is hard to reason that it could be okay now. But it can be done - our child ego states need updating. I can open those letters from the tax dept. as I can handle whatever they are going to tell me. Whoa - this is a very long answer - sorry - but it is something I'm passionate about!

Robyn said...

Thank you for explaining more. What you say makes sense. I really appreciate the long answer! Having been married to an alcoholic, your description of the wallpaper phase sounds correct - the mere thought of it was enough to keep him drinking. As for my own fear....I am still looking and trying to be ok with the discomfort long enough to see whatever it is that I need to see. Thanks again...I really do appreciate it!!