I recently completed a course in addiction counseling.  One of our assignments was to abstain from an addiction for five-weeks.  Now, you might be saying, not everyone has a substance use addiction (drugs, alcohol, or caffeine), and this is true.  But, there are also process addictions, and most of us do meet the criteria for an addiction with regards to those.  A process addiction, as it sounds, refers to a process or behavior that we habitually perform despite negative consequences. 

Some of the main process addictions include food, sex, gambling, internet usage, exercise, shopping, and video gaming.  Perhaps over the Labor Day holiday, you looked forward to a free day to indulge in one of these despite the consequences?  It’s the “despite the consequences” that takes the behavior from a regular activity to an addiction.  For example, if you use food as a source of comfort, that is considered quite normal.  However, if you use food as your primary source of comfort, and are consuming foods that have led you to be overweight, or you eat to a place of discomfort, or health concerns, there may be more to it.  If you enjoy placing a bet on a football game with your office co-workers during football season, that may be considered normal social behavior.  However, if you continuously are placing bets and making wagers, despite the financial risk, or in spite of your financial instability, it’s possible this is an addiction.  If you enjoy regular exercise because you desire to keep your body healthy, that is quite normal.  However, if you exercise excessively, continuously weigh yourself, or routinely over-tax your body, this may be an addiction. 

During my five-week abstinence project, what I came to see is that my addiction really wasn’t about the behavior I was drawn to, but more so about the why.  Why was I obsessively, compulsively, continually engaging in this behavior?  Very rarely do we really stop to listen to the thoughts and emotions racing within us as we feel drawn to our process addicted behavior.  For me, what I came to see is that when I felt overwhelmed, or incapable, or anxious, I indulged in my process addiction.  I didn’t really care that much about the actual behavior, but more so the act of doing it brought me a quick-fix of comfort in which to delay my emotions or avoid them.  It felt cathartic in the moment, but the end results were not aligned to who I wanted to be. 

Part of our assignment was also to create a wellness plan.  Essentially, it was a plan of action for alternate behaviors we might incorporate when a craving for our process addiction occurred.  Personally, I used running, long walks, meditation, and deep breathing exercises to help me abstain with greater success.  At the end of this assignment, beyond a summary paper, we also created an acrostic poem of a word that summed up our abstinence project experience.  I chose the word ‘habitual’ and created the acrostic poem:  Habits

Are Beliefs Integrated That Ultimately Animate our Lives.  The idea being that what we believe about ourselves; deeply believe to be true about who we are, lead us to seek self-soothing habits.  The habit we choose may be a reflection of the coping skills we learned from observing others as a child, or perhaps through a trial-and-error, if you will, until we found a habit that seemed an emotional reward, or the habit may literally be an escape.  There are as many ways of acquiring a process addiction as there are people to have them.

No doubt, in reading this you have become suspect of a behavior that might be a process addiction in your own life.  Perhaps you pick your cuticle when you are stressed?  Twirl your hair?  Clean your home?  Race to your yoga mat?  It’s important to also understand that the negative consequences don’t need to necessarily be dire, they can be as simple as recognizing that this habitual behavior keeps you from processing your emotions.  But, the reality is, unprocessed emotions do show up in your life, and they do create negative and unwanted consequences.  So, all process addictions have weight and impact. 

For my assignment, we were also required to attend two 12-step meetings.  One I attended addressed both substance and process addictions. While listening to others speak about their addictions, I recognized myself in all of them.  And, while my addiction was not as seemingly devastating as others, I still understood the cravings, the compulsions, and the necessity to stand in front of those thoughts and emotions that my process addiction was keeping me from embracing if I was ever going to be free from it. 

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