Substance abuse can be defined simply as using a substance destructively. If you are using a substance in a way that causes harm to you, where its effect and influence on you is detrimental, then you are abusing it. The word abuse means to use improperly.
When you are using something in a way that it is not intended for, when you are forcing it or directing it in a way that it creates harm to yourself or anyone else, you are abusing. Substances which are addictive – like alcohol, stimulants, and sedatives – are easily abused. They activate the “reward and reinforcement system” of your body, thereby releasing neurochemicals that generate the experience of pleasure.
The pleasure induced by addictive substances is both physical and psychological. Pleasures activated may include feelings of relaxation, euphoria, improved outlook on life, energy boosts, and even feelings of belonging and connection to others. If there is preexisting pain, such as isolation, spiritual disconnection, sadness, or anger, the pleasure effects may simply neutralize or numb these aches.
Nature gave us the reward and reinforcement system to let us know when we are on the right track – when what we are doing, how we are doing it, and who we are doing it with are coherent with our deeper soul purpose. Nature uses healthy pleasure to give us reinforcement when we are working together with the flow of vitality within. Pain normally lets us know when we are out of alignment in some way, when we are trying to live life by paddling upstream against the currents of love, connection, peace, and compassion. Pain is a warning system saying, “No, not this way, this isn’t right for you”.
The reward and reinforcement system, unfortunately or fortunately, is hackable. Substances hack into that system and give a woman those same feelings of pleasure and pain relief for a limited period of time, even though she is not in alignment with her inner nature and higher soul purpose. Substance abuse attempts to cheat the system – to get the relief of feeling better without making the changes to lifestyle, personality, attitudes and behaviors that would be required to access and sustain those feelings naturally.
Substance abuse has several problems. Chemicals are destructive to the body, especially when used in excess. All addictive substances have detrimental effects on the physical body – some are more toxic than others, but all of them leave a sometimes irreversible chemical trace. So even though the reward and reinforcement system is being activated, the body is actually falling into a state of disrepair and ill health. A second problem is that the hack stops working.
This is known as tolerance – as the brain and body become adapted to the presence of the substance, your neurology attempts to rebalance by changing the way it responds to the substance, to bring you back to neutral. This means two things – one is that when the substance is there, it gradually shifts from creating a spike of pleasure to just stabilizing you at “normal”. Even at high doses, you more or less feel how you did before you started using the substance, with no greater sum pleasure that you used to have. The more sinister consequence of using chemicals is that when the substance your neurology has adapted to is not there for whatever reason, you are now in a pleasure deficit.
In other words, just the lack of the substance means you are in pain – physical, psychological, spiritual pain – and you will not get back to feeling normal, let alone high, without ever increasing doses of the substance your body has come to rely on. The more a woman turns to the substance, ingesting it with the hope that it will create feelings of pleasure, the more she deepens into a hole of pain, coming to the point where the amount of a substance she would need to feel pain relief is so toxic to her that she overdoses herself.
Due to this problem of tolerance, and an escalation in the amount needed, people abusing substances typically end up changing their lifestyles, including who they hang out with and their spending patterns, around trying to get greater and greater amounts of the substance into their body. This takes more and more time, and takes her more and more outside the bounds of society’s idea of what’s normal or acceptable behavior. She may engage in illegal or illicit activities, hurt friends and loved ones, ignore job responsibilities, to do whatever is necessary to get the substance in the amount and frequency that is now needed just not to be in pain and withdrawal.
Around the time that lifestyle consequences show up, such as losing jobs and friends, people often wonder why this pattern is not visible to the person who has lost her personal freedom to the substance. One reason is that addiction gradually overrides what’s called the executive function of the brain, which is the part that used to be able to curb, overrule and mediate the instincts. Pleasure and pain are the domain of instinct, so as the appetite for pleasure and obsession with avoiding pain grows larger, the executive part is eclipsed.
The mind, which may have once been relatively rational, balanced and humane, is now in the control of the addiction and will be filled with thoughts that justify the addiction: thoughts that deny the severity of the problem and minimize its consequences, thoughts that dismiss the growing anxiety and block awareness of the truth of the parasite growing inside. The mind becomes no longer a place to hear one’s own thoughts, but a place to hear the voice of the addiction. The voice of the addiction is manipulative, deceptive, and self-serving.
Such a person is literally not herself anymore, but is instead a collection of uncontrollable impulses and self-serving thoughts (more accurately, thoughts that serve the continued existence of the addiction). It is very important to understand that addiction is not a choice, and that substances that hack into the reward system are highly addictive and should be used with caution by anyone because of this very risk. For women whose destiny involves trudging the whole dark circuit of addiction, it is key to understand that this condition is not her fault per se. She comes by it unintentionally through ignorance, emotional pain and entrapment into something she never meant to experience.
Even though blame is not appropriate, but rather compassionate acceptance should be applied, the addicted woman is still the only one who can activate the cure. The cure is multifaceted, but essentially involves evicting the spirit of addiction that has gained traction and lived inside a woman. There are many ways in to doing this, and all start with the choice to do so. There is nothing more required, in essence, that the genuine, sincere and deep desire to be free, and to be willing to do absolutely anything to be rid of it.
Typically, this means being willing to completely change personality, lifestyle, attitude, will, and concede all territory that the addiction has taken. To give up any hope of control, and to walk away forever. A woman with a substance addiction comes to see that she can no longer rely on her own thoughts (since they are the addict’s) nor her impulses and instincts (since those are the addict’s too) and so must seek help in something that is outside and above the addiction, an authority that exists in a domain the addiction can’t touch.
There is such a healing force that, when called upon, absolutely can lift the curse of addiction and collapse the home it built inside you. However, the healing loving force must be sincerely and genuinely called on for help and cannot be tricked or used for personal gain. It cannot be controlled, or used as a means to an end, to alleviate consequences of addiction without changing the personality. The loving force requires a lot: absolute surrender. It requires spiritual transformation. Not just growth, but metamorphosis.
There are many ways to embody readiness to surrender oneself to the healing force. One strong act of willingness and readiness is to enter rehab, and to surrender personal plans, ideas, strategies and the negative ego’s whole package of preferences and demands to the healing structure and the center’s substance abuse treatment programs for women. Another, often very complementary way to act on readiness is to attend 12 Step meetings with a very high frequency (daily is recommended in early recovery), and to do the work of the 12 Steps.
Getting substance abuse treatment for any mental health or relationship issues that have been at play is supportive of recovery as well. Getting free from substance abuse and addiction is more of a process than an event, and it is dynamic and fluid, changeable and unknown. It is both highly personal and comfortingly universal – others who have recovered can help those who decide to recover even though their paths are unique.
At Villa Kali Ma, we have substance abuse treatment programs for women in need of assistance ranging from physical, nutritional, educational, emotional, cognitive to spiritual, each designed to work together to maximize your chances of connecting to the healing force that wants to help you. If you’re ready to get help, to release the shame, guilt, fear and loss of power that has been haunting you through an attachment to substances, you are welcome here in our healing circles!
We will fight for you, help you through the transition, coach you the ways of healing and recovery, and support you to connect to your own powerfully inner spiritual forces and allies. We will model the paths of recovery, connect you in community, and hold you with unconditional, positive regard. We will look at you with eyes that see not just who you have been and who you are now, but also who you are becoming, your greatest and most heroic probability and potential.
At the same time, we will hold compassion, gentleness and acceptance for the parts within that are vulnerable, weak, and totally unheroic. We will hold your shadows with the love and regard that honors their true essence and form, what they can eventually become when loved enough. Join our substance abuse treatment programs for women – you are always welcome here at Villa Kali Ma.