We often hear addictive behavior described in other terms—as a disease, or as a coping mechanism. Both can seem inherently negative in connotation. They suggest that that there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed. “I am an addict and that’s what’s wrong.” In the western medical model, the problem is the disease of addiction, and it’s addressed by treating the symptoms, whether they be physical, social, or emotional. And calling addiction a “coping mechanism” suggests that a person is less able to function than “normal” people and needs the crutch of the addictive behavior to get along in life.

Both perspectives have their place in our recovery. But they are limited. They both see addiction as the problem rather than as a sign that something is out of alignment internally, on the spiritual level. They are based on a negative assessment of addictive behavior (“it’s the problem”), and this makes it difficult to see anything else. Reframing addiction as a brilliant strategy, as a self-preserving human response to a problem, removes the negative judgment from our perspective and invites us to ask ourselves a couple of key questions: “What is my addictive behavior a response to? What problem is it trying to solve?” As a brilliant strategy, addictive behavior—whether it using drugs and alcohol, gambling, sex, work, etc.—can serve to bring relief from a profound sense of uneasiness in the world, of disconnection and fragmentation. Recognizing addictive behavior as a brilliant strategy gives us clarity about what’s authentically happening inside. It tells us something about the wholeness we are truly seeking. It tells us, with terrifying clarity, where we’re stuck, where we’re shut down, and where we’re closed off.

Then we can simply ask the questions: “Is this strategy still working? Is it still serving me? Is there a better way?”

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