But it’s my choice. when it comes to addiction – probably not. However, you still have the power to fight back – here’s how.
As an addictions counselor and former smoker, I have heard many say, “Smoking is a choice I made.” Heck, this one-liner has slipped past my lips more than once back in the day. The thing is, statements like these are, in a roundabout way, embracing the addiction. Which I believe, oddly enough, is the addiction speaking itself.
I bet you’re thinking “But Jonathan, how can an addiction speak?” Well, the truth is, it can’t. At least, not in the way we understand it. However, our brain is what amounts to a 3-pound communication and storage device. In other words, all it does is communicate with itself 24/7 until it stops working. I am generalizing the brain’s amazing inner workings but it, nonetheless, gives us the gist.
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Why is this important when we talk about addiction and the brain? Well, because we are easily fooled by the miscommunication made when our brains become addicted to something. Our fatty mass between our ears is always taking in and storing new information. So, when you take your first hit of something, our reward centre processes the “rush” we get from it. A process that works when a substance is ingested. Firstly, a new substance like nicotine, for example, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that produces a “feel-good feeling.”
Unfortunately, when an addictive act or substance is introduced, we need more and more of it to get that feel good feeling. Think of how you can’t stop using your phone.
In the case of smoking, nicotine is the dirty little culprit that grabs a hold of people. And here’s where the re-writing of our internal dialogue comes in.
So, when we find ourselves saying, “I made the choice to smoke,” it is true. You willingly lit up at some point and had your own motivation to do so. However, it’s where the choice stops, and the addiction begins. In the case of cigarette smoke, it’s one of the most addictive chemicals you can put in your body.
The primary chemical, nicotine, binds to receptors in our brains called nicotinic cholinergic receptors. This binding encourages the sophisticated interplay that leads to addiction, i.e., the need for an ever-increasing level of dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter). Similarly, more and more nicotine is needed to achieve a feel-good state. In the case of cigarette smoking, a hit of nicotine returns us to a state of normal function. This is because our levels of nicotine or lack thereof, interfere with our normal day-to-day. Just ask anyone who is “croaking for a smoke.”
The new internal script – But it’s my choice. when it comes to addiction – probably not.
Now, what does all this jargon mean? Well, it means that addictive substances hijack your brain. In other words, once you get a taste for – in this case – cigarettes, you need more and more.
And this is where the rewriting of your internal script comes in. So, as an example if someone says to a smoker, “I really wish you’d quit,” often the response can be, “Leave me alone, it’s my choice.” But after you’ve reached the level of addiction, aka, to a level where your brain thinks it needs it, then what?
Simply put, Is it still a choice? Honestly, no it’s not. Therefore, the question then becomes, “What can you do about it?” Firstly, it’s important for us to understand the mechanism of addiction, hence what you read above about the brain. And now that we have, you can see that getting hooked on any number of things is real.
Equally real is the difficulty to overcome things like smoking. However, the script we write because of our new “habit’ serves as an internal enabler. Like having friends with a similar addiction wasn’t enough of a negative reinforcer.
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Not only do we defend our substance use, but we also actively seek to find reasons not to quit. For instance, we often say, “I want to quit but if I try, I will be cranky with everyone.”
See, it’s narrative building like this that addiction loves to hear. Like a devil whispering in your ear, it will gently persuade you to “light up again.”
Therefore, it becomes important to be aware of these fake news narratives and actively fight to win back your life. Yes, being addicted is hard, no question. That being said, you do have a choice – to keep trying to beat it.
Saying to yourself “I may be addicted but I have no excuse not to keep trying.” is a way better script than saying “I’d love to quit but I’m addicted.”
Why reframing your internal dialogue can help.
“I may be addicted but I have no excuse, not to keep trying.” Talking in your head in such a manner will take you down a rabbit hole of legitimate reasons to quit.
Some of those reasons are: “I have loved ones in my life. I want to live a long and healthy life to maximize my time with them.” Generally, this statement can lead to questions that can sometimes look like “What then can I do to make an effort to ensure I’m around for a long time?”
Decisions are easy, it’s the actions that are hard.Jonathan Arenburg – The Road To Mental Wellness
As like many things in life, the answer to such questions is – you need a plan. Not only do you need a plan, but you also need to have a visual representation to help see your progress.
My own journey to quitting smoking
I thankfully was able to stop smoking when my son was born. While it took me fifteen years to quit, I did it! I just needed the proper motivation. What better reason to embark on a healthier me than a newborn beautiful baby?
His entry into the world made me realize something profound. He made me see that I am not the only one who had a stake in my well-being; Those we love have just as much stake in our lives as we do. Therefore, it became my mission to live a long, healthy life. So, in order for that to happen, smoking had to go.
Firstly, in any self-improvement effort, one must realize that they have to take it slow. As of now, there are no quick fixes for our woes. That said, if your kind, patient and forgiving to yourself, you will overcome it.
So, with that in mind, I will tell you how I overcame one of the hardest addictions known to humanity. Because I have a background in addictions, I understand the neurochemical process of addiction and withdrawal. Therefore, the first thing I told myself was, “Take it slow.” if you slowly wean yourself off smokes, your withdrawal symptoms will be less severe.
From there, I set up a plan where every two weeks I would decrease the number of cigarettes I smoked per day. Taking away one every two weeks was the plan. I had a calendar to ensure I stayed on course. What’s important here is that throughout this adventure to quit, I sometimes smoked more than others. Being kind and patient with myself, I simply let my motivation keep me on track.
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As a result, it took a year for me to finally kick it. And looking back on it, I’m glad. Because as it turns out, slow and steady really does win the race. What’s amazing about being successful? Throughout my kid’s childhoods, I was able to be an active dad, able to keep up with them. Of course, I also had to work on becoming fitter. But that was fine with me because looking back at it, we have had a great time making memories, Memories, I know we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Worth all the discomfort of beating the demons that are addiction.
So, there you have it, is an addiction really a choice? No, but what you do about it is. Just keep trying – you will win the day,
When I went off work because of PTSD, I was left in limbo while I waited to see if I would be awarded Workers Compensation. It was long and painful, hanging in the darkness of my home.
So, I began to try and figure out this PTSD thing; how did I get here? I was a firefighter, so I knew that much but my battled with anxiety and depression was a life-long battle.
I began to write out my story, mostly to help quell the angst of being lonely and in mental illness purgatory. It helped – immensely. I survived the dark because of it.
Now, it’s here – written for therapeutic intervention and published in hopes that it can do the same for you or someone you know…..
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But it’s my choice. when it comes to addiction – probably not.