Dragons are all around us, it’s just that we can’t see them. Well, we can if we redefine them properly. Fire breathing dragons are the hosts of addiction. Yes addiction. And, unfortunately, addiction is all around us.
Addiction can take many forms and the most obvious are of course the worst examples. When we discuss the term “alcoholic” in session we have to work hard to eradicate the instant image of someone who is dirty, homeless, toothless and living under a bridge. As one client put it recently, “alcoholism” wears a suit and takes the train to the city every day.
Addiction is the term we prefer to use because it has fewer stereotypic images associated with it. And addiction is easier for people to associate to things other than alcohol or drugs; it doesn’t take much to illuminate how behaviors like gambling, shopping, cutting, bulimia and workaholism are all forms of addiction as well. This helps open up space to embrace new definitions of addiction, to make it more personal and easier to relate to for many.
Once we clear that hurdle, then comes the dragon. I use a fire breathing dragon as my visual analogy for what addiction really is. Addiction starts, for everyone, with the simple yet dangerous statement of, “I can’t handle _____”. This phrase, spoken from our innermost place, is the calling card for the dragon. Now, the person in pain or despair or fear has a new buddy, a fire breathing dragon. The dragon appears at one’s shoulder and says, “Hey, I hear you can’t handle _____. Well guess what? I’m a fire breathing dragon and I can handle anything! So let me help you.” To the person in turmoil this seems like a gift, a blessing, a quick fix, and so they entertain the idea. But then, the dragon adds, “Well, you see, I can help protect you from _____, but you’ll have to do something for me too.” (play the Jaws theme here). “I’ll need you to provide me with [alcohol, shopping, gambling, heroin, bingeing, etc…] to give me strength to battle the _____ that you can’t handle”. Ut oh. Remember that there’s no such thing as something for nothing, right? And folks, once the person agrees, just like that we now have addiction. Yep, it’s that easy, simple, small and harmless, on the surface, at the beginning. Unfortunately, things change rapidly as the dragon has a much more voracious appetite for the “thing” that it needs to fuel itself to battle the _____ of the person. And as time goes on the person, who has had to lie, cheat and steal to satisfy the dragon, feels that they have sacrificed so much to the dragon that, well heck, I guess we’re in this for the long haul, the dragon is the only one I can rely on, yadda yadda yadda. (In addiction we call this minimization, rationalization, projection and denial)
Addiction is very gentle and loving at the beginning but it evolves extremely rapidly. Nobody wakes up one day and says to themselves, “I think I’ll become and addict today!” But it happens everyday. If you slow down enough you will see dragons all around you.
Good thing that therapists are trained to see and slay dragons. (yes, hard to put on a resumé, but results don’t lie)