Thought Addictions


“Our patterns are well established, seductive, and comforting. Just wishing for them to be ventilated isn’t enough. Those of us who struggle with this know. Awareness is the key. Do we see the stories that we’re telling ourselves and question their validity? If we can remember to experiment like this even occasionally, we are training as a warrior. And when we can’t practice when distracted but know that we can’t, we are still training well. Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.”  ~ Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You

If someone stumbles on this post looking for advice about addictions, please know I can offer nothing about alcohol, drug, food, or sex addictions.  I am thankful each and every day I don’t struggle with these forms of addiction as so many do.  And if you do, know you are definitely not alone and there is help available.

But I DO struggle with thought addictions, and I believe these are one step removed from reaching for a substance to numb.  Who knows why I don’t.  Recently I became aware of two main thought addictions running the course of my life, and I even have clarity about the origin of one of them.  They are:

  • Seeking self-acceptance and not allowing it.
  • Feeling so uncomfortable being inside my body I want to escape it.

I also became aware that I have chosen the most “healthy” actions to alleviate these recurring thoughts.

  • Meditation:  Anything longer than 20 minutes, and I’ve left my body.
  • Distance walking:  Pain is always involved after 10 miles.  I get to work with my mind leaving my body to cope with pain.
  • Music:  Actively making any art form (even some forms of dance) allows a person to forget they inhabit a body for a bit.

Inability to let go and allow radical self-acceptance sucks big time for intimacy and close relationships with others, and this is the weakest part of my life.  But primarily every day I wish for the ability to reach some EVERLASTING peace inside myself regardless of relationship to others, and that remains elusive.  I’ve temporarily glimpsed it through therapy, workshops, books, solitary retreats, so I know that state of mind is in my control and is possible.  In fact, I’ve worked on this topic so much that it may be having a paradoxical effect.  Worry anything over and over, and you only make the thought pathway you’re trying to let go of stronger and stronger.  But the reality is I need to practice self-acceptance each and every day just like an addict of any kind has to practice abstinence.

Feeling you don’t want to inhabit your body requires another daily practice.  Grounding yourself in some way.  Allowing yourself to deeply relax at least once a day.  For me walking helps because I get to connect to the beauty in the world around me that I cannot see in myself, and I get to practice transcending pain.  But I can see that distance walking has also become a compulsion bordering on, well, addiction.  I don’t know many other people who constantly take themselves on 15- to 20-mile walks or dream of walking 3,000 miles to feel okay inhabiting a body.

Many actors who can portray confident people in plays and movies in front of millions often describe experiencing intense social anxiety in the arena of their own lives.   So does the drive to overcome social anxiety go hand in glove with their ability to act in public?   It seems that we might have our thought addictions because they serve a purpose in our lives.  Maybe I’ll know after I finally walk across the entire US.  Will I then feel okay in my body?  Probably not, but the drive to get there will have served its purpose.

The good news about being human is, we do have power to choose our thoughts.  Actually, that’s not true, as anyone knows who observes their weather storm of thoughts go by in meditation.  What I mean to say is, we can choose what thoughts to focus on.  It’s just about the hardest thing in life to shift our focus from the familiar thoughts we’ve come to know.



About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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