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Looking for a Fix

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 105 - November 2004

A few weeks ago a local paper carried the story of a middle-aged man who had almost lost his life through an ongoing addiction to a cough remedy. He had started taking it against a cough but continued long after the cough had cleared up, drinking more and more bottles of the stuff every day, until he ended up in hospital in a critical state. Rehabilitation was long, slow and difficult, but he is determined to stay clear of his addiction.

It seemed a strange passion. But then I remembered a young woman in a train whom I watched with incredulity as she consumed two boxfuls of a popular throat lozenge during a 20-minute journey, popping them in her mouth with the regularity of breathing. I knew the stuff – a single lozenge was enough to make my eyes water and my throat explode – but she was obviously immune to all that. What I saw was an addict in action. I imagine her lozenges and the recovering man's cough mixture contained enough mild sedatives to hook them.

Of course, it's possible to get addicted to anything. There are the classic traps: alcohol, tobacco and drugs, ranging from mild to murderous, plus binge eating. An obese client of mine, whose joints are already cracking up under her colossal weight, admits to wolfing down masses of bread and butter every night after a big dinner. Why does she do it? "I always hope that the next mouthful will be what I'm longing for," she says wistfully. Other overeating clients (always addicted to the worst kind of junk food) binge for comfort, for a treat, or, oddly, as an act of self-punishment. The skewed logic behind that runs like this: "I should lose weight, I've eaten all the wrong things today, I am bad, I deserve punishment," and so on go a few more pounds which will be even harder to shed. Then there are lesser addictions that don't undermine the addict's health, only her bank account, for instance addiction to shopping, known as 'retail therapy'. One sad single woman I know is addicted to mail order shopping even for goods she could buy locally, despite the extra expense of postage and the risk of getting unsatisfactory items. What gives her a high is the arrival of a parcel, preferably witnessed by the neighbours, coupled with the brief delusion that somebody out there has cared enough to send her a present.

In my limited experience with some addicts over the years, I have always tried to discover the roots of their often self-destructive compulsions. One client, in her late thirties, desperately wanted to stop smoking. She didn't enjoy it, she hated the way she smelt, her chest colds were getting worse, and yet… We got nowhere until one day I asked her point blank what good the cigarettes were actually doing for her. "They're gobstoppers," she blurted out and then began to cry. She'd never been able to speak her truth, at first for fear of upsetting her short-tempered father and domineering mother, later the bossy boyfriends and eventually the tyrannical husband she had married. Her feelings, her justified anger always had to be repressed.

And so, whenever the pressure became unbearable, she lit up, inhaled the smoke and exhaled it vigorously, instead of shouting what needed to be said. What she smoked were gobstoppers indeed.

Let me state the obvious: at the bottom of all addictions there hides a lack, an aching void of some kind that the addicts try to fill – with the wrong substance, because either they don't know what they really need, or if they do, they daren't reach for it. Also, on the whole it's easier to go for the symptomatic treatment of a chemical fix than to seek a cure. "Alcohol helps me to relax", said the heavy drinker in his late fifties with enough money to get by but no job and nothing to do; he chooses whisky to relax from the stress and tension of a meaningless life, instead of trying to fill the emptiness. And as Freud maintained, no-one gives up a pleasure without finding a substitute.

And what about the physical bondage of addiction? Even that can be broken. Let me end on an upbeat note. I was once a heavy smoker.

Several attempts to stop ended in failure. But when I went down the second time with cancer and chose the nutrition-based Gerson Therapy, I knew that smoking was out, which seemed almost more worrying than my illness. From the moment I arrived at the Gerson clinic in Mexico, I was given hourly fresh juices and delicious organic vegan food; it was a total immersion in hyper-nutrition which gave such a shock to my toxic system that for nearly two days I didn't even notice that I wasn't smoking. When I next smelt cigarette smoke, it sickened me (and still does, 23 years on). Other patients hooked on alcohol or drugs were also able to snap out of their lifelong addictions almost without noticing. According to the Gerson teaching, physical addictions are misguided attempts to fill the malnourished organism's craving for optimum nutrition. Once that is supplied, the cravings cease.

Does it always work? I don't know. But I am happily addicted to recommending this simple, positive, inexpensive and logical anti-addiction measure to anyone who will listen, as something worth trying. After all, there's nothing to lose except one's symbolic chains.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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