understanding addictions

back in april, i said this in regard to a blog entry on obesity research:

the more healthy i live, the more understanding i have for people for whom health is not such a great priority, or who have chosen to focus on different areas of improving their health than i have. i have some hunches regarding what the reason for that might be; fodder for another blog entry, i guess

so here is that blog entry!

i noticed this the first time a few years ago, when i was still working in vancouver’s downtown eastside, and all of a sudden it was okay by me that a lot of people who lived in that area were smoking. i realized what an important social glue smoking is, and even started carrying a pack of players on me, for people who i knew would be desperate for a smoke. what a difference to the times that i would rant and rave against the evil of smoking!

don’t get me wrong: i still believe that cigarettes are extremely unhealthy. but somehow my attitude towards smokers changed.

what happened?

a few ideas, mostly in regard to smoking but they apply to other behaviours as well:

  • as i became more secure in my own healthy behaviour, i needed to protect myself less against a possible “infection” from people who behave in different ways. i did not need to criticize people who smoke anymore because it was clear that i would most likely not feel tempted to smoke again.
  • physical and mental health go hand in hand. the more i looked after my physical health, the more my mental sanity increased. one thing that comes with sanity is more tolerance, a greater ability to see that people’s paths are infinitely varied. who am i to say that my path is better than someone else’s?
  • we all use a wide range of behaviours, including addictive behaviours, to help us cope with the world around us. smoking serves a wide range of purposes (social, physical, emotional) and is a better way of coping than violence, crack or meth. the same goes for other addictive behaviour; many people instinctively use the coping mechanism that seems to give them the most benefit for the least amount of pain. the more potential pain there is, the less important become the non-immediate consequences of behaving in unhealthy ways. when confronted with never-ending poverty, what difference does it make that cigarettes may blacken your lungs over time? i became more aware of that.

there but for the grace of god go i. i have been given the gift of walking away from unhealthy behaviour. my job was to recognize that gift, accept it and treasure it. it was a gift, nevertheless. and even the ability to recognize, accept and treasure it – that was a gift, too. what do i know about what other gifts people receive? what do i know about other people’s ability to deal with such gifts? not very much. i cannot see into other people’s souls. i can hardly look into my own.

what i can do is listen, listen to people’s stories, and tell stories about those of us who have received this particular gift. and then we’ll see …

and i can be grateful. humbly grateful.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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