I was 17 years old when, while on a trip with a group of high-school friends, I got drunk for the first time in my life. I was happy and relaxed, my shyness had evaporated as if by magic, words were flowing out of my mouth without feelings of awkwardness or inhibition and I loved everyone, including myself.
But this was more than a pleasant experience; it was also a revelation. It made me realise that I could feel differently about myself and be more than the shy, emotionally disconnected teenager I thought I was. A few drinks underneath that introverted and emotionally withdrawn persona lay a confident, playful and loving person, longing to express and actualise himself. That experience made me realise that change was actually possible, that I could reach and perhaps even become that person. The trap, in which people who become addicted to drink, drugs, gambling, food, sex etc fall into, is the belief that this is the only way to experience such personal change.
The psychologist-to-be in me decided then to study the phenomenon of altered states of consciousness-and so he did. I wrote my degree dissertation on the psychotherapeutic uses of psychedelics and then specialised in the Clinical Psychology of Addictions. I also started training in Humanistic Psychotherapy and entered therapy. All these experiences supported me to explore the depths of my own psyche and to develop my potential without the use of addictive substances. I have worked for many years in various settings with people addicted to drugs and alcohol. I also worked with clients with a ‘dual diagnosis’, having mental health problems as well as addictions.
Working and studying within the field, I realised that addictions can have biological, psychological, social and political causes and that they serve different purposes for different people. I also saw that they are not a wise solution to personal problems, for various reasons:
• Their positive effects only last for a few hours. They can offer brief experiences of happiness, but not enduring life satisfaction.
• Continuous and intensive indulgence usually demands a way of life that does not allow much time, energy and financial resources for personal, academic, professional or spiritual development. They can actually become obstacles to creating a meaningful life.
• In the long term, physical and mental health can be severely compromised, leading to increased pain and misery (and even premature death).
• True happiness is to be found in the experience of relating to ourselves and to others in a genuine way, not by avoiding and distorting such experiences (even difficult or unpleasant ones).