I jumped onto Facebook this week to express my frustration around the ignorance of addiction and mental health, offering my support to Ant McPartlin who seems to be in the throes of some sort of crisis following his recent stint in rehab for addiction (to prescription drugs and alcohol) and the breakup of his marriage.
Why are we intent on attacking people at their most vulnerable?
I couldn’t believe the levels of hate and judgement where people wanted him to die or go to prison. The general public on social media seemed to be lacking in empathy and compassion. Yes, there are consequences to all decisions we make in life, but there is a bigger picture and people are missing the point. It motivated me to sit down and write this blog because I think we all need educating on the causes of addiction and how we can prevent it.
There are an estimated 595,131 dependent drinkers, of whom only 108,696 are currently accessing treatment in the UK. Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages. (source: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/alcohol–statistics)
Do you know how to self soothe?
In 2007, I experienced a spiritual awakening (as Brene Brown would call it) and so, I mean it when I say that I feel for this guy. I know all too well the feelings which come when you mentally break down. Such a deep distressing pain; a combination of internalised anger, shame, guilt, inadequacy and anxiety. It caused such an uncomfortable restlessness. I couldn’t find any peace inside. I would walk for hours a day all over town in my little Uggs trying to out run my feelings. They hurt so much. I smoked, I drank, I walked, I ate. I couldn’t sit with them. Nothing worked anymore. I checked myself in to therapy. (Luckily for me, I wasn’t playing it out publicly or being hounded by the media camping outside my house whilst healing).
What is the root cause of addiction?
I believe the root cause of addiction is childhood trauma. According to Dr Gabor Mate, renowned addiction expert, any emotional loss (trauma) derails the brain and affects its ability to process dopamine and endorphins which is our pleasure and pain relief. So we go hunting for external stimuli to self medicate and soothe that pain or escape from it.
In today’s busy world, that pain can also be stress. So parents who are stressed or aren’t able to be emotionally present with their children, this can interfere with their child’s brain development. You might want to check out 10 Obvious Signs of A Stressed Child that Parents Often Ignore.
Are you addicted?
Addiction is a complex process that involves brain, body, emotions, psychology and social relationships. The expression of addiction is any behavior where a person craves and finds temporary pleasure or relief in something, but suffers negative consequences as a result of and is unable to give up despite those negative consequences.
So it’s not so much the food, the shopping, the wine or whatever your ‘drug of choice is’, it’s more about:
- Does it provide temporary relief or pleasure?
- Does it create craving when you don’t have it?
- Does it create negative consequences, and is it difficult to give up despite those consequences?
If those are the case, it’s an addiction.
There’s a good reason why I do this for a living
Maybe you have never wondered why I’m massively passionate about making sure children grow up with what they need to thrive.
From my own personal experience, I’ve used alcohol, food and cigarettes to self soothe. I experienced sufficient trauma (ACEs) even though to the outside world, I was raised in a middle class family with material wealth and privately educated. On reflection, I think it helped me, and may have even saved me.
You can download this pdf which gives a list of what ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are and how they impact a child’s development.
Childhood ACE’s increase the risk of addiction
There is a history of addiction on both sides of my family and I have attachment issues. I also have high anxiety, OCD tendencies, often get stuck in survival mode (fight / flight / freeze), am prone to bouts of depression and disassociation, which as a child kept me safe, but as an adult stop me from connecting to my feelings. My feelings are my internal Satnav which guide me and I need them to thrive and live a healthy life.
That’s emotional intelligence isn’t it?
“Emotional Intelligence is the ability for a human being to manage his or her emotions in a healthy way that will determine the quality of his life in a much more fundamental way than his IQ. Emotional self knowledge and self acceptance, sensitivity to the cues of others, empathy (which can be defined as the ability to see and feel something from the other’s point of view), and the ability to regulate one’s own anxiety in order to talk about emotionally charged issues in a constructive way.” ~ Dr Laura Markham.
8 Preventative Measures to Protect Your Child
So we can’t prevent life from happening to our children and wrap them up in cotton wool, but there are preventative measures we can take. If you want to see how at risk your family is, then take my happiness test.
Let’s have a look at some of those:
- Ensure your child has secure attachment (which I often refer to as Connection). The less attachment you had as a child, the more attachments to external stimuli you will have as an adult. If you are new to the concept of connection, you can read more about it in this blog post and in my e book ‘Rediscover the Magic of Parenting in a Busy World’ which is a step-by-step practical must read on how to create connection in 30 days.
- Talk about your emotions in a constructive way on a regular basis where they can be received without judgement and validated. Especially talking about the tricky ones like anger, grief, guilt, sadness. In coaching, we call this active listening and it’s so important that I’ve written a course about it to help parents listen with love.
- Develop emotional intelligence ( the ability to understand, process and manage your emotions in a healthy way) which is something we do every week at The Energy Pod.
- Create a safe, loving environment. Nobody wants to admit that it’s more nurture than nature (what a responsibility) and you can read more about that in this blog where I reveal that alcoholism is 70% nurture in males and 90-100% in females, and anxiety neurosis is 80-100% nurture.
- Show and role model empathy because it is the antidote to shame which feeds addiction. I talk about that more here. It frustrates me to hear that people still think punishment which shames children is the way to ‘teach them a lesson’.
- Build emotional resilience which comes from having a positive mindset, setting goals, having a passion and having secure attachment so you feel supported during stressful times.
- Understand your family’s history which often unconsciously repeats itself if not addressed or acknowledged. Be a cycle breaker, don’t follow the crowd. Your child’s future is relying on you to take a stand.
- Up your self care & respond to your child’s emotional needs. Did you know that babies learn how to self soothe by having somebody to first soothe them? This starts in infancy when a baby cries and how we respond to that determines their experience. Yes Gina Ford – no crying it out in a dark room. She’s brutal in my humble opinion. In my Little Box of Kindness I’ve created a kindness guide and plan to help children speak to themselves like they would their best friend and also work out what they need when they are angry, sad, or feeling overwhelmed by their feelings. It’s also imperative that you understand What you are teaching your child if you don’t prioritise self care.
Do you see why I am serious about this?
I cannot emphasise the importance of some of these essential building blocks required for living a happy life. There are more if you are an avid reader of my blog, you will have heard me talk about this before. This is not something which you don’t get around to doing, it’s not an item on your to do list that doesn’t get crossed off. It’s a part of your life which you need to adopt so you can role model it to your child.
Everybody says they want their child to grow up happy. Well this blog post tells you how and there are no excuses or anything that should be more of a priority than this. I’m serious. So serious.
If you are a family who is seriously committed to your emotional health
Come and join us in The Energy Pod every week where I have fun light-hearted Smiley tools and strategies to help you understand, manage and regulate all of your feelings. It’s a safe, warm and friendly place where kids open up, parents learn through their children and strengthen that all important connection. It’s not for ‘broken’ children or children with special needs or families who are ‘desperate’.
NO. It’s for everybody because we all need to take good care of our emotional health. What do you do every day to take care of yours? What about your child’s?
Addiction is the furthest point away from your true self
Somebody said that to me once and it’s true when you think about it. Such a painful place to exist. Notice I said exist and not ‘live’. You have developed coping mechanisms and layers of masks (false self) to adapt and survive to a certain situation which means the only way out is to strip away those layers and work out who you are. It can be done with time, love and support.
Get well soon Ant! I hope you get what you need. Sending so much love to you!