The Relationship Model of Addiction ™ (TRMA) ™
A New Paradigm for Understanding Addiction and Recovery
Overview of the Relationship Model of Addiction ™
My simplified vision of humanity is the basis for TRMA. Us human beings have two basic needs, the need for love and the need to relieve pain (physical or emotional). If our need for love does get met, we live richer, fuller and more meaningful lives and our relationships will nourish our overall health and wellbeing.
But when our need for love doesn’t get met, our other basic need kicks in – the need to relieve the resultant pain from unmet emotional needs. The underlying driving force of addiction is the need to relieve pain. The greater the pain, the greater the need to relieve it. Relationships that fail to provide adequate nourishment is the spawning ground of addiction and emotionally nourishing relationships is the remedy. Mick Jagger might have been referring to when he sang, You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you might just find, you get what you need.
How true! If we can’t get what we want, i.e. looking for love or connection, we get what we need emotionally, which is, relief from the pain. One way or another, we’re going to find a way out of the pain or feeling better. It’s the human condition.
Addiction is not a disease. Addiction is a relationship with a means of relief of pain from unmet emotional needs. Means of relief include mind and mood-altering substances, process addictions like sex, porn, gambling as well as addictions to people, as in the cases of love addiction and codependency.
Addiction is a relationship, just like any other relationship, one in which you are totally involved (emotionally), invested in, dependent on, attached to and is all consuming, tantamount to carrying on a secret love affair. It becomes your primary relationship rendering all others to secondary status. You’re not fit to relate and can’t really connect or function in any other relationship or endeavor. It’s a relationship that cuts you off from your pain and emotional life, which you need access to before you can connect with others. Non-nourishing relationships are the spawning ground of addiction. Relationships that fail to provide adequate nourishment are the cause. Relationships in which our need for love gets met are the solution. Recovery is a three-stage transitional journey out of unhealthy, non-nourishing relationships and into healthy, nourishing ones that continues over the course of a lifetime. Stage I is Breaking-up (with the means of relief). The stages are sequential. Breaking-up is always the first order of business. You have to break-up with your secret lover, to clear space for a new primary relationship (with your Self) to emerge and birth. When you are in the throes of an addiction, you are, for all intents and purposes, unconsciously driven, in denial about the level of your involvement, dependency and disconnection from your Self. It’s not possible to discover your Self or even begin developing the relationship with your Self. Stage II is Developing the Relationship with Self (intensive self-work); and Stage III – Creating Emotionally Nourishing Relationships (relationship training). Having a relationship with your Self is a pre-requisite to entering Stage III - Creating Emotionally Nourishing Relationships. The quality of the relationships you create is always relative to the quality of the relationship you have with your Self. After Stage II – Developing the Relationship with Self, you’ll be primed for Stage III – Creating Nourishing Relationships - intensive relationship training in the arts of relating and connecting. Relating and connecting are art forms that require knowhow and proficiency. Breaking up Mindfully incorporates mindfulness-based principles and a basic five step process that gets you through the breaking-up (mindfully) process. ‘Mindfully’ presumes that you are self-aware and conscious of your need for connection, motivation to connect, your experience – that being your highest purposes, thoughts, feelings, etc. and acting in a way that is aligned with them and accurately represents your experience, which is the core and essence of your being. The Five Steps to Breaking-up Mindfully: Step I: Recognition of a Problem and Relationship Step II: Going Back to the Beginning – Discovery Step III: Identifying Manifestations of Denial Step IV: Conscious (Emotional) Withdrawal Step V: “Goodbye” and “Hello” (to your new best friend)
Step I Recognition of an Unhealthy Relationship Recognition is about seeing the relationship for what it is, an unhealthy relationship that has been bringing you down every which way, mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually. Recognition can warm you up to feelings compassion for yourself, humility, gratitude and self-acceptance, and greater clarity as to what you no longer want while opening space to begin exploring what you do want. First, recognize that it is a relationship like any other relationship and that you’re heavily involved, invested in, dependent on, attached to, consumed by and that your life revolves around this relationship, just as if you’re carrying on a secret love affair.
You’ll take a look at how this relationship had progressed since its inception and see the ways it’s costing, limiting, draining and starving you mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, while sabotaging all of your other relationships or other priorities. That you are/were drowning in this relationship, in over your head, out of control, without a clue as to how deeply involved and consumed you got and unable to break free on your own. You see that you’ve become increasingly isolated and disconnected from yourself and others over time. That your relationships become limited to those who somehow support this secret relationship, while avoiding those who, in any way, pose a threat or a competing interest. And the longer you were involved in relationship with a means of relief, the worse you feel and the worse you feel about yourself. This process usually makes you more motivated to “break-up” or at least begin developing an exit strategy to get out or end it.
Step II Going Back to when it Began – Discovery We’re going back to what was going on emotionally, as well as in your primary relationships, at the time this relationship had begun forming. By going back, you not only begin realizing and appreciating the pain you were in the time (and probably still are) and that your need to relieve that pain is the underlying driving force of this relationship, that your aren’t or weren’t looking for love or connection as much as relief primarily.
When you become conscious of the pain and acknowledge its presence, you’ll begin to understand how this relationship came to be in the first place and you likely start feeling compassion for yourself. Shining a light on what had been lying in darkness can be revelatory. When you actually register the connection between your pain and the relationship that served to relieve it, you understand in a way you never did before, why you got involved in the relationship and why you’ve been hanging onto it for dear life.
Pain has the most power when it is buried in your unconscious. Making pain conscious has a diffusing effect. When your blinders come off, you can for the first time acknowledge the presence of pain without having to expend more energy defending against it and keeping it out of your consciousness. Confronting your pain, coming to terms with it and allowing it to be there is ultimately empowering. Pain shrinks when it is allowed to be there, and when other aspects of life come into focus, it gradually fades into the background.
You will also begin to see yourself differently, appreciate all that you’ve been through in life and feel more gratitude. You will get to see the contrast between the past and your emerging Self in present time. “That was then. That was me then.” “This is now. This is me now.”
As the level of your pain lessons, space, energy and consciousness are freed up, your need for love and connection will begin showing up on your radar, and when it does, you will be seeking relationships in which those needs get met.
Step III Understanding how Denial Works & Identifying Manifestations of Denial
Making the unconscious conscious is a path to empowerment and liberation while being unconsciously driven is a path to dis empowerment and enslavement. Understanding how denial works and identifying manifestations of denial in yourself will shine a light on what you were in the dark about so you can see where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
The strength of the dependency is survival-based. The primitive nature of the dependency is akin to the dependency an infant has on its mother. An addiction is a dependency-based relationship on a powerful means of relief that is easy-to-access and provides an immediate source of comfort, a way of feeling better. It becomes a primary relationship, rendering all others secondary. The idea of being cut off from his or her “love” is tantamount to death. Any threat to the relationship, including the thought of being consumed or out of control, terrorizes his/her psyche. The addict’s motivation is infiltrated by this relationship infiltrates the addict’s motivation and agency of perception and behavior.
Denial is the dependency’s loyal soldier, dedicated to the protection and preservation of this relationship, by eliminating all internal and external threats or conflicts of interest. As the relationship progresses, internal and external conflicts of interest mount, and huger and huger chunks of reality must be denied. An ever-increasing amount of energy is required to protect the dependency.
Denial and dependence work hand in hand. Where there is denial, there is a dependency (emotional involvement). Where there is a dependency, there will be denial. One doesn’t exist with the other.
The psychoanalytic definition of denial is: “the blocking of certain sense impressions from the outside world, painful consequences are nullified…the blocking of unwanted or unpleasant pieces of internal and external stimuli by means of wish fulfillment, fantasy, or behavior” (Brenner)
“Defense mechanisms are adaptation to the internal and environmental threats to our survival and must operate unconsciously to be effective in reducing anxiety.” (Freud). Denial makes it possible to function without adequate emotional nourishment, when starving to death emotionally (relationally and spiritually), while enduring little or no pain. It takes the pain away by removing the source of the pain, as well as the pain itself, from the conscious mind; and it does so without our being aware of its operation.
Denial ensures that unawareness ripples through your entire self-system by insulating the relationship and need for relief from your awareness. It keeps you oblivious to having veered off course and disconnected from your Self. Let's identify some of the more common manifestations of denial, how they show up.
The illusion of choice and control makes it feel like you are in the driver’s seat, that you’re acting rationally, logically, common sensibly, when your thoughts and perception are corrupted. “Why should I be straight when I could be stoned? Why feel bad when I can feel good?” You get to feel like you are making a choice and are in control when in fact your choice is pre-determined and that you can’t stop even if you wanted to. “Why should I stop?” It’s often not until life comes crashing down that this illusion shatters.
Repression bars from consciousness any threatening impulses, memories, feelings or desires, while doing so unconsciously. Repression causes selective memory impairment in which reminders of reality, consequences of the dependency, behaviors and events are completely forgotten.
Projection is when one’s wish or impulse is attributed to someone or something else outside of him or herself, to deflect attention from the primary attachment, to preserve and protect that relationship, i.e. discredit anyone or anything that poses a threat.
Step V Conscious (Emotional) Withdrawal
In any addictive, dependency or need-based relationship, it’s not possible to pull back, disengage or take any action toward breaking up without some fallout, known as emotional withdrawal. The more and longer you were (emotionally) involved, the greater the withdrawal pain is going to be.
The process of weaning yourself from an addiction can be devastatingly difficult. A huge void has to be crossed. At some point it will hit you that you are all alone in the face of an overwhelming reality and torrents of emotion, with nothing to fall back on, and no guidance from above.
Doubts about your ability to live and cope on your own two feet can often come bubbling up. Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is blind faith that you’ll somehow land on your feet. Facing our aloneness poses an existential crisis. We can be humbled by it the inescapable reality that we’re ultimately on our own to fend for ourselves and that we are ultimately responsible for our own self-care and wellbeing. This has to be a daunting challenge considering how much of our energy is spent avoiding, running from, fighting and denying that in the end, and for as long as we live, there is no one else we can depend on but ourselves.
Perhaps a spiritual confidence, patience and trust eventually does pay off upon entering Stage II, when you discover and begin developing the relationship with Self, that the Higher Power is not external, but rather lies within, that your Highest power is your Self.
Emotional withdrawal also occurs after the (relief) derived from the means of relief wears off (also known as ‘coming down’), i.e. after effects of mind and mood altering substances wear off, after the gambler runs out of money, after the intrigue and excitement of secret sexual escapades are over or after the orgasm, and you’re are emptied and burned out.
Step V “Good-bye” (to the means of relief) and “Hello” (to your Self )
Good-bye is about being proactive and the empowerment that occurs when you act or communicate. It implies action or communication, (e.g. pulling back emotionally, disengaging, divesting, re-directing. You might need to say something like, “We’re done. I’m out.”
Goodbye is the verbal affirmation of your intention to break-up, and readies you to act, i.e. leave, walk out the door of your imagination, leave your comfort zone and not look back. Considering or deciding to move in that direction are catalysts for a natural shift to occur – from hanging on to wanting out or, at least, loosening your grip (on the relationship). Saying, “goodbye,” creates some space and separation that allows you to feel into the presence of your Self. Until you reached the point of readiness to act, there was no room for another primary relationship to develop. Once you break-up one primary relationship, space opens for another relationship to take hold (with one’s Self, or others). Being conscious and tuned-in to your experience during this last leg of the process - when saying, “Good-bye” - is what makes “Goodbye” a monumental, life changing event. Not long, after, “Goodbye,” it’s, “Hello” to your new best friend. Consider a journal type exercise to accelerate the breaking-up mindfully process. Write a Goodbye Letter to the substance, activity or person you were involved with, and include your rationale, the challenges you’re facing, and how you are adjusting to your new-found freedom, and standing on your own two feet without that crutch. That you are saying “goodbye” to what you no longer want, while spelling out what you are ultimately after.
“Breaking up” marks the end of an unhealthy, dependency or need-based relationship and the beginning of a new relationship - with your Self. How you end is how you begin. How you begin is how you end. If you haven’t consciously broken-up, but rather left a relationship carrying the emotional baggage of pent-up unexpressed feelings and unresolved issues, chances are that your next relationship will also be fraught with unexpressed feelings and unresolved issues. You will be less energetically available to co-create a relationship and more likely to attract other people also bogged down by unexpressed feelings and unresolved issues, and who need to stay defended. You’ll be less present and less connectable. If “Goodbye” closes the door on the relationship you are breaking-up, “Hello” open the door to a whole new relationship (with your new best friend – your Self). As you develop the relationship with your Self, you may also be in the process of shifting your relating paradigm from Other/externally based to Self/internally based center-point. So begins Stage II of your recovery journey. The relationship with your Self is the most important relationships, the mother of all other relationships.