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Uncovering the Invisible Reasons Behind Addiction: Three Tales from a Meditation Retreat

A couple of years ago, I attended a weekend meditation retreat at a stately home in Oxfordshire. I learned several things over the weekend, which we’ll come back to in The Blog about Happiness. In between the meditation sessions, we were all segregated into specific groups to discuss the issues affecting our lives. In one particular session, the group leader propositioned us to divulge any addictive states that had prevented us from accessing profoundly our inner selves. From a group of about eight people, the obvious inclusion of smoking addiction came up a couple of times, which didn’t really move me. What did move me, however, were three other testimonies that left me completely mesmerized.

Mike, a short, slim and quite bronzed, twenty-something year old, confessed his addiction to his smart phone and social media. I think we all simultaneously giggled when he first brought it up, because I guess it is something we all jokingly think we are partially addicted to; it makes a noise, we immediately react to it. In acknowledgement of this, on the evening of our arrival at the house we were all instructed to turn our phones off and leave them in our rooms. I think it was this that properly drew Mike’s attention to his addiction. This session was on the Sunday morning, so we had all been without our phones for a couple of days.

For my part, I missed checking my results on the strava (a popular fitness app that allows users to track and analyze their physical activity) but all in all it was actually quite refreshing to not be at the beck and call of my phone. Mike, however, took his phone out of his pocket in front of us (to the sound of a lot of tutting) and professed that he could not be away from it. He went on to explain how he played a multitude of games on it, had about fifteen apps that he constantly played with (Facebook being the main one) as well as texting and WhatsApping his friends non-stop. He said he watched TV on it, he listened to music on it and, sometimes, although very rarely, spoke to people on it. He said that when he was with his phone he genuinely felt a sense of security. He went to sleep watching it and in the morning is woken up by its alarm. He readily admitted that he used it while driving (at the risk of losing his license), while at the cinema, while eating out, while eating in with his family, and while walking to and from work. There was genuinely no alone time he spent away from it, unless he was in the shower. He couldn’t even acquiesce in the simple request to leave phones in rooms during the retreat. The concept wasn’t funny any more and I understood how Mike’s phone was limiting his awareness from everyone and everything.

Emma was the next of the group to astound me. I’d say she was late thirties to early forties, average sort of height but most definitely severely above average kind of weight, for anyone. I was not surprized when she told us her addiction was to food. Because I used to be quite large (as you will find out in later blogs about mindful nutrition) I could partially understand how she had reached such a size. What I couldn’t understand, though, was why. From the sound of it, she was from a very well-to-do family, she succeeded at school and university, she had a lot of very good friends and she had a very good, well-paid, job. Everything you wouldn’t expect from a horizontally challenged person and it was her case that prompted me to research the invisible, rather than the surface, reasons behind addiction.

The final addict to confess his sins to the group was a tall chap, mid-forties, called James. I’d noticed him around the house over the course of the weekend because he came across as quite confident and he spoke with a degree of authority, which was kind of bemusing after hearing what he had to say. When he opened his mouth to speak in this context, his whole demeanour changed in an instant.  

‘I have a sexual addiction called Transvestic Fetishism, or TF, he awkwardly revealed. The rest of us looked at each other quizzically for a few moments before he carried on. ‘I have a sexual fetish for wearing women’s underwear, which has developed into an addiction, because it is taking over my life’.”

“So you’re gay?’ a guy called Tom blurted out.

‘No, I’m not, I’m married, thank you very much.’ James responded. ‘I also have two children and I love my family dearly’.

‘So you’re a transvestite, then’, Tom came back.

‘No, I’m not gay and I’m not a transvestite, Tom, I just get sexually aroused by wearing women’s underwear, and then take it off when I climax.’

That told Tom.

‘The issue is, minutes after orgasm, I get the urge to do it again, and so begins a vicious circle. I don’t want to be a girl and I also don’t want to be addicted to this. My wife knows about it and often supports me with it, but she doesn’t know how often I do it, which is why I want the addictive part of it to end’.”

I was fascinated by the idea of an addiction that wasn’t dependent on chemicals or drugs or something you ingest, like both Mike’s phone addiction and James’ TF addiction. I got talking to them after the session and asked if I could use them as case studies for my writing. James kindly agreed to help me out and so will be mentioned extensively throughout my blogs on addiction; Mike was not so keen.

I done a lot of research into James’ addiction and found that apparently one in twenty men are affected in one way or another by this condition. I question how such presumptions can be made because after speaking to James, it is clear that what he suffered from gave him such shame that he kept it secret for most of his life, so I’d be very surprized if that many people admit to it. If such a statistic is correct, however, virtually everyone will know someone who regularly indulges in this activity. For all I know, some of my closest friends partake in much more enigmatic activities than wearing the underwear of the opposite sex, but I will never know because they keep it to themselves. There are no set rules for addictions including or excluding someone just because they come from a certain demographic or went to a specific school. Everybody has a secret they don’t want to share with the rest of the world, which is fine, assuming you’re not negatively affecting or hurting anyone or anything.

As with most addictions, people are very good at disguising TF, or denying it even exists. Addicts are renowned for doing that and, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, as soon as you notice yourself deceiving friends and covering up your tracks, it’s a pretty good indicator that you might need to address something.

Before I actually took the time to research and analyse this condition, I, like a lot of other people, assumed that it was a sordid, immoral, unscrupulous activity in which to be participating. I had no idea why some people get such satisfaction from doing it. James, like many other men in the world, got so much pleasure from it and yet he told me he saw so much evil in it, too. It was like a see-saw effect, loving it one day, hating it the next. He could go for months without doing it and then suddenly it would come from behind, grab him, and take control of him for however many days or weeks it wanted him for. He told me that he would get so entangled in it that it became something he came to depend on, and as a result of that, he consequently lost all self-control and became addicted to it.

As with all addictions, he was controlled by it. It started when it wanted to and it didn’t finish until it was happy. Although it was coming from him, it had a separate identity and the only way for him to crush it was to learn how to gain control over it.

The Invisible Reasons Behind Addiction

To free yourself  from addiction, you need to mindfully understand the reasons why you took it up in the first place. I say mindfully because it is not about uncovering the reasons and then lamenting, cursing, regretting and wishing you had never been subjected to it; I say it so that when you do uncover the very reason for your addiction, you learn to wholeheartedly accept it and then acknowledge and observe its existence in the present moment without ever dwelling on it. I’m not talking about the palpable reasons, I’m talking about the invisible ones that led you to where you are now.

The destructive invisible thoughts that you harbour are the cognitive reasons why people turn to addictions and they are completely different for absolutely everyone. It’s not like you flick a switch to start an addiction, it’s something that develops over a number of years. Take smoking, for example. Nine times out of ten, children start smoking around their peers in order to somehow impress them. Only once they’ve realized they don’t need to smoke in order to impress anyone do they then blame the chemical nicotine for causing their addiction. Invisibly, however, there are much deeper reasons for why they are hooked, and nicotine has nothing to do with it, although the chemical addiction associated with it can often blur the lines.

James has four sisters and a pair of incredibly loving and supportive parents. What, therefore, could have caused him to seek refuge in TF? From a lot of soul searching and long, deep conversations he had with his therapist, it became clear that his desire stemmed from his overwhelming jealousy and need for his mother’s love and attention.

He is the second youngest of five siblings. When he was born, his mother gave him the appropriate amount of attention for a newborn. Even as he grew older, during the period while he was the youngest he naturally needed to be looked after far more than his three older sisters. What he didn’t realise, though, was that he came to depend solely on his mother’s love and affection, leading him to demand and expect it non-stop.

When his younger sister was born, everything changed. No longer was he the metaphorical apple of his mother’s eye, he felt like he had suddenly been pushed into fifth place. The arrival of his youngest sister put a halt to the exclusivity that he readily desired from his mother, culminating in a gradual mutation of his state of mind.

With the help of his therapist, James uncovered the uncomfortable truth. Once his status as youngest child had changed, James thought that he was being treated differently. Being the only male child, his developing mind sought to somehow put him in the place of each of his sisters. The only way that he thought this was possible, as ludicrous as it seems, was to try to erase the one, fundamental, major difference between all of them: their gender. His method of doing so was  wearing their clothes.

He has a vivid memory from when he must have been about six, of being told off by his mother for wearing his sisters’ knickers, and being told to take them off. From that moment on he realized that it was not a normal thing to do but because it was kind of helping him to deal with the rejection of love that he perceived to have occurred, he continued to sporadically partake in the activity of wearing his sisters’ underwear until he grew old enough to buy his own.

As the years of engaging in this distinct pastime continued and as James grew old enough to realise that it no longer had anything to do with being loved any more or less, the reasoning for engaging in it slowly started to morph into a sexual desire rather than a cry for help. This subsequently incited the production of dopamine every time he did it, leaving him wanting more and more, again and again, culminating in an addictive state.

After discussing it with his therapist and with me, James began to understand the transgression of the disorder that he had attained. From recognising how it started and consequently developed, we were able to piece together a picture of its humble beginnings and he no longer feels guilty or ashamed for participating in it, as he has done for so many years. Through a newfound pride and acceptance in its existence, he is able to slowly manipulate and control the presence of his addiction until he eventually governs and regulates it 100% of the time. When he does it, he is in control and he therefore understands what he was doing and why. If he doesn't feel the urge strongly enough, he merely lets it go, rather than encouraging it to fester, like he has previously done on many occasions.

Contrary to popular belief, most people who suffer from addictions, of any sort, actually recover by themselves without the need for any kind of treatment. The majority of these cases are situation related, where people learn to curb their drinking, for example, after leaving university and starting a new job, or having children, or just growing up. The small percentage of people who don’t fall into this bracket, however, will benefit greatly from the following blogs and from knowing that having a purpose and ambition in life is one of the fastest ways to stop an addiction.

Check out the next blog with comprehensive techniques to manage addiction.

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