Interview: A New Approach to Addiction with Elaine Hilides

Elaine Hilides is a wellbeing facilitator, public speaker and event coach working with psychology of mind. Elaine’s work is based on a new paradigm that explores the principles of mind, consciousness and thought. Elaine is based in Poole, UK and helps clients all over the world overcome addiction.

What is the work you do with people dealing with addiction?

Addiction has always been a subject that fascinates me. Why is it that some people seem to be more susceptible to addiction than others? Why is it that someone can be hospitalised and given Diamorphine (which is a form of heroin) for weeks, or even months, but when they leave hospital they aren’t addicts? I realised that the difference always comes down to thought. The way that people think about themselves and their situation. Someone that has been taking morphine for pain sees the drug as medicinal and once their physical pain stops, they don’t need the medicine. But for someone who battles mental pain, the pain doesn’t go away so they look to whatever their addiction is to feel better. All addiction is an innocent attempt to feel better, but the addict is looking for relief in the wrong place.

Addiction is always caused when we look outside of ourselves for our source of happiness.

The pain most addicts feel isn’t physical. Addiction is an emotional anaesthetic. The addict feels the pain of reliving bad memories, running the same painful thoughts again and again and also disconnection from family and friends. Addiction, whether it is substance or behavioural, is self medicating these thoughts. Using the drug or behaviour to block and numb thoughts, thoughts that they have created. It is innocent pain relief.

I set up the first wellbeing workshop in the UK for drug, alcohol and mental health recovery using these three principles and I also work with people on a one to one basis. My job is to help people reconnect with their own innate health that is always there but is hidden by layers and layers of thought. This may sound too simplistic but when someone sees this for themselves, can see that they are reacting to their thoughts rather than their circumstances, they are on the road to recovery.

Addiction itself is always the last step in the process, thought is the first step.

If I am feeling upset, angry or worried and I look to something to make me feel better, in the seconds I think about the glass of wine, cigarette or whatever is my drug of choice, I let go of the upset and angry thoughts to think about the glass of wine and then I feel better. So I attribute my good feeling to the glass of wine without recognising that the feeling is coming from my letting go rather than the wine. But, slowly, the glass of wine isn’t a pleasure but is necessary to stop the pain of addiction.

How does your approach differ to established or conventional practices?

A difference between the principles approach and some other traditional approaches, like AA, is that the principles model doesn’t focus on disease but rather it focuses on the health of the addict, the health the addict still has hidden underneath layers of thought. Treating the addiction is like a smoker buying cough mixture, don’t treat the symptom, treat the cause which is always thought.

In treatment, the addict should be reminded of who they are, innately, and helped to be with themselves rather than running away from the self. Many addiction treatments focus on the mistakes the addict has made which makes them feel worse instead of helping them to feel good and find their own health. When they see it for themselves, it will be real to them, having your own insight is powerful because once you see it, you can’t lose it. You can mislay it just like you can mislay your car keys but just as your car keys are still there for you to find again, so is your health. This way the recovery comes from the addict and not from the therapist.

Are there different types of addiction?

There are different labels for addiction and different substances or behaviours cause different chemical reactions in the brain but, essentially, all addiction is the same, the need to feel better.

All addiction is searching for the thing that you have all the time.

Sometimes, someone will recover from one addiction and then get addicted to something else. A person who doesn’t take heroin anymore might get addicted to running or meditating. They see this as a ‘positive’ addiction but addiction is all the same. If you get upset or irritable because something interferes with your running or meditating you are still seeing your ‘positive’ behaviour as necessary to your mental health. You’re still looking in the wrong place to feel better.

Is addiction genetic or inherited in some way?

There are many different theories about whether addiction is inherited but I don’t believe that it is. I do think that people learn behaviours from their family or peers and when they repeat the behaviour they might think that they can’t help their behaviour, it’s in their genes. Someone who has an alcoholic parent might stay away from alcohol but might smoke 40 cigarettes a day or use online gambling to feel better and they might believe that they can’t help it because addiction is in their genes.

Not only is there no addiction gene, there couldn’t be one. It has been discovered that there are only about thirty thousand gene sequences in our DNA – less than in a worm.

In 1990, newspapers reported that researchers at the University of Texas had identified the gene for alcoholism. This news was greeted with tremendous interest and the media spoke enthusiastically about the end of alcoholism.

The researchers in question had never made the claim that they had discovered the ‘alcoholism gene’ but they implied it and this is what got public interest. Six years later the researchers had to report that there is no such thing as a one-to-one relationship between a gene and a behaviour and that there is no such thing as a specific gene for alcoholism, obesity or a particular type of personality. And the addiction specialist, Dr Lane Dodes says that you cannot directly inherit alcoholism.

Are people addicts for life?

It’s true that the addict is in dis-ease and most traditional therapies tell the addict that they have a disease but looking at addiction as a disease confines it to a medical issue and doesn’t explain what addiction is about. Nor is addiction an illness.  Flu is an illness. When I recover from flu, it’s over, I’m not in recovery from flu.

Addicts might think that they will be addicted for life and groups like AA tell the addict that they are powerless against their addiction but I don’t believe that this is true. The addict will only be powerless while he thinks of himself as powerless.

Once you stop using, you may experience physical withdrawal and physical withdrawal allows your body to adjust to being without whatever you have been using. It can be difficult and require medical supervision but, once you are through it, it’s done, and a physical addiction isn’t enough to make people use again.

The common factor in addiction is a lack of connection, with themselves and with those around them. No one is empty or lacking at the core of their innate self but many feel as if they are and so experience themselves that way. Addiction deepens the emptiness that the addict is feeling because they self judge themselves and feel judged by society.  The deeper their sense of self loathing and shame, the more they look to whatever their drug of choice is to feel something.

We’re hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives us purpose and meaning and so when we are disconnected we don’t feel whole.

What often happens when someone goes through recovery is that they get clean but feel as if they don’t belong anywhere. They may have cut ties with family and friends through their behaviour and the only people they have been hanging around with are other users. So once they’re clean, where do they go? What do they do? They can’t get work and suddenly, without hustling to get the money to use, they have a lot of time on their hands to reflect on the past and things that have happened and can feel lonely and depressed, so what would you do to feel better?

This is why addicts relapse and think that they are addicted for life. I absolutely agree that if you have an addiction to alcohol you should avoid your old haunts and drinking buddies or put a lock on your phone and laptop if you’ve been addicted to online porn or gambling but when an addict reconnects with life and can see that when they drop down into a low mood or something happens that they react to, they are reacting to their thoughts and not to the mood or the circumstance, they can see that they don’t have to follow the thought, nor do they have to battle with the compulsion when they see that the compulsion is made of thought.

How do the results you get differ?

Rather than missing the high that the person used to get with whatever their addiction was, they can see that using would actually take away their good feeling. And when the addict is clean they can feel every feeling, they learn not to be frightened by a bad feeling, not to fear fear as all emotion comes from you, your thoughts.

Numbing emotion by self medicating numbs all emotion. It doesn’t just take away the bits you don’t want to feel, that’s like going on a diet to take away arm fat – just the arms, I want to keep the boobs. It doesn’t work and as people get clean and start to enjoy parts of life that were missing, who wants to go back to living in addiction?

What words do you have for anyone reading this who is struggling with addiction?

Stop trying to stop, that will just focus your thoughts on what you can’t have but still think that you want. Get help. Talk to someone who will help you to see addiction for the thought based experience it is.

You are not a fixed personality, nor are you a product of past experiences, change can happen more quickly and easily than you might imagine.

What is the future for addiction treatment?

I think that there will always be a place for the old methods, like AA, but hopefully these therapies will adapt and change from an outside in model with rules and a focus on the past and past mistakes to a more holistic inside out approach.

Addiction, whatever it is, is always no more than 5% physical and 95% mental.

Ideally, I would like to see every treatment centre work with psychology of mind and the principles of mind, consciousness and thought to free the addict from the past and reconnect them to their own innate health and the happiness and peace that is their birthright.

www.elainehilides.com

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