B came to seek treatment at Acubalance for his insomnia and anxiety. After a few minutes of talking to him, it became apparent that not only was he unhappy about his life circumstances and how his body was responding to the stress, he was also unhappy about several actions he was engaging in. He worked too much, drank too much, and was argumentative with his family.
In a Five Elements Acupuncture session, the nuanced story of the patient is taken into account as well as the physical signs and symptoms. Because of this, it is a great modality to integrate the mind-body experience of our lives. It is an helpful tool to address insomnia, depression and anxiety. In this case, B was having trouble sleeping and he had bouts of panic attacks that left him breathless and feeling hopeless. However, his addictive behavior was not relegated to the bottles of wine he was drinking at night, he was addicted to being busy, to feeling needed, and to seeking approval outside of himself to feel fulfilled. He was someone who wanted the answer to alleviate his suffering around his anxiety and drinking, he just didn’t know where to start.
The Belief Triangle
I work with a tool called the Belief Triangle to break down what motivates our actions (See image above). Let’s take a moment to deconstruct the actions that form our everyday worlds. Our actions are shaped by our thoughts which are driven by our emotions. Our emotions are born from our belief system. So therefore, in order to create change in actions that are as hard-wired as addiction, we must first adopt a new belief system. By shifting our mindset at the base level of the belief system, the changes that are made to everything above the foundation are also being influenced.
B recognized that he had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. However, if the problem of consuming alcohol is only addressed on the action level of “I must stop drinking”, there is likely going to be a relapse and a feeling of extreme guilt because the emotional triggers of the drinking behavior are not being addressed. He kept asking:
- “How do I stop drinking?”
- “How do I start meditating?”
- “How do I get my mind to stop buzzing?”
- “ How can I stop being so reactive to people in my life?”
- “How? How? How? How? How?”
In order for him to experience any sort of sustainable change, we had to work as a team to rewire the belief system around the behavior. I first invited B to shift away from the question “How?” and instead ask “Why?”. He was asking “How” because he was looking for a fix for his problems. Asking “Why” is a deeply painful process that required him to examine the Belief that he had spent his entire life operating under. There is a natural reaction for the Ego to not want to ask “Why?” because he has been holding onto the “How?” question like a security blanket. Clinging to this question had shaped how he felt and how he has acted for years. For many folks, to ask “Why?” and sink into the layers to get to the base of the Belief Triangle is an act of letting go, an act of jumping into the vast expanse of the unknown which feels terrifying. I told B that we would eventually get to the “How”, but to get there, we would need to go to the depths of “Why” first. I introduced the concept of the Belief Triangle to him and asked him to think about how it applied to his Actions.
He came back to his next appointment with this list:
“I argue...to feel loved
I create pressure...to feel needed
I overwork...to feel important
I drink ...to numb”
At this followup appointment, when I asked him “Why?”, he was able to come up with the common thread that connected all these actions and feelings together. He shared that he had been struggling with a deep feeling of “I am not enough” since childhood because he grew up with parents who were not very present with him. In an attempt to fill the void of “I am not enough” he created an identity around being useful by being a successful entrepreneur, and by being the “fixer” of the family. This however, led to a deep feeling of resentment because he was giving while feeling like his own cup was not full. He was giving while he was feeling scarce and lacking in himself. When his generosity was met with indifference, he would then argue and create pressure in his relationships to feel loved and needed. He would use work to distract himself. He would use alcohol at night to numb himself. He had a moment where everything seemed to click because he finally had an explanation for the driving force behind his unconscious Feelings and Thoughts that led to the conscious Actions that were not bringing him joy in life.
Why Five Elements Acupuncture?
Simply coming to the conclusion of “I must stop drinking” would not have been enough for B because his Ego would have cleverly found other ways to fill the void. He was already overcommitting at work; he may have moved onto filling the void with donuts and cookies if the crutch of alcohol is taken away; or he may pursue unfulfilling relationships in an attempt to be seen as “good enough.” B would be playing a game of “whack-a-mole” with various addictive behaviors because the fundamental belief system underlying the behavior is not being addressed. To create lasting change, one must do the hard work of examining the belief system and rewriting that story.
Today, B and I continue to do work unraveling these deep-seated beliefs that drive his suffering in his weekly Five Elements Acupuncture appointments. While he has not quit drinking completely, he has a very different relationship with all his addictive behaviors. There is an awareness and a consciousness that he brings into all aspects of his life. He recognizes when the need to check out crops up and he asks himself “Why?” The acupuncture points that are chosen support his process of navigating his addictive behavior by keeping him grounded and out of the fight-or flight response so he he able to respond rather than react to the challenges that life brings.
Do you resonate with B’s story? My offering is this: I am here. I am here to hold space, to be your witness as your heal. Have you been denying yourself love and belonging? I am here. All you have to do is take the first step and reach out.
Kathleen Lee FABORM, RTCMP, L.Ac. MTCM