You may have an addiction and not even realize it. It took me a long time to realize I didn't have one addiction, but at least two. Before reading this article, I recommend watching this TED talk to get the background behind this conversation: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong What happened to me with weed is exactly what is described in the above TED talk. As a teenager, I enjoyed it in a social context, and when I was doing creative things like painting. On the side of doing over 8h of exercise, having great academically results and being busy with extracurricular activities, my relationship with weed was very healthy. There were times during which I'd smoke every day, but most weeks I wouldn't smoke more than 1 or 2 days a week and there were times at which I wouldn’t smoke for several weeks, despite having plenty of weed in my drawer.
When I got to university, I couldn't bare a life in which I felt like a rat in a cage. That's when I started smoking weed for another reason. Even though a lot of my smoking was still social and creative, more and more of it became a coping mechanism to deal with the environment I had put myself in. I didn’t want to be there so I started not to want to feel present.
Then, when I dropped out of university, I was told that if I didn’t have a university nor looked “professional”, nobody would take me seriously. I cut my hair, shaved my beard and started dressing like someone else to be accepted, to fit in, to be trusted by clients. And I couldn't bare the person I had become, and the lifestyle I was living. That's when my smoking habit shifted massively away from social and creative, to mostly being a coping mechanism to accept the environment I had created for myself.
Like many of my clients since then, I thought I HAD to live in a big city, and that I HAD to dress in a certain way so that I would earn the money I thought I HAD to earn to be happy. I gave up on being myself and finally accepted the idea that I HAD to conform to social norms if I didn't want to become a homeless junkie..., which is exactly what I eventually became: in over 10 years I haven't lived in one home for more than 10 months… and for most of the last 10 years, I smoked pot every day.
This is another reminder for me that: when we’re scared that something will happen, we put in a lot of effort to run away from that “thing”, and as a result we tend to run right into what we were trying to avoid.
As I was a high functioning junkie, the question people who knew me well often asked was: “How much more could you have achieved, if you weren’t smoking pot every day?”
I always knew it was the wrong question, because the answer was always the same: by age 25, I had given talks at Yale University, given a TED talk, won the UK Business Speaker of the Year Award runner-up, I did a job I absolutely loved, I had written my first book, and I was running my own business. How much more did they want me to have achieved? Without smoking every day, I wouldn’t have achieved one-tenth of what I did, because I would have gone into depression or I would have eventually killed myself.
You may find it interesting to note that in parallel with smoking weed, I developed a second addiction as a coping mechanism: I became a workaholic. The more I worked, the less I was able to think about how miserable I was, and it gave me the feeling like I was in control, and that I was changing my environment. In some ways I was, but in many other ways I was just digging myself a deeper hole. That’s when life started slapping me on the wrist, as if it was saying, “you’re going in the wrong direction”. Then, it started punching me in the face, and eventually beat me down so much that I gave up and escaped to Costa Rica: I needed a bit of rest from being in a cage for 10 years.
Little did I know how much Costa Rica would eventually change my life! For the first time in 10 years, I felt that I could be myself. For the first time in 10 years, I was in the kind of environment that's my equivalent to the "rat-paradise" the TED speaker describes: I could walk to the beach in less than 5 minutes, I had access to amazing food for cheap and the warm weather meant I was never cold. I also landed in a small town that gave me the feeling of belonging. As a result, I stopped smoking as a coping mechanism pretty effortlessly.
As I was out of the cage I had created, I started being myself again. I started facing the fears of judgement and of not being accepted. My hair got long and my parents were both worried: "how is anyone going to take you seriously living in the jungle and with long hair?”
The truth is that I had no idea. I just knew that I was happier being me. I was happier outside of the cage I had created, and that in my rat-paradise I stopped both smoking and working as a coping mechanism. I continued doing what I believed was right: being myself honestly, transparently and fearlessly. Within two month my life changed radically:
- The new kind of clients I got hired me because I was being myself and as a result my clients are now in sync with me. I love working with my new clients because they work on projects that get me really excited.
- Not only I finally loved my clients but amazing opportunities started knocking at my door again, and within 2 months I created more money than the previous 2 years combined.
I can now look back and see what the speaker from this TED talk describes, it all seems so obvious, and I wish I was shown the way. If I had the building blocks, maybe I would have spent less time struggling and would have found the door more easily. One thing is sure: this journey was only possible thanks to the help of several coaches, by doing a lot of work myself, by facing my fears head on, and by reading tons of books.
By sharing this article, I hope to open the door for someone who’s stuck coping with their environment using an addiction… whether be chemical drugs, work, exercising, sex, gambling, shopping or anything else.
NOTE: my only disagreement with the speaker, is that throughout my journey, I’ve actually received a TREMENDOUS amount of support, love and connection from my Facebook and LinkedIn friends. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a your social network… if you’re willing to ask for help.
- What are you coping with? What do you “deal with” on a daily basis?
- What are your addictions? (Drugs, food, work, mobile phone, social media, gaming, exercising, being accepted or liked by others, buying stuff…)
- What does your "rat-paradise" look like?
- Put yourself through 2 weeks of “rat-paradise” and observe the difference