When I first saw this photo by Sally Mann, “Candy Cigarettes,” a controversial and evocative image to say the least, I had such a huge wave of emotion flow through my body.
An energetic memory of the time when I felt this exact moment in my own life.
I was this girl once. Young, but older than her. Seventeen. Smoking cigarettes and angry. It’s when I first became addicted to tobacco and alcohol.
That lasted a long time.
Both in my own personal recovery journey over the last 25-plus years and in my professional experience, I began to see something that wasn’t being named yet has felt like an integral part of my own healing.
Addiction is an unconscious attempt at mothering ourselves.
We each have this child inside of us.
The deepest mother wounds find their expression in our addictions, seeking to sooth, numb, find refuge and solace, escape from self and pain, or to feel some kind of profound connection to love and God—all of which are directly connected to being unmothered.
Our mother is our first guide for our self-image; relationship with our emotions, life, love, other people; and the spiritual connection to love itself.
Even looking for love in all the wrong places isn’t really looking for love in all the wrong places. It is the unmothered aspect of our psyche finding situations and saying, “This is familiar…this might be love, let me see if I can find love here to get what I never got before. Maybe this time it will be different.”
Anxiety and suffering aren’t things we get addicted to; it is that we do not know how to actually feel good. To love ourselves. To feel the blissful pleasure of being alive unless we alter our state of consciousness in some way.
There is a culturally unspoken assumption that we should just know how to love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, there is something wrong with us. If people are addicts, they are shamed and there must be something wrong with them. There are moral and religious taboos about talking about the harmful effects of not being parented by mothers or fathers or other caregivers.
That is a great shame to carry, and it drives the heart of our wounding that goes out into the world and tries to be the “good” partner, friend, lover, employee, or person. Because being “good” keeps us safe, even though being a “good” anything doesn’t mean that we are really loving others, ourselves, or feeling loved for our authentic selves.
Our basic human need is for love, and we will search for it until our dying day, and sometimes it will kill us depending on the crutches we pick up.
There is so much more to addiction than meets the eye, so many complex layers. But we have to be careful about what “science” tells us, because there are a lot of systems on this planet invested in us ignoring the psycho-spiritual, relational aspects of addiction.
Addiction is costing us our planet. It drives mass consumption, it drives the greed to have more power, to dominate the Earth, to have power over the elemental feminine that strives for balance rather than control. Addiction is a hurt, wounded child trying to find love in the forms of adults who need someone to sit down and help them feel love, maybe again or just for the first time.
We need more love. Not less.
To heal addictions to all the things that cause us more pain is to heal trauma and to tend to the mother wound. It’s not about making mothers wrong, but actually about restoring the rightness of mothering by healing the feminine wound, which always starts within our own hearts.
Our inner mothers are hurting, more so if we have been unmothered. Our forms of addictions are growing because we are longing to feel mothered…to feel nurtured, nourished, kept in mind, held in heart, heard, understood, and cared for. If we haven’t received this, it is hard to know what to do.
We can heal ourselves. But many of our wounds are relational and need sacred witness to heal. It’s not the same as seeking a “healing” relationship where we think our partner or another will heal us, but finding an actual healing relationship with someone who can hold us, mother us, and by being in that container give us the skills and space to learn how to expand them so we can become mothers to ourselves.
There is only so much we can do on our own—we actually need each other to heal, too. Otherwise, we will keep using healing as another strategy to abuse ourselves. And, the abuse isn’t addiction; it’s a trauma loop we don’t know how to get ourselves out of.
Addiction and codependency are more of a reflection of the human condition during this time of environmental crisis. The less numbed out we are, and the more we mother ourselves, the more we will be paying attention to the planet around us. It’s all interconnected.
All of it.