Josh Schwarzbaum, MD, MBA

We’ve been hearing a lot about addiction over the past couple of years. We hear about people dying and even with all the attention and proposed solutions we’re falling short. 

I’ve cared for thousands of patients of all ages and backgrounds who are trying to get out of the addiction cycle. There’s a strong focus on getting people on medications and while helpful, it doesn’t deal with the true problem. 

Something that underlies the addiction is the true problem. As a result people turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, shopping, work, exercise or whatever else it may be to deal with whatever is going on underneath. 

We’re all looking for something; and this is especially true in addiction. Countless patients have told me that they innocently got into their addiction as a way to find something better or to get away from something bad they were experiencing. “I was just looking to feel better Doc. Or at least to feel less bad.” 

What we don’t talk about enough is how the bad feelings get created in the first place. If we could get to the source of the bad feelings, then we wouldn’t need addiction to solve the problem. 

As humans, we all think and our thinking creates the way that we feel. This may seem obvious but in the moment, we forget it all the time. 

Just the other day, I was speaking with one of my patients who was telling me how well he’s doing. “That being said, I’m concerned the other shoe is going to drop. I’ve been on a good trajectory in the past but until now, I’ve always fallen. I’m anxious that the same thing is going to happen again” 

I was happy he was able to recognize this and we started to unpack it a bit. 

I asked him “if you were able to let go of your thinking about what may happen in the future and what happened in the past, how would you feel right now?” And he said things really couldn’t be any better. 

He caught on quickly and said, ”Wow! So it’s just my thinking about the past and my thinking about the future that’s creating the worry. I don’t really know what’s gonna be, but what I do know is that without my thinking about the past or the future, I would feel just fine.” 

All of a sudden, he looked at me and with a sense of calm over his face and he said, for all these years, I’ve been worrying about what will be or what was. I created so much stress and so much tension that I had to turn to heroin to get me to feel better. 

The most incredible thing though was recognizing that it wasn’t my parents, my upbringing or my childhood that was creating my stress, I just thought it was. 

In reality it was me. I didn’t know any better but what I thought about any situation would feel so real to me. I can now recognize that even though I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the best upbringing and circumstances as a kid, I can’t change that. What I can change though is how I look at it because however I do will create how I feel today, in this moment. 

I can now look back at my traumatic events in a different light, with a new set of eyes, through a new lens. When I do that, the tension, stress and worry change into something I can grow and learn from. 

I used to think there was something wrong with me but that’s because I didn’t know the power I had within me. Now that I do, I would be awfully sorry not to use it for my benefit. Since I uncovered it, I’ve been able to take a step back in the face of any difficulty that I’ve encountered.  

I ask myself, is there another way that I can look at this? Is there another possibility out there? If so, can I hold on to the one that helps me smile, laugh, and feel better? 

When I do, my mind quiets and I can relax. When I’m relaxed my natural intelligence can shine through. I can be less reactive and more responsive. I won’t need to turn to something external to ease my pain because I’ll know how the pain is getting created in the first place. And with that, it’s a lot easier to let go. 

It is with this understanding that I’ve seen the most remarkable results with my patients. 

It touches every aspect of life. Work, family, friends and most importantly the self. And that is where the answer to addiction is. Within each one of us. 

In the place within that’s connected to the everlasting piece of goodness we all yearn for and share. The place within that is kind, understanding, loving, and compassionate.

Once uncovered, it shines brighter and our fears and insecurities melt away right in front of our eyes.  

Dr. Josh Schwarzbaum is a triple board certified physician in emergency medicine, addiction medicine, and emergency medical services. He consults for organizations and coaches individuals helping them find their natural resilience and peace of mind no matter what life brings their way.

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