The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. -Joseph Campbell
Often, patterns of addiction stem from our underlying relationship to fear. To draw upon Joseph Campbell’s words—in the lands of our psyches, there may be caves we fear to enter. Mythologically, these caves represent what is unknown or unconscious to us.
Addictions serve as a diversion from what we fear. And while they may offer temporary respite from pain or anxiety, sidestepping our own discomfort can deprive us of the transformation that results from courageously and voluntarily facing what is undiscovered inside ourselves.
Facing what is unknown within us is at the heart of this psychological and spiritual journey. Inevitably, confronting the unknown calls forth trepidation and even terror because, by definition, we cannot predict what lies on the other side.
While courageously facing our fears allows us to uncover our greatest lessons, it also forces us to confront the terror of losing ourselves. As we look into the deepest recesses of our psyches and begin to shift our awareness, we often must make decisions that call into question our very identity.
At the heart of genuine transformation is a willingness to constantly face our own annihilation by laying at the altar all of the masks we believe to be our identity. This is an unending cycle of dying to our previous conception of who we thought we were and awakening to a truer, more resilient, and more soulful self.
Transformation is a deep and all-encompassing undertaking. As such, there may be various times in life that we do not feel equipped for it. However, whether or not we voluntarily confront our unconscious fears, they still reside within us. When we avoid this confrontation, a space is created for addiction to enter.
In the broadest sense of the word, an addiction is something we use, not for its own enjoyment, but as a way to find distraction or temporary relief from pain and fear. Addiction can encapsulate anything from substances, such as drugs and alcohol, to the subtle ways we relate to various aspects of our daily lives, such as food, relationships, money, sex, shopping, and television (to just name a few).
While certain addictions meet clinical diagnostic thresholds for substance abuse or dependence and predisposition to this stems from genetic and environmental factors (click here if you want to learn more), truly, we can become addicted to anything that we excessively rely on to assuage the anxiety we feel over our growing awareness of painful aspects of our human experience.
At its core, addiction is a way of coping with our anxiety to avoid other painful emotions, memories, or experiences. For that reason, addiction often arises from subtle or severe traumas or untreated mental health disorders.
In these instances, addictions can be our way to numb what our mental, physical, and emotional bodies may be experiencing that we may not feel prepared to navigate or face on our own.
We find freedom, however, not by avoiding emotions but by facing them. We liberate ourselves when we are able to walk through our emotions while maintaining a sense of center and stability—when we are able to honor our pain while also being able to hold it with compassion and care.
When we avoid facing our emotions, we grant them an unspoken authority over our lives. When this happens, it may feel as though they are running the show behind the scenes, leaving us feeling stuck in repeating patterns for reasons that are beyond our conscious awareness.
The archetypal myth of the hero who enters the cave to slay the dragon has something of wisdom to offer us: as we confront our greatest fears, we find strength and liberation. We no longer have to live in terror, constantly running with the dragon at our heels.
When we face the dragon of our unconscious pain, we recognize that we are far more powerful than we ever believed possible. We begin to see that we are capable, not only of healing, but of growing into the highest expressions of who we are and of living out our truest destinies and dreams.
Our addictions can point us in the direction of where we need healing. By directing our awareness to what we are avoiding, we can enter the cave and find the treasures therein.
It is the places we least want to look that often hold the key to our transformation. What we fear the most is often what will help us become who we need to be.
Brooke Sprowl is the Founder of My LA Therapy, a concierge therapy practice, and My Truest North, a cross-disciplinary coaching and consultancy firm specializing in mission-driven entrepreneurs seeking greater integrity, spiritual awakening, and deeper ways to actualizing their higher purpose through collective service. With 15 years of clinical experience as an individual, couples, and family therapist, she is trained in a wide-range of approaches, from evidence-based therapy practices to peak performance and flow neuroscience techniques. Brooke is also the host of the podcast, On Living with Brooke Sprowl. She is passionate about writing, cognitive science, philosophy, integrity, spirituality, effective altruism, personal and collective healing, and curating luxury, transformational retreat experiences for people who are committed to self-discovery and using their unique gifts in service of the world.