Magnificent Addiction: An Interview with Dr. Philip Kavanaugh

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Magnificent Addiction
An Interview with Dr. Philip Kavanaugh
by Holly Prichard

In this day and age, it seems as if many of us are struggling with some form of addiction, whether it is addic­tion to drugs/alcohol, food, people pleasing or the need to control.

Dr. Philip Kavanaugh, a psy­chiatrist and Director of the Los Gatos Therapy Center, offers a refresh­ing look at treating and healing addic­tions. In his new book, Magnificent Addiction, he describes his own re­covery from an emotional breakdown and the program which evolved from his own spiritual emergency and sub­sequent transformation.

Dr. Kavanaugh believes un­healthy addictions are misdirected attempts at reconnecting with our creativity and spiritual fulfillment. The energy that fuels our destructive energies is the same energy that furnishes our cre­ative power.

He will be co-leading a work­shop at the Ranch with Barbara on May 28 - 30 called “What To Do With The Rest of My Life.” I re­cently spoke with Dr. Kavanaugh about the nature of addictions and ways to begin healing them.

HP:   How do you define addiction?

PK: The word itself means to give over power or surrender to. Initially, before alcohol became asso­ciated with it, it had a positive conno­tation. In the early church, the idea of addiction meant to give over or sur­render to God. The idea of a magnifi­cent addiction is an addiction to a spiritual way of living, being, thinking.

HP: Can you be more specific about what you mean by Magnificent Addic­tion?

PK: We all have an addictive energy that we are born with. It is the same energy as our creativity. It becomes misdirected by trying to ensure our survival. We are expend­ing all of this energy in just trying to hold ourselves together so we end up serving our Master unhealthy addiction: control. I try to teach people to express it in more and more healthy ways until it can become a fulfilling and completing expression called a magnifi­cent addiction, where we are on a spiritual path living for someone other than our own ego.

HP: Do you see control as the base for most addictions?

PK: Addiction has to do with the ego’s need to control, which is the ego’s greatest tool. As a psychiatrist, I was trained to help people get back in control. Therapy often serves the needs of the ego. I now tell people that the ego can’t heal the ego. There are many things we can do for people, like medication and psycho­therapy, but that doesn’t heal them. There isn’t anything within the range of the ego that we can teach people to do that will heal them. That’s why I think the spiritual path­way becomes essential if people are ever to really heal from major emotional problems like panic disorders, anxieties and depres­sion. If you want to get well and stay well, you have to recognize there’s more to the world than the ego and you have to surrender and open up your vistas to include that in your view of the world.

HP: If someone reading this inter­view is in the midst of a troubling addic­tion, what basic steps would you recom­mend for them to begin on the path to healing?

PK: The first thing I would recom­mend is that they talk to somebody in a 12-step program, because I think, as our culture exists today, it is still the best initial step for people who recognize they have an addictive pattern or addictive behavior. The second thing, particularly if someone is having severe anxiety, depression or panic attacks, is that they get a medical evalua­tion. There is no magic bullet. Recovery has to be balanced between all of the tools that are available. There are basically three elements in making a full recovery and getting on a spiritual pathway.

HP: Could you go over those three elements briefly?

PK: The first is restoring body and brain. This could mean a variety of things: stabilizing with medication, detoxing or getting away from an unhealthy relationship. The second is reparenting ourselves emotionally. Often you need a therapist in the beginning to help show how to pro­cess your feelings. A lot of this can be done on your own or with a feeling partner once you learn the technique. The third is what I call relearning or reprogramming our belief system. The most effective way that I use in my own life is through 12-step programs and A Course In Miracles. I’m sure you also do this with your programs at Pocket Ranch.

HP: When many people think of addiction, they probably think in terms of it being the enemy. It is refreshing to view this as an energy that we all have that can be redirected to help us instead of hurt us.

PK: I think it is a relief. People really feel a sense of relief when they are moving in a direction that is natural to that creative energy.

HP: You speak of individuation as an antidote for aloneness. I think in our society our addictions isolate us and we feel alone in our pain. What is individuation?

PK: It’s a stage of growth where I am able to provide for all of my emotional needs. And then what the other person becomes in the relation­ship is somebody who makes it pos­sible for me to go beyond that. I see fellowship as a step toward individua­tion. My understanding of spirituality is that you can’t heal alone. You have to heal through your relationships. One of the reasons that I encourage people to get into the 12-steps is that it’s a social spiritual program. If I am indi­viduated then everyone becomes my teacher.

HP: You make an important distinc­tion in your book between religion and spirituality.

PK: Religion, as it is practiced, is a form of addiction; we have a God we can control with good works, be­ing in a state of grace, reading the Bible or making a sacrifice. These are all ways we think we can control God and he’s going to give us the big payoff of salvation. If you really pray in the truly spiritual way, you don’t try to control God at all. I only pray for knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry that out. The idea of a spiritual pathway is saying that every­thing has already happened and we are trying to tune into a pathway that already exists. I see therapy and 12-steps as ways of removing the barriers to the awareness of our Godness.

HP: How does someone know if they are reaching that place?

PK: They feel peace. The spiri­tual pathway has a calmness to it. You don’t seek anything because you realize that everything works out per­fectly.

HP: Is there anything else you would like people to know?

PK: For people who have had emotional breakdowns or emotional disorders like panic attacks, anxiety, and depression, I want them to have hope that they don’t have to think in terms of having recurrent illnesses for the rest of their lives. I really want to offer them a message of hope.