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Resistance and Addiction

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 11, 2011

Have you ever noticed that addicts are often extremely interesting people?

Addiction itself is excruciatingly boring, in that it’s so predictable. The lies, the evasions, the transparent self-justification and self-exoneration. But the addict himself is often a colorful and compelling person. His story reads like a novel, packed with drama, intrigue, conflict and heartbreak. If the addict’s drug of choice is alcohol, the narrative is frequently one of job loss, domestic abuse, divorce, abandonment of children, bankruptcy. If Class One narcotics are the culprit, the tale often includes crime, the law, violence, even death.

Of course we fallible mortals can be addicted to a lot of things. To love, to sex, to worship of our children or parents, to dominance, to submission. We can even be addicted to ourselves (check the manual under “self-iconization,” e.g. Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump.) Such individuals can be absolutely fascinating at the same time that they’re boring as hell.

What’s the connection between addiction and Resistance?

The pre-addictive individual experiences a calling. To art, to service, to honorable sacrifice. In other words, positive aspiration. A dream. A vision of the higher self he or she might be. The intimation of this calling is followed immediately, as we know, by the apparition of Resistance. The dragon rears its head. Fear. Self-doubt. Self-sabotage.

What makes this moment so precarious is that most of us are unconscious, in the event, both of our aspiration and of our Resistance. We’re asleep. We know only that we feel bad. Something’s wrong. We’re restless, we’re bored, we’re angry; we’re seeking something grand but don’t know where to look and even if we did, we’re so terrified and so paralyzed that we can’t take a step.

Up next: a drink, a woman, a habit. Addiction replaces aspiration. The quick fix wins out over the long, slow haul.

Addiction becomes the evil twin of our calling to service or to art. That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time. They’re interesting because they’re called to something–something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation. At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.

I have a dear friend who’s addicted to love. (I can relate to this myself.) I’ve known her my whole life and it’s absolutely excruciating to listen to her stories. She goes from one intensely romantic, all-consuming affair to the next. She is in agony throughout the affair, and it always ends in agony. It will not surprise you, I’m sure, when I report that this woman is one of the most gifted, intelligent and talented people I’ve ever met. She’s a piano genius. Her photography win prizes. And she’s a near-world-class athlete; she has swum in the Maui Channel open-ocean race half a dozen times.

Over the years my friend has developed a philosophy (you could almost call it a religion) about pursing the Sublime through Love that is so complex and so convincing that she can not only talk herself into it, but you or me too if we sit still long enough to listen to it. She is absolutely mesmerizing. At the same time the experience is bone-numbingly tedious, to watch her transit from one great love to the next, with each story playing out according to the exact same script and each ending in the same dead end.

My friend knows this is Resistance. We’ve talked about it a hundred times. She’s running away from her gifts and she knows it. But the addiction is too strong. She has become identified with it. It has become who she is.

Why is this so boring? What exactly does “boring” mean?

Something that’s boring goes nowhere. It travels in a circle. It never arrives at its destination. The circular nature of addiction is what makes it so excruciating. No traction is ever gained, no progress is ever made. We’re stuck on the same endlessly-repeating track. That’s what makes it like hell.

The critical point is the link between Resistance and addiction. When, for whatever reason, you and I cannot overcome the forces of self-sabotage that block us from following our calling, the next easy step is to seek relief from the pain, the shame and the self-reproach we feel by submerging ourselves in a form of substance-induced oblivion or self-abandonment that travels under the name of addiction.

[To be continued}

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Posted in Do The Work Wednesdays, Writing Wednesdays

37 Responses to “Resistance and Addiction”

  1. May 11, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Steven,
    I just recently completed “The Work of Art” and “Do the Work.” They are both incredibly inspiring books. They both speak to the heart in a manner that is hard to explain.

    Thanks, especially, for sharing your own struggles. Verbalizing your struggles helps me latch onto your ideas much better than just realizing your successes.

    Thank you, thank you!

  2. May 11, 2011 at 5:23 am

    Oh, yes, addiction certainly works for Resistance. I do drink out of shame and to quell the pain, but mostly, I think, because if Resistance can persuade me to drink on any given night, the battle tomorrow is only half as hard (for him, that is). I’ll feel weak and sick and be no match for Resistance. And thus go my days.

  3. Ryan Doyle
    May 11, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Another insightful piece that struck close to home for me.

    I’ve read through War of Art a few times and the chapter on addiction always struck a chord I was reluctant to listen to. Having dabbled in my fair share of illicit substances when I was younger, I could justify smoking cigarettes as an improvement.

    But as I wrote the first draft of my novel (thanks in a large part to your words) my consumption doubled. Now that I’m rewriting (or rather not-rewriting these past few weeks) I’m coming to see smoking as a form of resistance. Not only does it sap my time and energy (not to mention my money and my health), what makes it particularly insidious is the fleeting but very real sense of satisfaction it brings. I’m understanding that this fix is a poor surrogate for the long term satisfaction of seeing my work through to the end.

    I’m indebted to you for inspiring me to dive in and write my book, but now you’ve got me closer to putting down cigarettes as well. Thank you.

  4. May 11, 2011 at 6:51 am

    You’ve opened a wiggly can of worms here IMO. As an active addict, and someone doing the work I am constantly challenged. I began drinking because of resistance many years ago. Now I am as an admitted late bloomer doing the work, finding myself, my gifts, how to best use them and do my good work in the world, but my brain thinks we are still fighting resistance. It’s a paradox and also a brain chemistry issue. I know I need to put down the beer to do my best work, but it is more than resistance that stops me.
    However I can say that your books get me closer. Understanding the dynamics is a big piece of making the changes.

  5. May 11, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Resistance and addiction, I never thought they were close allies but I was wrong. Addiction allows the fear to take over and to dominate the person :( Addiction is another fight.

  6. May 11, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Steve, I was an active alcoholic for 35 years. I’ve been in recovery (AA) for 20 years. During my active years I was totally held back by Resistance. In recovery, I can Do The Work. Can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. Thanks for the post.

  7. Michael
    May 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Thanks, Steven. I see this in myself. How do I fix it?

    Looking forward to reading more.

  8. Randy Stuart
    May 11, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Simply outstanding…as always. Keep up the good work. You’re doing great things here Steve.

  9. May 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Another thought-provoking blog. Thanks.

    • May 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      I was a little hesitant to broach this subject on the blog — and curious to see what sort of reaction it would provoke. Thanks, you guys. It cuts close to the bone for me too. We’ll keep after it in the next few weeks. Thanks!

      • May 12, 2011 at 12:54 am

        Steven, I am surprised you were hesitant to put this up on a blog. Btw love your “do the work” book, got it on audio and listen to during my train rides. Thanks.

        As Seth says, he does exactly what his resistance doesn’t want him to do and I am sure you did that as well and you decided to write this blog post.

        Thanks again for being you and sharing your wealth knowledge with everyone.

      • March 13, 2012 at 2:37 am

        Hello Mr. Pressfield,

        I stumbled into an recording with Robert where you mention “The craft wil kick your ass”.

        Are you willing to enlighten me about that frase?
        And please give some feedback on: When do you know
        thats my craft(like a calling)?

        Kind regards

        Jos Tobben Netherlands

  10. May 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Addiction is a bitch. She is a teacher if we pay attention. But how do we pay attention if we are addicted. That’s the bitch. Hopefully we have a moment of insight and realize that the chosen addicted path is really an unchosen diversion. If we stop long enough and just listen and trust, I think we can turn it into something really powerful. If the lessons are not learned the misery continues. Talk about an incentive to understand something! If we listen to the first callings we had as children and young adults then perhaps we can answer in a way that serves us. Re-channeling the energy towards a productive positive outcome is very doable. Not easy, but doable.

  11. Sonja
    May 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Fantastic post!

    Addiction comes in many forms–TV, Internet surfing, shopping. I think I recently recognized what my “demons” are and am slowly chipping away at them. Soooo hard, but I feel so much lighter when I conquer the dragon and have done my work for the day.

    Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Pressfield.

  12. May 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Steven, this is beyond brilliant–it’s truly inspired. Thank you. I look forward to more of your thoughts on this.

  13. Mark
    May 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I first found “The War of Art” through another artist addict in a recovery forum. At first I thought of Resistance as something the Addiction was using. But it turns out it is just the opposite. Addiction is simply a (very powerful) tool of Resistance. It has been very enlightening to see the relationship of the two in my life. I got into recovery because I realized that until I dealt with the addiction I couldn’t do the work to write. Now I’m coming to understand that until I’m doing the work and writing, I’m not going to be able to make progress in recovery. The two are intertwined. I’m so grateful that this has been articulated so very well. It helps a lot – in both arenas!

  14. May 12, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Wow. That explains a big part of my life. In the past, addictions to all kinds of things avoided me from getting anything done.

    Thankfully today a better understanding of Resistance helps me steer clear.

    I used to be a nicotine addict that smoked my dreams away. And I got so depressed by it that the number of days spent doing absolutely nothing but reading about my problems must number into the hundreds.

    And other moral and compulsive issues crept in on the back of all this.

    I wish I had discovered your books earlier.

    I think, taking this subject a little further, that as we learn to live permanently present to our higher natures, we will better manage to take charge of the emotions that earlier so easily got us grabbing for cheap thrills. It is all about learning how to take responsibility for what is going on inside of you.

    Meditation and awareness practice really helps me. It is also what helped me quit the smoking about a year back. And guess what? I’m writing again. The Work is happening again. Almost daily…

    It’s a refreshing change to my not-so-long-ago boring existence. Who wants to live like that?

    Thanks for this. I am looking forward to the next installment on this topic.

    D

  15. May 12, 2011 at 4:47 am

    Great subject Steven,

    Living while you are alive scares the crap out of most of us humans. Some folks can’t take the magnificence straight up so they dilute it. Makes for a good diversion.

    G.

  16. May 12, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Robert Moore’s work in King,Lover, Magician, Warrior helped me to understand more about the lover archetype, and its ability to create art and appreciate beauty and the forms of its addiction.

  17. May 12, 2011 at 5:57 am

    Great post!. Both The War of Art and Do the work are books I think every small business start-up and entrepreneur should read. All the lessons are there. But mostly the warning sign posts. Just use the books as your travel guide as you navigate the very rough waters of starting or building a new business. You will see resistance in all his seductive forms show up right on schedule. But having read the books you will be ready for him and have your Armour on.

  18. Bart
    May 12, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Steve,
    Thanks for baring parts of your heart and soul with me. I feel that I have so much potential “locked” up and I do not believe there is any help for me, except from me. I am addicted to struggle. I often find reprieve in Richard Bach’s back story that he honestly believed he had to struggle and not make any decent money as an author for 20 years. Like there was a certain “incubation” period that all must obey. How do we crumble away from this pre-conceived concept and remove the shackles?

  19. May 12, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I figured addiction was the ultimate form of Resistance. Interested in reading the follow up to this post. Just read Do the Work (twice) and loved it. Great follow-up to War of Art.

  20. May 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Very insightful and well written. I was taken aback by the paragraph on going in circles.

  21. May 12, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Gulp. That hit home. Can’t wait for Part 2! Thanks, as always, for the wake up call.

  22. May 12, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Wow, I feel like I just got smacked in the face ….by someone who really cares….so subtle, so sublime, so caressing and indulgent..this thing called Resistance….Since reading Do The WOrk, I’ve signed up for an on-line business course, in a very supportive environment of like-minded women, to end the boring story that I have “these great ideas” and “this great book I’m working on”….The bus. class is a commitment to myself to DO THE WORK…it’s all about follow through, believing in myself, getting it down on the calendar and having to prove I’m really producing. My slumber days are ending…but man that gin and tonic or wine, or beer, calls to me first thing when I get home each evening. And it’s song is louder and louder as I work on finishing my book…….Reading your blog today is power in understanding much more, the shared addictions we have in RESISTANCE…..wow….turning on another light, we see the darkest corners….Thank you Stephen~~

  23. Wiz
    May 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    This is nice and all Steven but it leaves me wondering what the voice in your head sounds like that snaps you out of the circles of resistance/addiction? Is it a woman’s voice coaxing you forward, a stern fatherly voice or as a former Marine is it Sargent SO-N-So? How does this voice speak to you, what does it sound like? Do you recognize it readily or is still and quiet and takes time to feel it?

  24. May 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    So well written! Keep me in the loop and keep it coming. I am a self diagnosed addictive TYPE so I have not gone full blown on anything to be addicted to. I go just so far then stop only to find myself repeating it over and over again. I am reading this and maybe it is resistance. Why would I repeat it and not stick to what is good for me. SO counterproductive and a vicious cycle.

  25. May 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Steven, this is a fantastic piece. Your perspective on addiction is one of my favorite parts of The War of Art and Do The Work. Somewhere I read that addiction is a form of “life avoidance” and that has stuck with me ever since. Addiction is what you do when the pain gets too hard to bear, but the only solution is to remove the cause of the pain by doing what you know you have to.

  26. May 14, 2011 at 6:33 am

    The root problem of addiction always seems to be lack of self-worth. Doing the work counteracts that but for some, sadly, it’s an impossible transition.

    In the really interesting book Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addiction by Bruce Wilshire, the author makes the case for addiction as a way to express an innate wildness that our modern life doesn’t allow us to express. This helped me understand how self-destructive behaviour can reflect our inability to express this ‘wildness’ in our work.

    Whenever I feel the call to ‘put on my red shoes’ these days, I try to find a way to channel the energy into my work. It’s alchemy – that destructive energy is the alter-ego of the productive one.

  27. May 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Absolutely brilliant. Thanks for writing this.

  28. May 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    You’re a pillar amongst posts.

  29. Bryan
    July 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    this is SO true. i had the most miserable day yesterday (and what amounts to years before that) because i “needed something and couldn’t find out what it was, and therefore didn’t know how to fulfill it.” that’s just my situation in a nutshell. i’ve read “the war of art” it’s pure genius, so i’m not sure why it took me so long to read this blog as well. steven, you are nothing short of a genius, and i look forward to the continuation of this particular subject. thank you for everything you do! resistance is sleeping outside tonight ;-)

  30. November 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    this is a pretty interesting post. many thanks for that. we require much more web-sites like this

  31. December 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

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  32. March 1, 2012 at 6:22 am

    A thought provoking read. Thanks.

  33. August 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I’ve been listening to the Audible version of
    Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now [Paperback]
    Jane B. Burka (Author), Lenora M. Yuen (Author)

    http://www.amazon.com/Procrastination-Why-You-What-About/dp/0738211702

    Good stuff.

    I like Steve’s slant on Resistance. I;m starting to think it’s like most concepts. They can be told 1000 different ways and all be true.

  34. April 20, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I enjoy your writing style really loving this internet site. “Truth is beautiful and divine no matter how humble its origin.” by Michael Pupin.