An Addictive Illness–Accepting It and Dealing with It, or Not
An addictive illness is no small experience. And, it doesn’t matter short your bout with one is. It is still going to be a serious challenge and a very memorable life event. It can be prevented. An addiction is a powerful illness, and anyone who has to experience one will struggle—perhaps for a few months, but perhaps for years.
Also, because addiction affects the whole person, and every aspect of a person’s life eventually, everyone who loves the addicted person will be adversely affected, too. Addiction can be kept secret for a long time, but the outer manifestations of it can begin to affect everyone even long before the problem is identified. It is simply impossible to be intimate with someone who is addicted. The illness won’t allow it.
So… a person with an addiction is boxed in. The illness won’t let you stop on your own, and so you compulsively continue to use even when desperately desiring not to. Also, you can’t be in genuinely intimate contact with your loved ones when you go from one episode of intoxication to the next. On top of all that, your brain is altered to behave in a way that you cannot voluntarily control. The concept of unmanageability gets a firm foothold in such foundational ways as these they there is very little you can do to regain control on your own.
The Idea of ‘I’ve Got This’
All of us want to think we’re capable and competent. And, really very few healthy people relish asking for help when they are suffering. Somehow it’s different than ‘give me a hand’ with this task or another. Asking for help when you are desperate is very, very different.
First of all, there’s the undue shame in getting sick with an addiction. Somehow we buy into the mistaken notion that only weak people get addicted. Essentially, we still have a rather Victorian sense of morality about addiction. There are lots of beliefs still imbued with a sense of addiction having more to do with poor morals than with disease.
Beyond all that, addiction comes knocking with a built-in stealth device. It rips through our lives and leaves us deep in denial, convinced everything’s fine. We can be drowning beneath a flood of negative consequences and still insist that everything’s fine, and we’ve got this.
A difficult dilemma and paradox are set up in active illness involving all these dynamics and issues. Denial convinces us that substance use is fine and that our problems are not substance related. Meanwhile, life is spiraling out of control and becoming more unmanageable as the illness continues. Until we accept that things are out of control and that substances are a problem, we see no reason to address the issue and receive treatment. However, of course, addressing the issue will set us free. Not accepting the issue threatens to get us in pain and to allow the addiction to worsen.
The Many Varieties of Denial and Treatment Resistance
We stay stuck in an addictive illness for many reasons, and of course, not all of them are voluntary, despite how it may seem to onlookers. In fact, a great deal of what people think motivates an addict’s continuing drug use is not a fact at all. There is, for example, a common belief that addicts are having a continuous ‘party’. However, this view grossly overlooks the compulsive nature of addictive substance use, and an addict’s inability to stop without help.
Compulsive use and the brain mechanisms that propel it are one type of resistance that is well beyond choice and willpower. These create a brain-based and biological resistance to stopping use. Other forms of resistance are more mental, emotional, behavioral, and even social.
Addiction is riddled with thinking patterns and beliefs that fuel addictive use. These are often called thinking errors or thinking distortions. Some examples are blaming others, making excuses, minimizing, rationalization, and justification. These types of thought patterns create a mentally fertile ground for addiction. One can become convinced that substance use isn’t harmful, helps the current situation and is justified, for example.
If one chooses treatment and recovery efforts, one must identify these patterns, learn to monitor them, and change them into something more helpful when they arise. Individual and group therapies are particularly helpful in building insight, finding healthy replacements, and providing opportunities to practice healthy thinking.
Having Little Motivation and Little Support for Change
One of the most difficult things people discuss is how hard it was to get to treatment and the difficulty that they had in sustaining their motivation to go. Unfortunately too, they had little support to get everything they needed to in order to follow through. Of course, an active addiction erodes our abilities to make plans and carry them out, so it makes perfect sense. Having someone to help you stay on course in order to get to treatment can be a life-saver.
Many people sadly find themselves having estranged their support people among friends and family members as their addictions have worsened. They can be very lonely, and truly without people to help them. However, it’s important to remember that professionals and people from recovery support groups like AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) can very often fill that gap effectively. Of course, they can’t and shouldn’t do your work for you, but their support and guidance can be essential in getting on the track to rehab.
When Personality Issues Get in the Way of Wellness
Sometimes good, old-fashioned personality problems get in the way of dealing with your addiction. And, they can be your issues or those of others that rub you entirely the wrong way. For example, you might be a particularly prideful or stubborn person–two personality traits many have, addiction or not. The thought of asking anyone for help may really get to you, and you may rather struggle on your own than ask. If you’re dealing with an addiction, that’s not going to work well for you. Something is going to have to give if you want to be well.
On the other hand, sometimes another person’s personality can interfere. You may have a loved one, for instance, who thinks you should just get it together and stop all this ‘nonsense’ about having an illness and needing treatment. Or, perhaps a loved one says it’s treatment or I’ll never speak to you again. Any such strong response can get you tangled up in a power struggle with them, diverting your attention away from the real issues at hand–your addiction, and your need.
Fear of Rehab and What Might or Might Not Happen There
Nothing can stop us in our tracks as effectively as fear. And, people anticipating rehab can have a lot of it. Also, their fear can be very varied and balled into a terrifying mix of various types. There can be fear of failing, not being able to tolerate withdrawal or the treatment process… fear of humiliation when their stories are revealed in treatment… fear of change… fear of facing painful emotions and thoughts without substances to rely on…
Also, fear of addiction treatment can be irrational and project far into an imagined future. For instance, people can fear having to live the rest of their lives without using substances. Of course, this is a fear based on poor information. For one thing, a life in recovery is not a jail sentence of constant drug cravings with no relief. However, irrational fears are just as real to the frightened person as any other more rational fear is.
If You or a Loved One Need Help
If you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction, it may be your time to get the help you need to overcome it. Even though you may also be struggling with some of the issues discussed above, the solution is to move forward and reach out for help. Then, following recommendations one at a time, you can be successful just as countless people before you have been.
Addiction treatment work and recovery happens. Those with fewer difficulties than you have overcome their problems and those with much more severe circumstances than you have, too. Even though you may feel more hopeless and helpless than others, you are not. These are common feelings among people with the type of illness you have.
We are fortunate to have a great many treatment options available to us today. Not too long ago, addiction treatment was practically a one-size-fits-all proposition. If that method did not work for you, there was little alternative. Now, we have a wide range of treatment philosophies, methods, facilities, and programs. If one is not appropriate for you, there are many other choices.
If it is time for you or a loved one to go to rehab, give us a call today. We will help identify your treatment needs, your preferences, and programs that your insurance will cover. With that information, we can then use our extensive research and match you with programs that are a customized fit. Our services are free.
You can deal with your addictive illness effectively. The barriers and obstacles you face as you read this are common for people in your situation. Also, the overwhelming feelings you have that disempower you are common, as are the sabotaging thoughts and beliefs. Consequently, professionals expect them and know how to help you through them. Reach out for help if you are ready to overcome your illness. It will be one of the most important things you’ve ever done for yourself and your loved ones.