Addiction affects far more of us than we think.
September is National Recovery Month, so I wanted to take some time in today’s post to talk about addiction and offer some information for those who have been affected by it in one way or another.
At first I didn’t want to write too many addiction-specific posts on this blog, instead deciding to talk about it in a way that tied in my own experience but also how it applied to everyday things that non-addicts could relate to.
What I’ve found over the years, however, is that you don’t have to be an addict to be affected by addiction. Family members, friends, and coworkers can influence our lives in significant ways. If any of these people begin to suffer from addiction, we suffer as well.
I could probably write forever on this subject, but I wanted to share a quick overview of addiction, both focusing on addicts themselves and also those affected by this terrible disease. I thought this month in particular would be a good time to share with you some things you should know about addiction.
ON THE ADDICT’S SIDE
This section is probably the hardest one to write. Not emotionally hard, but practically. One of the hardest things to do is try and explain addiction to someone who is not an addict. It doesn’t make sense, it’s an incredibly selfish disease, and if you haven’t been there, the explanations sound thin. I promise you, however, that every following point is valid and something I’ve personally experienced.
It’s not something we can control
I am an intelligent person. I have a degree in psychology and an almost doctoral degree in pharmacy. I’m even more educated on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse than many people who suffer from addiction, yet this did nothing to stop the spiral that my life took.
If you are someone who can go out, have a few drinks, or even leave a half-full glass at the end of the night (who are you??), then this is one of the hardest things to conceptualize.
For addicts and alcoholics, we CAN’T do that. Literally, it’s like my mind and body are possessed and I can not stop until every drop of alcohol, every drug, is gone or I pass out and physically can’t operate my body anymore. Granted, this was my life as my addiction escalated, but I could feel the internal pull in this direction as the years went on.
This is what they mean when they talk about “obsessions and compulsions.” Addicts become obsessed with acquiring and using their drug of choice and the compulsion is the physical NEED to carry out this thought.
During one of the many times I tried to quit on my own, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t buy heroin that day. I made it until noon, when I had one passing thought that I could possibly still use that day and do my schoolwork the next. In that split second, in that brief thought, my mind was made up. I literally could think of nothing else and had the phone in my hand not five minutes later.
So one thing to know if you don’t suffer from addiction is that saying “just STOP” to an addict is one of the most useless things you could ever say. We know it’s a problem (usually), we know there’s damage being caused, but we literally can’t. stop.
We know the damage we’re doing
This brings me to my next point. We may be living in a haze of alcohol or drug abuse, but we do know what’s going on. We know that we cause you pain, frustration, sleepless nights, and every other negative emotion brought on by this disease.
For some of us, this doesn’t factor in to our decision to continue using. For me, a person who feels quite deeply, it was one of the reasons that I kept my two lives so separate from each other. I couldn’t bear to hurt those people I cared about any more than I already had. I had virtually no friends during that time. The only people who saw how out of control I was becoming were those friends I would drink with during the summer. Once I started getting comments over and over again about their concern for me, I figured it was easier to just alienate everyone and isolate.
We know the damage we are doing to our relationships, but in the middle of an addiction, little else is important. Often, the knowledge of the pain we cause brings us even more shame at our inability to stop, which drives us back to our drug of choice. It’s a cycle and it’s not going to be over until we reach our breaking point.
We’re not going to change until we’re ready
That brings me to my last point about addiction (for today). If you’ve ever listened to stories of recovering addicts, you’ll often hear about their “rock bottom.” This is the lowest point in their addiction and the point where they decide they can’t live that way anymore.
The tough thing about recovery is that everyone is different. Everyone has a different pain threshold and a different breaking point. You can’t predict when a person will hit that bottom and things that you’d expect to be that life-changing point simply aren’t. Unfortunately, not everyone hits theirs before their addiction brings them down for good.
This is why some people have multiple attempts at rehab, periods of relapse, and staying clean and sober can be difficult. It’s frustrating and often devastating to watch someone you care about cycle through their own pain and destruction. You want to help. You want to fix it, but unfortunately this is a job for that person to do on his or her own.
ON YOUR SIDE
It’s not your fault
A lot of friends and family members often take the stress of addiction on themselves.
“I could have done more, I should have seen something, What could I have done differently?”
A person’s addiction is not your fault, just like it’s not their fault. Addiction is a disease that should be treated as one. I don’t think people sit around considering someone else’s medical condition their fault. WHY DID I GIVE THEM CANCER?? WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY SO THEY DIDN’T GET HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE??
Understand that none of it is your fault or your responsibility. If recovery is what the addict wants, it’s his or her responsibility to get it.
You need to take care of YOU
This is one of the hardest things to conceptualize if someone you care about is in active addiction. As much as you want to help and fix the situation, your own physical, emotional, and mental health is the most important thing.
- set boundaries
- make time for yourself
- attend support groups
- TALK about it
Figure out what YOU need to feel safe and have some peace of mind. If that means limiting your contact with that person, let them know. Stick to that boundary.
Oftentimes, family members will inadvertently end up enabling the addicted person because they don’t want them to get hurt or be in discomfort. They will allow them places to stay, buy alcohol to avoid them driving drunk, and other similar behaviors. Not only does this further the addict’s addictive behavior, but it causes you to spend far more time preoccupied with his or her thoughts and actions and less on your own.
Just like addiction is a selfish disease, so should be the way you deal with it. Your own peace of mind is incredibly important, so as hard as it may be for you to put some distance between you and those people you care about, it’s absolutely necessary. Let them know that you are there for them if they want it, but if you find yourself stressed out or unable to function as you normally would, you may need to take a step back.
Addiction is a terrible disease, and one that is hard to understand from both perspectives. Personally, I think we should all talk about it more, whether you’re suffering from it or someone you know is. Not everyone is comfortable with that and not everyone is as accepting to hear it, which I think is limiting in us working towards a solution and leaves everyone feeling alone and scared.
If you suffer from addiction, you’re not alone. If someone you know is having trouble with addiction, you’re not alone.
If you can’t find anyone to talk to, I’m always willing to listen and answer whatever I can whenever I can. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, send me a message on Twitter or the other 1231546574 social accounts I have, and just know there’s someone to listen if you need it.
There’s also the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). If you think this post can help someone else, please share it. Get the conversation going.
The more we work to understand each other, hopefully the better off we’ll be.
Thanks for Amanda for letting me think out loud.
No questions today — feel free to comment about whatever you want. 🙂