Self-Recovery from Addiction... Taking responsibility for your life.
I've had several coaching clients come to me who, while they wanted to move forward in life, were actually stuck in a self-destructive addiction. Of course, I cannot directly confront them about their addictions, as they had to open up to me that it was part of the problem that was keeping them in the same rut in which they found themselves day-after-day. As we worked together to make plans and open doors, the addiction was left open for them to examine and realize that they needed to overcome the situation, and cut loose that anchor to move forward to a fulfilling life.
I'm not speaking of any particular addiction, as we all have one or two in our lives. However, for sake of discussion, the primary addictions that people fall to when they find that their lives are faltering are alcohol and drugs. Of course, these usually come into play once their addictions to depression and negative situations overtake their lives and they feel as though they have no where left to turn. But, as we peel away the negative situations and tend to the depression through medical assistance, they are better able to accept that now they must eliminate the substance addiction.
--- Abstinence or Control ---
Many commercials on television promote "responsible drinking". What exactly is "responsible drinking"? It is a relative view that places you to judge how much is enough. Yet, after your first drink, your judgment is impaired. As I've heard from many people, "one is too much and 12 are not enough." The best way to manage yourself responsibly is simply not to do it at all --- abstain.
--- Disease or Responsibility ---
The idea of addictions being a disease creates an uneasy feeling for me in that, for the most part, it is a choice and a responsibility as opposed to an illness. While I do agree that certain physical illnesses can cause people to turn to substance abuse, the abuse and addiction in and of itself are resulting actions and not diseases. It does seem that the disease concept has become popular because it is the nature of addicted people to dignify their conduct. The disease concept conceals the actual reason people abuse various substances while it discourages initiative and responsibility.
--- Involuntary Addiction ---
This area of "involuntary addiction" is the center of much controversy. Many people are addicted to medications at the hands of medical practitioners who do not monitor their patients, but instead simply ensure that their prescriptions maintain a certain response. Of course, many people do require long-term care; however, others only require assistance through medication for a short time.
One example is that of a woman I worked with some years ago who was terribly addicted to Valium, Paxil, and Prozac. She wanted to get off of everything. Of course, I could not counsel her on the medical aspects of her situation, but I did refer her to a medical acquaintance who could assist her. In the end, after six years of involuntary addiction, it took her two years to get back on her feet and lead a productive life. We did work through some situations to angle her life toward her new Vision, but it was her choice to alleviate herself of the medication and "give life a try." In essence, we were able to replace her physical addiction with a mental and emotional addiction --- a direction in life.
--- How did I become addicted? ---
Addiction is a natural function of the human body, based entirely upon the "pleasure principle" --- the tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Addictive substances have the ability to disrupt the motivational hierarchy of needs by displacing other motives in life. They can also desensitize the ability of other, natural rewards to motivate behavior.
The addict usually places substance use as their top priority, while losing interest in life's other rewards. This desire to experience the effects of the addictive substance combined with the lack of interest in natural rewards is classified as a "loss of control." Essentially, the normal controls on the individual's life have lost their significance and behavior focuses on the acquisition and use of the addictive substance.
It's interesting to note that we can become addicted to situations as well as substances. For instance, some abused women come to feel a certain way about themselves in abusive situations. To ensure that this feeling remains, they seek out relationships that compound their feelings. Destructive indeed, but one that they feel is necessary.
--- How can I tell if I am addicted? ---
Determining addiction is complex in that it is based on many different signs for different types of addictions. But, the one definite, yet simplistic, indicator is that you keep going back even after you know that you don't want to do it again.
Those nights that you lay in bed with a massive hangover even after you swore that you'd never do it again. The morning you wake up and have no idea what you did the night before, again. The bruises and black eyes that you have from the fight with your mate, yet you return. Again, the simplest indicator is that you "keep coming back."
More complex indicators are physical and emotional changes as well as affects on your social presentation and associations. For instance, massive weight change, the "need" to have it or do it again, anger, loss of sleep, health problems, avoidance by certain social associations, or even being banned from establishments are important indicators.
--- How can I achieve recovery? ---
Recovery is your choice. You must first choose to acknowledge its existence and then you must choose to do something about it. Acknowledge that you are not a victim and take the responsibility that you chose to enter into the addiction. By doing so, you are taking control to be able to take responsibility for choosing to not be addicted any longer.
Abstinence is the first step to recovery. Immediately stop what you're doing, whether it is through counseling, medical assistance, or simply ceasing your addictive actions. Of course, it is easier said than done.
One thing that we do in my coaching sessions is, once a client seeks assistance from qualified medical professionals, we immediately begin to replace the addictive situation with something else that is of benefit. For instance, many of those clients who are addicted to some substance or situation are because they don't know what else to do or need to move in a direction away from a current situation. With nothing else in life, they drink, use drugs, or continually place themselves back into situations that are consistent and provide the "comfort zones" that keep them in an arena that feels safe.
--- A replacement addiction? ---
While replacing one addiction with another does not sound appealing, indeed, it is a path that is essential to the success of recovery. For instance, while I may not agree with support groups, many people find them useful and a necessary part of life. Indeed, while these are a replacement addiction for the other addiction, they are not as harmful as the addiction that they replace. At the very least, such support groups are a reasonable replacement of the addiction until the person is strong enough to stand up against their previous addictions.
For many of my clients, they have found that by defining a plan for their life, instead of meandering to the point of getting lost and addicted to something else that is harmful, they are better able to cope with their recovery. With help from their medical professional, along with a life plan, they can remain focused and busy while working toward their Vision. In the process, their values change to the point that they no longer require a substance to give them the necessary feelings that they pursue.
One example was a young man whose father committed suicide. It threw him into a cycling depression where, at one moment he was fine and, over a period of months, he would be depressed again and have to work to recover from the depression. In the process, he turned to a serious alcohol addiction, which nearly disrupted his entire life. After focusing on the core depression and working with his doctor to stabilize his emotions, we worked together to find a way to piece together a new life. Indeed, with the loss of a family member, life does change, yet he was unable to cope with this change as he was caught in the life he had prior to the loss.
Realize that the addiction can take on a mind of its own and will eventually do anything to ensure that it gets what it wants. It can begin to define you. However, it is essential to turn that hunger into something else with a different focus and desire. That is the core success of recovery.
--- What's next? ---
Inside of every addicted individual is the original person who was full of wonder and excitement about the possibilities that lay ahead. Somewhere along the way, this person became lost and fell prey to the pleasures of their addiction. They instinctively decided that the greatest pleasures that life comes from the use of a substance and they reordered their life to accommodate this new desire at all costs --- this is the destructive point of addiction. It is here that they must make a choice and engage in a fight for survival.
There are a number of pitfalls common to self-recovery from addiction. Those who want to help you, but were never addicted themselves, have little to share on the subject, as their experience and beliefs are based on information provided by equally misinformed books and experts. Additionally, our society sees addiction as a noble affliction and denies that self-recovery is possible. As a result, society does not reward, and sometimes punishes, people who accept personal responsibility for their addictions and their recovery.
Realize that, if your environment has changed because of your addiction, all is not lost. If your family left or you lost your job or even if you lost some aspect of your life, the final decision that you make to move on with your life is the one that matters the most above all. You still have yourself and, in the long run, that is truly all that matters. Spend some time with your real self, as you might be surprised at the hero you just found!
Edward B. Toupin is an author, life-strategy coach, counselor, Reiki Master, technical writer, and PhD Candidate living in Las Vegas, NV. Among other things, he authors books, articles, and screenplays on topics ranging from career success through life organization and fulfillment. Check out some of his recent print and electronic books as well as his articles covering various life-changing topics!
Copyright (c) 2004 Edward B. Toupin