addiction

Thought: We Are Not Guilty of Addiction

Whose Fault is a Drug Addiction? Parents or Individuals?

Not long ago I was conducting a therapy group at Sunrise Detox when a client shared about how bad he is, how he just can’t forgive himself, and that his addiction is all his fault. When I assured him that the disease is not his fault, another group member raised her hand and insisted that her disease is actually her parents’ fault. Again, I replied that her disease is not her parents’ fault.

We are not responsible for having become addicted; we are only responsible for our recovery.I replied that no one is to blame for addiction. As is the case with diabetes and similar diseases, we are not responsible for having become addicted; we are only responsible for our recovery. Well, that set off a firestorm of controversy, and a great discussion. The questions flew! “Then whose fault is it,” blurted yet another member of the group.

How can this not be my fault when I’m the one who picks up the drink/drug?

My parents make me so mad I just have to use…I can’t help it! How is that not their fault?

I’m an alcoholic and now my oldest son is an alcoholic too. He got this from me and I feel terrible about it.

Sometimes We Feel the Need to Assign Blame

Considering the devastation that addiction causes in the life of a person, a family, even a community, it’s easy to see why there’s a desire to place blame. If it’s not someone’s fault, we feel even more out of control. Humans hate not knowing the “why” of things, and if we don’t get good answers we make up our own. I love it when these questions and comments come up, because I get to give people good news.

not-guilty-quote2We are, I remind the group, accountable for our behavior, in or out of active addiction. Our addictive behavior affects other people, so when the time comes, the right thing for us to do is to make amends: to the best of our ability fix or make right the damage we have done to others. We are accountable, even though we were not in our right minds when we did the damage.

Is Addiction a Disease?

We are not responsible, however, for having the medical condition that caused us to act as we did. Although we may have made some unwise choices along the way, not one of us set out to devastate our lives by becoming an addict. Social, psychological, neurological and genetic factors combined to make what was, at first, a pleasant experience into a perpetual nightmare. We did not choose for that to happen, and would certainly not have done what we did if we had any idea of the real consequences. We are, perhaps, guilty of bad judgement. But we are not guilty of addiction.

Responsibility for an Addiction is Not The Same as Responsibility for Recovery

A parent who may feel guilty for passing the gene along needs to know that we have no more control over our offspring’s addiction than over the color of their eyes. The only control that we have regarding a child’s addiction from this day on is to be an honest example of recovery, a model of living in the solution and of finding happiness without substances.

We Are Responsible for Our Recovery

Just as we are not guilty of our own addiction and have no control over the addictions of others, others have no control over our addiction. We can remain solid in our recovery even if we are stressed, enraged, wounded, or feel uncomfortable about the behavior of someone else. However, we may find that distancing ourselves from people who trigger those emotions is beneficial for us, especially early on. That makes it easier to disentangle our emotions from theirs, strengthen our recovery, and develop some healthy boundaries. No matter what anyone else does, our recovery is our own responsibility.

Addiction— whether our own or that of others — is nobody’s fault. Sometimes stuff just happens, and no one is to blame.

Thoughts on Self-Esteem, Self Image, Addiction and Recovery

The Legend In Our Minds

Most of us have heard the expression “He's a legend in his own mind.”  Although we don't usually think of this as being accurate (or nice), the fact is that we are, in a sense, all legends in our own minds.

We all have a self-concept, a collection of mental images.  Our self-concept (Legend) is our answer to the question, “Who am I?”  It tells us what we like, how we're like — or different from — others, where we belong in the world and our community, and what we've been like in the past.

Recovery is an uphill climb. Sometimes our internal view of ourselves sets the stage for how steep that climb might be.

Recovery is an uphill climb. Sometimes our internal view of ourselves.. the “story” or “Legend” within our own minds, sets the stage for how steep that climb might be.

The Personal Legend

This personal Legend is how we usually think about ourselves.  The details can change, but for most of us the underlying story remains the same.  Sometimes our Legend even approaches reality, but since it is our Legend, not necessarily fact, and because it is shaped by the way we think about our past and our present, it sometimes becomes a bit twisted, and at times even just plain wrong.

Our self-concept, or self-image, is mostly shaped by our understanding of the things that have happened in our life: the things we have done and the things that were done to us.  For that reason, it's not uncommon for a person (especially an addict) to end up with one of those twisted Legends.

Twisted Legends : A False Sense of Self

Much of our Legend is shaped by what we believe others think, or thought, about us.  If we were treated badly, especially as children, if we failed to get the love, nurturing and gentle attention that we needed, if we were emotionally or physically abused, or had addicted parents who were unable to fulfill our needs because they were themselves impaired, our self-concept may become twisted and cause us to believe things about ourselves that aren't true.

Our Self Concept shapes our Self Esteem

That's not good because our self-concept shapes our self-esteem (what we think of our Legend).  Unconsciously, we give ourselves a sort of grade.  If we see ourselves as competent people and value ourselves for who we are, instead of who we wish we were, we usually get a pretty high grade.  But most of us addicts look at the Legend we have constructed for ourselves and think that we are inadequate, incompetent, and unlovable.  Most likely we picked up this idea from people who themselves lacked a healthy self-concept, and we have since viewed our lives and our behavior in that light: “I'm not good enough.”  “No one will love me unless I _________.”  “I deserve whatever I get.”  “I'm no good.” “I don't deserve to be treated well.” “I don't deserve to treat myself well, because I'm a piece of junk.”

And a common way to handle that pain is “I can’t stand this, I’ve gotta get high!

Realizing Self Worth as a Step Towards Recovery

Well, guess what.  God doesn't make junk.  Regardless of how much we believe our Legend, if it's telling us that sort of stuff it needs to be re-written.  We'll cover that next.  For now, just remember:  Good self-concept = good Legend.  Bad self-concept = bad Legend = poor self-esteem.  Poor self-esteem makes it impossible to re-write our Legend.  We need to question all those bad beliefs we have about ourselves.  Are they true?  Who says so?  Who told us that to begin with?  Could they have been…wrong?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a Son, Partner, and a Dad for 3 Children

Superbowl Sunday started with some negative news here on the east coast. Academy award winner Hoffman had died due to a suspected overdose. Hoffman was in detox last year after a heroin relapse following 23 years of sobriety. He was found on Sunday with a needle in his arm.  The harsh reality of heroin always seems to come to the forefront when a celebrity overdoses.

The truth though is that Hoffman was a dad of 3 young children. He lived with his long time girlfriend and mother of his children since 1998. That's the pain.  That's the part of this that hits home for all of us. Take the celebrity out of it, and there are 3 children who won't have a dad anymore. There is a single mom asking why, why, why.

Details are unclear as to Mr. Hoffmans detox last year, but stories claim  he went to detox and returned to work. At Sunrise Detox we advocate strongly fur clinical care after detox to deal with the emotional struggles usually associated with heroin addiction. There is no quick fix to opiate use.

While the world will miss a great actor I am thinking of another family destroyed by heroin!

 

Spirituality and Recovery: An Insider’s Guide

It's safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is - and from their point of view, they may be right.If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an addict, or your loved one or friend or employee is. You probably have your own ideas of what constitutes addiction. They may be informed by education or ignorance, experience or listening to others. They may be sympathetic or condemning. However, it’s safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is—and from their point of view, they may be right.

But we who have struggled with the monkey on our back know things about addiction that no one else knows. That’s not to say that we’re any smarter about it, it just means that we, too, have our point of view, and from the inside it’s rarely pleasant. We beat ourselves up, we focus on our regret, on resentments, on past and present mistakes, about the things we missed out on, on how we were treated, on how the world is being run, on our future. It would be enough to make us crazy, if we weren’t already. And that’s because, as the title implies, “addiction is the opposite of spirituality.”

Okay, fine. But what is spirituality? Well, the spirituality I mean is the “human spirit,” not related to religion at all, although they compliment each other well in some cases. As far as this addict is concerned, spirituality is those things of the spirit that are missing from all addicts to one degree or another.

For example, there’s tolerance, the willingness to let others do their own thing. Most addicts are control freaks, and want to direct the show. Tolerance, in addition to promoting harmony, allows the other party to learn. Few of us learn from the mistakes of others. We claim to, but in reality we’re bit players in every story but our own, and other folks’ mistakes rarely teach us much. When screw up ourselves, the lesson tends to stick. Tolerant folks mostly ignore things that aren’t their business.

Patience goes along with tolerance. It’s the darndest thing: people insist on doing things their own way, not ours. We aren’t going to change that unless we’re both wearing uniforms, and maybe not even then. Some drivers are slow getting away from red lights. (Of course, we never are.) Some speakers go on and on in meetings about things that bore us. Tough. Do we really think they’re on the edge of their chairs waiting for drops of gold to drip from our lips? The package will get here when FedEx delivers it. Our significant other will stop talking eventually, then it’s our turn to yammer. Patience helps us get through boring, frustrating, “painful” moments without getting riled up or angry or annoyed.

Then there’s forgiveness. There’s a saying  “resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Rarely do others worry about our resentments; we’re the ones who do the worrying. We eat ourselves up over things that others did “to” us, not realizing that we are the ones making ourselves miserable. Forgiveness is being willing to let go. If we’re still stewing about something someone did, or didn’t do, who are we hurting? Chances are good that the other party has forgotten all about it. How dare they? Well, who cares? That’s what forgiveness is about. We don’t have to let the guy near our entertainment equipment again, but letting go of the stuff he stole from us last year helps us, not him. If we can’t do that, we need to talk to a shrink, because the TV is gone, gone, gone.

the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality.Compassion and love, the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality. People have to let us learn to love them, but we can be compassionate towards anyone we meet. Give the bum a dollar. Don’t decide you know what he’s going to do with it, just imagine how it feels out there in the rain with that sign. Be patient with the old lady digging for change in the grocery line, and consider how hard it must be to live on a limited income—and to be old and know it isn’t going to change.

Responsibility strengthens relationships. It’s doing our part, whether it’s showing up to chair that 7:00 A.M. meeting, or staying after work a bit to make sure our job is done properly. It’s being dependable, and taking our share of whatever load, doing what we can for everyone’s benefit.

All of these things lead to harmony, the feeling that everything is sailing along as it should. Not that everything’s perfect—that’s not harmony, it’s delusion—but just the feeling that things are going okay. No one’s rubbing on anyone’s nerves too badly; we’re in a good space, so that getting cut off in traffic is just another unskillful driver, not a personal affront…stuff like that.

And on rare occasions, we simply feel wonderful, for no particular reason. That’s joy. It doesn’t happen very often, but if we pay attention to the other things we’ve discussed, it happens more frequently than we might think.

We don't have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn't us.If we use the opposites of all the things I’ve discussed, we can pretty much put together a picture of an active addict, or an addict who isn’t in recovery. When we say recovery programs are spiritual, we’re talking about changing from our previous ways of looking at life to the more skillful ways we’re talking about here. We become spiritual by practicing spirituality, not by just going to church. We say “practice,” because these things are skills that can be learned, and if we want to be happy and stay sober, we need to learn them. We don’t have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn’t us.

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Africa

When we get into recovery, regardless of the path we take, it won't be long until someone tells that us we are in denial about something. In fact, the chances are good that we heard that a number of times before we even thought about recovery. But what is denial?

Actually, denial is an important part of coping with day to day living. If we accepted as fact everything unpleasant that someone said about us, we wouldn’t be able to function very well, if at all. If we weren’t able to put aside the tragic reality of a death in the family and tend to business, we’d never be able to get through it. Denial helps us overlook the rough spots in life so that the immediate impact is lessened, and we can deal with the issues gradually. However, it becomes a problem when we use it to help us ignore important issues.

Denial is of interest to addicts (and therapists) when it gets in the way of our recognition of behavioral problems. We alcoholics and other addicts use denial to smooth the path of our addictions, help us ignore the cold, hard facts, and continue doing what our instincts tell us we have to do. It becomes automatic. In order to recover we need to be able to recognize denial, become able to see the effect it is having on our recovery, and adjust our thinking. As the old 12-step saying goes,

Lying to others is rude, but lying to ourselves is often fatal.

There are many forms of denial, and all sorts of names to describe them. We’ve listed some of the common ones, with examples of how we use them to protect our addictive behavior. There are dozens of other examples and names, but denial generally falls into the following categories.

Normalizing: “Everyone has a few drinks on a weekend” (their birthday, to celebrate, during the game, etc.) “A couple of beers never hurt anyone.” (See minimizing)

Minimizing: “I only had a couple! (Of 6-packs). “I only drink socially.” (Five nights a week) “I might have had a couple more than I should have.” (I couldn’t stand up.)

Rationalizing: “I don’t have a problem, I’ve quit for months at a time. I just don’t feel like stopping right now.” “I have to socialize with people, it’s part of my job!” “It’s a prescription drug; my doctor knows what he’s doing.”  “I deserve it!”

Comparing: “Joe’s been married three times, in jail twice, lost his license and has to go to those meetings. That’s what happens when you drink too much. I’m doing fine.”

Uniqueness: “You don’t understand.” “If I go to treatment now, the business will fall apart and fifty people will lose their jobs.” “My family has an exceptional capacity for alcohol. I never get drunk.”

Deflecting is making jokes, changing the subject, angry outbursts that intimidate the opponent, threats, “important” phone calls, blowups when confronted and similar ways to take the focus off the issue.

Omitting: Leaving out information, or telling just enough of the story to satisfy the other person while leaving out the part that will get you in more trouble. “The doc said my health is great!” (Except if I don’t stop drinking I’ll be dead in five years.) Simply ignoring the other person’s remarks falls under this category as well.

Blaming: “If you had to put up with (my wife, boss, kids).” “I was doing just fine until I found George doing lines in the bathroom.” “The doctor keeps giving me prescriptions!”

Intellectualizing: This is coming up with all sorts of explanations that “obviously” anyone who thinks about the matter has to agree with, in an attempt to make questioners feel off base and uninformed. “The latest studies show that a couple of drinks a day are good for you.” It’s also a good way to fool ourselves.

Poor Me: “I’ve tried and I just can’t quit. I can’t do it no matter how hard I try.” “I give up, I’m just going to die drunk.” “My life’s in the toilet, I might as well….”

Manipulating is using power, lies, money, sex, or guilt to defuse the issue. “Remember who you’re talking to here!” “Don’t talk that way to your mother!” “Would I ever say something like that to you?” “Mommy doesn’t need to know about this. Here’s some money. Go shopping”

Compartmentalizing is doing things that you keep separate from other parts of your life. If you find yourself thinking something like “If he only knew,” or “If anyone ever found out,” then you’re compartmentalizing.

If we're honest with ourselves, it probably won't take us long to recognize some of our old — and perhaps not so old — tricks.  And maybe, just maybe, we ought to pay attention to the next person who accuses us of denial.

 

Families Need Support Too

We always encourage family members to seek counseling, because active addicts, along with inactive ones who are not in recovery (dry drunks), make everyone around them a little bit crazy.  The uncertainty, disappointments, emotional and — often — physical mistreatment, and the other aspects of loving an addict are not the ingredients of good emotional and physical health.  And then there’s the anger.

Anger is a perfectly normal emotion with an essential purpose: it keeps us from becoming incapacitated by fear.  Along with denial, it gives us the energy to work our way past the obstacles that we run across in life.  If we believed every negative thing that was said about us, or if we allowed ourselves to be stymied by the many obstacles that crop up in our day to day existence, we’d never get anything done.  

These things hinder us not only because they’re in our way, but because they bring fear along with them — fear of failure, fear that we’ll look bad, fear that we won’t measure up to our own self-image or the expectations of others, and fear of economic, social, or physical injury.  Anger and its little sisters indignation and annoyance give us the energy to overcome those fears, big and small, real or imagined, and to move onward.  To put it another way, no one functions well when they feel powerless or vulnerable, and anger helps us feel powerful.

Of course when anger gets out of control (rage), or we allow it to become habitual (resentments), it causes problems.  This can happen because we enjoy the feeling of power, or — because one of the characteristics of anger is tunnel-vision — it can help us overlook our own part in things, and make it easier to shift blame to the other party.  Anger depersonalizes our adversaries and makes it easier for us to justify our own behavior toward them.  All of these things have their uses, but they can obviously be seriously misused, as well.  Furthermore, over time, these ways of thinking about individuals and the world can become ingrained, and extremely difficult to change when they are no longer of use.  

Finally — but by no means least important — the physical changes that are produced by unresolved anger (undischarged energy) can be long-lasting and can create physical problems that are often fatal.  Stress-related diseases such as cardiovascular complications, eating disorders, other addictive disorders, diabetes, depression, frequent illness, and non-specific pain issues such as chronic head, neck and back pain can all be results of unresolved anger.

Anger doesn’t go away by itself.  If it isn’t discharged by physical and/or emotional release, or if it isn’t dug out, examined, and allowed to run its course, it will continue to produce stress and make life difficult.  This is especially difficult for family members of alcoholics and other addicts, because it isn’t “nice” to be angry in our culture, especially at family members, and practically never at authority figures lest they discharge some of their own anger issues in our direction.  Children are required to respect older people, for example, even when they have irrevocably proven themselves unworthy.  Talk about powerless…

So, families of addicts almost always have anger issues to address.  There are probably other things as well.  Children, in particular, have a tendency to blame their parents' problems on themselves, and those things need to be addressed.  Emotionally abused family members can add self-esteem issues to their anger, and everyone has resentments: birthdays missed, money misspent, obligations unmet…and on, and on.

It’s imperative that these things be put to rights.  Whether or not the alcoholic/addict stays clean, whether or not the family stays together, every one of the members have their lives irrevocably changed.  Unless the damage of those changes is dealt with, none of them will have the lives they deserve.  In the next article, we’ll discuss some options.

 

What About People, Places and Things?

Q. How can you stay away from people, places and things when they are family or significant others?

Q. If my boyfriend drinks and does coke occasionally, what should I do about it?

These really translate into the same question: How much do I value my sobriety?

Let's first ask ourselves, why did we get sober? Why did we go to AA, NA, treatment, detox or whatever? Was it because we were having fun while we were using? Was it because our lives were completely under control? Was it because we could pick up a drink or a drug and then stop whenever we wanted to? Could we go into a bar, or to a party, hang with our friends, and choose whether or not we were going to get high?

If any of those answers were yes, then there's no need to worry about it. Why should we? Everything's great!

But if we got  clean because our life was in the toilet; if we were afraid we were going to die, or hurt someone else; if we got clean and sober because we couldn't stand the idea of continuing in the direction we were going, then if we want to remain clean we have to put that idea ahead of everything else in our life.  That doesn't mean we have to live in meetings forever, or that we can't ever have fun again, but it does mean that we may have to change the ways we deal with others, in order to protect our sobriety.

Those people who are able to do so will normally take pains to avoid things that might cause us problems. If they are unable to do that, or won't, the reasons don't matter. We can't change them; we can only make changes in ourselves, and the only sensible thing for us to do is to put our welfare first, and stay away from them.

There are family situations that are so uncomfortable for us, even if alcohol or other drugs are not involved, that we are emotionally unprepared to handle them in early sobriety. If our family drinks or uses drugs, if our friends hang out in bars or hit the restroom five times an evening, if our significant other drinks (and does coke occasionally), it's no business of ours. Our business is taking care of us, and if we believe there's a danger in those people, places and things, then we need to distance ourselves until the conditions change.  We can't take the chance unless we're willing to do the detox and treatment thing all over again — if we survive.

Even if we have children, we may need to stay away for a while. Those kids may need us, but if we can't remain clean they may never have us. Let's face it, we were absent even when we were with them. Isn't it worth a bit more time to help insure that we won't be leaving them again?

Stress is a primary cause of relapse. We need to avoid stressful situations until we are able to handle them.  We also know that just the sight of (or merely thinking about) drugs or alcohol can cause changes in our brain chemistry that cause cravings.  The sight of a guy standing on the corner where we used to cop, a bar where we used to drink — even the recliner where we used to collapse — can do the same thing.

The very fact of wondering about it is a pretty good indication that we aren't ready yet. As much treatment as we can afford, a stay in a halfway house or sober living facility, working at a low-stress job for a while — along with a lot of support from our peers — can better prepare us to go back to the “real world.”

If going home right now worries you — or even if it doesn't — it probably should.