It’s tough being a person who struggles with chemical dependency. In our culture, these are the people who are perceived and wrongly judged to have “serious problems.” I have lots of compassion for my clients who struggle in this area of their lives. It’s already tough enough working to maintain a great recovery program, let alone all battling all of the shameful messages from friends, family, and co-workers who judge them as less-than.
Ironically, however, folks who struggle with drugs and alcohol, and are actively working on their recovery, are often light-years ahead in the way of personal development and emotional health than your average Joe who has never struggled at all with drugs and alcohol. How can this be?
The Blessing of Falling Apart
The gift of being an addict or alcoholic is that it fast tracks you to a place of total deprivation where you have nowhere else to go except to get help. By the nature of how drugs and alcohol interact in our bodies, it always progresses to a point where the problem becomes so overt that you simply can’t hide it any longer. And wonderfully, when you reach that place, help is in abundance and for the committed individual who wants to change their life; this is the beginning of a new and wonderful journey of recovery. Ask anyone who has been down this road and they will verify the incredible gift they received by falling apart, and in turn, through their recovery process, moving into a new and abundant life.
The Curse of Not Getting Addicted
Despite our culture’s inaccurate perception that addicts or alcoholics are the moral deviants of our society, what I, and other therapists, know too, is that non-addicts can be in just as much emotional suffering and rock-bottom circumstances as their addict counterparts down the street. And their problems are not any less severe. They can feel hopeless, alone, desperate, and absolutely terrified that their lives are crumbling underneath them.
The curse for non-addicts is that they can hide behind their veneer of a “good job,” a “good family,” and the general façade of having it all together. This veneer is the curse that keeps them stuck and is the poisonous intoxication that leads to slow a emotional death. In contrast to addicts—where their problem ends up causing them to bleed all over the place—the non-addict bleeds internally and therefore can evade the necessity of help.
My ‘Envy’ of Addicts
I remember when I first started working in residential rehab as a graduate student and attended my first AA meeting as a chaperone for the clients. As a non-addict (but with many, many problems nonetheless), I sat through that first meeting in absolute awe of the genuineness, the transparency, and the deep relational connections of the people in the room. Instantly, I wished I had an alcohol problem so I could be part of this incredibly supportive group. I realized these people were not any different than me in the way of their problems, but they had an incredible resource that offered them healing. In this room they could:
- Be known for their authentic selves
- Be accepted unconditionally despite their problems
- Feel less alone in the world
- Recognize they were actually not different
- Be lovingly challenged by elders
- Feel normal
- Find and develop rich and meaningful connection with others
I thought; “Where do people like me go to find this oasis in the desert?” Thankfully, since that moment, I’ve discovered the multitude of 12-step groups that actually are for me!
Resources for The Benign Suffering
Addicts and alcoholics will always have a home in 12-step support groups and therapy relationships, and since they’re “bleeding all over the place,” I feel confident they’ll find what they need to get on a path of sustained recovery quickly. I’m a little more worried about the non-addict, who’s riddled with emotional stage-4 (or stage-1) cancer and is dying a slow death and no one knows except him. He might not even know. Ever since that first AA meeting I attended as a graduate student, I’ve been committed to offering resources for the non-addict that mirror all of the wonderful and loving aspects of addiction support groups.
The best way I’ve figured out how to do that so far, is to offer therapy groups in my practice, specifically for men. Of course the addicted person is always welcome, and in fact I have many recovering addicts in my groups. If the guys in my group are not struggling with drugs or alcohol, they’re struggling with relationships falling apart, impending divorces, job losses, depression, anxiety, infidelity, or any of the multitude of sometimes inevitable challenges we face in our lives. Sometimes, there is no escaping these challenges, so we have to find resources to help us through.
If you, or a man you know, needs a safe place to talk about life’s challenges and would like to participate in my Men’s group therapy called Better Dads and Better Husbands, I’m excited to announce we’re starting back up in the Fall. If this is of interest to you, please contact me ASAP if you have questions or would like to learn more.
Originally published on QuentinHafner.com