Addiction. Substance abuse. Alcoholism.
Few things are as devastating and damaging to relationships and intimacy as these three. Addictions not only destroy the ones being imprisoned by it, but they hurt and damage everyone in close proximity to the addict, especially spouses and children. That’s why we say that addiction is a “family disease.” It’s not uncommon when the children of alcoholics or drug addicts turn to substances themselves.
What is addiction?
So, what is addiction, you might ask? How do I know whether it’s an addiction and not just a “bad habit?” There are many different definitions and opinions, however in the simplest form the answer is: “if it controls you, or takes over your life, it’s an addiction.” We can be addicted to all sorts of things – drugs, alcohol, gambling, work, sex, food. The list can go on and on.
Here I’ll talk mostly about the addictions to drug and alcohol, as this is the area where most of my experience has been gained.
I have to confess that I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, but growing up in Russia I saw what excessive drinking does to people, to their families and to their children. I’ve been in a couple of relationships with alcoholics, so I know first hand the suffering that the partners of alcoholics endure. In addition, I’ve been working with clients with substance use/abuse problems for more than 10 years.
Addiction Frequently Comes with Trauma
Although I’m not able to personally relate to addiction, the majority of my clients with addiction also have a history of trauma, losses, physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse, neglect, or parents who were addicts or alcoholics themselves. I have an extensive training and experience in trauma work which are the very common human problems my clients suffer from on a daily basis.
It’s been postulated (and quite a few clients themselves have said the same thing), that many people with addiction use it as a form of self-medication to avoid pain, or the feelings of dread, despair, loneliness and/or emptiness. Until you address those underlying feelings, your sobriety will always be in danger of relapse. If you deal with your painful feelings by numbing yourself with an addictive behavior, you’ll always be tempted to use this addictive crutch every time the going gets rough. Unless, of course, you learn how to manage your stresses and feel your feelings without using your “pain-killers.” Even more important, unless you embark on your own healing journey.
Building Sober Life
The idea is not to just quit whatever you are addicted to; even more important is to build a sober lifestyle. And not just any sober life, but a life where you feel fulfilled, alive and happy. It’s possible to achieve, though it will require a lot of work on your part. If you’re currently in relationship, part of this work will include rebuilding and healing that relationship. You’ll need to learn new ways to communicate, to relate, to share life and experiences in a healthy way, and to create new, healthy patterns of behavior. This part of the journey will be easier if you walk it hand-in-hand with your partner.
What About Codependency?
As I mentioned, addiction is damaging to both partners including the one who’s not using. The non-using partner lives his or her life in a constant state of anxiety, anguish, pain and fear. To manage these feelings, they try to control the addict; they concentrate all their energy, attention and efforts on trying to change them, fix them or save them. In the process, the non-using partners actually lose and betray themselves. They become insensitive to their own feelings to avoid the constant pain. This is how codependency is formed, if it wasn’t there to begin with.
These controlling behaviors are very hard to change as they become so deeply ingrained that the person is not even aware of it. Sometimes, they unconsciously sabotage the addict’s progress because any change is scary and threatening. That’s why the addict needs to work with their partner to improve the whole “relationship deal.”
How Can Substance Abuse Counseling Help You?
This is where individual psychotherapy or couples counseling can be very helpful. It’s very hard to recognize our own patterns of behavior from “within.” We don’t see ourselves, we don’t see our facial expressions, our body language. We’re not aware of our own contribution to problems. Add all sorts of limiting or negative beliefs about yourself, your life and relationships and you’ll understand how hard it is to change on your own. This introspective process can be scary and painful. So, when you have somebody who’s on your side, who’s walking with you on your journey, who supports you, encourages you to stay strong, to have faith in yourself, who challenges you to be honest with yourself, to not make excuses and helps you to find your own way – it’s so much easier.
What You Will Need to Work on
Whether you work with somebody, attend local self-help groups, or do your own work, here are some of things you will need to learn and master:
— How to recognize that you’re heading toward a possible relapse and how to prevent it;
— How to deal with stresses and boredom without the aid of a “substance;”
— How to simply feel whatever you feel without being flooded or overwhelmed;
— How to express your feelings without it being hurtful and harmful;
— How to communicate your needs and desires in a constructive and honest way;
— How to become honest with yourself;
— How to recognize your negative thinking habits and how to change them;
— How to find new groups of friends and acquaintances;
— How to create and maintain good relationships with people;
— How to build a meaningful, productive and fulfilling life.
As you can see, this work is not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it! After all, what’s the point of sobriety if you can’t enjoy it? So, the ultimate goal is building a life for yourself that is “worth living.”
If you’re ready to start, (or continue) on your path of recovery and feel that you could use some help, give me a call.