This last week I decided to read through my journal that I had written while I was in treatment. The notes from three years ago (almost to the day) are still applicable and worth sharing; they certainly shed some light on the difficult time I was going through. It was the holidays and the Andy Williams song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” came on the radio while driving to the facility. That phrase in the song felt grossly misplaced to my ears and certainly did not reflect how my year was shaping up.
Of course, that is usually how a person feels in the early moments of their recovery. I remember feeling that way for the first few months as I would walk into my evening outpatient program. Each evening at the treatment center’s outpatient class, our Counselor would ask a question at the beginning; usually, I would write them down and answer them in my journal. The question three years ago was “What do I love most about myself?”
My sobriety was fresh (roughly one month into it) when I was cornered by this question and I remember wanting to answer it with a tirade of negativity, with me being the target. But as the night carried on, I realized that I had caused myself enough emotional abuse over the last month; there was no need to cause additional self-inflicted wounds by using words as the weapon.
The answer I reluctantly jotted down in response to the counselor’s question of “What do I love most about myself?” was:
Iron Will – never giving up on me or others. Compassionate to others.
I was not too convinced of this when I first wrote it down. If I had an iron will then why was I in rehab? If I am compassionate to others then why did I hurt people for so long while deep into my addiction? But I wrote the answer in ink and it was on the page to stay; but it stared at me the whole night, causing me to feel like a liar. To make things worse, we always shared our answers aloud to everyone. When I shared my response to the question, I felt like I cemented myself as a liar.
The counselor was very inspired by her choice of the subject material that evening. At first, we were all a bit let down because she had us watch a documentary. In fact, the disappointment was generated because we had viewed the same DVD less than a month before. A few of us mumbled to each other that we are paying out the nose for treatment, and did not want to watch the same documentaries over and over again.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but whenever an instructor puts on a video I immediately think they haven’t prepared a thing. That may be true for some situations but not that particular evening. I know treatment centers aren’t cheap so instead of complaining or nodding off during the documentary, I began to take notes and attempt to get something out of it. What I found was that within the course of the month the documentary didn’t change, but I did.
The documentary, according to my notes, was called “Addiction” and was produced and aired on HBO. The notes I took that night from the documentary have been the taproot of inspiration for Soberstanding. The enlightenment of the topics caused a brush-fire in my mind to understand addiction and help those around me to do the same. The key highlights of what I wrote down are as follows. (Note: I plan to cover these five key topics in greater detail with future posts.)
- Key Point # 1 – The patient and family need to be treated.
Certainly, the immediate need is for the addict to be treated. Such treatment is certain to involve medical supervision and tapering of medicines for detox; this is coupled with counseling and working a program. However, I noticed that the addict’s family is often overlooked or does not consider seeking counsel for their own well-being. The family needs to have a program as well; Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon are the big ones that come to mind. Whatever the program, education for all parties involved is the key to understanding and healing. Ignorance of addiction is not bliss; it is misery.
- Key Point # 2 – Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease. People have a hard time sympathizing with, and especially have a hard time sympathizing with addicts themselves.
“Addicts bring it on themselves” and “Anything you choose to do to yourself is not a disease” are just a couple of example statements that I have heard about addicts. What follows is the never-ending argument if addiction can even be classified as a disease. I’d rather not go down that rabbit hole today, instead, I offer an olive branch in the form of a question. The big take-away from this key point is better viewed as a generalization. Can we agree that it is hard to sympathize with things that never directly impact us?
I never had rotator cuff surgery and always thought people were wimps to be in slings for so long after surgery; “put some dirt on it and quit being a baby.” would be my thoughts. That was until I had blown out a rotator cuff for the first time and had everything anchored back into place; then I knew what that pain was all about and how wrong I once was to judge. I apply this same concept to addiction; you don’t know until you know.
The act of reserving judgment upon another person is a diminishing trait we need to protect from going extinct. When we simply do not know or understand, empathy may not be possible. However, sympathy through education is an answer and a key to understanding diseases of the mind.
- Key Point # 3 – Not addressing that alcoholism as a disease is a bad stigma. Especially when others don’t want to compare it to obesity, cancer, leukemia, diabetes, etc.
This key point is similar to key point number two, but it is worth saying it twice even if the words point to the same meaning. Removing the bad stigmas through proper education is vital to a greater understanding of another person’s pain. There is zero to little empathy that can be conveyed from a lack of knowledge.
- Key Point # 4 – When the family understands addiction, they don’t blame themselves anymore.
This one carries the most weight for me. How many times did I make my mom or dad wonder what they did wrong? Why did their child turn out this way? I am certain that my former friends and family wondered what they were unable to offer in a relationship as well; all because I would use and relapse again and again.
Understanding addiction is not a roundabout way to scapegoat or justify a relapse. That is a product of dysfunctional thinking and family need to understand dysfunctional thinking. When family understands addiction/dysfunctional thinking they are able to gain a wider view of the addict and of themselves. Such caring family members should know this bit of life saving advice, that this is not a game of “who’s fault is it?” Family life is complicated, I get it, but we need to get past the the fault-feeling blame games and lovingly move in a forward motion. Never easy in the moment, but so worth taking the time to understand.
- Key Point # 5 – Addiction is a disease of the brain. The brain can recover. Relapse is a feature of the disease.
The brain is both fragile and strong. A diseased brain or one with a chemical abnormality (Abby Normal?) is not a case of hopelessness nor an instant castaway. The brain is complicated and can recover and change or adapt. I believe this to be true for the individual as well.
An individual is also complicated, both fragile and strong. An individual can also recover, change and adapt. When I first entered rehab I did not think that to be the case. I underestimated myself. To some fashion and degree, we may all do that to ourselves. It is good to recognize when we begin that pattern of self-doubt and replace it with self-worth.
Because of my choices and how I acted throughout my addiction, I figured I was done as a good person. Going forward I would be like a wrecked car, claimed as totaled with the embodiment of a bad title; a salvaged life title as it were. That, however, is dysfunctional thinking. Part of the healing process in my recovery was learning how to avoid a relapse of dysfunctional thinking. For me, it can’t be cured, but I am able to identify it; and from there my choices are what matter.
Realizing this feature about me helped me realize that nothing will cement my future in stone more than acting on my current choices. My choice now was to remain unwilling to give up. I would use my stubbornness as a positive strength and give it the nomenclature of “Iron Will”. But there is more to it than just that. Perhaps it was my family’s Iron Will that offered me the courage I needed to build my own confidence. Their hope vibe and desire for me to be healthy played a large role in my courage and developing Iron Will; which I know to be a resolute desire to be present in all my faculties. In sum, and working off of that same vehicular analogy, cars can be restored (titles be damned) and so can the mind and the individual it belongs to.
At the end of the evening, I felt better about my answer: an Iron Will. Even if I have been putting a stick in the spokes of my own wheel for eight years, I would keep trying to be successful. But what about that second part of my answer, being compassionate to others? I believe that love for yourself is the key to unlocking genuine compassion; even soulful compassion. Education and experience turn they key, love being the Master Key. You need to love yourself when going through hard times and make the best choices. You can’t make the best choices for yourself if you lack education.
There is no simple way to be instantly educated when it comes to recovery. After all, this is “recovery” and recovery takes time. Like I mentioned earlier with the rotator cuff repair; that recovery is no joke and takes time. You don’t rush something like that, no matter how much you want it healed and back to 100%. You can’t push it too hard for a long while or you will foul the whole healing process up, that is, until you have to in order to get the strength back. There’s a whole analogy there you can piece together. But that is enough analogies for one evening.
Circling back to those five key points, I began to put them into practice. My desperation to understand about addiction and diseases of the brain led to a desire for others to be enlightened too. Sobriety and understanding addiction is a lifestyle, a lifestyle that gets individuals excited to share about it. For the next several weeks I continued my program and helped my family with a type of program they were comfortable with as well. There was a payoff of great returns that followed.
It wasn’t long after I began this pattern with the five keys, that I unknowingly began to build my own resume of sobriety. With that, I had given up on trying to prove my sobriety to others. Soon, but still in the holidays or “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” my parents decided to open up to me. I attribute this moment of dialogue to be created from the development of a safe atmosphere. Remember, that doesn’t instantly happen, nor does what they said to me. When I was over one night they said to me “we feel like we have our son back.” Hearing that from them brought me to immediate tears; it was the thing I didn’t know I needed to hear. This will forever be the indelible memory that made continue fighting with an Iron Will. I wasn’t a parent at the time, and now that I am a father, I understand a bit from their perspective. You don’t know until you know.
So even though the holidays are difficult with those suffering through addictions, three years ago it certainly was for me, those hard times can pass. Taking time to work your program, invest time into educating yourself on addiction and patterns of dysfunctional thinking. If it’s not the “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you, it can still be the most wonderful time of your sobriety.