The worst sickness in mental health is not classified as an illness. It is rare in contemporary psych literature and discussions. I would go as far to say that the majority of us are unknowingly suffering from it. Yet, when we closely examine the effects of this problem we find that it is correlated with all self-injurious, suicidal, and addictive behavior. These three problems contain the common theme of self-loathing-a self loathing that is perpetuated by the cunning and deadly state of denial. But it isn’t a denial of the actual behaviors that are my concern. It’s the denial of something deeper that evolves out of a mainstream consciousness that people are entirely good and that “badness” is an external mysterious force that selects only a small percentage of us. Wrong! The reality of human nature is that within it there is both good and evil and to exclusively attribute one to who we are is to deny our exact nature. People are good, but they are also inherently flawed and capable of evil. The goal is to live responsibly with these two natures. However, the majority point of view tends to deny this fact and what results is a perpetuation of symptoms and high risk behaviors. When we deny who we are and do not embrace our wholeness we become imprisoned by what we should be. When the evil or flawed nature arises, on a subconscious level, we experience discomfort, anxiety, and self loathing. The battle of suppression begins, often to intolerable heights leading to self-harm behaviors such as self-mutilation, addiction, and suicide. When we internalize the lie that man is good and that’s all that he SHOULD be, a frantic self-loathing society emerges-addicts use, cutters cut, and the hopeless attempt to nullify themselves into oblivion.
Imagine if we began to break the chains of internalized messages of what we should be and began to embrace what is- who we really are. When people fully acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses-their goodness and flaws- they are prone to inflict love rather than pain on themselves and others. I believe it’s time we awaken to the reality of the all encompassing duality of good and bad.
“Cunning, baffling, and powerful” are the words used by the founders of the original 12 step fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous to describe the condition of the disease of alcoholism in its untreated state. Yet over eighty years later with offshoots, hybrid, and alternative programs aimed at treating various forms of addiction, the recidivism rate continues to skyrocket and is now ranked 1st in mortality amongst preventable illnesses. It seems plausible that the rate of relapses, overdoses, and addiction related deaths now match the growth of centers for treatment and therapeutic approaches. Everything from 12 steps to proclaimed cures to innovations in medicine has been introduced, making little to no effect at all in treating and curbing the rate of relapse. In such a critical time where hundreds die daily, it is time to stop avoiding the elephant in the room through cover up cliches conveying “it’s a relapsing disease”, “the addict just doesn’t want the help”, or “they haven’t hit their bottom.” Often this mindset creates a barrier between the addict and society, leaving everyone puzzled and deflecting responsibility, perpetuating a sense of hopelessness for what is already perceived as a hopeless condition. It is important to make it clear that many of the available treatment approaches are vital and even effective in and of themselves except they lack a trivial and overlooked component. This component when used primarily, appropriately, and rigorously is highly effective in the treatment of addiction. Yet, it is ironic beginning with the idea that it seems many professionals, families, and victims of addiction want to treat this illness but continue to miss the most fundamental aspect of treatment. It is also ironic that the remedy can be discovered by addressing what is lacking within every addict. Sometimes we don’t have to know an addict to find out. Sometimes all we need to do is look deep within ourselves. Our unending quest for treatment approaches has overshadowed this innate solution. Though simple and obvious when brought to the forefront, it can be the most difficult to apply due to preconceived notions and beliefs on addiction. The only effective way to treat the addict is to LOVE and ACCEPT him or her as they are. Once you embark on an agenda of using a treatment approach without cultivating an authentic love and appreciation (yes, I said appreciation!) for the addict, the chances of healing are drastically reduced. As a matter of fact, the only thing that needs to change is our outlook and perceptions of those struggling with addiction.
When we become aware that someone we know may be battling with an addiction, the first thing we should avoid is treating them. The most important and primary skill to acquire is loving and accepting them without reservation. Addiction has its many causes and sources but at the root we can always find a deep sense of self loathing and separateness. Without genuinely loving the person inside their addiction, treatment is short-lived, ineffective, and even detrimental. We must begin to ask, if the addict self-medicates the absence of love, shouldn’t we work towards developing a love that will aid in the healing process? Shouldn’t we love for the sake of loving rather than attempting to change anything or anyone?
I’m afraid we have made a mess of effective healing with ingenuous treatment modalities and luxurious aesthetics that lack authentic love. We must start with a basic foundation of appreciation for the addict. We must love, appreciate, and accept the addict because 1) he or she struggles with an intense, life threatening condition that at some level we can all relate to; 2) active addiction is a creative, although a dangerous way the person seeks relief for pain; and 3) addiction is not an identity but a condition occurring to the person similar to any serious illness.
A condition we can all relate to
Addiction represents those personal nuances we all struggle with and long to be rid of. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are either battling or have battled an internal trait or behavior that goes beyond sheer determination to conquer. I recall a student intern therapist asking me “why can’t they just stop, knowing the damage they’re causing?” I replied by asking her to think of one thing she has struggled with to personally change. I asked her not to answer but to think on it and understand how it compared to drug addiction. I have a feeling from that moment on, she at the very least developed a healthy respect for the people she was learning to help.
A creative way to relieve pain
In addiction, it is known that the greater the pain the greater the means to relieve that pain. Most addicts have suffered and endured insurmountable physical, emotional, and psychological trauma beyond the average person’s comprehension. How much we all desire to escape uncomfortable feelings and circumstances and often entertain ways to find relief! Often a a few hours of sadness or disappointment can feel like weeks. It is no wonder that the addict finds temporary relief from the rawness of experiencing abuse, loss, and alienation. With discomfort being continual and unceasing, the person finds a seemingly creative and efficient way to receive love-they connect to a source that provides a temporary but predictable solution. Through this we can appreciate the addict because it is our nature to be loved and love unconditionally and to be reassured that our sources of love will be with us through life’s painful moments.
Addiction is not the person
Addiction should never be attributed to a person or an aspect of an individual’s personality. Addiction is not something a person controls or discontinues on their own. Unfortunately, addiction is the only illness that openly identifies the person with the condition. Although this is used as a way to describe a person with an addiction, it perpetuates the belief that the person is one and the same with the illness. Rarely do we identify someone suffering from other serious medical conditions with the names of the illness. Rather these individuals are either referred by their names or identified as patients. We must always remember that an addiction is a condition that has happened or his happening to the person suffering similar to any illness. The addict should be honored and respected much like the cancer survivor, which through a difficult battle has made it to see another day. Hundreds of people die daily due to addiction. The most profound impact we can have in their lives is to openly embrace, accept, and love them as they are.
It wasn’t until much later I realized I was a free man not because of a self imposed attempt of appearing strong but because of utter defeat all that remained was brutal honesty.
Sometimes, deciding to “bite one’s tongue” in opposition is the best sacrifice we can offer.