Don’t hit rock bottom. Avoid it. Get skilled and experienced help
August 21, 2018Addiction
Many people die before they hit rock bottom addiction.
They think they can manage their ‘habit’, use sensibly, and have a bit of fun. Then one morning they wake up dead.
Addiction isn’t a habit. For one in six of the population, it’s a compulsion, probably driven by faulty neurotransmission systems in the mood centres of the brain. Constantly they feel a desperate sense of inner emptiness for no obvious social reason. They feel down even when everything in their lives seems up, in the judgement of other people.
When they discover substances, processes and relationships that lift the mood, they feel an immense sense of relief. For that reason they continue to use them. These ‘magic fixes’ work.
But there are damaging side effects. People with addictive natures accumulate problems in every aspect of their lives. They lose jobs, marriages and friendships. Their health suffers. Their social, professional and economic life deteriorates.
For therapists to say that they need to ‘hit rock bottom’ before they will get well is false. In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous it says that it is a matter of rejoicing that some who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics had joined their number. It would appear that these therapists are unfamiliar with the basic texts of recovery.
The art of intervention is to help addicts and people with drug and alcohol issues, or other forms of substance abuse or chemical dependency or compulsive behaviours of any kind, to get off the downward spiral a long time before they hit rock bottom. The experience of hitting bottom is a choice, not a necessity. The rock bottom myth should be put to the sword. Why wait until they have lost absolutely everything before getting off that calamitous ride?
Intervention can be very successful when people with alcoholic addiction are still in full time work, are married and still have their driving licences. All they have to see is the ray of hope that life can be better than it is at present. They have to be attracted towards recovery – possibly in an alcohol rehab either in an inpatient or outpatient treatment programme, rather than frightened away from disaster.
For drug addicts to wait until they have hepatitis of one kind or another, or take repeated overdoses, or have liver failure, or complications with their mental health, is crazy. Addicts, or people suffering from drug abuse in any form, can get completely well and never suffer any of those fearful consequences if they are helped to turn themselves round as soon as it is clear that their daily lives are getting progressively more troubled.
For people with eating disorders, despairing that there is no escape from the cycle of bingeing, purging and starving, the new dawn breaks when they meet those of us who have been in that lonely state but found the way out. They can learn from us how to avoid the rock bottom of hospital wards and the shame of looking in the mirror or knowing that truth and lies don’t mix.
Compulsive gamblers tend to lose all their possessions and have mountains of debts before they ask for help. That can change.
Breaking through the denial, in which the addictive disease ‘tells’ addicts that they don’t have it, takes belief – and experience – that it can be done. A rock bottom moment doesn’t need to happen for anyone struggling with addiction. All that is necessary for a turning point is for the addict to see that, in a progressive and destructive disease, the future will be worse than the present. And recognise that determination and willpower will work no better in the future than they have in the past. The experience of personal rock bottom, in human spiritual terms in any addicted person, will vary from one addict to another. Our lives are individual but we share the same general addictive characteristics that imperil us.
The motive for change is pain. Taking away the pain – by paying off debts, telling lies to employers, soothing down partners and landladies and generally being kind and considerate to addicts – makes them worse rather than better. Compulsive helping, doing things for others that they could and should do for themselves, is a vice, not a virtue. Family members – and people in the helping professions who happen to be compulsive helpers – need help for themselves before they damage anyone else. We do not have to cause addicts pain but we do need to leave them in the pain they cause themselves. Without the pain there will be no gain. Recovery changes your life and theirs. All of it.