Through my years of working with people suffering from the disease of addiction, I have found a common experience expressed by most, namely, as the disease progressed, they became isolated not only from their family and friends, but also from themselves. The consequences of their actions while in active addiction convinced them of their isolation as they lost family, friends, and employment. These types of losses can ultimately take away a person’s self-worth, morals, and sense of feeling connected to society. In recovery, it is important to bring our loved ones back to a feeling of connectedness within themselves, their family, friends, and to once again believe in their spiritual views.
Our way of thinking influences how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world around us. This perception, true or not, becomes our truth and our personal reality. So when a person suffering from addiction enters recovery they begin the process of reconnecting as they are guided in ways to perceive themselves differently. This quote from the Talmud explains this well: “We do not see things as they are, we see things are we are.” In other words, if I feel disconnected and isolated then my view of reality will be negative. As the negative consequences of active addiction progress and worsen, the sense of isolation deepens. The personal recognition of guilt and shame, although not always expressed to their loved ones, becomes more apparent and they perceive themselves as unworthy of love. It is at this low point when the depth of the isolation becomes apparent and they perceive that they are not lovable. Therefore, the solution is to change one’s view of themselves so that they will begin to positively view the world around them.
“… People with addiction tend to be concerned with spirituality, forgiveness, and guilt, each relating to the human conscience as the person struggles with who they are, who they ought to be and the meaning of life. These are the existential aspects of living with addiction.” By using the term “spirituality” I am not referring to a particular religion, but rather as a way of understanding a power greater than myself at work in my life. I am not alone. How can we help someone heal and reconnect from their isolation? In my clinical practice I teach about living in the present moment as a way to reconnect. As we focus our thoughts on either our past mistakes or our future concerns, we tend to feel a loss of control for there is nothing we can do about either the past or the future. This feeling of a loss of control triggers our stress response. Focusing our thoughts on the present moment will reduce our stress since the present moment is where we can control our situation by changing our thoughts and our actions. As we reduce our stress and feel a sense of control in our life, we begin to perceive ourselves in a positive way, thus viewing the world around us in a similar positive manner.
This new positive outlook on the world, and reconnecting with others, opens the possibility for a reconnection with their inner self, with who they truly are. The first step in this process is to help them understand that they are not an addict or alcoholic rather that they are a person who happens to have the disease of addiction. For example, people suffering from the disease of cancer do not perceive themselves as cancer, nor tell people “I am cancer”. If asked about themselves they reply by stating their name and that they suffer from cancer. This is not merely semantics since words possess power and meaning, so the use of words influences how we feel about ourselves. Helping the person in recovery to understand that while in active addiction their core being remained the same with the same values, morals and sense of self. This knowledge provides a feeling of hope and even relief in their knowing they have not lost who they are. The disease of addiction is a part of who they are, but it is also separate from who they are. They are not their disease; they are a person who happens to have a disease of addiction.
This shift in perspective is the beginning of a reconnecting with self as well as a reconnecting with a higher power. Helen Mallicoat states it well: “I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly my Lord was speaking: ‘My name is I AM.’ He paused. I waited. He continued, `When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WAS. When you live in the future with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WILL BE. When you live in this moment it is not hard. My name is I AM.’” “In the scriptures, God does not say, ‘do not fear, I will take away all the pain and struggle.’ Rather, we hear, ‘You have no need to fear, since I am with you’ and together we will make it.” (Franciscan Voices on 9/11) Reconnecting with oneself and others enables the person in recovery to find a sense of belonging and peace. Be patient, and great things will happen!
Christopher Shea is a certified addiction counselor who has worked as a clinician, clinical director and administrator. He is the founder of Lifesjourney: www.lifesjourneyblog.com. Shea is a published author who presents at seminars and conferences across the country. He is currently the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Ryken high school and an adjunct professor at Towson University.