A Different Perspective on Addiction

{eds. note: This is a guest blog written by counselor Catherine McConnell. Click here for her website.}

Everyone knows that “drugs are bad, mmkay.” We’ve all heard it, “just say no,” “addiction is a disease,” and it has been glamorized for our entertainment in shows like “Intervention.” But what if it was more than that? What if I told you, that I can assist in treating addiction without EVER uttering a word about the drug?

I work with mandated Child Protective Services (CPS) cases and I see a lot of people who are forced to come to therapy.  Some of them are ready to quit and some aren’t. Do you know what they all have in common? Pain. There is no addiction without pain.  They come in expecting to be judged, to be told that drugs are bad and how they affect the body. They come in angry and looking for a fight. They want to tell me all the reasons they aren’t an awful human being (I agree with them there!). They’re often taken aback at my approach. I’m a little different. I listen… and then I ask “what are you running from?”

After getting over the initial shock of it all, they usually have the answer. They know EXACTLY what they’re running from, what sent them to addiction, and that it’s out of control. Many of them will tell me that they don’t even like getting high anymore but it’s what they know.  They don’t need me to tell them what the drug does. They’ve heard it all and often know more than I do about it. They could teach me! Underneath the substance use are family patterns, abuse, others taking advantage of them, – pick a version. The universal human experience means pain to them. And then, they get stuck in addiction- More pain. So then, there’s a crossroads… which pain? An addict isn’t ready until the pain and consequences of addiction are worse than facing whatever demon has driven them mad.

I feel like we often treat addiction all wrong. We lecture. We intellectualize. I’m telling you: they knew drugs were bad when they picked them up. They didn’t mean to get here, but forgetting feels so good. To not be a victim for a moment, to not relive a happening, to not hear the abusive tapes of “you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re nothing but a piece of trash addict” is so nice. To have peace, until the next fix. These souls are mistakenly chasing peace.

So, how do we help them? By giving them back their dignity. By understanding that they are a human in pain. By not lecturing, but listening. They don’t need our lectures and judgement they do that in spades themselves. By giving them the space to come in and saying “have a seat and stop running. Rest” we will reach them.

I am always honest. I say “this is going to hurt.” And you know what the response usually is? Not any more than what I’ve been through. And they’re right. They always tell me at the end how proud they are and that it wasn’t as awful as they thought it would be.

We’re doing it all wrong. There’s a place for lectures and accountability, but it needs to be balanced with humanity. If you really want to reach an addict, listen. Ask what they’re running from. They’ll tell you every time. It’s never about the drugs.

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