By Olivia Ianculescu
You have to become vulnerable during addiction treatment
When were the moments that your life changed? Was it when you succeeded? When your opinions were proven to be correct and when you felt on top of the world? Probably not.
Brené Brown, a behavioural research professor, believes that accepting your own weakness and vulnerability is the necessary ingredient to changing your life: Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. This is certainly a sentiment that many in the field of addiction treatment would recognise. Vulnerable is how the alcoholic might feel as he arrives into treatment.
Shame and denial: The big enemies
Vulnerability opens the pathway for change, but the journey is long and challenging. During addiction treatment, the patient has to delve into the most well-hidden secrets and unconscious patterns – which makes him/her vulnerable. And powerlessness in addiction recovery can make you feel susceptible to hurt.
“A popular saying in the 12-Step community is: You’re only as sick as your secrets“, explains Jessica Tomlinson Hill, Senior Specialist Therapist at Castle Craig Rehab. ”As soon as something is exposed, thats when it loses its power over you. It loses the shame because you realise youre not the only person to feel like this. You’re not crazy. Nobody is going to reject you because youre truthful about who you are.”
However, being honest with yourself and accepting you need help isn’t easy. The biggest barrier to honesty is often shame. Brené Brown adds that “Jungian analysts call shame the swampland of the soul”.
Denial as a barrier to treatment
Family and friends of addicts will recognise denial as a barrier to seeking treatment. Dr. McCann, CEO and co-founder of Castle Craig addiction treatment centre explains: “Denial is a major defense mechanism which in a sense permits the illness of addiction to continue and prevents the person from uncovering the deep shame thats become hidden as a result of their addiction. Denial says: ‘Its not that bad’. It also finds reasons to excuse or to blame other people for the alcohol-related behavior and this projection of attributing the problem to somebody else is just another evasion of the reality.”
Building self-esteem in recovery
Dr. McCann, CEO & Co-Founder of Castle Craig, describes how addiction leads to shame, which in turn affects self-esteem: ”Nearly every alcoholic or addict will have low self-esteem. We have to help them in treatment to begin to see themselves as worthwhile people who have an illness, but one which theyre now addressing. We have to help them to regain confidence in themselves, to rediscover their true identity, to know that they have a purpose in life.” So what are some ways to increase self-esteem in addiction recovery?
How to overcome shame after addiction?
According to Brené Brown, the antidote to shame is empathy: “The two most powerful words [are] me too. Shame cannot survive when nurtured with empathy. Empathy is a vital component of the patient/therapist relationship. This is also true for group therapy, where the sense of community and common experience help cure the individual.”
2. Power through powerlessness
For those who enter a 12 step recovery programme – the very first step they have to make is to accept their powerlessness over alcohol, and to accept that their lives have become unmanageable.
3. Confront shame
Vulnerability will follow at every step in the treatment process. Patients are often caught in a web of overwhelming feelings that will be addressed in individual therapy. But working your way through the steps, and opening up in one-to-one therapy will help you identify and confront shame.
4. Understand that feelings are not fact
Jessica, Senior Specialist Therapist, always encourages patients struggling with their feelings: “The feelings themselves will not kill you. It feels that you’re never going to cope. It’s very normal to feel that way: But the truth of the matter is that its not the feelings that kill us, its whatever we try to do to avoid those feelings that will kill us – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, obsessive internet use, shopping.”
You’re stronger than you think!
Only after you have accepted defeat can the change come. “Patients are actually being brave in being real with themselves – not only brave to speak about it, but brave to allow themselves to feel what can sometimes be very devastating and overwhelming. Its not about minimizing those feelings at all, its about recognising them,” says Jessica.
Its the struggle to recognise these and get out of the vicious circle that will set patients on the road to addiction recovery: ”Addiction is all about every time you get to that barrier of pain, walking away from it and going in circles and circles and those circles become more and more destructive. Recovery is the exact opposite. Its about increasing the circles and moving forward, through that pain and getting to say about yourself: ‘You know what? Im stronger than I thought. I can cope and Im going to be alright,‘” adds Jessica.
Therapy is the beginning to a new life
Therapy will make you feel exposed, ashamed of your shortcomings or the activities you indulged in to satisfy your addiction. You will feel stripped of your usual weapons – the ones you fought with against your family before – like deep-rooted denial and anger.
However, becoming vulnerable isn’t something you must fear, but something we should all embrace. It is a key ingredient to change. In the end, it is the times when you are defeated, vulnerable and proved wrong that are the life changing moments.