I often say that addiction is not complicated. Addicts are complicated, not addiction. Understanding what addiction is, why, and how it works, is very simple. Understanding HOW to break an addiction is very simple as well. It only gets complicated when you add the actual addict into the mix. Why? Because they have to choose to participate. It doesn’t matter how good the program is, if the addict refuses to participate, or plan on using when they get out, the program will not be successful. But the program isn’t necessarily flawed or inadequate. Often times, it is simply that the addict is unwilling, or unable to work the program. In this blog, I’d like to try and address what drives an addict to use.
Underlying emotional “trauma”
That word “trauma” can be misleading. I prefer to speak about brokenness. We are all broken people. Since man chose his own way in the Garden of Eden and sin entered the world, brokenness in our relationship with God (and ultimately within us) has driven man to seek to find ways to soothe that brokenness. This search often leads us to unhealthy sources from which we seek healing. Addiction is one of those avenues we seek healing from. Here is the definition of trauma:
trau·ma ( ˈtroumə,ˈtrômə/ )
a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
This word trauma can be misleading because it conjures up images of gunshot wounds and compound fractures. It implies horrible events. As you can see from the definition, however, that isn’t necessarily the case. It is an event that is deeply distressing or disturbing.
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, some are seemingly insignificant
I understood from very early on in my addiction that addicts were driven by trauma. I understood that they were trying to numb some deep psychological pain. I did not believe that I was an addict because I didn’t have any horrible event in my past. I was never sexually assaulted. I was never beaten as a child. My parents never divorced. Neither of my parents was an addict. In my mind, I couldn’t be an addict because there was no trauma. As I prepare to enter my 16th month of recovery I have learned that trauma isn’t defined by the severity of the event. It is defined by the severity of the IMPACT of the event. I’d like to share with you a story I heard a radio personality share:
When my daughter was very young she gave my wife and i a small locket as a Christmas present. Inside were 2 very tiny pictures. One picture was of her. The other was of the 3 of us. It was a precious gift. When we received it and opened it we laughed the way parents laugh at precious gifts their children give. We laughed because it was so adorable it almost took our breath away. We laughed because we loved it. We didn’t realize the damage we inflicted on our daughter in that moment. Young children, often times, don’t understand sarcasm, or the complexities of laughter as a means of communication. In her mind, our laughter meant we were ridiculing her. She was crushed. This one moment scarred her and left her battling an inferiority complex for years. It all began with one seemingly insignificant moment but it began a decades long battle.
My “trauma” was a very critical grandmother. Now, before I go any further, my grandmother loved me. I have absolutely no doubt about that. But her mother was very critical. She grew up experiencing love as criticism, so, that’s how she expressed love. She criticized all of my major choices growing up. She criticized my weight, my choice of when to marry, and who I married. I watched as she criticized almost every member of my family for one reason or another. Almost every member of our family was criticized for most of what we did. The psychological explanation for why it affected me the way it did is very long, so I won’t bore you with it but the bottom line was in created a sense in me that I was never good enough. I have battled a feeling of severe inferiority my entire life. I always want to be accepted and told “good job,” or “I’m very proud of you.” I always wanted to FEEL like I mattered. You see that, in my mind, even my addiction wasn’t good enough to be classified as an addiction because I didn’t have any major “trauma.” But it was the impact of that trauma that caused me to use. So, some addicts are driven by small traumas that impacted in a major way. Some of us don’t even realize there is a trauma until somebody points it out. Then it all makes sense and we can begin healing. If they cannot find a trauma that needs to be healed, then they cannot participate in healing.
Some are obvious
We know a girl that became an addict because her mother was an addict. At a very early age, her mother gave her drugs and gave her to men to have sex with her in exchange for more drugs. This led to years of sexual abuse of a child by grown men. It led to one pregnancy she was forced to abort, and another she gave up for adoption. These traumas have caused her to make more and more terrible choices to try and numb the pain, which led to jail time, and more bad choices. Anybody can clearly see the pattern here (except the addict oftentimes). However, just because the trauma is easily identified doesn’t make it easier to heal necessarily. It can sometimes be even more difficult to heal, partially because of the severity of the wound, but partially because that is their normal. It can be difficult to show an addict that their normal, isn’t normal. If they cannot be convinced they need healing, they will not receive help.
Our brokenness causes us to use so we don’t feel
Most addicts are not consciously aware that they are using to not feel some emotional pain. They get addicted. The brain learns a coping skill that seems to work and so it programs itself that this skill is good and necessary. If an addict in treatment or recovery doesn’t identify issues and learn new coping skills then they are hanging by a thread over the pit of relapse. The brain doesn’t want to suffer emotional pain. It doesn’t want to deal with the trauma of the past. Nor does it want to deal with the discomfort of changing. That is where accountability comes in. That is where a dedication to a program comes in. That is where submission to Christ comes in. Without the help of an accountability partner(s) AND a commitment to be open, honest, and transparent with them (even when it hurts to do so), staying sober is very difficult.
I had a friend who had not been out of rehab long who was doing very well, for a while. But life continues to happen. He had a death in his family of someone he was very close to. Then he got some bad legal news about an issue from before he went to rehab. He relapsed. The problem wasn’t the program. The problem was that he wasn’t working the program. He decided he didn’t need accountability so he stopped going to his celebrate recovery meetings. He decided he had this thing beaten. He decided he didn’t need an actual church to have a relationship with God so he “did his own thing with God,” alone and without fellowship. When the storms of life hit it was all on his shoulders. He had no support system to fall back on. His brain was overwhelmed with pain and it went to what it knew would solve the pain. We all need support. Even the strongest of us who have years of sobriety. Let us learn from Elephants:
My phone rings. One of the staff members says that I should come quickly, there is a wounded elephant. At first, I don’t believe it, I call Matthieu of the anti-poaching team, put on my shoes and run to the spot. There she is, a young female, 10-12 years old. We can see two other elephants, but they are already walking away. She remains.
The employees tell me that the wounded elephant was walking in between the two other elephants, stumbling. She can’t use her right front leg. It seems that the two other elephants have brought her to the lodge, knowing she would be safe here. They walk on.
It’s heartbreaking to see in what state she’s in. We call the vet. The vet would prefer not to drive at night and decides to come the next morning. The only thing I’m thinking of is that this young female will have to suffer at least another 15 hours of pain. This is unfortunately the harsh reality.
We turn to the scouts, form teams and take turns observing the elephant until the vet arrives. Kulimba survived the night, she has moved a few meters and is eating.
Around ten o’clock her family suddenly appears again. They take her into the bush and It seems that she gets some energy from them, because she stumbles along. An hour later the vet arrives. We have followed the wounded elephant and can tell the vet immediately where she is. First I showed her what I’ve filmed so that the vet can be better prepared for when she sees Kulimba. Togheter with Matthieu and another scout the vet enters the bush trying to assess the situation. The strange thing is, that the wounded elephant came to us, a little bit with a threatening ‘tone’, but the rest of the family let her go. They didn’t do anything. They seemed to be guiding her into our direction.
Elephants know that wounded members need support. Why don’t we as addicts learn this simple truth? We are not an island. Our very best (individual) efforts led us straight into addiction, and never out of it. Why on Earth would we ever trust our own, individual efforts to keep us out of addiction?
To the addict
You are NOT alone. You do not have to fight this battle alone. Truthfully, you cannot win this battle alone. But there is hope because you don’t have to be alone. You have help at the Home of Grace. You can find a Celebrate Recovery Group near you. You can comment here and I’ll respond. You are not alone. I must tell you, however, that you will never be free until you decide to participate in recovery and to work the program once you are in recovery. Which way will you go?
To the family of an addict
I can say almost the exact same thing to you as to the addict. But I would also add that you are not powerless. It might feel that way. But there are a great many things you can do to help bring an addict to a place of recovery, or to stay sober once in recovery. It is their choice. They have to choose to participate, but you can help bring their vision into focus so they can see the choices more clearly. We are here for you as well. Which way will you go?