Discovering Who You Are After Addiction

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By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

In active addiction, much of what we identify with is in direct relation to our addiction. In fact, many of us become quite known for our partying antics. Unfortunately, some of us become less labeled as the life of the party and more associated with the legal issues we find ourselves in as a result of the party.

Whether our reputation as an active addict becomes one of popularity among groups which have seemingly perverted the definition of fun, or finds us labeled “the black sheep,” our identity becomes defined by the drugs we do, alcohol we use, dealers we know, bars we frequent and friends (or enablers) we find in active addiction. That fact leaves the majority of us who enter treatment grieving not only our substance of choice and the connections we had, deemed toxic during recovery, but our very identity as well.

Because that can pose a very real and challenging threat to our longevity in recovery, we must find ways to discover who we are after addiction. Here are some steps to take in an effort to do just that:

  1. Shift your perspective. When we enter into recovery, it is vital to our success that we switch our perspective from one that sees a lost identity to a view which gently reminds us we simply gained one. We are now in active recovery, and that will be a new, positively-defining part of our identity. That does not deny us our need to grieve. However, it does give us a way to maintain gratitude and hope for a new normal within our experience of grief.

 

  1. Get back to basics. Entering treatment may threaten the identity we have unfortunately embraced throughout our active addiction, but it does not rob us of our basic identifiers. Our gender, race, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc., are still intact. Moreover, our role as daughter, son, brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, family member and friend are not lost to us. In fact, many of those aspects are potentially strengthened. Returning back to basic identifying factors can help us ground ourselves in times where we feel as though we have no anchor.

 

  1. Embrace the new. Change is not easy for anyone. It can be a terrifying experience, even when we are aware that which we are leaving behind was destroying us. It is the fear of the unknown. And, as such, it is a common one which branches far beyond that experienced by active addicts entering into recovery. However, if we merely embrace the new life that lies before us and the simple fact that we get a chance to actually live it, we have a better chance of not only discovering who we are after addiction, but falling in love with the newfound freedom to become whatever we dream.

 

Though the challenges to losing a sense of one’s identity can be overwhelming, the aforementioned simple steps can truly lessen that load. Though the grief will still be valid and certainly needs to be processed, the journey forward will be an easier one if we are open to the progress. A great recovery community, addiction specialists and counselors can assist with the journey as well.

It Will Hurt—A Reminder to Recovering Addicts, “You Are Supposed to Feel Pain”

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By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Throughout life, all individuals experience a wide range of emotion. Everything from joy and ecstasy to grief and depression is possible. However, not everyone is comfortable with or even willing to accept variations of the latter. And, with regard to emotional pain, addicts are especially quick to kick and scream or attempt an avoidance or escape tactic.

The latter is due to one simple fact; they’ve spent the duration of their addiction and then some trying desperately to suppress and deny pain.

Active addicts typically utilize their substance of choice as a means or method of achieving that end. In fact, the drugs and alcohol begin to suppress and dull emotions so well, addicted individuals become seemingly numb. To a degree, that experience mirrors the initial stage of grief; denial. Incidentally, the latter is of course also exactly where active addicts typically sit with regard to their disease and the need for help.

But, in defense of active addicts everywhere, the state of denial isn’t populated by addicts alone. Generally speaking, it’s where humans feel safe and secure. It’s one reason any truth that shakes the core of one’s beliefs or forces feelings by shedding light on tragedy or injustice is typically met with resistance and distortion. To attempt to force anyone out of denial is to potentially actively engage in war with one’s ego.

Ego. It is the forerunner in the perpetuation of active addiction, and it’s not big on humility, accountability, personal growth or pain. And, as such, active addicts who are seemingly controlled by ego continue to refuse to deal with themselves, their underlying emotional or mental issues or the disease of addiction, itself. They remain in denial and defend their state with the fervor of native Texans.

That’s one reason rock bottom isn’t always low enough. The pain has to be so great that it outweighs any level of intoxication and outnumbers the enablers left standing in false support. More importantly, the active addict has to come to realize that the substance of choice is no longer suppressing or numbing pain, but seemingly adding to it.

That wakeup call occurs in seconds, and unfortunately it can be quite fleeting. Why? Because pain, however, is not.

Pain lasts longer than detox. It extends past twenty-eight days. And, typically speaking, when the drugs, alcohol and numbness wear off and the physical ramifications of withdrawal have dissipated, the guilt, shame, grief and pain floods in, along with numerous other overwhelming and sometimes mixed emotions.

Additionally, the grief alone is a process. And, generally, it is intensified in recovery because addicts must let go of everything they know, including themselves, or at least the identity they have acquired during their active addiction. As such, emotional recovery becomes a vital piece of recovering from addiction.

However, not all recovering addicts seek or receive emotional recovery; a fact which may contribute greatly to the staggeringly high statistics on relapse. But, for the record, there isn’t an individual alive—addicted, recovering or not—who couldn’t benefit from emotional growth and healing. Why? Because everyone experiences pain. Everyone.

The experience of pain doesn’t always equate a diagnosis. More often than not, it’s simply part of being human. We are meant to feel pain. To deny, suppress, avoid and escape pain only prolongs and ultimately intensifies and multiplies it. In fact, eventually, the unresolved painful emotions can have a very detrimental physical effect.

Part of successful recovery is realizing it will hurt. Recovery, personal growth, letting go, starting over, being born again—whatever label is placed on the process, it will hurt. Why? Because it is birth; the birth of a new you.

And, yes. You are supposed to feel pain. Moreover, you are supposed to feel. Period. It is one way to know you are more than just merely alive. You’re living.

3 Reasons Why You May Need a Rock Bottom

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By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Rock bottom is a term I’ve heard since I was a little girl. Why? Because my mother was a heroin addict.

Fortunately, my grandparents were around to raise me. But, regardless of that fact, the absence of my mother was painful and confusing. For her, seeing the broken heart of her own child was not enough to force her to get help. In fact, nothing was.

Placed in rehab against her will numerous times, recovery never stuck. The only explanation I ever heard was a simple yet then bewildering one; “She just hasn’t hit rock bottom.”

Evidently, for my mother, the pain never outweighed the level of intoxication she could reach to numb it or the number of enablers left standing to rescue her from it.

That last statement is one which generally applies to all active addicts, and it explains why the vast majority need a rock bottom in order to seek help.

Why Some Might Not Agree

Though there are some in recovery who might argue this point, saying they never actually hit an all-time low but simply decided to quit, the vast majority require varying degrees of low points to decide enough is enough. Additionally, there is another group who might challenge this point of view; the sober individuals who don’t necessarily refer to themselves as recovering, mainly because the affiliation with the recovery community implies a stint in treatment and the need to work a program to maintain sobriety and achieve successful recovery. As such, these individuals typically don’t claim a rock-bottom low point either.

But, regarding the above instances, it is important to keep in mind those individuals who merely made a conscious decision to quit without need for piling personal, financial and legal consequences or assistance to acquire and maintain sobriety may have been struggling with substance abuse rather than the disease of addiction.

Why Some Never Hit a Rock Bottom

There are individuals who are enabled heavily by family and friends. That fact does not stop them from entering a treatment program. In fact, the family often forces them to go, paying high prices for their care and rehabilitation, visiting if allowed and funding their second, third or fourth chance after leaving treatment.

And, in those instances, the constant financial support and connections with family members and friends prevent the addicted individual from reaching rock bottom. Sure. They may hit a low point. But, if during that struggle, they can call a friend or family member who will attempt to rescue them from their pain by way of emotional or financial support, they do not actually bottom out.

Instead, they are saved from the opportunity to hit that needed rock bottom and, as such, their chance to contemplate change is stolen from them by someone who typically intends to help. But, in these cases, helping is enabling.

What is Rock Bottom?

Rock bottom is not simply a low period. It is a point where all feels lost, as a result of active addiction. Friends, family, finances and possibly even freedom are gone. At this point, if no one steps in to rescue, the active addict will have to sit with the dire consequences of their disease.

3 Reasons Why You Need It

  1. It’s Like Any Other Disease. With regard to addiction as defined by the disease model which implies it is chronic, progressive and potentially fatal if not treated, a rock bottom is typically required to necessitate change. And, incidentally, treatment and recovery is the component needed to spur perspective and lifestyle changes in an effort to survive the disease.

Moreover, regarding any disease, symptoms may be ignored for some time. It is typically only   until these symptoms become so life-                 altering that they are no longer manageable that  individuals seek help. Addiction is clearly no exception.

 

  1. Sitting With Pain Spurs Contemplation. When left to sit at rock bottom without hope of being pulled up while still in active addiction or without consenting to treatment, the individual will typically realize that to be able to restore all the elements lost to them—family, friends, finances, freedom, etc.—they must get help for their addiction and enter into recovery.

 

  1. With Every Rescue, Rock Bottom Gets Lower. That’s one reason rock bottom isn’t always low enough; because some are never actually allowed to hit it until it’s rock bottom has descended to six feet under. The active addict has to be allowed to sit with consequences and with their pain. Even if a great deal of their initial story involves pain which was inflicted by someone besides themselves, they must come to realize that the substance of choice is no longer suppressing or numbing their pain, but seemingly adding to it.

 

Of course, there is no magic formula for how active addicts arrive at a realization and break free from denial. But, generally speaking, addiction specialists are aware that enabling certainly prevents either. Rock bottom is a tough place to be, and it is likely even tougher for a loved one to helplessly witness. But, with regard to addiction, requiring an active addict to climb up of their own free will, rather than jumping in to save them from themselves, is the definition of love and the opposite of enabling and codependency.

Trick or Treat—A Reminder to Guard Against a Tricky Ego this Halloween and Treat Yourself to Continued Success in Recovery

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By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

As Halloween quickly approaches, invitations to festive events and costume parties may be pouring in. For those in early recovery, this can pose a potential challenge. It seems that everyone has plans to dress up and head to the bar, enjoy live music and participate in the fun a costume contest can bring.

Equally as challenging to all recovering individuals may be the fact that, during Halloween and all throughout the holiday season, people who seemingly aren’t addicts or alcoholics start stocking their homes with alcohol in preparation for adult guests who will be enjoying an evening of fun and entertainment.

These realities can bring a sense of resentment to those who have found themselves diagnosed with alcoholism or addiction. Those in early recovery may not feel safe to go to the local bar for fear of relapse. As such, it may feel as though the alternative is to stay home and miss out on the fun.

Additionally, for all individuals in recovery, the fact that some can seemingly consume alcoholic beverages in moderation with no negative consequences can cause a great deal of frustration, regret and possibly even self-loathing; a huge threat to recovery. Moreover, it may make those in early recovery question their own ability to do the same. And, of course, those whose substance of choice was never alcohol to begin with may find it tempting to partake in the consumption of what is likely intended to be just a few beers.

But, just as diabetics have a disease, addicts have a disease. And, for the record, Halloween is quite a challenging time for diabetics as well. In fact, the entire holiday season can pose some serious threats, if diagnosed individuals don’t find healthy ways to balance their desires to enjoy holiday treats and festivities while still respecting the critical needs of their bodies.

Individuals in recovery from addiction must do the same.

It is important to remember how tricky the ego can be in rationalizing relapse thinking and behavior. Moreover, it’s necessary to reach out to others in recovery for support. Work together to find or organize sober events, costume contests and Halloween parties that provide your inner child with the joyful experience of Halloween without risking your success in recovery.