In my therapy practice, I have worked with hundreds of clients struggling with the deathly grips of addiction. Age, sex, socioeconomic status- the details on paper don’t matter. Substance use is one of the greatest equalizers in our society. It lurks on street corners in the beaten backpacks of homeless people, and it lurks in the pristine bathrooms of gated mansions. It is sneaky and perilous, snaking its way into the lives of the people we love, and it doesn’t discriminate against the victims it impacts.
In addiction treatment, I have worked professionally in all levels of care, from detox to long-term outpatient care. I have helped hopeless people find hope, and I have sat with people sobbing upon a relapse after decades of sustained sobriety.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in addiction. But I do know that I care. I care a lot. I care about the clients that I work with, and I care about how we perceive recovery when the research continues to emphasize the depressing state of recovery rates in America.
We have science and mathematics, and we have emerging research, but we don’t have a cure for the monster, and I don’t believe we ever will.
The Problem With Addiction
The problem with addiction isn’t getting sober. It’s staying sober. And the problem with staying sober is that it’s hard. It’s hard because life isn’t linear or stagnant. It moves in all sorts of unpredictable directions. When you think you know the next move, it throws you with an unforeseen curveball.
Let me get this out of the way. I am a therapist. Not a mind-reader or miracle worker or fortune-teller (as nice as those titles sound!). We therapists don’t hold magical elixirs that will solve all your problems. We’re just people. With degrees, academics, clinical experience, and a burning desire to help people who are struggling with the pain of their own existence.
Too many people only scratch the surface when it comes to sobriety. They focus on the main goal: not using the substance. That’s not to say this goal isn’t virtuous. If you’ve been drinking or using in excess for several months, years, or decades, even going a few hours without your drug of choice often feels unfathomable.
But it’s not enough. Addiction isn’t about the substance. It’s about everything else. It’s about why you started using in the first place. It’s about what you’re avoiding, denying, and suppressing. It’s about trauma and fear and pain and relationships. It’s about the void deep in your heart, the void that doesn’t necessarily go away once the substances disappear.
How Therapy Helps (No Matter How Long You’ve Been Sober)
No matter where you are in your recovery journey, therapy isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t even a long fix. It’s just a tool, like any other tool that can hold you accountable and help you look at your life with a different perspective.
It’s not about just rehashing your triggers and cravings. It’s about exploring who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. It’s about paving a path that makes you feel more fulfilled. It’s about really working on all those other issues, like the co-occurring disorders, childhood abuse, family dynamics, and relationship crises, that can still cause significant distress in your life.
You aren’t your addiction. But you are a product of all the actions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you’ve had and continue to have. And that has a lot to do with your addiction. It also has a lot to do with your recovery.
Therapy blends support with practical coping. It’s as nurturing as it is uncomfortable, as helpful as it is frustrating. You’ll get your hands dirty, but you’ll feel cleansed. Ideally, you’ll feel more aware than you’ve ever felt. And sometimes that’s more than enough reason to get started.