By Michael Weiner, Ph.D., MCAP
It’s about the same feeling as being admitted to treatment for addiction. Jumping off of a cliff is jumping into the unknown. The only reason that you would jump is to get away from something. It’s likely that you would be familiar with what you’re running from. It may be a lifestyle that you’ve lived for some time. It was once good. It’s become difficult but you’re still surviving. It’s a lifestyle that you know. You’ve had the skills to survive in that world but its stopped being fun or helpful in any way, but you know it. It’s kind of like an old friend who’s hard to say good bye to.
So here you are. It’s likely that you’re about to commit to a lifestyle you know nothing about. You also have a pretty good idea that the coping skill that you’ve relied on the most to navigate life is being taken away. You are on the doorstep of a life without drugs (we may as well start out by knowing that alcohol is a drug among many).
You’re willing to give it a try, but you’re scared to death. It doesn’t seem like you can tell anyone around here that you don’t think you can do this.
Isn’t it like taking away the Higher Power that you’ve relied on? Personally, I relied on drugs to get through every day and whatever that day had in store for me. I relied on drugs to change my feelings, to change my thoughts, to get through tasks that I didn’t like. This is what this treatment center is threatening to take away from me.
Maybe I just need to find a High Power that works better than the old one.
And they keep telling me that I’m in denial. Of course I am. I’m feeling threatened. I’m not totally in denial. “Ambivalent” is a better word to describe how I’m feeling. A part of me wants to stop using, a bigger part can’t imagine how.
I’m also feeling kind of “hopeless.” I’ve been trying to do the right thing. It’s not like I wanted to hurt the people I’ve loved the most. I just couldn’t stop. I also couldn’t stop a whole bunch of things that mattered; things like work, bills, maintaining friendships. When I said that I was going to cut down I meant it. I really tried and it did work for a while. It just didn’t stay that way. Cutting down or stopping sounds easy. How come I couldn’t do it?
The feeling of being “hopeless” doesn’t come about overnight. In fact, it’s preceded by frantic efforts to regain control. Sometimes there’s a period of abstinence just to prove that it’s possible. Anxiety usually accompanies attempts to control.
Surprisingly, this process has also been demonstrated in a laboratory. Teach lab animals to solve a problem, e.g. to be able to control when water or food is available. Then make the situation unpredictable and lab animals become anxious. No need to tell how one knows when lab rats are anxious, please take my word on this. They will frantically try to re-establish control. Eventually they give up, stop trying, become hopeless (depressed), and sometimes die.
We have not recently admitted any laboratory animals to treatment, but it’s not hard to understand why people being admitted to treatment are often anxious and depressed. You might say that, given the situation, anxiety and depression make sense.
For some time I was the person to do an initial assessment on every person entering treatment for addiction. In that capacity I was able to ask every person “How are you doing spiritually.”
A frequent reply was something like “terrible,” “I have none.” I would take the opportunity to ask “why are you here?” A likely response was a version of “because I need help.”
I am not claiming to be an expert when it comes to spirituality. I do believe that whatever spirituality is it requires reaching out for something.
“I need help.” is often the first spiritual step that a person takes.
I suspect that “spirituality” and “faith.” are closely related. Neither has to be religious.
Seeing “asking for help” as a first step was helpful.
The stories gave me faith. If the person who just told that story was once where I am now, maybe I can do it too.
Go ahead, jump off the cliff!