Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

Chemical Dependence #4

Posted on: March 3, 2010

Addiction, chemical dependence, substance abuse, by any name, it is a confusing issue to most people in this country.  Folks who have never experienced an addiction think “just put it down; just say no.”  (Thank you, Nancy Reagan.)

Why would someone continue to do something that is so hurtful to them?  Something that hurts their family, their children, their wife/husband?  Gets them fired from a job?  Gets them put in jail for DUI or possession?  Just stop, right?

If you’ve suffered from an addiction, you know you’d like to be able to
“just stop.”  Why wouldn’t you have just stopped when you wanted to?  Most addicts, of whatever form, have tried to stop at some point.  Nicotine addicts try an average of 11 times before actually being able to quit.

If it were easy, it wouldn’t really be a problem, now would it?  The power of choice over the addiction is lost fairly early on.  There is a psychological and physiological dependence that develops over time.  Do you think an individual with an addiction actually likes hurting others?  Losing a job?  Going to jail?

Believe me, I’ve been confounded by addiction too.  I’ve worked with addicts who tearfully ask for help, and then reject it at every turn.  I’ve been lied to, I’ve been frustrated, and I have been hopeless for one or more addicts I’ve worked with at some point. But I have seen many, many individuals overcome addiction, use their motivation to move forward, clean up the wreckage from the past, and live meaningful, productive lives.

I know I have no control over an addict’s addiction.  Sometimes those who are affected by another’s addiction (including the professionals who work with them) get angry and frustrated by that lack of control.  Haven’t you ever been frustrated when you’re talking to someone who says one thing but does another?  Sure you have.  And not just addicts.  But doesn’t it make you want to take some action?  Try to scold or convince that individual that they just aren’t seeing things right?  Or they’re making the wrong choices?

Out of frustration, we try to control.  The funny thing is…  another person’s addictions cannot be controlled by anyone, sometimes even by the addict.  Feeling powerless is uncomfortable, and most of us humans don’t like it.  We’ll do a great many things to avoid feeling powerless.  If I’m powerless, I’m vulnerable.  I’m afraid.  That’s just no good.

So I try to get back some sense of power by scolding, controlling, nagging, directing, confronting, preaching, you name it.  Anything that might help me feel more powerful again will do.

The problem, of course, is that it’s only an illusion of control or power.  The addict’s addiction is still stronger than my illusion, and ultimately I’ll feel vulnerable and afraid again.

If you notice you feel angry with the addict(s) in your life, get thee to an Al Anon meeting.  You will learn how to keep the focus on yourself, how to accept powerlessness over another person, and learn how to make positive choices for yourself.

“C” also stands for “codependence.”

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