A quick but well-known history lesson: In May 1935 a failed alcoholic stock speculator from New York met with an alcoholic proctologist in Akron, Ohio on a chance encounter. The alcoholic from New York, Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, had found sobriety sometime earlier through what he described as a white light experience he believe came from God. He had spent all of his time in the interim attempting to aid other alcoholics in finding sobriety, but failed due to his evangelical approach. Wanting to give up, his wife Lois pointed out that although he had failed at helping anyone else find sobriety, he had remained sober himself. So Bill realized he had found something in attempting to help others find sobriety that allowed him to remain sober. However, he also realized that such an approach, explaining to people that they must find God or religion in order to quit drinking did not appeal to most people and was ineffective at conveying the message he was trying to transmit.
On a business trip that went extremely poorly and finding himself feeling dangerously close to taking a drink, it was through a number of events that Bill came to find himself sitting and talking with the alcoholic doctor, AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith, at the doctor’s home in Akron. It was during this meeting that Bill took a different approach in talking to the seemingly hopeless alcoholic sitting in front of him: Rather than force the issue of religious devotion, he instead spoke only of himself, of his drinking, of his trials and tribulations in trying to stop drinking, what he found the drink did FOR him and finally of what he did to ultimately find sobriety. For years Bob had believed himself to be a failure, morally deficient or of weak character as to the reasons why he could not quit drinking.
It was through this process of Bob seeing himself in Bill’s story, having the same issues, trying the same failed attempts at quitting drinking and feeling the same way that Bill did that allowed Bob to identify and believe that finally someone knew what he was going through and that Bill knew how Bob had felt all these years. This identification allowed him to trust Bill enough to let Bill help him find sobriety. After some slips, Bob found sobriety on June 10, 1935 which is considered the birthdate of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The inherent value of identification cannot be ignored when dealing with those suffering from substance use disorder. There is a reason that many people are unable to find help or engage in treatment through what are the often initial steps taken of therapy, psychiatry, family interventions or treatment. Ask a person in need of recovery from active addiction why that is and often the answer will revolve around issues of trusting professionals or that the people trying to help, no matter how well-intentioned or how highly educated on addiction and alcoholism, do not truly know how the individual in need of help feels. They don’t understand. They can’t comprehend why the individual abuses substances. They cannot fathom what the substances are doing for the individual, no matter what terrible consequences the substances are causing to the individual.
No matter where someone falls on the spectrum of substance use disorder, it is of paramount importance for the individual to trust those that are trying to help them. This is a difficult process. It is natural for someone suffering from addiction to find any difference between themselves and others and use that as a barrier to recovery. Differences in attitudes, beliefs, family systems, race, color, religion, sexuality or sexual identification or financial status are all regular issues that an addict or alcoholic will use to differentiate themselves and use as an excuse why they will not or cannot engage in a treatment and/or recovery process. The truth is that addiction is characterized by a sense of difference, an unbearable loneliness and the belief that no one truly understands what it feels like to be me, to live in my skin, to live life with a sense of yearning and discomfort that is only fixed and regulated by substances. For many people, substances are the solutions to their emotional and mental pain and discomfort, so regardless of the consequences caused by their using, drinking, attitude and behaviors, it is terrifying to think what life would be like without substances.
It is for this reason that identification is vital for anyone seeking recovery from addiction. Until the suffering person is able to lower their guard, lower their sense of distrust and sense of difference enough to engage in treatment and recovery, no positive movement will take place. In order for the individual to do that, they must trust the person or people trying to help them and invariably that trust of the addict/alcoholic comes from believing that the people trying to help know how they feel, know what it’s like to suffer and truly do understand what it’s like to be them.
This is one of the reasons if you ask anyone that has engaged in treatment and found long-term sobriety, many will tell you that where they remember their recovery journey starting was through a talk with a staff member in recovery at the treatment center, often a tech, a counselor’s assistant or a residential manager. When asked what they remember from treatment, many will tell you it was a relationship with one of the staff members in recovery, who took the time to talk to them early on in treatment when they were uncomfortable and wanting to leave and shared their own story of addiction and recovery. Typically it is through these types of meetings and conversations that the person in treatment found identification through the staff member’s story, trusted in them and listened to them as the staff member guided them. At that point, they began to engage in treatment and ultimately their personal journey of recovery.
The value of identification for someone suffering from substance use disorder cannot be overstated. Until such identification is reached by the individual, very little can be done to improve the person’s situation. They simply are too cut off from accepting help. The walls they have built up over time to protect them from pain and fear and discomfort are too high and impenetrable. This is in no way minimizing the effort or devaluing the education and experience of professionals that work in addiction can offer. Very skilled professionals are able to create this type of identification with a client. However, it is necessary to understand that until someone suffering from addiction is able to identify with whomever is offering help, they will create self-imposed barriers to the treatment and recovery process. Identification is the first step in an addicted person’s journey to recovery. Knowing that someone else knows how they feel, understands the way they see themselves and the world, has dealt with the same fears and insecurities, and can appreciate the loneliness and despair is the necessary ingredient in the addict/alcoholics journey of believing they may be able to get better and then giving them the hope that will fuel the necessary work they need to do in order to recover.
If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.