Often, early in the process of sober living, you might ask yourself, “What is wrong with me? How could I have gone on that long in such a state of denial and self-harm?”
The idea that alcoholism is a disease, both a physical and psychological illness, helps to accept the fact that it’s larger than you. It an illness that you’re suffering with and now it’s time to understand it and heal.
In fact, the medical understanding of addiction is that it is a disease of the brain that causes obsessive thinking and compulsive action towards use of the alcohol or drugs or other risky behavior (gambling, eating, shopping, or sexual activity). With regard to a drug or alcohol addiction, the chemicals affect the personality, judgment, and values of the individual to the point where they are compromised. This leads to continued use of the drug despite its harmful effects and the ability to exercise any control or restraint becomes weaker. Instead of realizing that seeking sober help is a necessary step, a person falls deeper and deeper into denial. The cycle of addiction only gets stronger.
Fortunately, once a person enters a halfway house or a sober living program, addiction becomes treatable. Just like a medical illness, addiction also has a specific treatment plan that has shown to work over time. However, instead of only taking medication, treatment for addiction also includes psychological support such as participating in individual therapy, exploring both the wish to continue and the need to quit in drug counseling, developing a network of support, and working on forming new habits and changing behavior patterns. All of these combined can lead to long-term sober living.
Depression is also a mental illness – a disease of the brain. It’s common for an addiction to mask deeper psychological ailments such as depression. In fact, the word depression has Latin roots that mean “pressed down”. It is as though emotions are being pushed inward instead of expressed, leaving a person feeling “down”, despondent, or low. So, depression itself is already an illness, among other contributing factors, of sweeping emotions under the rug. And drinking or drugging is certainly a way of pushing emotions away. Where there are inner experiences that are not being tended to depression can be the result. In some cases, addiction is the extension of an already existing pattern of pushing challenging emotions away. And in this way, addiction is contributing to an already existing depressed state.
Depending on the severity of the depression, a person might have what is known as a co-occurring disorder, which is common with addiction. And in these cases, both the addiction and the depression must be treated separately.
Furthermore, a newly recovering addict will have to face the depression once the addiction comes to an end. When a person enters a sober living program and he or she begins to acquire sober help around her, at first the heaviness of depression will present itself and perhaps over time, the challenging feelings that were difficult to face long ago and led to the addiction in the first place might resurface. Although this is challenging to experience, it leads to a freedom. It leads to a final release of those feelings, no longer feeling the need to push away from them, because doing so only makes a person more attached to them – what you resist persists – is a common saying in the mental health and sober help field.
So, the freedom of finally giving your heavy feelings expression, releases a person from their grip. It’s like quicksand, the more you try to wriggle your way out, the more you end up sinking further into the sand. But, when you face the dilemma of being stuck, get quiet, and see what’s arising inside with a sense of acceptance, that’s when freedom arises.
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