Addiction is a lie told over and over again. Anyone who is addicted to drinking or drugs or both will continue to tell themselves the same story again and again until deep inside breaks. And, usually that break is a deep despair, an unbearable desperation. That being said, this is a story of a life that began with loneliness upon lies that rapidly escalated into addiction, and finally, a life-changing experience — the transformation at a womens sober living treatment facility that one lucky woman will never forget. That lucky woman is Joan, and this is her story.
Each addict will have a version of the same lie that gets played out again and again and that perpetuates the cycle of addiction. Those lies are something like: I am unworthy, lonely, and shameful. In fact, often the strong feelings of loneliness that accompany the need to drink or use stems from a deeply embedded sense that we lack something, that we are deformed in some way or that we are inadequate and ill equipped to meet the demands of life. Loneliness is a cry out from some deep source of shame, associated with that so-called “deformed” part of the self – an inadequacy that we feel is somehow our fault. And this inadequacy seems to be the burden we must carry throughout life, no matter what we attempt to do to correct it, nothing will change what seems to be the hard and frightening truth.
But what appears to be the hard truth for the addict later, if he or she finds themselves in recovery, turns out to be a lie. Instead, if one is lucky (like Joan was after leaving treatment and womens sober living), the truth they find in the healing process is that they are indeed loveable, wanted, acceptable, and connected to a community called human beings who also have problems and experience self-doubt.
Feelings of shame and loneliness were true for Joan, who was addicted to cocaine for 6 years. Her childhood made it very difficult to experience anything but shame and self-hatred. At an early age, abuse by her older brother began and continued her adolescence, when he left for college. The secrecy of the abuse only furthered her need to hide herself and what happened, to show only the parts of her that she felt could be accepted by others, and to remain vigilant about holding her world together. In her mid-20’s, however, the strong need to hold life in its place finally broke down and she began to use drugs. Cocaine gave her a high she had never experienced before along with feelings of self-confidence, something she always struggled with.
Yet, perhaps Joan’s eventual addiction comes from something deeper, a need to fill up a void or emptiness inside, which stems from the abuse she endured as a child. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, would agree with this. He suggested that one of the earliest stages of childhood is the oral stage. It is a developmental phase where both pleasure and nourishment (milk from the bottle or the breast) are taken in orally. Freud believed that either a surplus or deficit of this nourishment produced a profound frustration in the developing infant and left an impact a child’s psychological and physical development.
Freud further suggested that compulsive behaviors, such as addiction, stem from a developmental problem at this stage, where nourishment was either excessive or not enough. Addicts, then, attempt to compensate for the emptiness they feel by “filling themselves up,” by getting as much as possible of everything, in fear that all resources will run out and they will be left impoverished.
In Joan’s case, she continued to feel empty, lonely, and shameful long after entering into womens sober living, treatment, and even sobriety. However, she eventually came to recognize the presence of those feelings in her life. Through therapy and a commitment to sobriety, she learned that they don’t have to drive her to drugs anymore. Although at times those feelings might lead her call her therapist, she has been sober for 10 years. Her continued process in therapy has slowly transformed the lie she told herself over and over again into something new: Joan is loveable, acceptable, and worthy of success, joy, and fulfillment in life.
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