It’s been over 10 years since I started my career in the mental health and substance use field. There have been many changes such as the opioid epidemic (Although I had been in my own opioid epidemic throughout the entire 90’s and early 2000’s), the DSM V, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), although MAT has been around since methadone treatment centers began, and unethical business practices that take advantage of vulnerable addicts.
One thing that hasn’t change is the addict’s inconceivable lack of insight into their own self-defeating behaviors. One saying that has stuck with me over time is; “Addiction is the only disease that tells the addict that they don’t have a disease.” Addicts try so had to be like others and convince themselves that they are not sick. I guess no one wants to believe they have a progressive and possibly fatal illness. Even loved ones of the addict don’t want to believe they are sick.
So then, why is it that addicts in early recovery believe they can make responsible, rational, and appropriate decisions regarding their life when they have not been able to do it to this point? The answer is again, that they don’t want to believe they’re sick. It’s like trying to tighten a nut with a pliers that only has one side. It doesn’t work yet; the addict still tries.
Humility is the answer. A decision must be made by the addict that every choice they have made up to this point has gotten them in this situation. An understanding that someone must know better to make these decisions for them is what is required for success. The addict must completely surrender to the fact that everything they have tried in the past to get and stay clean has failed. Then, and only then can they be open to suggestions that are successful. “Let someone else drive the bus.” is one of my favorite recovery quotes.
Even today, with over 11 years clean and sober, I still run my brilliant ideas past a couple of people I trust in recovery before I make a final decision. Sometimes I don’t like the answer I get but it’s usually what’s best for me at the time.
Tony Bratko, MSC, LPC, LISAC