Loving an Addict

— From Dayo, as she experiences and learns. Welcome to The Mind Palace!

I watched Tim Ferriss’ interview with Rich Roll on reinventing his life in his forties after suffering from alcohol addiction. Here’s what I learned, and what you can too.

Wait, before I read, how does this affect me?

In addition to knowing how to go about overcoming an addiction, wouldn’t you want to know how to manage a relationship with an addict? ‘Addict’ here does not mean some distant person or patient you need not bother with. Instead, an addict can just be someone you know or are even close to.

Okay, now, let’s go on:

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

For someone struggling with an addiction, it’s not a referendum on moral character, such a person is suffering, struggling with the behaviour or the substance… The behaviour or substance was a solution to functioning in the world for a while until it [said behaviour or taking said substance] progresses and it’s no longer the solution.

Trying to instil in an addict that a substance or behaviour is not ideal or unhealthy is fruitless (and can be perceived as demeaning). An addict who knows he or she is an addict already knows the behavioural pattern to be unhealthy in every sense of the word. That’s why it’s called struggling with an addiction.

As a friend, family member or loved one, you might be trying to help but bear with me because try as you may, you’re not. Why wouldn’t you help convey this valuable piece of information, after all, we do when we know? When we have knowledge about something we are put in a better position to act accordingly.

Yes, but have you also heard the saying ‘I know what to do but I don’t, instead I do the very thing I hate’? Ok, that’s a long saying but it stands true. You don’t like that your friend or family is addicted to something but he or she hates it, even more than you. No matter how sympathetic you are, you can never know the pain like the one going through it (unless you’ve gone through it before).

The process of recovery is really about providing tools, some tactical, some strategic, some practical and some spiritual that can be guideposts in helping people create new neural pathways and emotional relationships with how they engage the world.

But all hope is not lost. Trying to get someone into rehab, join a community or meet with a therapist is not fruitless. While the friend or loved one struggling with addiction needs to come to the point of realization that he or she needs and wants help so gradual recovery will indeed take place, that’s all you can do. (If there is something else you can do, I’ll honestly like to know too.)

We must, however, remember that the recovery process will be slow and very non-linear so we don’t treat them like failures during relapses. No one gets it right the first time, and in some cases, the tenth time.

The spectrum of addiction

This is not to belittle any struggles or draw attention away from them (if there is such a thing) but to state that addictions occur in a spectrum.

Behavioural studies posit that ‘several behaviours, besides psychoactive substance ingestion, produce short-term reward that may engender persistent behaviour despite knowledge of adverse consequences, i.e., diminished control over the behaviour.’

Off the bat, we place drug use, smoking and porn addiction at the extreme ends but other ‘throw away patterns’ like being a workaholic, impulsive buying, retail therapy, stress eating still lie in the spectrum of resorting to an action or substance and not being able to control the action.

Regardless of the position of a behavioural addiction in the spectrum, the process of recovery still centres on finding the right tools for creating better or healthier neural pathways and emotional relationships with the environment and the cause of the behaviour.

Let’s not forget that actions have consequences

In today’s world, it’s easy to chalk up serious issues as whatever word and nullify the gravity of some actions and the consequences they bring in an attempt to show empathy. In her book, Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou excellently articulates the problem of trivializing and diminishing certain actions in the name of understanding and empathy in the context of rape. (Check chapter 8.)

Coming to the blunt fact that things can end badly with no point of return makes some, if only begrudgingly, seek help. In Rich Roll’s case, the fact that his options were bleak — either he ended up in prison, killed someone else or killed himself — made him go see a recommended professional, albeit hesitantly.

Now read the last sentence again; a help tool was given to him, he didn’t want to use it (for other reasons including shame), he used it however because he realized continuing spelt doom. He went on his own. I must emphatically state that fear is not a tool to help a person and will never be. Lording fear is sure to cause other problems. Trauma-filled recovery is no recovery.

Conclusion

It goes to say that addiction is a struggle and to help anyone struggling with any addiction, you can’t force or compel a person to take to a recovery tool or process. It may defy logic because you know and they know it’s unhealthy or outright life-threatening. An addict needs to realize by him or herself the need for recovery and be open to recovering. He or she has to grow into it. And while you’re in the process of helping, seeking help or recovering, remember that it is not a linear process and no one gets it the seventh time.

Until next time,

Dayo :)

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Adedayo Adeyanju

Adedayo Adeyanju

I live, I learn, then I write. Welcome to my mind palace! Also on Substack: themindpalacetmp.substack.com