What Do You Want?

I Can't Quit You BabyPeople often come to counseling hoping that the professional will basically condone what they have already been doing to deal with their problems. Eventually that counselor, if they don’t suck, will gently point out that perhaps, just maybe, the problem isn’t everyone in their screwed up family – the problem is how they are handling their thinking, coping, and life. This is usually a difficult thing to hear and process. Such a revelation may necessitate change in areas the client is not happy to address. They want to be different but they “cannot” change what they need to change. At some point they will turn to their counselor and actually ask for help doing “something they don’t want to do”.

I won’t teach you how to quit doing something you don’t want to stop doing. I have a hard enough time convincing patients to spoil themselves. Besides, people usually do what they want to do. So the question is, what do you want to do?

Here’s the secret – don’t change what you do, change what you want. How easy would it be to quit drinking if you earnestly believed that you hated alcohol and didn’t want it in your life anymore? The key isn’t to convince you to stop snorting cocaine. The key is to help you learn a different way to think about cocaine. A different perspective will change everything.

I have a client who wanted to stop using cocaine so one day he lined up a line of cocaine and then made a second line out of Drano, a horrible cleaner that was under the sink. The two lines looked almost identical and he asked himself, “Which line is worse for me to snort?”

The answer seemed obvious, the cocaine was obviously safer to snort than the toxic drain cleaner. This is the obvious answer and the obvious answer is completely wrong. Snorting the Drano will cause him to become sick and throw up. The experience will teach him never to have that experience ever again. Problem solved. Snorting the cocaine will lead to something that feels good but will take your house and your marriage. It is much much safer to snort the Drano.

You don’t need to do something that you do not want to do. You simply change the way you feel about the cocaine. You consider soberly how prone you are to remember only the good parts of a bad addiction. You allow yourself to believe that you could be happy without artificial stimulants. You begin to dream about life in Normieland. You start getting up in the morning. You get a job. You go to church, or yoga, or NA. You choose to stop entertaining your negative thoughts and force yourself to be positive until you believe it. You come back to life.

The principle applies for almost everything we are dealing with. Radically changing the way we think about life is the ONLY way to find wholeness as we learn to address our inaccurate thinking patterns, our dysfunctional coping skills, and our skewed outlook on life.

As we say around here all the time, “Change your mind and your butt will follow”.

Dealing With Your Addiction: Why A 12 Step Program May Not Be Enough

Telling people who have been in recovery that the 12 Steps many not work is akin to making a racial slur. People who have been helped by the 12 Steps are very militant, they have the Big Book virtually memorized, and are dedicated to going to several meetings per week for the rest of their life.

I have no problem with that, if it works. But more times than we are willing to admit it’s just not enough.

According to AA, 33 percent of the 8,000 North American members it surveyed had remained sober for over 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for 5 to 10 years; 24 percent were sober 1 to 5 years; and 31 percent were sober for less than a year.

The study didn’t disclose how long each person interviewed had been working the rooms to achieve sobriety. It also revealed little about the percentage of people who attended AA, relapsed, and left the program. A 1990 summary of five different membership surveys (from 1977 through 1989) reported that 81 percent of alcoholics who engaged in the program stopped attending within a year. And only 5% of the AA attendees surveyed had been attending meetings for more than a year.

As a counselor who works part-time at an addictions centre I can testify that for many people just getting to a meeting, admitting you’re powerless, and becoming accountable, is a very good though not necessarily efficacious solution to your addiction issues.

What 12 Step groups do not do is as important to understand as what they do. 12 Step programs do not allege that they are good at counseling. They are, in point of fact, very up front about their “one alcoholic (addict) helping another alcohol (addict)” stance.

What is often missing for those who struggle is the ‘why’ question. Many substance abusers are self medicating their hurts, fears, boredom, mental issue, or past abuse. They felt they were unable to cope with the pain and drinking or drugging provided a way for things to feel better. Consequently some people also do that with online chatting, or pornography, or masturbation, or even World Of Warcraft. 12 Step Groups cannot help you come to understand your historic and ongoing love affair with serotonin, dopamine, or GABA.

In counseling many people come to realize that stopping substance abuse is only the first part of the solution. Once they remove the medicating effects of that crutch the lingering effects of trauma, hurt, or mental illness begins to thrust its way back to the surface. They may have dealt with the symptom of their problem (substance abuse) without realizing that the actual reason for self medicating has not been addressed. They don’t really have a drinking problem as much as they have a trauma issue, for example.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to realize that if I quit drinking but do not address the important questions behind the substance abuse I may be a ticking time bomb of pain, seeking other and potentially more destructive coping mechanisms.

If you have been dealing with an addiction issue perhaps it is time to ask yourself the ‘why’ question. You might find that underneath that need to use is an issue that you have been trying to ignore or medicate for years, that will not simply go away with time. If you know you need help, or are unsure but wonder if the problem is deeper than you thought, talk to someone who can help.

Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck.