At the Kiloby Center, we don’t focus on requiring clients to label themselves as “addicts” or “alcoholics” nor do we diagnose them as such.
Those are identities that often make people feel deficient, unworthy, unacceptable or second class. An ongoing sense of lack of self worth is one of the primary causes of relapse. To the extent that the label “addict” or “alcoholic” creates an even stronger lack of self worth, some people are more prone to relapse by taking on this identity. In extreme cases, labeling oneself or being labeled by a health care professional as an “addict” or “alcoholic” can result in a damaging diagnosis. A damaging diagnosis is any diagnosis that creates additional emotional and psychological suffering above and beyond the basic symptoms themselves. For example, someone who feels sad or exhausted for an extended period of time who is then diagnosed as “a depressed person” can, in some cases, begin to suffer even more emotional and psychological damage just by viewing themselves as “depressed.” Not every diagnosis is damaging. A lot depends on the psychological state and impressionability of the client.
According to some recovery programs, it is helpful to think of oneself as an addict or alcoholic in the first stages of recovery. This self-labeling or diagnosis by a health professional is thought to help a person realize the extent of the pattern of addiction in one’s life, thereby helping the person see the need for ongoing recovery. But why must a person take this on as a central identity, especially given the risk of relapse associated with any mental identity around self-worth? At the Kiloby Center, we believe it is sufficient to educate a person about addiction being a pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving, rather than an identity. It is possible to simply be aware of this pattern operating in one’s life and to address it with effective treatment methods without adding the extra layer of identity such as “I’m an addict” or “I’m an alcoholic.”
We are not these labels. To wrap up our entire identity, life history and values into these labels is to greatly reduce ourselves into one little conceptual box. These labels are restrictive and unnecessary. They are helpful within the health care community for the purpose of diagnosing and then treating addiction as a disease with medication. But our focus is not on medication at the Center. Our focus is on mindfulness. So we do not need these labels or diagnoses to treat people. If people need medication, we refer them to our doctors who may use these diagnoses for the purpose of prescribing medications that are covered by insurance. But in group and private sessions, we question these identities and all other self-limiting identities in order to free people of the grip of problematic thinking.
To illustrate this point, we worked with a young lady who participated with us every day and questioned all sorts of painful, self-limiting beliefs that she had picked up during the time of her drug using and that had contributed to her desire to medicate emotional and psychological pain with drugs. Identities like “rebel” and “worthless person” were examined. She felt a great sense of relief and freedom after this work. Then she attended a different recovery program at night where she was told that she was “nothing more than a drug addict.” She came in the next day wanting to relapse and feeling really bad about herself. The label “addict” was damaging to her and put her at risk of losing all the progress we had made with her. Once we took her through the process of questioning that identity and the feelings of unworthiness that came with it, her desire to relapse went away.
This kind of labeling can be highly detrimental to certain people. There is a way to recover from addiction without forming a new, damaging identity around the addiction. We show people that they are not addicts or alcoholics nor are they recovering addicts or recovering alcoholics. They are worthy human beings just like everyone else – human beings who happened to develop a pattern of addiction. By focusing on the pattern, rather than the identity, they can free themselves of addiction and return back into the real world without a sense of unworthiness and with a healthy view of who they are, seeing themselves as equal to everyone else and worthy of success, peace, love and compassion like all human beings.