THE STIGMA OF ‘USING’
Our society has a long tradition of judging and vilifying addicts. This stigma is apparent in everything from the shame inherent in the 12 step model to the approach of our criminal justice system.
The New Model of Recovery is about approaching addiction from a totally different perspective. For too long, we have not only failed to notice the real problem, we have made it worse by adding to the stigma. Even the shift to the ‘disease model’ of alcoholism focuses on the behaviors themselves rather than the underlying drivers. This is true whether counting clean time or turning to cognitive behavioral approaches to stifle and avoid the ‘mental obsession’ and ‘craving’ that precedes using.
The addiction treatment community has been focusing on the tip of the iceberg.
A SHIFT OF FOCUS
The focus has remained on the surface. That’s what happens when we look only at the cravings, behaviors, and substances themselves. Or try to solve the problem by going into our heads. Or push ‘addicts’ inward to think their way into recovery.
What’s been missing all along is what’s below the surface.
The hidden parts of the iceberg are the actual drivers of addiction. They keep the whole thing afloat and support the substances and behaviors that we notice on the surface. The recovery community has somehow failed to acknowledge these. The New Model goes right to them. The New Model is about what’s below the surface.
THE DRIVERS OF ADDICTION
These drivers- the pain, trauma, shame, deficiency stories, and external pressure that are hidden from plain view- are painful to look at, and it can hurt to go there.
When addiction takes root, societal, familial, and personal shame jump on board almost immediately. This shame becomes a part of identity and drives the addiction even further and deeper.
The shame feeds the deficiency stories, which go much farther back than the beginning of our addictive behaviors. The deficiency stories almost always begin in childhood, and they keep getting reinforced over and over.
Ego is continually looking for ways to reinforce the deficiency stories, because there is an underlying belief that we need those stories to survive in this world. The addiction story just becomes the icing on the cake. It becomes confirmation for the underlying belief of being ‘alone’, ‘unloveable’, ‘not good enough’, or ‘not safe’. But it’s all unconscious. So we commit to more clean time and punish ourselves for failing again. We build upon and reconfirm the stories, and then we wonder why we keep craving, and keep using, and keep relapsing.
It’s within this context that the ‘addict’ seeks treatment. There are usually very well-intentioned family, friends, and loved ones pushing for this, making the external pressure another driver. The ‘addict’ says they want to quit, but when craving or desire to use overtakes them, the external pressure and shame pushes them to hide and cover up the behaviors, creating a new layer of resistance and pain.
TRAUMA FIRST APPROACH
In the New Model, we remove the external pressure. We know that addiction is NOT about the drug, alcohol, or the behavior. It’s about what’s hidden beneath the surface. So we go to that. We work on the traumas, NOT the behaviors.
We are not for or against clients using.
Doesn’t this sound ridiculous? The very notion flies in the face of everything we have believed about recovery, addiction, and treatment. But it’s true. We have been aiming for abstinence, sobriety, and clean time and have been oblivious to the fact that ‘addicts’ are intensely suffering. We have left the suffering alone, taken away the only thing ‘addicts’ have found to ease the pain, and replaced it with a narrative that they are weak, sick, and broken for even trying to ease that suffering.
The New Model is about going into the suffering first and leaving behind all the stigma, judgment, and pressure that’s been making things worse for those in need of true recovery. This takes deep personal work and inquiry on the part of the staff. If we are triggered, we cannot be effective. Whatever is happening is ok. Within this context, a space opens for the client to feel unconditional love. Sometimes this is the first time they have experienced it. Then they can decide for themselves if they are ready to stop using.
Our work is not to pressure people who use into 15 or 20 years of sobriety. This tells us nothing about the resolution of their underlying trauma and shame. Our work is to walk into those traumas, facilitate healing for our clients, and watch the story of addiction- and the obsession with using or not using, fall away. Our work is to dissolve the drivers that created the addiction in the first place.