Many people ask me how much pain and suffering is necessary before an addict will turn toward a new way of life. I don’t know whether there is a tougher question to answer about addiction. On one hand, I believe that we can ‘raise the bottom’ by timely intervention and a mixture of tough love, compassion, and support. On the other hand, I know from personal experience that each person must reach a point where he or she becomes just as desperate to get clean as to keep using. It’s only at this point that the addict stands a fighting chance.
“When at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function as a human being, either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma. What is there left to do? There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends—jails, institutions or death—or find a new way to live.” (We Do Recover, Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1986)
For years, I tried to manage my using by self will and when that no longer worked, I tried everything under the sun to get better—therapy, hypnosis, self-help, etc. But the kind of getting better I wanted wasn’t really to get clean. I simply wanted the pain to stop and to find a way to use just the right amount, so I wouldn’t get in any trouble. I was in the grips of a brain disorder that prevented me from seeing my dilemma. You’d think that after losing enough money, jobs, girlfriends, and family members, I’d realize that using in any form or fashion was not working for me. But not this kid. I continued to barrel down the highway of pain and destruction.
After years and years of more pain and convincing evidence that I could not use in moderation, I had to face the fact that I didn’t really want to stop using. My bubble of denial was finally burst and I realized that getting clean was the only option if I wanted to avoid “jails, institutions, and death.” I had become “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
It was at this point that my desperation became motivation. Not the kind of motivation that could get me clean on my own, but the kind that empowered me to find and ask for the help that I needed. By grace, I was finally willing to face the pain of not using anymore. I had reached a point where I knew that this new pain couldn’t be any worse than the agony of continuing to spiral down into the hell of addiction.
What does it take for an addict to reach this point? The answer is as unique as each one of us. Every addict must come face-to-face with the fact that his or her ways of using and/or trying to get clean aren’t working. They must get humbled to the point where they are willing to take direction and let go of their self-willed existence. For a hard-headed addict like me, this took quite a bit of misery and suffering. Thankfully, I reached that point of surrender before it was too late. If that can happen to someone like me, I believe it can happen for any addict. The recipe will be different for each, but the possibility is there. I am living proof.
Does it have to get as bad as it did for me? Can we do anything to raise the addict’s “bottom”? Can we help create truck ramps on the highway of addiction? It is possible. I can attest that some people have faced way less pain than I did before they were able to get clean. Unfortunately, there are others who had to face much more. I believe we can make the former the norm.
The first thing we can do is to stop enabling the addict to keep using. The more we enable, the deeper the bottom gets. This is probably the hardest thing for the families of addicts to do, but it really is the most important. We must let the addicts know that they are loved but that we can no longer play a part in their self-destruction. Our love is not conditional, but our help moving forward is contingent on their wanting and trying to get help. The rest is up to God and is truly a mystery.
Humans are not meant to be destroyed by drugs and alcohol. There is a power in the universe capable of rescuing them, but the addict has to play his or her part. That is where action stops and prayer and faith begins for their loved ones. It may feel like we are helpless, but I know many prayed that I would get clean, and I eventually did. I believe their prayers helped.
Finally, we must remember that recovery, like life, is a journey and not a destination. The addict may hit many bumps on the road to getting clean but as long as they keep picking themselves up, there is hope. Keep the faith and cheer them on!