Asking for Help With Addiction
“I’d rather cut off my big toe than ask for help,” said a man whose life was in turmoil. He looked across the space between himself and his therapist and put his head in his hands. He continued, “And yet I know I can’t handle all that’s coming down the pike.”
He was referring to his third charge of driving under the influence, the mandatory jail time, the court costs, the impending loss of his job and the estrangement from his wife. Those were the issues that brought him into treatment, following years of substance abuse, absenteeism from work, and the subterfuge that had created the distance from his family — the woman who’d been his childhood sweetheart and with whom he had two children, now young adults. They, too, were impacted by his choices. “They used to look up to me, and now they don’t even answer my phone calls,” he said. “What am I gonna do?”
His therapist asked what it’d mean to ask for and accept help. He shook his head and told her that his hard-drinking, tough-guy father had modeled self-sufficiency, telling him in no uncertain terms that real men do it all themselves. He learned that no one could be trusted and that he needed to watch his back at all times.
Asking for help would be a clear sign of weakness, which would make him vulnerable. The therapist asked, “So what did believing that get you?” Smiling ruefully, he answered, “This.”
“And what do you want to do about it?” she asked. “I guess I’m here because I finally admit that I can’t go it alone. I’ve lost just about everything,” he said. “What do I have to lose by letting other people help me out?”
The Challenge of Accepting Help
For many successful adults, reaching out is an anathema. Even if their lives haven’t reached a crisis point, there might still be a sense of embarrassment that they can’t meet those unreasonable standards.
The dynamics for women differ from those of men. Although there are exceptions to every rule, women are typically indoctrinated to believe they’re to be the caregivers, meeting the needs of their families, friends, partners and co-workers. Men are generally taught to sustain a façade of success in order to maintain their status. Both groups follow these conventions at the cost of freedom, money, health and relationships.
When Hiding the Truth Backfires
A husband managed the financial responsibility for a family business as the wife provided the customer service. He kept the books, and she felt confident that he was handling them well. He’d given her no reason to think otherwise. When evidence to the contrary surfaced, by the time he’d come clean with the truth, it was too late to save the business. He admitted that he’d been afraid to tell his wife he was in over his head with vendors. One lie led to another until the damage was done.
The wife’s feeling of betrayal, which was devastating, compounded the loss of her cherished business. She angrily confronted her husband about his deceit, which forced a wedge between them. He said that he’d wanted to protect her and felt he’d be a failure if he couldn’t keep the ball rolling. She replied that had he admitted the truth, they might’ve come up with a solution together.
When to Put Aside Your Pride
A common statement among those with addictions is, “I’ve got this handled.” A retired airline pilot would reassure his worried wife that his drinking was, in his words, “controlled.” He found himself sitting in a room with others in a recovery support group, who laughed knowingly at their shared delusional thought. They, too, had believed their substance use was under control. When he realized his drinking had begun to control him, he knew he needed to seek help.
He also saw a therapist privately and attended a 12-step meeting. He was taking his recovery seriously until he saw an opportunity to test his newfound sobriety. He relapsed, and his wife contacted the therapist to inform her of the turn of events. The client denied his wife’s accusations until he could no longer. Once he admitted to the therapist that he’d slipped, he prevented the slide down the slippery slope and was “cleared for takeoff.”
No Need to Go It Alone
Remember the acronym “SSS” — as in “seek sober support.” Here are a few tips for how to approach reaching out for help:
- Be specific about your needs when you ask to have them met.
- Engage in outpatient treatment. This could involve one-on-one sessions with a mental health professional, an intensive outpatient program, or a support group, among other options.
- Participate in a faith community.
- Consult with a pastoral counselor or spiritual director.
- Learn from the experiences of others as you listen to their stories.
- Consider how good it feels when you help others, and give them the gift of returning the favor.
- Ask yourself if you hold others to the same standards for receiving support, and give yourself the same latitude to receive.
- Offer yourself the same sense of compassion as you would a friend or family member whose needs were similar to your own.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1