Consider this: We take it for granted that quitting drugs and alcohol has to be hard - that relapse is a sign the person ‘wasn’t ready yet’ or ‘wasn’t managing their recovery well enough.’
What if we looked at it like ‘We haven’t found a cure yet,’ and ‘Current treatments only work sometimes.’ If you find yourself balking at these statements, that may be your stigma talking. We’re told that because it seems like a ‘choice’ to quit using, start a program and stop the behaviors that lead to overuse of alcohol, drugs, and other behavioral addictions, that it’s somehow completely within our control. But this is dichotomous, all or nothing thinking.
Shame and relapse are close friends.
They need to break up.
Counterpoint: The analogy of lung cancer.
There are certain responsibilities a person has to recognize symptoms and seek out treatment. At the same time, there are many aspects out of that person’s control. He or she could ‘do everything right’ and still have a relapse in symptoms. We are also human and by nature, limited in our abilities. That means we get busy, distracted, lack awareness, are subject to denial, feel overwhelming emotions like shame that freeze us, lie to ourselves, and do not want to believe the cycle is happening again.
We would not blink at offering the person with lung cancer a treatment that completely cured them – even if they contributed to it through continued smoking. Why would we deny the same sort of treatment to someone suffering through the cycles of addiction? Both create wreckage in life of the person and those that surround them but we see it differently depending on how easy it is to assign blame. If we’re ever going to make a significant change in the field of addiction treatment and recovery, it’s time to stop assigning blame and move forward.
We repeat what we don't repair.
Also published on Medium.