When starting your recovery journey, identify the similarities, not the differences in the people and situations you encounter to develop a sense of belonging and community. There is proven psychology behind seeking the things that connect you to another person that will strengthen your support network and recovery foundation.
When you enter a room full of people for the first time in treatment you have nothing in common with them, or so you think. Your mind will instantly plant rebuttal statements so you can remain aloof. You will be laser-focused on the differences and not the similarities as you scan the faces before you.
Any resemblance will be met with denial statements such as; you aren’t like them; you didn’t do XYZ drug; you haven’t been arrested; you’re not on the verge of homelessness, and you don’t have ‘their’ problems. Therefore you believe that you are different; you are better: you are smarter; you are (insert denial here). In effect, you refuse to relate. Alas, you will soon learn you do indeed have a parallel story and belong in that seat.
When you first enter treatment for substance abuse, mental health, or a combination of associated life problems there are several defense mechanisms and strong emotion that will hold you apart from the other clients. In standing apart you prevent the healing process from occurring. There is no point in the comparison game, eventually, your excuses will run out and you will be faced with the sameness of your story.
A common refrain heard in recovery circles is that ‘denial is not a river in Egypt,’ that said, denial is a huge part of your problem. Your mind will fight every which way to hold you apart from other addicts/alcoholics. I’m sure that none of you aspired to have a substance abuse problem when you grew up. But here you are.
Once you develop tolerance, compulsions, withdrawal symptoms, and an inability to control your alcohol or drug use, you are just like other people in the room. Once you continue to use regardless of the negative consequences you face you need to step into the world of recovery. If you resist you guarantee your path to destruction.
Trying to disappear into the corner, staying silent, not listening, or not participating in group processes prevents you from making progress. You landed where you are because of your actions. It is time to create new methods of living.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE
Faced with a room full of strangers it is natural to be skeptical. It takes time to build relationships with people. For you, the time to pay attention is now. The people in the room are there because they have similarities based on substance abuse and the ensuing consequences. This in itself will forge new allies in an accelerated timeframe.
You will hear stories that will curl your hair. Being aware of or having dabbled with other drugs does not prepare you to hear how addiction has progressed for someone whose primary drug of choice is different from yours.
Horror stories abound. The physical and psychological profile is different for each drug. Long-term use or large quantities in a short amount of time will generally have a certain outcome. There may be comparison of methods of intoxication but there is connection in the emotional, physical and spiritual damage substances cause.
You will hear other people deny they have a problem. You will hear how people supported their habits and the lengths they would go to. Nothing about substance abuse is fun or pretty.
Close your mouth. Open your ears. Be kind. Show compassion, be empathetic and supportive.
It doesn’t matter who used what substance. It doesn’t matter who did what, where, when, who, or how. Everyone needs time to recover from their experience. Connect with the person, not the substance.
LET IT BE A WARNING
The spectrum of substances, mental health issues, physical, psychological, and behavioral anomalies that come with substance abuse will hit home. You will hear how many people are affected by your substance abuse. People will not hesitate to point out the lies you tell yourself.
Once your denial defenses come down, you will realize that any of the people you are in rehab or a meeting with could be you, has been you, or IS you.
There is a beginning, middle, and end to each story you will hear. Insert yourself where you fit and follow along.
Using was fun, and then it wasn’t, and now it has become a deadly habit.
Substance use is highlighted by loss. There is a loss of relationships, social networks, and a sense of self, material goods, finances, driving privileges, child custody, and freedom. The list goes on and on.
Let people’s stories be a warning to you.
WHAT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES
The beauty of recovery is that you will meet people from all walks of life. People who have been there, done that. People from different cultures, countries, social-economic circumstances, education levels, sexual orientations, relationship status, beliefs, values… you name it, you’ll find it.
The internet has shrunk the world and made access to international resources available at the tap of a Zoom meeting link. Having conversations, being curious, asking questions, and of course, learning from people very different from yourself will broaden your horizons. It may give you the necessary skill to help someone you meet in person.
Knowledge is power.
You grow through knowledge.
Embrace the differences.
Identify the patterns and characteristics that create affinity within your network and be part of the solution.
SIMILARITIES CREATE CONNECTIONS
Immediately search for similarities in a room full of substance abusers. It could be a word or phrase, an event, a success you want. It could be a light bulb moment in time.
Once you have settled into recovery, and have had a bit of time to digest what you have seen and heard, participate in discussions to strengthen connections.
Gender-specific issues will apply to you. The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will mirror yours. The outcomes may be a bit different, but the conversations, actions, and reactions will be similar.
In larger mixed groups, listen for the relationship and family similarities. There is a pattern of substance abuse. Consequences also parallel continued use in the face of adversity. In turn there is a pattern of tried and true steps to recovery.
Your self-esteem, self-confidence, belief in yourself, core values, trust, and intuition has to be rebuilt. There is strength in numbers. Use the group as a support system.
You have but mere seconds after meeting someone to ‘file them’ into categories in your mind. But what if you’re wrong? Making assumptions is automatic. These assumptions can mean missing out on someone or something that is part of your solution.
Keep an open mind and be willing to change your opinion if the facts don’t support your initial assumptions. Listen to solutions to problems you are experiencing. The best ideas can come from people you least expect it from.
Age does indeed come before beauty when it pertains to recovery time. The ‘old-timers’ have been around the sun a few more times than you, and have the experience that you do not have.
Open your ears. You will realize you are not that different. You will find that you are not alone. You will hear that life is better in recovery. You will be reminded that you have choices and that you should dream big.
OH SO DIFFERENT
Holding yourself apart from other people in treatment is an extension of the isolation and aloofness you practice in your addiction. It is amazing how magician like you can be as you become invisible in a room full of people.
Sitting in complete denial, arms crossed, brows down, slumped in rebellion when your butt is on a seat in drug rehab is beyond foolish. You earned your seat. You are where you belong.
By keeping yourself apart you are shutting out opportunities to begin to heal. You are wrapping yourself in an illness that will take you out. Your addiction wants you to fail at recovery. It wants you to keep feeding it as you spiral ever downward.
Sitting there acting like you are better than anyone else there, or you are so different, is idiocy. You’re not different. You’re an addict. You are just one more statistic in millions. We know how your story ends.
If you want any chance at all of building a new foundation on which to base the rest of your life, you need to pay attention and participate.
Recovery is not a spectator sport. It requires daily work.
WHAT YOU WILL DISCOVER
Humans need a community to thrive. Connecting with peers, mentors, sponsors, new friends, and regularly attending groups that you enjoy will make you a member of a community.
You will find support from many angles and be inspired to continue your recovery journey, even when it is hard.
There is accountability and responsibility when you are part of a community. Each member will have a role to play.
Recovery requires peer support as a foundation, in conjunction with any professional and medical support you are involved in.
You need those people so when you are triggered or desperate for help, you will have connections to reach out to.
By participating in your treatment you will learn communication skills, how to set boundaries, honesty, self-awareness, self-help, coping skills, time management, accountability, responsibility, support, and interaction with people from many walks of life.
You will get a refresher on all the life skills you have either ignored or were never taught in childhood. You will begin to smile again. You will even laugh. You will build a support group that will help you when the days get tough.
You will find empathy, sympathy, and people who are ready to care what you think, feel, or are going through. Hugs become the currency of friendship.
There will be people to wipe your tears, listen to you rant, and help you pull yourself together again (they will also offer to poke someone in the eye with an ice pick for you). They will make you laugh.
You will begin to feel like you have a village again.
This will be the start of your journey into recovery with a lighter heart and a stronger resolve. These people will believe in you until you believe in yourself.
In rehab and meetings as the client base cycles through graduates and new admissions, you will be touched by some people you will never see again, but they will have left an indelible mark on your recovery.
There will be others who you keep in touch with through social media. Some might become our ride or die partners in crime. And there will be those who will not be alive in a year.
You will come across people who you dislike and those who just rub you the wrong way. But such is life. There is still a lesson to be learned from the interactions.
To do recovery and to do life you have to be able to cope with many different scenarios as they come up. Participating in treatment and all the incoming and outgoing clients is a valuable experience.
Getting an idea of who, what, why, where, when, and how you want your recovery to go is learned.
Treatment is a safe place to explore all things that are you.
Take advantage of every resource available through the recovery community to build a solid foundation by identifying with the similarities of your peers. Your life depends on it.