Addicts need to learn to feel in order to begin recovery

I was in the middle of a somewhat heated conversation with someone about her addiction last night. At one point in the conversation, I informed her that I was extremely concerned because she is at the same point in her addiction that I have seen many times. It’s the point that I see as the crossroads of addiction; that point where an addict has to choose whether to continue in the addiction or make a significant change towards health. Really, it’s the point of choosing life or death.

Several people I know have been at the Addiction Crossroads and have chosen to remain in their addiction. Not long after being at the crossroads, they’ve died as a direct result of their addiction. I don’t say this for dramatic effect; I say it because it’s the sad truth about working with the population I do. I was explaining this Addiction crossroads and upset the person with whom I was speaking. She was upset because the idea that she was potentially months away from dying struck her quite hard. She terminated the conversation because of how she felt. However, a couple of hours later, she contacted me again to provide me with advice.

She said, “If you want to be a good counselor, you need to make addicts feel.”

It seemed that my concern translated into deep feelings for her and she wanted to make sure that I understood that in making addicts feel, I may be able to prompt a change. But the truth is that making addicts feel is at the heart of addiction treatment.

Because of their compulsion to use coupled with the substances they ingest, addicts tend to lose all sense of feeling. True intimacy is lost over the course of an addiction and regaining emotional connections takes time and practice. Really, emotional knowledge is necessary for all people to have healthy relationships because if we can’t recognize and understand our own emotional landscape, we can’t even begin to understand someone else’s. While all people tend to struggle sometimes in relationships, addicts are especially disconnected from their own emotions.

This emotional disconnect is the core reason behind addicts’ tendency towards manipulating those around them. It’s almost as though they hear words like “fear” and “love” but use those words as fuel to drive enabling. There is no real meaning about the emotions associated with those words; therefore, they are simply objects that can be moved around to an addict’s benefit.

Really, once an addict realizes this emotional numbness, it becomes imperative to that addict to look inward such that he or she can churn up emotions that have been subdued by an addiction. Addicts choosing the path towards health must reconnect with their sense of self and grieve for lost time and rebuild a relationship with him or herself. If a counselor, or anyone else, is lucky enough to prompt a true emotion in an addict, then it’s time for the addict to begin the reflection needed to heal.

We all need a healthy emotional awareness in order to have healthy relationships. I appreciate the advice about making addicts feel because I needed reminding that emotions are key for developing connections to ourselves and others. Without them, we are at risk or sociopathic behavior.