“So, what does it mean to you that you use crack?”

He looked at me as though I had asked him about Pi’s stretch into infinity.  “What does it mean that I use crack?”

“Yes, what does it mean to you.”

“Well,” he said with a half grin.  “I means that I suck.”

I expected his response; many people in early recovery tend to label themselves in derogatory terms when asked about their substance use.  It is usually a goal of mine to redirect those terms away from the person and towards the behaviors.  However, this time i took a different approach.  “Hmm,” I said.  “Is there anything you do that means you don’t suck?”

Again, he returned a puzzled expression that indicated to me that he had no clue what i meant.  “Huh?” he said.

“Is using crack the only think you EVER do?”

He laughed and said, “It sure seems like it to my wife.”

“But is it though?”

“Of course not.  I’m actually a good guitar player.”

“Ah, there you go. So, what does playing the guitar mean? Does it mean, for instance, that maybe you don’t suck?”

He smiled and said, “You know, I guess it does.”

We then proceeded to develop some goals to do more things that mean he doesn’t suck.  The exercise took about an hour, but when we’d compiled the list, he seemed a bit relieved.  I asked him again, “So, what does it mean to you that you use crack?”

This time, he said, “It means that it’s something that I do, but I also can do a whole bunch of other stuff that might make me a less sucky person.”

“There you go, we now have an overall place from which we can start your recovery: Your overall goal to start is to be a far less sucky person.”

He agreed.  I think it’s a far better approach to NOT let substance use define a person, but rather to minimize it’s negative meaning.  For me, talking about substance use has seemed to only reinforce its meaning to people.  Times, they are a changin’…