“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe.
Many people suffer from addictions. The usual problem makers include alcohol, street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine. Prescription drugs compete with street drugs and these include all of the oxy’s, as in oxycodone, as well as the hydro’s, as in hydrocodone. Addictions are stubborn and they are maintained because the desired effects work.People who have addictions are not a sub-class of human beings. They are your brother, sister, mother, father, friend, co-worker, boss, neighbor, postal worker, grocery clerk, school teacher, and physician. Every occupational group has individuals within those groups for which addictions have become an issue. After a point employment may cease or become interrupted due to the use of the drug or the inevitable legal consequences for which addictions are known or by death.
Addictive substances work. They work on relieving anxiety, depression, low-energy, high-energy, or whatever it is a person is after. They will transfer you to a place different than the place you currently reside. This is the surface reason as to why people become addicted. People may be hiding from pain, old trauma, unpleasant memories, shame, failure, loneliness, or most any other malady.
Some substances will catch you off guard, such as heroin. People tell me it was no big deal in the beginning week or two. They tell me, “as long as you only snort it there won’t be a problem. It is the folks that use intravenous injections who get hooked.” Then they recant their claim in a week or two. They have found they are addicted, because some substances like heroin create withdrawal symptoms that are quite unpleasant requiring you to muster the courage of Goliath to step through them or to return to the substance to get rid of the withdrawal that way. Many folks find it simpler to return to the drug.
Underneath every substance dependence and abuse problem is a secret.
Most people say, when asked why they use alcohol or drugs that they like the feeling. Most say, “What if I just like getting high?” Others say, “I don’t like to be reminded of the everyday worries.” Still others say, “What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is that one does not need a substance to cope with life. Think of a newborn and the horror at finding yourself in this new world outside the womb. Not a pleasant experience compared to the life in the womb where no worries existed. We would not suggest getting an infant drunk or giving them heroin to cope with the excruciating experience of life. It is even worse for infants and children because they do not have life experiences that show them these things of life are simply going to happen to all of us.
So what about this secret underneath addictions?
There is either old shame, disappointment, failure, guilt, or any other requiem composition of feelings that accounts for a deep feeling of personal hatred. Why else would someone punish him or herself so exquisitely?
In psychotherapy around addictions a person needs to know what the reason really is for their use of substances. We are not looking for the surface rhetoric, but rather we are looking for the cold truth.
Consider the case of Emily. Emily started innocently enough using marijuana in high school. Probably once a month she would get drunk on a weekend with friends. Following graduation from high school she was admitted into a private college. She was an honor student. She dated. She met one guy who introduced her to cocaine. She liked it. She then dated another guy who introduced her to benzodiazapines. She got stuck on Valium. Emily started drinking more and found she needed to drink to do just about anything. She got her first DUI followed by a reckless driving conviction followed by charges for disorderly conduct. She graduated from college and went to a professional college for her Master’s degree. She continued the use of alcohol, got over the use of Valium, and found herself lonely, tired, and unsure of herself. One night when drunk she met a man who asked if she’d like some heroin. She thought, ‘Why not?’ She got hooked within a month and used all of her financial resources for college on the drug and keeping the drug dealer.
When asked why she used alcohol and drugs Emily’s response was similar to most surface responders. After a few months of therapy and gathering up her history it was revealed that she was taunted and bullied physically and emotionally in grade school. She was sexually assaulted by a group of girls. She was told she was trash and that she deserved to be treated accordingly. Her secret and her fear was that this was somehow true. Her fear was that she would never succeed. Her worry was that they were right and no matter what she did she would discover they knew the real her and that she was nothing and would amount to nothing.
Emily figured if she was nothing, why bother? Why not bury her head in the sand? Why not escape every one of the daily insults by becoming numb? And so she did. But, curiously she kept attending college and one part of her was attempting to go forward even though another part was trying to pull her into oblivion.
Once Emily knew what the issue was she had a choice to change things. It was as though she was living according to a lie she had believed. If we build a story on a lie, we end up with a lie. She had to begin her story about who she is over again and this time tell the truth.
Secrets are our worst enemies. A secret grows into a hideous form capable of poisoning a life.
Be well and take care,
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
Photo Credit: Shadow, Spain, 1964, George Krause