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Recovering from Addiction II - The Elevator
by Judy Shepps Battle, MA

Once you have decided that the quality of your life is being compromised by the use of addictive substances or relationships, you can approach recovery (alone or in a group). You can remain at home as an outpatient or live at a treatment center as an inpatient.

On your own
Most of us cling to this recovery path for a very long time. It is easier to accept the label of "weak-willed" than to see ourselves as having a chronic and progressive disease that, if left untreated, may result in death. There is a saying in recovery circles that "denial (de-Nile) is not a river in Egypt."

With a support group
The support group road to recovery is best seen in groups such as 12-Step, SMART, Rational Recovery, or others that have a structured program. The primary purpose of these groups is to "help the addict who is still suffering." This is done without charge by using mentors (sponsors) and by walking newcomers through the first stages of withdrawal from their drug of choice. The unconditional support given to the addict or alcoholic is key. The mission of most support groups is simple: to extend the helping hand of the fellowship to the still-suffering addict.

Outpatient, with a therapist or psychiatrist
Therapists are likely to address family-of-origin issues as well as the addiction, and offer a path to learning about feelings. Psychiatrists tend to address underlying medical issues, such as depression, that may be lifelong or simply a result of not using a chemical (e.g., when one stops using cocaine, there is a notorious "coke depression" that follows). Given the unanticipated physiological effects of withdrawal, having a working relationship with a health professional is wise.

Some people find they need to be away from the stressors of their lives in order to break the cycle of using. The inpatient experience gives this respite. Length of stay may vary from three days to several months and usually involves an aftercare program.

Short-term inpatient care is usually accomplished in a local hospital and primarily involves detoxification. Longer-term care that addresses family issues takes place in a residential facility that specializes in a particular addiction. Residential programs exist for addictions to substance (alcohol, drugs, food) and for addictions to substance users (co-dependency, sexual addictions).

The Elevator
Imagine your life as a tall building with many floors. When you are on the top floor, you are functioning at your best:
  • Your life is working.
  • You are happily married or partnered.
  • You have a good job.
  • You are healthy.
  • You are emotionally balanced.
  • You have a comfortable income.

Now imagine you're in the basement of that building:
  • Your life is in shambles.
  • Your spouse or partner has left you.
  • You have lost your job.
  • Your body is ill.
  • You are horribly depressed, very manic, and/or hearing voices.
  • You are destitute.

The disease of addiction will bring you to the basement.

It is your choice to decide at which "floor" to stop the elevator and get off. Those who begin taking recovery steps while they still have portions of their lives intact are said to have "high bottoms." Others wait until the elevator settles comfortably at its lowest point.

You can get off the elevator while you still have a job, even though you are on probation.

You can get off the elevator while you still have a spouse, even though a divorce lawyer has been hired.

You can get off while your blood pressure is high; before you have a stroke, even if the doctor's forecast is gloomy.

You can get off while you are unhappy, even though you are already on Prozac.

Most people start by giving up their addictive chemical of choice. But not all.

Some start by looking at their addicted spouse or child, and then go on to look at being raised in a dysfunctional family. Only then do they look at giving up their chemical substance.

Some look at their family origins first and then address their own chemical use. There aren't any rules. Each aspect is as hard to look at as the next. Each aspect is as hard to change as the next.

Choosing Where to Start
There are as many choices for where to begin as there are recovering addicts in this world. I have learned the best method is to:

  • Continue to try to do it yourself until you can't do that any more.
  • Try whichever option is least threatening to you, be it recovery group, outpatient or inpatient.
  • Listen -- and decide with what and whom you can identify.
  • Give it your best try.

Once you start on the happy road to recovery there is nothing but forward progress!

Go to Recovering From Addiction Part I: Beginning the Journey.

Go to Recovering From Addiction Part III: 25 Selected Resources.

Copyright 2000 Judy Shepps Battle

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