Since the internet has come about, we have been able to connect to someone who is on the other side of the planet, within seconds. Right now technology is at its peak; AI is beginning to have the ability to perform tasks that even humans can do. Struggles with addictive tendencies seem to be affecting children at an even younger age and paradoxically technology may well be the catalyst to many of these issues. In addition, despite these perceived technological ‘advances’ are we really bonding in the best possible way we can and should do, as humans? And even though our IP address suggests that we are the most connected that we have ever been in the history of mankind, why then are there so many lonely souls in the world?
The magical part of being human is physically connecting with others; thriving in families, working in groups and building a relationship with a partner. But these connections aren’t built from sitting behind a computer screen. This true, genuine interrelatedness is nurtured through heart to heart bonds. Therefore, with addiction being the opposite of connectedness does this also mean then that, if the future of addiction treatment moves with the times, treatment in itself is becoming just as disconnected? If this is the case, then we are moving towards frightening times or are already in the thick of a dark age for addiction treatment.
So if this is the case what do we need to do as professionals to keep up with so many changes? Do we along with the rest of the world, need to succumb to the fact that we are all going to end up disconnected? The simple answer is of course no. And to make sure we do not go the same way this must start with us as practitioners. Firstly, encouraging individuals to connect again by learning to actually listen to and respect the needs of the individuals suffering from addictive behaviours, is imperative. This means that old views of how treatment ‘should’ be actually need to change. Just because somebody hasn’t lost everything it doesn’t mean they aren’t ‘ready’ to begin a journey of recovery. Plenty of people I have met and know well didn’t have to lose everything to be ready enough. Anyway what ‘everything’ means to one person may mean exactly the same emotionally to the next person. Nothing has to be a certain way, treatment can mean a day time or an evening time so that (shock horror) this can fit around somebody’s work, life and family. Because isn’t recovery simply a personal journey anyway? Aren’t we all just tremendously and beautifully different and isn’t it our responsibility as professionals to uphold these values?
Moreover, despite the success of the 12 step movement (and believe me that’s not an argument I want to step into the ring to fight about) I have never agreed with labelling. Addict, alcoholic, druggie, alcie, crack head...these are all terms I have heard since both coming in to recovery myself and becoming a professional in the field. Labelling someone an alcoholic or addict can only perpetuate the bone crushing shame and stigma which is associated with years of pain. When this person would have had to learn to behave this way just to survive, whether that be from experience of trauma to self-medicate or to escape a reality that could’ve been just too painful to face up to. Defects of character is also a term that caused me to shiver when I first began my own journey. I had spent too many years believing I was defected and to then be told I was to identify my defects, was heart breaking. I still, as a choice, do not encourage anyone I treat to refer to any of their character traits as defects. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that your brain is your very own computer and self-talk is the programme that we run – so why should the terms in which anyone refers to themselves be in any which way derogatory?
So the responsibility, as professionals, lies mostly in our hands. Therefore because of this we absolutely must make sure that we are still prioritising our own ‘recovery’ journeys through life as paramount. Regardless as to whether you as the professional are in recovery or not we still have to be aware that our personal healing is a constant priority. Because with the focus always being on the person that is ‘sick’ the wellness of the practitioner can be mightily overlooked. And if anything, this is where the real danger manifests. We must humanly connect again; we must evidence to the people we treat that physically connecting is THE most important part of at least working towards some freedom from the torturous shackles of addiction. By connecting I mean promoting love as the single most important healing emotion because ‘love’ could have had so many cruel and hurtful connotations to some who are severely traumatised. I use love as the ‘umbrella’ phrase but what I mean by this is evidencing ‘love’ in our work. By being kind, being honest, having integrity and being true to our clientele, we are upholding the value of what love means. It is our mission as the wounded healers (and let’s be honest, all of us are) to educate hurting humans that love didn’t have to mean pain. It doesn’t mean danger; it doesn’t have to mean a wound so deep that substances or behaviours are a necessity to medicate what feels like an infection.
So, what does the future of addiction treatment hold - in a word? Love. It may sound cheesy and cliché but this can really be forgotten in the throes of our busy work as therapists and clinicians. The reason we all started to work in the field becomes a distant memory when perhaps the money may become more attractive. Or status, fancy job title, degrees and power. We need to be reminded that addiction disconnects the sufferer when all they truly crave is connectedness. When the substance or behaviour that achieved this connectedness for them is taken away the huge gaping hole needs to be filled. Organically this can only really be with what ‘love’ means to that individual and it is our responsibility to educate what this means to them. But we simply cannot do this if we haven’t cultivated enough of this for ourselves or we have forgotten what love means to us. So to finalise I implore you to ask yourself, what does love mean to you? Do you evidence love in your practice and with your clientele or are you caught up in the endless box ticking exercises of running a busy practice or treatment centre? Are you truly connected with others or even with yourself? Do you even remember why you came in to the profession? Does the treatment you provide really get results? And if not why not, what is truly missing? There is no simple answer for what the future holds in a field so complex as addiction treatment. But if we start with the simple basic form of human emotion, an emotion that we all simply must have to survive, we can’t really ask for more than that now can we?
Lucy Da Silva
Addiction Therapist, Happy As Larry Group
Lucy is a qualified Addiction Therapist currently working on her dissertation for her master’s qualification. Lucy’s professional experience is working in the voluntary...