As a culture, we know that addiction and substance abuse are negative. We can point to the devastating effects of the user’s actions on friends and family members and the self-destruction inherent in the continuance. Therefore, we eagerly seek to assist the addict in getting rid of the demon of addiction, often through offering advice and ultimatums. We want them to get help, and by “help,” we mean, “stop using!”
It is less common to consider why the addict may want to continue using the substance. While physical dependence is certainly a factor in the continued use of drugs or alcohol, this isn’t enough to explain the common occurrence of relapse. Once the effects of the substance have worn off through detox, most physical dependence causes have been removed from the equation.
A conundrum here appears to be that the former addict, during recovery, is being made very aware of how harmful and selfish their actions have been while under the influence. At the same time, the recovering individual is left with a real sense of, “but, what about me??”
It may seem odd that – following the supposed selfishness of using – the individual might still want something for themselves. However, shouldn’t they rather focus on making up for the damage they have caused? Shouldn’t this be a time of pointed unselfishness?
Testimonies of recovery, such as the one found here, shed light on the danger of this type of thinking. Once the effects of a substance have faded, former users are still left to face the psychological reality of how life exists around them. Unfortunately, this reality may not be quite so pleasant. During this time, the recovering person arrives at a crossroads of decisions: A decision to make changes in personal relationships, a decision to learn to accept some things the way they are, or a decision to return to using substances as a means of escape.
Feelings of resentment are of particular concern when it comes to sustaining recovery. Resentment usually involves the actions and attitudes of others, and we tend to learn quickly that we cannot easily convince others of our own perspectives as it applies to our past interactions. The human mind is funny in that it is prone to write – and rewrite – history and information in a way that best suits our subjective agendas, and we tend to hold onto whatever ideas have worked for us before. This is true for both ourselves and our loved ones.
For the former user, old wounds of perceived mistreatment often exist, followed by fresh wounds of misunderstanding as the recovery process continues. As part of their recovery, some may seek to approach former relationships with a new perspective, eager to resolve old issues more healthily. However, it can come as a blow when the recovering individual realizes that, even though they are changing, those around them are not.
In relationship psychology, there exists the concept of triangulation. With triangulation, one unit member is singled out as the family problem. This isolation of this supposed source of all problems works as a means of minimizing – or ignoring – any other problems which exist within other relationships. Often, it is the addict who is found to be the scapegoat for the less obvious, underlying failures in healthy relationship dynamics.
When addicts stop using, those around them face a similar decision of remaining in former mindsets or changing and evolving more healthy perspectives. For the recovering addict who finds that others are not so willing to change – or are even unable to change due to no longer being around – frustration can ensue. This frustration at continuing lack of resolution can manifest as resentment and tempt the former addict into entertaining thoughts of escapism.
When the road of changing along with others is closed, and the road of beginning to use again is not an option, there remains the road of acceptance. Acceptance that we have been wronged – or are continuing to experience unfair treatment – is the first step to properly processing our resentments. Our next steps involve facing the fact that we can only be responsible for changing ourselves.
Holding onto resentment can work as a dysfunctional shield against this reality. When we are intent on focusing on the shortcomings of others, we are blinded to our failures. When we are blind to our failures, we cannot see any need – or much less way – to change our perspectives or approaches toward life. Being stuck in resentment can result in years of negative emotions and counterproductive decisions. For the former addict, it can be an excuse for returning to substance abuse.
An old proverb admonishes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What is it that you would wish that the other parties in your life would realize and practice? Would you rather they possess empathy and insight into the struggles of others? Would you rather that they educate themselves on better means of communication? Would you rather that they attend therapy or otherwise gain awareness of their unhealthy approaches toward relationships?
These desires for change in the behaviors of others can provide us with our road map to successful recovery and sustained wellness. By taking stock of what we want others to exhibit, we can begin to engage in our development within these areas actively. Our positive mindsets and behaviors can work to influence and inspire those around us to embark on their journeys toward change. And, even if our example does not eventually result in the change of others, we will benefit from the peace our healthy perspectives bring us.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and looking to undergo the recovery process in Connecticut or New York, reach out to Ascendant today. Our New York rehabilitation programs and detox services will help get you on the path toward lifelong sobriety.
Last medically reviewed September 4, 2022