I am on holiday staying with close friends, last Sunday morning my friend applied for a job working with alcohol and drug abusers. Her reason for taking it rather than staying with a current job was partly pay, although it is even shorter term than her current one, partly status as it is ‘proper’ social work although it is no more secure than her current job (both have short term contracts) and that means that her clients have to see her.
I challenged her on this, my dealings with addicts suggest that it takes lots of self discipline to stay off what you are addicted to. That it is a niggle that wears away at a person. She then made the comment that for most addicts accessing services meant they had to acknowledge their addiction and to do this was to undermine their already poor self esteem. This is wronger than a wrong thing that is mistaken (Erin:Ship-of-fools).
The thing is there are two things that build real self esteem in my book and the first has to come first. According to Jurgen Wolff, Brian Tracy when stuck in the desert with a friends and a broken down landrover, faced the first. That is if life is to be worthwhile, it is up to us to take responsibility for what is going on in it at the moment. Not seek to blame but in the same way a treasurer is responsible for a clubs money. Circumstances can be someone-else’s fault and nearly always we are co-creators of them with others, but on the whole the finding of blame is pretty pointless. Rather the question that is useful is “What am I going to do about it?” Doing something to try and improve the situation, in Brian Tracy’s case help fix the Landrover, is the crucial step. It changes one from victim to active player. There is no guarantee of success but you have made failure less likely.
It is recorded that most addicts don’t believe they are addicted. They believe they can give it up at any time and because they never try they never fail at that! The fact that the addiction is controlling more and more of their lives is not taken into consideration. They will justify doing it, even telling themselves lies. I have seen it, it is not pretty. Keeping the addiction going becomes a method to avoid dealing with other things. It eventually becomes the overarching organising principle of their lives and in doing so it saps their self esteem. Until someone in this situation faces up to the fact that they are responsible for their lives including their addiction nothing will change. So much as my friend may like to spare them that step until they do, there is no future and there will be no growth in self esteem.
The second part is altogether pleasanter and that is to find a non-judgemental accountable community. This is difficult, I suspect that for at least the first few years the person needs daily contact with the community. That is asking a lot of any group of people. It certainly isn’t a one off thing. I suspect that it is not accidental that where such communities have existed they have had religious overtones (from Alcoholics Anonymous “higher power” to Evangelical Christian missions in Russia). The real good news as far as alcoholics go, is that when they are going sober, they often are some of the best and most skilled people at doing this. I do not know whether this is the case for drug users. I do know that other groups such as writers groups and so forth can form a similar function for parts of a persons life.
I suspect that for a few individuals of exceptional character the second may not be necessary, but it certainly eases the struggle. Unfortunately if the second happens without the first you can well end up supporting someone’s self delusion. If that is addiction that could well make the situation worse.
Please note I am not saying addiction is solely a self-esteem issue, it isn’t. It has many other facets, not least of which is craving, which is almost certainly due to brain chemistry and is very unlike other desires in that it is very close to compulsive.