So, you hit what you call rock bottom. You get treatment; they tell you you’re ready for recovery. Then one night, in a moment of impulse, you use again because things are far worse now than what you initially considered your rock bottom. What now? Are you going to return to the same treatment center? Are you going to give up because you can’t deal with the aftermath of reaching a new low?
This concept that things can only get so bad is complete nonsense. Still, some mental and behavioral health care professionals will convince you that the worst is behind you if you maintain sobriety. However, wouldn’t you rather want to know how to handle situations if or when the going gets tough? Don’t risk your health for weak treatment centers; get realistic about your recovery today.
Let’s look at how treatment centers try to convince individuals in need of help that “rock bottom” is as bad as it gets. Be realistic; it can get a lot worse, and you’ll want to be prepared with real tools to help you endure.
Why Do We Care About Rock Bottom So Much Anyway?
There are plenty of different reasons why many places use the phrase rock bottom, but one of the main reasons we focus so much on rock bottom is that we think that it gives us hope that the worst is behind us. It’s an attempt at having a positive mindset. For the most part, the concept of rock bottom does have good intentions. The idea of the worst being behind you can feel motivational. It can put someone at ease. They can forget that they have a chronic, lifelong disease that’s completely affected the structure of their brain and might be directly affected by their environment. All they need to do is enter treatment and poof. They’re recovered, just like that. While it’s a nice thought, it doesn’t reflect reality.
Intention Doesn’t Match the Impact
For the most part, people aren’t trying to mislead those in treatment by talking about rock bottom. Telling a person that the worst is behind them is actually meant to be motivational. It’s supposed to instill hope that they will fight this thing. While the intentions are pure, it doesn’t match the impact that telling someone they’ve experienced their rock bottom can have on a person who has an addiction. For one thing, the hope you’re trying to instill is a false hope at best or a complete lie at worst. The outcome actually leads them to feel hopeless when they learn the hard way that what they experienced before their first round of treatment was, in fact, not their rock bottom. It can absolutely get worse, and it might.
It Only Creates Shame and Confusion
If a person believes in rock bottom messaging, they might feel as if they’ve failed in some way. “That was supposed to be my rock bottom. What happened?” They believed that everything would get better and become easier because they weren’t told the truth. Instead, they find themselves feeling as if their situation is hopeless. They might feel ashamed that they didn’t live up to the standard rock bottom experience or that they had a false idea of their previous experience. That treatment didn’t work, and that’s their fault. They feel embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid to seek help again because wasn’t that supposed to be their rock bottom? Did they not learn their lesson the first time? Why do they keep finding themselves relapsing over and over again? Clearly, they must have something wrong with them if they aren’t changing their behavior. However, none of this is true at all.
Puts Blame on Behavior Instead of Biology
Believing wholeheartedly in a rock bottom ignores biological facts about addiction. Instead, it puts the blame on the person and their behavior. The truth about addiction is that it’s a chronic disease. When you become addicted to substances, your entire brain is rewired. You aren’t the same person as you were before addiction. Your brain now produces serotonin and dopamine differently.
If you started substance use when you were younger, your brain’s development was impacted. It ignores how withdrawal works and the fact that psychological symptoms of withdrawal can affect a person for months, even years after they are sober. It ignores cravings and triggers and how stress and mental health affect a person’s ability to be sober. It ignores the fact that a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction is impacted by both genetics and their environment. There is no behavioral or moral failing when it comes to addiction and relapse. Unfortunately, blaming behavior over biological facts is all too common. In fact, it’s normalized.
Approaching Addiction Realistically Can Provide Hope
Sometimes we feel like if we keep people from the hard truth, we’re protecting them. The real truth is that by ignoring the facts, we’re hurting them and their ability to get better in the long run. We’re hurting their chances of getting better by telling them something that’s supposed to make them feel better but is actually setting them up for failure.
The best way to approach addiction treatment is to stick with the facts. Sugar-coating the truth only causes deception. Telling someone that addiction is a life-long disease won’t make them feel hopeless. Sure, it isn’t flowery or beautiful. It sure isn’t positive. However, what it does is properly prepare themselves for the future. They won’t falsely believe that they are cured because they are in recovery. They’ll know that entering recovery is only the second step to a life of taking care of themselves and keeping it in check.
A doctor doesn’t lie to a person who has cancer. They’re told that they have an illness and that it’s a condition that they will have to manage for the rest of their life. It can be painful to hear, but it’s the truth. You wouldn’t want your doctor to tell you that all you need is to enter chemo, and now you’re cured for life with absolutely no chance of coming out of remission ever. That could be a death sentence. It’s the same with addiction.
The truth that addiction is a life-long challenge that a person will have to face isn’t as hopeless as it seems. There is hope because there are coping mechanisms that are tried and true. There are people who are successful in life and battle addiction. It’s possible as long as you have the tools and never let your guard down when it comes to managing addiction. Honesty about the reality of things also helps the people in the person’s life have realistic expectations.
As long as everyone in the life of someone in recovery understands that addiction is lifelong, they won’t shame a person if they relapse. They won’t be disappointed in someone if they use substances again and need to re-enter treatment. A person who turns to drugs or alcohol won’t have their behavior or morals judged because they slipped up.
How You Can Cultivate Hope in Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Have Realistic Expectations
Addiction won’t be easy, and neither will be maintaining sobriety. You’re going to face many challenges, and there’s a chance you might fail. There are people who maintain sobriety for decades and then experience a relapse. There are ways to prevent relapse and tools you can learn to stay sober, and these tools do work. However, you can’t expect that after leaving treatment, you’re automatically cured with no chance of ever using substances again. Maybe you might, but it’s unlikely, and that’s okay. The important thing is trying your hardest to set yourself up for success and then maintaining that for as long as you can.
Let People Be Human
Whether you have an addiction or you know someone who has an addiction, allow them to make mistakes. Don’t expect a person to manage their addiction purposely. If someone you care about experienced a relapse, don’t hate them for it. It isn’t personal. It isn’t a moral failing. They didn’t do it on purpose. They’re dealing with something that is very difficult and very real. Addiction is a natural occurrence when someone uses substances that affect their brain’s ability to regulate serotonin and dopamine. It’s also natural to be imperfect.
Provide Support No Matter What
If someone you care about, or someone in your recovery community experiences a relapse, don’t abandon them. If they rely on you to be a part of their support system, then they need you now more than ever. Support is important before, during, and after a relapse.
There are always signs that a person is about to physically relapse, as well as signs that a person has already relapsed. If someone you know has an addiction and they are isolating themselves or they seem to be using again, then reach out and offer your support. Let them know that you are here for them. Even if they know that addiction isn’t a moral failing, they might still feel shame. We’re actively battling addiction stigma. Even though we’ve come a long way, we might still internalize it regardless of how much we’re aware it’s not true.
Educate Yourself and Your Friends About Addiction
The best way to remove blame from the person who has an addiction is to educate yourself and the people you care about with the facts. Sometimes beliefs that addiction is a moral or behavioral failing come from a place of ignorance. Their entire education might only come from media depictions of addiction or myths we grow up believing. As long as friends and family know the realities of addiction, they won’t misunderstand what a person with addiction is going through. If the people in your life understand, you won’t feel ashamed if something happens and you need to enter treatment again. Instead, you’ll be surrounded by support and understanding instead of others who are confused as to why you let yourself use substances again.
Approach Addiction Honestly
Whether you’re in the addiction recovery industry, someone who has an addiction, or someone in your life who has an addiction, it’s important to stick to the facts. The way you discuss addiction and view addiction should focus on the biological realities of addiction and how it affects the human body and brain. Believing in things like a set rock bottom or what addiction looks like can become dangerous.
Having expectations of when substance use becomes a problem can become a way to spread misinformation. Instead, be aware of the facts, biases, stigmas, and stereotypes, and do your best to navigate through them. Don’t lie to your loved ones. Don’t lie to yourself. Talk about addiction exactly like it is without sugarcoating it or adding fancy euphemisms. Stick with the difficult yet honest facts, and don’t leave anything out.
Avoid Toxic Positivity
Sure, maybe the world could be a little more positive, but if you’re positive in a way that ignores all negativity, you’re only causing harm. Toxic positivity is when you view the world and a situation in a way that isn’t realistic to the truth. You are ignoring all of the negative aspects and only focusing on the positive parts. The issue with this is that it doesn’t show the entire picture, which is incredibly important in something as real as addiction. Some treatment centers can be guilty of toxic positivity. They want to only focus on getting better instead of entertaining the idea that it’s possible that someone can get worse despite receiving treatment.
If a person is taking a toxic positivity approach to treatment or to life, it doesn’t allow for authenticity. You’re forced to live a lie instead of accepting that the world is filled with both negativity and positivity and that it’s important to balance both. You can accept the negative realities as well as the positive ones. You can accept that addiction is lifelong, but through treatment, you’ve picked up the tools to get there. You can accept that you have an addiction, but now you’re able to accept and love your authentic self. You have an addiction, but you can take this time during recovery to grow as a person and take control of your life.
Remove Shame From Addiction
You might feel ashamed of your addiction, at least in the beginning. Over time — either through addiction treatment or throughout your recovery journey — you will begin to accept that you have an addiction. It takes a while to remove this internalized shame that many people have. The goal of the addiction recovery community as a whole is to remove shame from addiction. That’s the ultimate cultivator of hope. Shame can add to a person’s hopelessness. Due to stigma, outside perception, and ignorance, shame is all too common. Removing shame is a group effort. We all need to work together to remove shame from addiction.
We can do this by educating others, normalizing addiction, providing support, and offering resources. We can also do this by limiting our biases about what addiction looks like in every person. When people stop feeling ashamed of their addiction, they don’t need to associate it with hopelessness. Even if a person has a life-long addiction, there is hope. There’s hope in support, opportunities, fulfillment, and happiness even if someone has an addiction. A person doesn’t need to feel ashamed of their addiction because there is hope that they can live a fulfilling life free of substances despite it.
When people talk about rock bottom, they really do mean well. However, this term can cause a lot more harm than good. While we want people to be hopeful about their present condition and their future, sugar-coating the truth is only lying, which makes things worse. People shouldn’t feel like their struggles with addiction are completely their fault or that their inability to shake off addiction is a moral failing or a behavioral one. The truth is that addiction is a lifelong disease that needs to be managed carefully. It isn’t something that’s going to disappear the minute you enter treatment. It would be nice if that was the truth, but it isn’t.
White House Recovery and Detox in Los Angeles cares deeply about the facts in addiction treatment and recovery. If you’re interested in getting help from people who care, reach out to us today by calling (800) 510-5393.