Trapped in addiction? Important steps in the healing process

Based on insights from my client’s stories and subsequent reflections, the journey towards healing entails a progression of stages, and we identified a number of particular themes, emphasising the evolving nature of their spiritual growth or healing of the self on the road to full recovery. Healing is not a linear process, my clients all agreed that responsible action includes being willing to try and fail and try again.

1.  Anguish

Any form of addictiion results in a ‘loss of self’, experienced as a loss of personal agency, normally reflected in varying degrees of vulnerability. This state of vulnerability harbours an absence of personal meaning and purpose, with the individual feeling restless and disconnected from the self and isolated from the world at large. A ‘restlessness’ of the self, or being in conflict with reality, is compounded by an inability to give up on the addiction which is sustained by patterns of compulsion and dependence.

What is hopeful to know is that this state of anguish or helplessness is normally foundational to the first stage of recovery; it is during this period that individuals seek counselling and support.

2.  Awakening

This is the most important step in the healing journey. Although individuals now receive counselling, this second leg of the journey is preceded by a long time in which the self is divided. The process of awakening requires coming to discover what is meant by both health and illness – and acknowledgement that their suffering is not just physical, but also spiritual and emotional. Individuals may face set-backs and disappointments and need much encouragement and support.

The period of awakening goes hand-in-hand with a long process of transformation. This happens when clients come to recognize that they are being held in bondage to the demands of addiction due to their limited perpectives, overpowering emotions and values. Awakening signifies a time of wrestling, but with that comes a growing awareness of new perspectives regarding choice, personal agency and voice. It is through the period of awakening that my clients gained new insights as they came to think ‘outside the cage’. Thinking about themselves differently opened up new approaches to confront the addictive behaviour.

3.  Insight

My clients shared with me their stories. Sharing highlighted the tensions and conflict in the narratives they held, and lived about themselves. These stories often portrayed a self that was unworthy, helpless and unable to stand up to the demands of the addiction. Importantly, they came to understand how the ‘so-called truths’ contained in these stories gave power to the addictive behaviour, because we live the stories we believe and tell about ourselves. Sometimes, a newly discovered spirituality found in a relatedness with a Power larger than the self, opened possibilities not experienced before. They spoke of transcendent experiences which transformed their lives and the joy and pleasure of participating in life again.

‘I started to talk to God about things, connecting in that way, reading my Bible when I felt sad. And I fell in love with the idea of having some-one or something in my life that promised not to let me down’

‘Something happened to me. I did not look for it, it just happened! For the first time for as long as I can remember, I see things around me bright and clear, almost as if they were not there before! I see nature, I feel it in my body, I see the autumn leaves so bright and beautiful it hurts my eyes’

4.  Determined commitment and well-being

I believe that recovery lies in every person becoming serious about the consequences of their addiction. Recovery constitutes what the individual does for himself/herself in the process of healing, and is not something that can be done for a person by others. This implies

•  freedom to choose, allowing the client to manage the demands of addiction, something which they found empowering and assisted them in taking an active role in their own healing

•  becoming investigators in an active process of self-discovery, and the practice of self-discipline with self-care, something which became crucial to healing.

•  taking back control of their lives from the hold of addiction, overcoming feelings of helplessness and perceptions of victimization, while building their own sense of self-worth

‘I had to make an effort to start seeing things happening around me. I had to colour in my dull and grey world. And I did! This is where things started to change!’

‘I had to continue discovering the pleasure and purpose in life, rather fighting the elements that took it away from me. It became an everyday challenge, I trained myself to search for the good in every hour of every day, and not give in. I had to work towards my own good and not against myself’

5.  Empowerment and healing

With a new awareness of their own strength and spirituality, my clients were empowered to exercise these knowledges in all areas of their lives. This meant

•  standing up to self-doubt. Accepting certain personal limitations or vulnerabilities became a valuable aspect of recovery. It calls for a high degree of self-awareness, requiring attentiveness both to sources of stress and positive resources in the environment. 

•  the active development of new counter-practices, new habits and ways of thinking and non-participation in stories that held their lives in bondage.

•  making and maintaining life-style choices that would be life-enhancing rather than destructive.

•  working towards re-establishing meaning and purpose in their lives.