Asking for Help: How to Knock Down Barriers for Addicts and Their Support Systems.
Barrier 1. Fear
Asking for help in the midst of addiction can be a very scary act and that fear can keep you sick. The thought of, “Who will I be sober?” “Who am I outside my addiction?” “Will I be able to survive without drugs and alcohol?” These are thoughts that keep many from seeking treatment despite the ongoing negative consequences of their addiction. Hiding underneath the fear are typically feelings of guilt and shame. Feelings of guilt and shame also keep addicts from reaching out and seeking help. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak it’s a courageous act. Pride, ego, and selfishness can hold one back and it takes humility to reach out for support. Humility is a necessary part of recovery.
“Be smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.”- Zaid Abdelnour
Family members of an addict also struggle in asking for help for fear they will be judged, misunderstood, or have to deal with the stigma of addiction. I’ve worked with many families who report, “No one understand what we are going through and we feel ashamed talking to others who say we should just cut them off.” Addicts still have to deal with stigma within their communities, jobs, with medical professionals, and within their own families. Families may cover up the fact that they are dealing with addiction due to a lack of education, denial, or fear of the reality of their situation. Sometimes families are driven by fear and are paralyzed by the fact that they don’t know how to help their loved ones.
Barrier 2. Being a Burden
Another barrier that stops one from asking for help is the sense that they are a burden to their friends and family. Some feel that they will let their loved ones down again if they can’t stay sober or don’t live up to the expectations they feel the family has set for them. Client’s may say, “I don’t even want to try because if I fail I will hurt my family even more.” Sometimes addicts have set high expectations for themselves and they will self-sabotage so they won’t be disappointed in themselves if they fail. Sometimes people feel that asking for help is a weakness and they “should” be able to do it on their own. Most treatment centers incorporate group therapy and community support so you won’t be alone on your journey for recovery and have accountability along the way. Instead of a burden you become one of many dealing with an addiction and one of many working towards recovery.
“Asking for help doesn’t mean your weak it means your wise”- Anonymous
Families also express holding in their concerns because they don’t want to be a burden on their friends or support systems either. Families are also encouraged to talk about their experiences by utilizing support groups for family members of addicts like; Alanon, families anonymous, adult children of alcoholics, and substance related grief support. This can be a safe first step by walking into the rooms to just listen you may gain the knowledge, support, and understanding that you have been seeking. These groups are held together by people sharing their experience, strength, and hope with each other to combat those feelings of hopelessness and by providing comfort knowing they are not alone.
Barrier 3. Willingness to be Honest
Honesty and willingness is key when asking for help, because it sets you up with a solid foundation to begin your recovery. The act of surrender and overcoming your denial requires rigorous honesty. To be willing and open to help can be the difference in long term sobriety. Asking for help is a sign of strength and the courage to heal. Most family and friends respect that in a person especially in someone they care about but may be skeptical of the honesty of the addict. It’s not enough to just stop using it’s more beneficial to dig deeper to the root of why one started using in the first place. Dealing with the underlying issues that triggered these behaviors in the first-place leads to longer term sobriety. Lying and manipulation have likely become a large part of your routine while using drugs or alcohol but that doesn’t have to be a part of your recovery. Trust can be built back up with consistent behavior over time. Honesty is letting go of your ego and realizing that you can’t do this alone that you need help. Once you get honest with yourself and others you will be able to move forward and start your journey towards change.
“Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.”- James E. Faust
It can be hard for family to understand the importance of the addict’s desire or willingness to get sober. Sometimes family members mean well in trying to facilitate help for the addict but this can perpetuate cycles of enabling, poor boundaries, and codependency. If one is not ready to accept help getting the help may not yield the best results. This can be the hardest part for families is to step back and be supportive with boundaries, love, and limits. Families can wait until they see that consistent behavior over time to build back trust with you. Family members and supports are also recommended to get their own support and recovery due to the dynamics within addiction, everyone is affected.
Barrier 4. Guilt and Shame
Asking for help can put one in a vulnerable position. It can be extremely shameful to open the door and share those secrets one may have locked away, never wanting to address. There can be feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about needing help to work through these deeper issues. Learning how to heal and grow in recovery is nothing to be ashamed of in fact most support systems are grateful when their loved one has finally reached out for help. Remember, even though you may be the one who is actively addicted drugs or alcohol your family and friends are affected by the dynamics as well. For many guilt and shame keep them stuck in a negative loop of relapses or multiple treatments due to not working through their core issues. Asking for help doesn’t mean just deal with the surface issues it means people are willing to jump in the pit with you and help you dig out all the guilt and shame you may have buried deep since early addiction.
“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” —Deepak Chopra
Families also come with their fair share of guilt and shame. Questions like, “Why my son or daughter?” “I wasn’t a good parent.” “What should I have done?” “Why won’t they let me help them?”, can plague a family member into many sleepless nights. This kind of guilt and shame is not effective or productive because these things are out of your control. The best thing a family member can do is show love and support with healthy boundaries. If someone is requesting help, help them but don’t force it if they have no interest. You want to be a supportive without trying to control the situation or the outcome due to previous guilt or shame.
Barrier 5. How do I get help for myself or a loved one?
Today there are many different types of help to choose from; inpatient, outpatient, medical detox, therapy, community support groups, medicine, and spirituality, just to name a few. There is not one road for any traveler. While all of our journeys are different they can all lead to the same place. A place of hope, healing, and rebuilding a healthy sober life with the support of family or friends around us. If you are still unsure if you want to get help or what to do to get help reach out to professional organizations to learn more. At Footprints to Recovery our admissions coordinators are there to explore your options with you and provide you with the knowledge you need to determine what is best for you. Find the courage to change the things you can because healing is possible and worth it.
Author: Jenny Wagner LCPC, CADC, – Footprints to Recovery – Clinical Director