Mental health awareness is multi-layered. Education, access to resources, and empowerment-based healing are central to our work. Still in many ways, society has stigmas attached to mental health and mental health-related struggles. Therefore, helping society grow beyond these stigmas is embedded in our awareness efforts.
Addiction is a word that immediately upon hearing it, can bring up shame – for individuals, loved ones, or families. But we do not think this should be the case.
Like many other struggles, addiction often has understandable and identifiable roots. Our brains also have the pathways that can lead us to healing, with the right tools.
Our clinician Teayra Gray specializes in working with clients who have or currently struggle with addiction. We shared a conversation about addiction, what is clinically significant substance use, and the realities of recovery.
“When I begin working with a client who struggles with substance use, they often think back to when their addiction started and express anger, guilt, and shame. Many what if’s can be expressed in our first sessions,” Gray shared.
“What if I had someone to talk to when I was fifteen, instead of thirty-five?” The hopes that change could have happened earlier on in their life or someone who noticed could have spoken up is common.
Teayra shared the eye-opening insight that addiction can go undiagnosed in physician and general practitioner visits. That if an individual answers “No” to a question such as, “As soon as you wake up do you reach for a drink?” they can be considered not struggling with addiction..
This unfortunate truth that sometimes healthcare providers will miss an addiction diagnosis highlights the communal nature of mental health and addiction awareness – and the important roles we play in noticing and caring for loved ones.
What Is Addiction
What we know to be clinically significant substance use is not marked by morning use. “Clinically significant substance use is a pattern of using a substance that causes significant problems or distress.”
Impaired control, cravings, strong urges, or attempts to stop using that fail to decrease or stop use are symptoms of substance addiction. As well as social isolation while using or risky use. Teayra defines risky use as “still using a substance even though it is causing disruptions in one’s life.”
When To Ask For Support
Teayra urges anyone who is questioning or concerned about their substance use to seek support. “If you are questioning whether or not you are addicted, you should talk to someone,” she says.
Choosing who to talk to first is often a difficult decision for someone who is struggling. To which Teayra suggests, “talk to someone you trust.” This may mean a therapist or health care professional. This could also be a friend or family member.
It is possible to “experience a response from someone that brings less shame than anticipated,” Gray shared. And this kind of conversation can begin a life-changing trajectory. Talking to someone who is nonjudgemental, open, and caring is a great place to start.
Addiction Is Curable
It is important to raise awareness around the fact that it is possible to heal from addiction. Part of why we are so passionate about nonverbal therapies is because of their ability to help people change stubborn patterns, behaviors, or thought processes.
EMDR is shown to be effective in helping some individuals heal from addiction. Though the substance is “likely something an individual will be aware of for the rest of their life,” Teayra noted. Years into recovery, the cravings and symptoms of addiction will not dictate and inhibit an individual’s quality of life.
Therapy can help empower them so that they are in control.
Realistic Recovery Expectations
Shame can accompany recovery, even on the best of days. Having a realistic perspective about what recovery from addiction can look like helps an individual and those in their support system.
- Recovery is not linear – Some days it feels like you are taking leaps and strides. During others, it feels like you are regressing. Both of these can be true.
- Relapse can be part of the process. If it happens, this does not mean you have failed. Each time you relapse, you can also learn something about yourself and what you need on your healing journey. Then, take this lesson with you into your next stage of recovery.
- Be patient with yourself. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I am going to be addicted to something.” Addiction is not your fault. There is something else under your struggle. A big part of recovery is getting to that root and healing from it.
- Recovery is possible. Hearing other people’s stories of healing can be uplifting and help you believe in your own process. Our Resilient Brain Project has a wealth of resources, stories, and tools for those struggling with addiction.
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About The Authors:
Teayra Gray is a clinician at The Viva Center in Washington, D.C. She applies EMDR, Brainspotting, and other trauma-informed approaches to help clients heal from depression, addiction, women’s issues, and more.