Let me start by saying this, when it comes to dealing with substance use issues, abstinence is the best, surest way to lasting success. I fully believe that. The reason I want to say that first because this can be a sensitive topic to many. Just in case, I will say it again, abstinence works and it is the ideal path to recovery, however, people get there in different ways.
We all know that in life we are not always faced with ideal situations. Rather, quite often we have to work with what we have in front of us for the time being and then strive to move forward and upward from there in a positive direction. So often in today’s world of substance abuse treatment (particularly in outpatient settings) counselors are faced with people who are unwilling or not yet ready to try abstinence (as I have mentioned in previous blogs.) Many individuals are often afraid to let go of their substance use because it is the only thing that they know. The thought of life without any substances can be a huge leap of faith that many individuals at first are unwilling to take.
Imagine if a sailor on a boat came across someone left alone in rough open seas, perhaps from a shipwreck, desperately holding on tightly to a piece of driftwood to keep afloat with nowhere else to turn. Would the sailor on the boat shout out to the person to let go of the piece of driftwood first, promising afterward to throw them a lifeline? Of course not; the sailor would throw out the lifeline FIRST, then ask the person to let go of the driftwood and grab the lifeline to be pulled in and rescued. In rough seas, the sailor may even need to throw out the lifeline several times before it lands close enough for the person holding the driftwood to fully let go of the wood and grab hold of the rescue line. This would be especially true if the person holding the driftwood couldn’t swim in the rough seas, which would increase the level of fear and hesitancy to let go.
This analogy has a direct parallel for some individuals who are dependent upon substances like drugs and alcohol. Like the individual holding the driftwood, the thought of letting go and reaching for the lifeline of sobriety and recovery can be very fear-inspiring and extremely overwhelming. This is especially true for people who lack the knowledge, supports and skills needed to successfully “swim” on their own through the rough “seas” of life. Helping these people requires poise, acceptance and enduring composure on the part of the counselor trying to throw out that lifeline. Often multiple attempts are needed before someone is willing to let go of their substance use which may be all that the person has had to hold on to for so long.
(AP Photo/The Des Moines Register,Andrea Melendez)