To those with substance use disorder-
You see the faces of your loved ones when you use or relapse and you translate that look on their face as shame. Because you feel shame.
But it’s not that. It’s fear. We are gripped with mortal fear that you will die from substance use disorder.
We want to understand it as a disease. But it’s hard because it is so different from our usual definition of disease. We are not tempted to throw cancer patients out the door because we’ve had enough.
When you steal from us, we struggle not to be angry. It’s your disease that forces you to do it to keep withdrawals at bay. Your disease makes you manipulate and lie. It’s not you but it looks like you so it’s hard to separate the two. We have such a hard time with that and take it personally. The yelling is a result of frustration. At one point, we might even believe we can shame you out of the drug use because we are so desperate to get you to stop. We pray hard, beg God to get you to stop and our prayers aren’t answered until we ask for the strength to cope.
When you feel shame, you use more. Our reactions can fuel that use but at first we don’t get that because we don’t understand the disease. You love and care about us, so you suffer until you take a hit and then we’re angry you have chosen that escape. At that that point, we may think it’s a choice but it is no longer that because the drugs have taken your brain hostage. Why you? Good God we’ve asked that a thousand times.
Because we think at first you are dong this to us. It takes a long time for us to understand that you are not.
We think of it as your recovery. You are the sick one after all right? But it’s our recovery, too. Like you, it takes us a long time to understand, become educated, and know how to support you.
Prior to that, the way we help is hurts you and adds to your shame. At first, we may even use that shame as a weapon but then most of us learn it’s not helpful.
So next time you see that look in the eyes of the one you love, give that person a hug. Tell them thank you for loving you through a disease that makes people angry. You can’t make them find recovery even if they need it. Just like we can’t force you.