My Addiction Resources is still a very new site, but already I’ve heard from a number of addicts and people who suspect they might be addicts sharing their stories, and those stories are sacred to me.
I’ve also heard from a number of people who have friends or family members who are addicts. These people are just as sincere and heartbroken and often at a loss as to what to do for their loved one.
Both of these groups of people need to know what addiction recovery tools are out there, which is the main point of this site, as there is a lot of overlap between what an addict can do to help their recovery and what an addict’s loved ones need to know to help them in that effort.
To prime the pump a little, I decided to share with you some secret things addicts tend to keep inside. If you are an addict, maybe this list will help you clarify some of your own thoughts and let you know you aren’t alone. If you are a friend or family member of an addict, I hope this will help give you some perspective into their world that will help you as you relate to them.
So, let’s get into the 5 Secrets Addicts Wish You Knew! Number 3 will shock you! Just kidding; it probably won’t.
Secret #1: We Really Want to Stop
I thought I’d come out of the gates hot.
I realize that it might not seem like addicts want to stop. When you see what lengths we’ll go to in order to act out on our addiction, and when you see that we keep doing it no matter how much damage is done, it’s easy to get the idea that this is just something we really want – a choice that we make – because we enjoy it.
But let me ask you this: how many heroin addicts do you think enjoy being heroin addicts? Dealing with criminals, potentially in dangerous areas? Spending all kinds of money you don’t have and ruining yourself as a result? The crippling physical problems when you don’t get your drug? Potentially using needles that you don’t know where they’ve been? The constant threat of what might happen to you if anyone finds out?
Do you really think this is what someone wants? Do you think this is a lifestyle they’d choose? Do you think someone in this situation feels like their life is on track and headed in good directions?
Well, no, right? That’s absurd.
A heroin addict may want heroin because they’re addicted to it, but they sure don’t want to be a heroin addict.
The same is true for virtually every addict out there. If they could flip the switch that would take the addiction away, they would. I remember countless nights praying for God to just take my struggle away. “If it’s a free will issue, you have my permission to violate it,” I’d say.
As frustrating as it might be to watch someone engage in these behaviors again and again and again, you have to keep in mind that they don’t want to be this way.
“So, why don’t they just stop?” you ask? I’m glad you asked that, hypothetical reader! That leads me to Secret #2.
Secret #2: The Behavior is a Compulsion, Not a Decision
Several years ago, I used to teach intensive night classes for full-time workers who wanted to learn new careers. Because of the schedule, I’d basically be wired on coffee and cookies for hours. Plus, it was often a stressful environment.
Well, I developed a heart murmur. I had to wear a heart monitor under my shirt. I was very young and worried about having a heart attack. I cut out the cookies and the coffee, and eventually the murmur went away.
When I was confronted with severe negative consequences for my behavior, I chose to change it. Yes, I liked cookies, and yes, I wanted that coffee. I needed to stay awake and have energy and focus late into the night. But I was not addicted to those things and, when the other choice was “heart attack,” I chose to give them up.
If I had been a caffeine or a sugar or a food addict, though, that scenario would have played out very differently.
You see, an addict will keep pursuing their behaviors even if it kills them.
I can’t tell you all the times that I cried while I was acting on my behaviors or afterward. I didn’t want to be doing them. I despised those behaviors and I despised myself. I knew I was hurting people I loved. I was suffering consequences for my behaviors, and I knew I was headed for a terrible end. If I’d kept going, I’d probably be living by myself in some closet somewhere, or maybe even dead.
I knew all those things, and unlike my coffee and cookies issue, I could not stop.
If someone is an addict, there is something that is not functioning properly. Addicts are “broken” in the specific sense of the word. The normal flow we use for deciding on behavior, making judgments, weighing consequences, etc. is broken in this area. It gets short-circuited.
The reasons behind this will vary from person to person, but the end result is the same: an addict does not choose to use the thing they’re addicted to – they’re compelled to do so, and they will seek it out and go to any lengths to act on that compulsion no matter what the consequences are.
If you take someone who’s addicted to pizza, and you put a slice in front of them and hold a gun to their head, and you threaten to shoot them if they eat that pizza, and you sit there long enough, they will reach for that pizza. Or they will figure out how they can get the pizza when you get tired of watching them. Or they will plan where they can get pizza after you let them out of your sight.
Under no circumstances will your threat actually get them to stop eating pizza, even though that seems totally insane.
This is why approaches to addicts that involve berating them or reasoning with them about their behavior or instituting worse and worse consequences will not break the addiction.
As a side note, reasoning and consequences may prompt an addict to seek help. No one I’m aware of is addicted to not getting help for their addiction, so if you’re a parent or a spouse of an addict, you might try focusing your efforts on directing them to get help rather than stopping the behavior.
Secret #3: Our Addiction Will Protect Itself
One of the interesting things about viruses is that, since they are living things, they will protect themselves.
They will move up your nasal passages to where it is warm and wet so they can grow and thrive. They will hijack your body’s protective systems and use them to spread themselves. They will make you feel like… not going to the doctor or getting the fluids or nutrients you need to recover.
An addiction is not a living organism like a virus is, but somehow it manages to exhibit similar behavior.
If you’re looking for evidence for the existence of an intelligence behind evil in the world, addiction would be a good place to start. It is not a living thing, but it seems perfectly designed to protect itself and keep itself going until its host is destroyed.
Have you ever wondered why addicts everywhere don’t just come clean? Why they don’t just tell people what’s going on so they can get the help they need?
That’s not what happens, is it? Addicts hide their behavior, whether it’s stashing bottles of alcohol or stacks of pornography where you won’t find it. Addicts will lie to your face about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing, even if they are basically honest people in other areas of their lives. Addicts will be confronted with irrefutable evidence of what they’ve done and will tell you why that evidence is false.
Addicts will lie to you. Addicts will steal from you. People who are perfectly moral in all other areas of life will go full on beast mode if it looks like their addiction will be discovered or go unfulfilled.
I know it sounds crazy, but I told so many lies, hid so much, and concocted some craziest stories before I recovered, all to keep my addiction hidden and intact and so I could continue to feed it.
What’s more, we will isolate ourselves when it comes to our addiction.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we isolate ourselves all the time or even that we’ll practice our addiction in isolation, but when it comes to dealing with our addiction, we’ll pull in. We don’t want to talk to you about it. We don’t want to tell a friend. We don’t want to talk to our pastor. We don’t want to go to a group or a therapist.
This is, incidentally, why the first, powerful blow to the chains of our addictions is to get someone else in that room with us.
Just like viruses can use our bodily functions against us, addictions use our brains against us, which takes us to Secret #4.
Secret #4: Our Brains Are Telling Us Terrible Things
“If people really knew me, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”
“I have secrets so deep and so dark that nobody would be able to understand or accept them.”
“No one can help me. I’m on my own.”
“God knows what I’m doing and despises me.”
That’s just a few samples from the rich buffet of sludge that is an addict’s believe system.
Sometimes, these are beliefs that live deep down under the surface. They are the foundations of our thoughts, but we’re not aware we actually believe them. They’re like a table saw that is off by 20 degrees, so that every piece of wood it cuts is also off by 20 degrees.
Sometimes, we are very aware of these beliefs because they are ringing in our heads all the time as self-talk, as if there is someone on our shoulder accusing us constantly.
Where did these beliefs come from? It’s different for every person. Some of them probably came from childhood experiences and interpretations. Some of them are defense mechanisms. Some of them may be conclusions we drew later in life based on our past history. Some of them can even come from our religion.
What’s more, once we start living out of these thoughts, we tend to create a life around us that affirms our thoughts rather than contradicts them. If we think nobody wants to get to know us, then we keep them at arm’s length, and they don’t. If we believe we’re more screwed up than everyone else, we surround ourselves with people who will confirm that feeling, usually people who present a very moral face to the world.
Whatever the case, these beliefs are deeply entrenched and almost impossible to dislodge without a lot of work. The beliefs will continue to interpret evidence in ways that affirms them. All of this leads to a sort of mental cage that addicts live in where the bars are composed of beliefs that continually make them feel isolated, ashamed, unhelped, and unworthy of help.
If you are the friend or relative of an addict, you might pause for a moment and consider whether you have unintentionally reinforced these beliefs.
These thoughts create all kinds of bad feelings, especially shame, which is the Big Daddy of all emotions that drive addictive behavior. And when this happens – you guessed it! – the addiction is there to make the bad feelings go away, at least for a while.
And this is the genius of the trap, because the addictive behaviors actually reinforce the validity of the beliefs and the shame that they bring, which makes you want to act out more, which makes the beliefs stronger and the shame increase, which makes you… you can see where this is going.
Secret #5: We Are Surrounded By Pain We Can’t Tolerate
I want to say at the beginning that I know it can be hellish to live with an addict. We’re like freaking cyclones, tearing up our own lives and the lives of everyone around us. I want to be clear that, if you are close to an addict, I know they bring a lot of pain into your life, and I am not for a moment trying to say that you’re not suffering or even that you’re not suffering as badly.
It can be easy, though, especially in your own suffering, to think that addicts are not suffering. You look at them from the outside, and it looks like they’re just getting everything they want and they don’t care who they hurt.
The truth is that an addict is constantly bombarded by pain, and they don’t have the resources to deal with it.
Most of us learn resilience as we grow up. Nobody’s childhood is free from pain, and we learn that we can feel sad or angry and not let those behaviors come out in destructive ways.
But remember, an addict’s brain has a short-circuit in it. Something that may seem like an irritation to you may feel like a world-ender to them. Resilience is very low, so they turn to things outside of themselves to ride out their pain and unpleasant experiences.
At some point, we come to the realization that life comes at you hard and it comes at you fast and it does not owe you anything. This is rough for everybody, but if you have the tools to deal with it, you do.
If you don’t have the tools to deal with it, this seems crushing. The things you might think of as “just part of life” may be close to trauma-level experiences of fear and pain for addicts, and this pain is always available in plentiful supply if you go looking for it.
But above and beyond that, addicts also experience pain because of their addiction and the things that drive it.
In all honesty, the main thing that keeps me from relapsing is the memory of what my daily life felt like when I was an addict. The constant fear of discovery, the shame and despair of knowing I was hurting the people I loved and the hypocrisy and the lies. The risks that mounted up due to my behavior and what I stood to lose, both in my family and my career.
My breath is actually getting short as I write that paragraph, because I remember all that deep in my bones.
When you pile all that onto a person who does not have the tools for dealing with pain in healthy ways, you have a recipe for addiction, because the addiction is what we turn to in order to handle the pain.
Isn’t that crazy? The addiction -causes- pain and is also what we go to in order to -relieve- that pain. I didn’t say it made sense; I’m just telling you what it is.
“That doesn’t fit my situation,” you might think. “So-and-so is an addict and doesn’t have any pain in their life at all.”
That just isn’t true.
Keep in mind that you’re thinking about their situation from the outside and as a person who probably has a decent amount of resilience and healthy coping mechanisms. The things that feel painful to them might not even show up on your radar as a painful thing.
I don’t understand why rock stars rolling in money and adoring fans use drugs, get depressed, and sometimes even kill themselves. Externally, it seems like their lives are dreams, right? But the reality is that they do all those things, because something about their lives makes it hell for them.
I don’t have to understand it; I just have to acknowledge that it’s real.
What To Do About All This
At the very least, I hope this helped you think about addicts in new ways. Having the right frame of reference makes it easier and more natural to do the right things.
If you are an addict reading this, I hope you come away knowing that “nobody would understand me” stuff is flat out BS that your brain is telling you. I understand you, and this article is proof, because we share a struggle.
And I’m not some rare, perceptive guy. There are tons and tons of people who understand you and can help you get out of this. You don’t need to feel the things you feel and do the things you do. I know, because if you’d told me five years ago that I would love my life and freely choose not to do the things I was compulsively doing, I’d have thought you were crazy, but it happened.
If you know an addict, I hope this lets you into their world. They need your love and your support. They need you to direct them toward help. They need to know that you’re an ally because they believe they don’t have one. They don’t need berating or reminders of how bad their choices are. They know.
Above all, I hope this gives anyone reading this a greater sense of compassion for addicts and a greater desire to help them get this out in the open and get the help they need to break the cycle. If we become safer as a society towards addicts, then more addicts will come forward, which is the first step toward getting rid of addiction altogether.
What do you think? Did any of these stand out for you? Was any of this new information? Do you know of other “secrets” we could add to the list? Let me know in the Comments.