An addict in full-blown addiction is an individual in tremendous pain. Perhaps you know someone that has a problem, and you can see the evidence around them, in the disintegration of their health, relationships, or career. Or maybe you know a person that seemed completely normal, even very happy and successful, and then their life suddenly imploded and they disappeared into rehab the next day. 

Some addicts suffer silently, and some thrash with great noise. Either way, their experience of life is a response to some kind of emotional injury. All humans experience pain. Sometimes the pain drives us forward into growth, other times it can drive us backwards in fear.

An addict’s path of growth demands that they face old fear, because it continues coming back in different forms. There comes a rock bottom, a turning point, where the pain of addiction becomes greater than the pain of growth, and they stand, square-shouldered, and face life.

They cannot be forced into it. They must arrive in their own time. Until they do, the addict’s experience of life is hell. An addict that is active in their addiction is clenched by things of torture.

1. They are Stuck in Denial. Addicts think they can use will power to control themselves. They think they are not as bad as others with similar behavior. They think they are not hurting anyone. They tell themselves that the destruction of their bodies, their relationships, their souls, and their future is not as bad as it looks. It is difficult for addicts to admit how badly they have failed themselves, and even more difficult for them to admit how much they have hurt their families. To an addict, the best way ahead is to build layer upon layer of lies and pretend that nothing is wrong, dragging all the fear, pain, and problems behind them. They do not yet realize that problems can be faced, dealt with, and then let go.

2. They are Entrenched in Delusion. Their minds are fragmented and reality is distorted. Some facts of life are minimized, misrepresented, or ignored altogether. Or perhaps they have hypnotized themselves with a set of beliefs that were true at one point, yet now are complete and utter lies. They rationalize any incongruency to jump from one mis-step to another, connecting dots in a way that makes insanity appear reasonable. Looking at the reality of what they have done to themselves and to others is not an option because they can honestly believe that they do not have a problem.

3. They are Clinging to Old Ways. Addicts hold beliefs about their identity, about other people, and about the world, sometimes for many years, without any re-evaluation. They function almost entirely on habits that have been so conditioned that they are normalized. They hold tightly to what is known and familiar, despite new, obvious, or better options. As they become more stagnant, addicts may begin to get frustrated or irritable. Yet they will keep walking in the same loops, while the world passes them by, because venturing into the unknown is an unthinkable risk.

4. They Take all They Can for Themselves. Addicts do not share their inner selves with others, they do not risk rejection, and they do not ask for help. At their core, they have decided that only they can be relied upon for satisfying their needs, and they never consider the needs of others before their own. The drug or the alcohol or the money or the sex or the junk food are so easy to rely upon, because they promise a high, and they always deliver. The hard lesson for addicts is that the need to be high is bottomless, and the itch is only scratched for a brief moment. It will always come back screaming with another promise. There is no sense of giving or receiving in a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Rather, they take all they can, and all they want.

5. They are Frozen by Fear. There are no two addicts with exactly the same story, yet trauma of some kind has occurred among each one of them. It may have been a few horrendous moments, or it could have been many little hurts added up over time. Whatever happened, addicts carry the fear of old pain exploding again. Some of them fear making mistakes. Some of them fear being ridiculed. Some of them fear being rejected. There are so many choices that could lead to more pain, and they deem it safer to not act because their thoughts insist that they cannot take it.

6. They do not Trust Anyone. At some point in the life of an addict, someone that they loved failed them. The hurt was so bad, they fled inward, closed their hearts, and protected it from being hurt again. They concluded that other people were not safe, not necessary even, and they closed themselves to the world. In that kind of isolation, a person can become hard, bitter, and resentful. There is only one way to crack through such resistance, and it’s an impossible thing to force happening. Healing from old hurts means that an addict must take the leap and trust a person, and that person must earn it and deserve it. The best help a family can offer in this direction is to let an addict know that such people do exist, and they can be found.  

Watching addicts struggle and live with inner torture can be heartbreaking. Perhaps you have a partner, or a sibling, or a child that is wrecking their life and the lives of others because they cannot or will not break free from addiction. You, on the other hand, can see another path for them. You can see alternatives. You can see a way out. You might desperately wish and hope that they finally wake up and do something about it. You might feel crazy or helpless because you’ve tried, and there is nothing that you can do to make them change their ways.

Imagine that you see your addict, your loved one, with their arms and legs crooked like tree branches. Long ago their limbs were broken and never properly healed. You see them hobbling around, struggling to complete even basic tasks, concerned for them. By the course of many bad decisions, they never dealt with the old injuries, and now avoid the pain of re-setting their arms and legs at any cost.

An addict must reach out to others for help, they must admit they were wrong, they must admit they are afraid. They must do these things that they have never done before in their lives. To them, these are not simple acts. These are painful things, and they must walk into them willingly. 

They must choose to feel pain, after years, decades, or a lifetime spent killing pain.

And so they must walk directly into it. They must seek help for old wounds, learn how to care for themselves, and it is going to hurt. You might want to say, “It will be okay, I will protect you from feeling pain,” but this is not the truth. Yes, it will eventually be okay, but you cannot protect them now. You cannot spare them the feelings of pain they have been avoiding their whole lives. They are the ones that have been carrying it, they are the ones that must release it. They must re-set old bones. They must feel it.

The breaking will hurt. It will be difficult to watch them do it. After the breaking, at last, there is something that we can do to help. We stay there, while they scream and wail and thrash, we stay there as the pain peaks and then slowly begins to taper off. We reach out our hands. Help them stand up. Help them walk again.

We let them know that we will be there if they walk into it. The choice to walk is up to them.      

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. 

Elizabeth Appell