Treatment for Substance Abuse
A Higher Power, Never A Consideration
By Ned Wicker
The worst nightmare a mother has to suffer the unthinkable loss of a child. Mothers of addicted children carry a difficult burden of guilt—for not doing enough, for not doing something soon enough, for not seeing it all coming. Even if mom does everything right, sometimes it’s not enough and the worse case scenario comes crashing down on the family. It’s difficult to walk a mile in their shoes.
Addiction is a family disease, as every life is touched in one way or another and all members of the family play a role in the recovery process. Parents of addicted children turn to others for help and support, not knowing what to do or who to turn to, and most of the time the plea for help is for a medical or psychological intervention. Is there something somebody can do to help my child?
But addiction, unlike diabetes or heart disease, is a disease of the spirit as much as it is a disease of the body and mind, and therefore a spiritual component to the recovery process is very helpful in assisting the addicted person down the path to wholeness.
But the spirit is often ignored in treatment and recovery, as our society goes more and more secular, blocking out the spiritual in favor of the scientific. We look for the “cure” but we do not necessarily look for a way to overcome or persevere.
The loss of a child, or the long-suffering from the disease, can result in bitterness and disappointment. Our efforts to help have fallen short. The treatments did not work. I spoke to a woman recently who said her son had done the 12 Step and declared it ineffective. One follow-up question was all it took to understand why the program failed. “He never got through Step 2.”
The reason he never got through Step Two, as she described it, was because he was an atheist and did not accept the idea of a “power greater than ourselves” that could in any way be of help.
She said her son believed in nothing, either in a religious sense or in a spiritual sense. It’s an important piece to this puzzle, because we are all body, mind and spirit, and all need attention when dealing with any disease. People may not be religious, or attend church, synagogue or mosque; if a person rejects the idea of a “higher power” or God, they are still a spiritual beings. By rejecting that, they reject an important avenue to recovery.
She talked about the medical interventions, and the extensive psychological interventions. There was nothing for the spirit. She talked of her son’s lack of self-esteem, his depression, his addictive nature, but always in medical terms.
The 12 Step did not work for him because he rejected the foundational principles it was based on. The program did not work for him, because he would not allow it to work. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the idea of digging your heels in and rejecting the possibility of that higher power seems extreme. There is no agenda.
People can define that higher power as they understand it, and there is no requirement to participate in, join in or in any way affiliate oneself with any particular religious organization.
At the risk of sounding cruel or judgmental, when every form of treatment has failed over the years, to soundly and forcefully reject the idea of spirituality seems to me to be the height of arrogance when considering treatment for substance abuse.
We want to get better, but we want the treatment on our own terms. Then again, addiction is arrogant. It knows no mercy, no limits and has no regard whatsoever for its target.
Addiction needs to be fed and when the host dies, it simply moves on. In treatment for substance abuse there should be a spiritual component, a spiritual force that feeds on human frailty and attacks people. You can define this force any way you like and I am not writing to offer any religious instruction, but as unpopular as this concept is with many people, if you consider it and go about solving problems with it in mind, a spiritual solution to the problem of addiction will make sense.
The 12 Step begins, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps…” Perhaps it is not until a person allows the process to unfold and they work their way through the whole program that the idea of a spiritual battle makes any sense. Hearing the story of a mother’s efforts and the death of her child is profoundly sad. The heartbreak, the emotional devastation and the lingering pain never really fades away, and in her case, the memory of it all has not diminished over the years since her son’s death.
She is convinced the 12 Step does not work for treatment for substance abuse, because her son did not work the 12 Steps.
For her, only a medical intervention of some kind would have helped. She talked of the need to have long-term drug treatment programs, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. She talked of having drug courts that impose treatment rather than incarceration, and I again side with her completely.
I am not suggesting that non 12 Step programs will not work, because there is to much evidence to the contrary. I do maintain, however, that it is worth a try, even when the person holds no hope, mainly because when we reach the end of our rope, that’s where God’s rope begins.
This ends our section on treatment for substance abuse: