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My colleagues are afraid of you
By now you have probably experienced asking for help and getting treated rudely. You go to a doctor or a clinic or an emergency room and people act like you don’t belong there, they don’t listen to you and they try to get you to go somewhere else (“we need to refer you to the ABC clinic but unfortunately they have a 3 month waiting list”).
Or, you actually have a therapist who criticizes you, argues with you or ends treatment with you when you relapse.
The reason for all this: they are afraid of you. To be more accurate: they are afraid of your disease but because your disease is embodied by difficult behavior and illogical thinking, they react negatively to you.
Most professionals, and this includes doctors, psychologists, nurses and social workers, even those trained at the graduate level do not understand addictions. It is possible to graduate from most professional schools without ever taking a course in substance use and addictive disorders.
People seek out these educational programs and enter these fields because they want to be helpful and effective. Addiction creates the opposite feelings: even the most skilled and highly trained therapist can feel helpless and ineffectual when working with someone with an addictive disorder.
The irony is you need someone to tell how scared and helpless you feel and the people who are supposed to help with that are too scared and helpless themselves to be there. That’s the devastating power of addiction: it can take out everybody.
When I supervise other clinicians I find myself telling them over and over: we can’t stop someone from relapsing and we can’t stop someone from dying. All we can do is give them the best treatment possible, treat them respectfully and with dignity and hope that at some point, before they die from an overdose, that switch gets thrown that drives them into sobriety and holds them there.
And then I remind them of the Serenity Prayer. Until you fully understand the Serenity Prayer, you can’t provide decent service to people with addictions.
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