Getting Engaged in Our Processes
Our active engagement is essential if we are looking to make a life change, whether around a substance use disorder, another mental health challenge, or something else. The nature of mental health challenges can make them more complex than other health issues. Unlike a broken arm, there is not a surgery that can realign the brokenness in the brain of an addict while they’re laying unconscious on a table. There are, however, resources and experiences that can help provide the environment and tools through which healing can come. However, just going to a treatment center does not guarantee that healthy growth and recovery will happen. Changing where an individual lives and what they can access can affect short-term behavior and health, but helping the individual manage their internal environment — their mental, emotional and spiritual health — is important for long-term change. Changing our surroundings can be important in early recovery, but long-term health requires more.
Addressing a mental health challenge in our lives, such as an addiction, requires our involvement and willingness to participate due to the role of our thoughts, emotions, and choices in the healing process. Substance use disorders often develop from a coping mechanism that uses a substance or other behavior to numb the pain from underlying emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual challenges. Thus, for many in recovery, breakthrough and healing come from addressing the belief systems, past traumas, guilt, shame, or mental health disorder that contributed to the need to “escape” from the present reality, be it through drugs, alcohol, sex, or something else. These underlying roots may not be obvious at first, and addressing them can take time and feel uncomfortable. The help of trained professionals coupled with time to heal, and the rewiring of the brain’s reward system, are important in the process. Because the roots can lie in our thoughts, emotions, and experiences, it’s hard for healing to come unless we’re willing to engage in the process of healing.
This is not to say that our recovery should be self-directed, or that we have to do it on our own. Walking around with an untreated fracture will likely lead to the experience of sharp pain. Letting a substance use disorder or other mental health challenge go untreated can also result in severe discomfort. For addictions, specialized care and services are needed, whether from a counselor, therapist, support group, or treatment center. But what you need — the level and type of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care — may vary from what another person needs. For some individuals with extreme addictions, doctors may recommend using medically-prescribed treatments that help address the body’s physical cravings in the short-term. However, over-reliance on these can undermine the success of long-term recovery.
Getting to the Roots
What does this actually look like? Each of our processes may look different. Often, there is a need to better understand the “why” behind our engagement in the addictive behavior, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. What pain, experience, or belief about ourselves do we need to escape from? There is also a need to understand how to approach these root issues or beliefs about ourselves in new, healthier ways. Our willingness to engage with our thought processes, feelings, and deeper spiritual questions about ourselves and the world greatly affects the growth and health that come through whatever treatment resource we try. We likely won’t know the “why” behind our current challenge at first, and it may feel difficult to recognize aspects of ourselves and our lives in this process. There can be real pain behind our detachment and unwillingness to engage, whether from trauma, hard experiences, or guilt and shame. But, there is great hope for healing and growth that unlocks greater experiences of joy, peace, and self-worth. Deep engagement is something that cannot be forced or rushed. Often, it is through the process of human connection, of experiencing love and care from others, or from hearing someone else’s vulnerable story, that our own courage can be stirred and opened. Trained counselors and therapists can be an essential part of this process, and family members and loved ones can have an important role in offering encouragement, grace, and love that can help motivate us to continue the journey.
Engaging with Hope
While some aspects of mental health challenges can make the challenge more complex, other aspects create reason for hope. Healing from a broken arm focuses on returning an individual to past levels of physical functionality. In recovery, we can find the opportunity to experience mental, emotional, and spiritual health that surpasses what we have thus far experienced. We can embark on a journey toward greater fulfillment, peace, and joy that continues through life. Recovery provides the opportunity to develop tools that support healthier and more fulfilling relationships, and the emotional and mental fortitude to take risks that can unlock great satisfaction and meaning in our lives. Plus, as science has demonstrated, the brain’s neuroplasticity means that healing is possible. But for this to happen, we must participate in our own healing process. Environments of support, acceptance and encouragement can spark the courage needed for us to step forward.