The Role That Kindness Plays in Healing From Addiction

There are a lot of thoroughly professional, good, caring people whom you meet along the road back to good health. I’m not writing a critique of our healthcare system. I’m very grateful for our healthcare system. This is more of an observation based on what I’ve learned along the way.

I’ve spent the better part of the last thirty years managing programs that treat substance use disorders. I’ve helped to design programs, I’ve done assessments, individual and group therapy, wrote in charts, etc. I really can’t think of a role that I haven’t played.

A long time ago I was treated for my addictive disease. That was in 1983. Since then I have personally treated hundreds of patients for addiction.

What did I learn from my own time in treatment? I’ve learned that telling a patient what they need to do to get well is what’s important. Just saying that “you need more time” is not good enough. It doesn’t convey information. We do help people accept “powerlessness” over their disease, but we must help them see they are not “powerless” over their recovery.

I always try to instill three important principles to my staff from what I learned when I was a patient over 30 years ago.

  1. I will do whatever I can to provide patients I work with all the information they need to make good decisions regarding their care. I will not make them feel powerless in their recovery.
  2. I will attempt to get information, as appropriate, from other current and past providers of care.
  3. Kindness often plays the most important role of all in the healing process and what patients will remember most about their time in treatment.

Kindness and Compassion Go a Long Way in Rehab

I understand what patients are going through and the challenges they’re facing in rehab. I’ve walked more than my share of miles in their shoes and can empathize with the anxiety and uncertainty they feel in recovery. It’s that understanding that allows me and my staff to better serve their needs.

Too often, drug addicts and alcoholics are treated as though they are horrible people with low moral standing. The fact is that addiction is a disease — just like diabetes or any other medical condition. Every disease requires proper treatment for full recovery; looking down on or talking down to a person in recovery is unnecessary and will cause more harm than good.

Addicts already have negative thoughts about themselves, and many are also suffering from concurrent mental disorders. If they’re in recovery, there is probably a trail of destruction left in the wake of prolonged substance abuse — the last thing they need is a lack of compassion.

Give Answers, Not Ambiguity

A recovering addict in residential drug or alcohol treatment has been removed from their home, family, friends, work and everything else of any sort familiarity in their life. Their whole world has been turned upside down and, to make things worse, they’re dealing with withdrawal symptoms. A little honesty, candor and clarity are not too much to ask in this situation.

Patients want to know how their treatment is progressing Patients want to know how their treatment is progressing, what therapies are being administered, what medications they’re being given and when they’ll get to return home. In short, they want to know everything about their recovery. Addiction care specialists would be wise to give them peace of mind and answer their questions in detail.

It would be unfair to expect blind faith or instant trust from the recovering addict. Giving incomplete or vague answers to their questions about treatment is rude, conveys a very dismissive attitude and makes an addict feel marginalized. A person being treated in a clinical setting for any disease has a right to know every single detail about their condition and any treatment options. A recovering addict should be given the same respect and courtesy.

Tough Love Does Not Equal Kindness

The need for kindness in addiction treatment does not only apply to doctors, therapists and other healthcare professionals. Close friends and family members of addicts should also use kindness and compassion in their approach. This can be difficult for some, because in many cases the addict has caused a significant amount of damage to relationships, finances, friendships and so much more.

Recovery is not a time to point fingers and assign blame. Offer kindness instead of criticism.

One of the only things more powerful than the disease of addiction is the strength of a person’s love. During recovery, it’s best to look forward, not backward. Dwelling on transgressions of the past will not help anyone in the situation and only serves to make an addict feel even worse about themselves than they did before.

The best way close family members and friends can help is to learn more about the disease of addiction and about any psychological disorders which may have contributed to substance abuse. Turning your back on an addict and offering what some term as “tough love” will only serve to lower their feelings of self-worth and cause depression. They need your unconditional love, support and kindness during this time more than ever.

Recovery is A Time of Great Vulnerability

When an addict first begins abusing drugs and/or alcohol, they have no idea how dangerous they are. By the time they’ve reached recovery, significant damage has already been caused. When an addict enters recovery, they feel about as low as they’ve ever felt. They question the decisions they’ve made, the people they’ve hurt and whether they’ll ever be able to defeat their addictions. They have no control over their addictions; empower them with education and information to put them in control of their recovery.

The warmth and kindness shown by therapists, family members and others will go a long way in aiding their journey toward sobriety. Addicts want to feel accepted, not shunned and made to feel like a bad person. They also want concrete goals they can achieve in recovery so they can gain an understanding of how they’re progressing and how far they’ve come. I know from personal experience that a little kindness and straightforwardness eases a patient’s journey through rehab. The collective goal should be a full recovery and return to normal, everyday life following treatment. Negativity, indifference and secretiveness do not help anyone and only serve to make recovery more unpleasant.

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