One thing that I have noticed over time is that some people get into addiction recovery and have a certain stigma against the idea of therapy. They might say something like “I may have a drinking problem but I don't need a shrink.”
This is, in my opinion, the wrong attitude to have towards therapy and counseling. Just as there is a stigma with addiction itself and getting help for it, there can be this stigma with therapy, and obviously the stigma and the associated fear that goes along with that stigma is not serving anyone well.
It is my opinion that probably everyone who is going through the process of early recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction could benefit massively by seeing a therapist on a regular basis.
It can be even more beneficial if you are seeing a therapist more than once a week. The problem with only doing one 50 minute session each week is that it pretty much amounts to “catch up,” where you have to bring the therapist up to speed as to your last 6 days of your life. And after catching that therapist up you really don't have time to dig deeper into problem analysis and eventually solutions.
When the alcoholic or drug addict gets into recovery, essentially they have made the decision that they are no longer going to use drugs or alcohol to self medicate with. Instead of running away from their problems and hiding from them, they have made the decision to face those problems head on.
Now proponents of traditional recovery programs such as AA and NA would argue that no matter what your problems are, and no matter how bad or how big you believe those problems may be, you never have to drink or use drugs over those problems ever again. They base this idea on the fact that in AA and NA you have a support system that you can reach out to at any moment and get instant help and support. You can go to meetings, you can call your sponsor, and you have a huge list of phone numbers from which you can find at least on peer in recovery to go have coffee with you during this critical hour of need. Their message is that no one ever has to drink or take drugs again if they are serious about recovery and they are willing to use the tools of the program and reach out for help.
That is all fine and good, and I would not discourage anyone from using that kind of approach in order to make it through early recovery.
However, I think that there can come a point in which someone has been sort of limping along in traditional recovery and they are still relying on this sort of “emergency social support” long after others may have moved on in their recovery.
Which is another way of saying that–while social support in early recovery can, in fact, be critical for success–you probably should not have to rely on that forever.
So part of the solution here is that you need to become strong in your sobriety, improve who you are and your coping skills, and generally be able to handle a bit of drama in the future without crumbling into relapse every time. If you do the work in recovery and you actually work the steps and you become a stronger person as a result then you might not still be calling your sponsor twice a week when you have 5 years sober. It is possible to grow stronger in your recovery so that you are not weak, vulnerable, and constantly dependent on others for your support.
Again, don't take this wrong way–I am not saying that people in long term recovery have to forsake meetings, or sponsors, or social support. All I am saying here is that if you work a strong program and you become a stronger person then you will notice that you no longer need the same level of social support.
A therapist can definitely help you with this. I also believe that a case can be made that even if you have a very good sponsor, you can still get additional benefit from having a therapist as well. There may be some overlap there but a real therapist can definitely provide additional insight and tools and bring new things to the table that the typical sponsor would miss.
A therapist can help you to troubleshoot your life and find your major pain points. What is causing you frustration, anger, resentment, self pity, shame, or guilt in your life? A skilled therapist can help you to get to the root of such issues and then make a plan to be able to eradicate those problems.
When I was in therapy during my early recovery I got a lot of suggestions that I thought were irrelevant. Turns out I was wrong, however, and my therapist at the time had some pretty significant insight into my skills and talents. He happened to challenge me in just the right ways at just the right moments–encouraging me to go back to college and get a degree, pointing out that I should engage in physical exercise, convincing me to quit cigarettes, and so on. He even cleverly put me in charge of chairing an NA meeting each week that was at a rehab so that I would face my fear and anxiety of speaking in front of people. These are definitely not goals that I was going to set for myself, by myself, without a little help and guidance.
Everyone who gets into recovery still suffers from a variety of pain points in their life–sources of frustration, anger, or fear that they might not even be fully aware of. In order to heal your life in recovery you really need to have someone help you to identify all of those pain points and go deeply into problem identification with them. A therapist can help you to target these pain points better than anyone else.
Furthermore, after targeting and identifying these sources of problems, a therapist can help set you on the path to correcting or eliminating them. So my therapist had me practicing gratitude every day in order to combat self pity. My therapist had me quitting cigarettes and taking up jogging in order to boost my mood and my energy level.
Recovery is about so much more than just putting down your drug of choice. Once you get clean and sober you have to put a lot of energy into personal growth if you want to keep your recovery intact. That personal growth can be a scattershot approach, or it can be a well crafted an carefully guided approach. If you want to maximize the joy that you get out of life in recovery then you should opt for the guided insight that you will get from having a regular therapist.
Good luck with your recovery!
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