Do we treat addiction?

Often on our contact page, or on the phone, folks ask us, “Do you treat addiction?”   Sooooo many folks struggle with extreme and disordered behaviour, when spending too much, working too hard, eating too much (or not enough), drinking too much, using and abusing street drugs, abusing prescription medication, or consumed with electronics…facebook, gaming, pornography.  This is a sampling…I could go on.

The answer to, “Do you treat addictions?” is not one which we can respond with a simple yes or no.  It’s a little more complex with that.

Yes, we work with people with addictions.  Definitely.

But we do so with a certain flavour.  It is with the understanding that addictions are a strategy of coping with the inner pain and discomfort.  They are a way of coping with feeling traumatized, unworthy, unacceptable…unloved.  Addictions cover the pain…and they create a pleasant release or perhaps a blind numbing of what feels intolerable to feel.

I started to feel exposed…and awkward, ugly and conspicuous. …started to feel like a loser in a world that prefers super heros.  So I made my own capes and tied them tight around me…my capes were pretending and addiction.  We all have our own superhero capes, don’t we?  Perfectionism, overworking, snarkiness and apathy…they are all superhero capes  Our capes are what we put over our our real selves so that real tender selves don’t have to be seen and can’t be hurt…keep us from having to feel much at all, because every good and bad thing is deflected off them.  My capes kept me safe and hidden.

Glennon Melton, TED talk, 2013 see below video

Addictions are a cover to deal with life, when life feels intolerable.  At Conexus Counselling, therapy focuses on the person, the struggle they have to live fully in the present authentically as themselves.

Addictions are painful and destructive strategies to deal with internal distress over shame and struggle.

Addiction breaks connection.

It is part of the human condition that we all struggle with living with internal discomfort and relationships that are hurtful.  We all find ways to cope.  Nobody is perfect…we all mess up.  I’m not proud of my predisposition to eat deep fried food and cake with thick icing when I’m stressed and feeling like I need some comfort. Everybody has work to do on improving the strategies they use to deal with internal pain.


However, some folks have strategies that become addictions.  You don’t use it…it uses you.  It takes control, it makes the decisions…it screws you over.  Bad.

  • The drink that relaxes you in the evening, becomes three or four…and now your partner is pissed off that you are ignoring the family.
  • The gambling that was a pleasant escape becomes a driving force, and you spend money you don’t have…and the credit companies are calling, and you start hiding the bank statements, and you feel awful…and the only thing that makes it feel better is…(drum roll please)…more gambling.

You get the idea.

So…we work with people at the issues behind the addictions, and work on self-soothing. We work to help people remind themselves of cost of hiding behind destructive behaviors. Therapy looks at strategies to deal with the pain and uncertainty of withdrawal, and how to live life real and un-numbed.

We work at having a person learn to tolerate the pain and discomfort they may experience when they actually feel their feelings.  We work at having a person learn to engage in important connections in their lives that create support and caring.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

On blog about addiction: Sitting with the pain and joy of being a human while refusing to run for any exits is the only way to become a real human being is a quote by Glennon Melton. Poster by Bergmen and Associates in Winnipeg

So…do we work with addictions?  Yep…to varying degrees, we all find ways of hiding behind painful strategies. Sometimes, too much running from relationships rather than having difficult conversations,  too many hours at the office to avoid a difficult relationship,  a penchant to “jolly life up” by ignoring real and present issues.

However, there are places that do addictions a lot…and we fully acknowledge that they are in the business of doing good work with those struggling with addictions.

And, more importantly, folks that are struggling with addictions get a chance to be with others who are struggling as well…and in addiction treatment…getting together with others who say, “Me too!” has a power that is unspeakably HUGE.

AA works for a reason.  It’s hard to go.  Really, really hard.  But it’s empowering to be real with others who are real.

So, no, often we send people elsewhere when they are asking for help with addictions, because we know they need something we can’t give them.

We don’t do addiction group work at Conexus Counselling, and so for many people, we are not the place to get the sort of treatment folks need.  When we do work with a client who has issues of addiction as part of the reason they are coming, we will often strongly recommend Alcoholics Anonymous or another support group that is appropriate.  Not because it’s a low cost strategy…but because the power of honest, vulnerable, raw human connection is something that is priceless.  Absolutely priceless.

Glennon Melton, one of my new favorite people whose book I have recently finished and loved (reading her book gave me cheek cramps, as my face wept and laughed simultaneously and my cheeks got confused). She recently gave a TED talk that speaks powerfully about her own addictions.  Her heart beats in rhythm with mine. Her words resonate powerfully with how we perceive and work with those who come to us struggling with addictions.

For a better idea of what I mean about addictions being a disorder of connection, take a peek:


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