Vulnerability in Treating Addiction

What words would you associate with vulnerability? Maybe weak, powerless and scared? It is certainly not a positive concept for most of us.

But a behavioural research expert called Brena Brown tell us in this TED presentation that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” She believes that the key to changing your life is accepting your own vulnerability.

Every alcoholic or chemically dependent patient will feel vulnerable as they begin their treatment. This is not unique to addiction; any serious illness will leave the patient feeling vulnerable. For some of our patients this sense of being vulnerable will feed their denial and cause them to reject or leave treatment. It can be a wretched feeling.

“You have to be open to exploring your vulnerability before you can receive help,” explains Glynis Read, Head of Training at Castle Craig rehab clinic.

The first step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous powerfully demonstrates that vulnerability confronts every patient at the beginning of treatment. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Accomplishing Step 1 requires a patient to explore and accept their vulnerability to addiction, and to accept that a chemical is now in control of their lives. Only by exploring and accepting their vulnerability can change happen.

Vulnerability will follow at every step in the treatment process. This might be in group therapy or in one-to-one therapy, or as a patient works their way through the 12 Steps and realises that they cannot achieve recovery on their own.

Only after you have accepted defeat can the change come. Patients are actually being “brave in being real with themselves,” says Jessica Tomlinson Hill, Senior Therapist at Castle Craig: “not only brave to speak about it, but brave to allow themselves to feel what can sometimes be very devastating and overwhelming. It’s not about minimising those feelings at all, it’s about recognising them.”

Jessica goes on to explain: “The feelings themselves will not kill you. It feels like they’re going to overwhelm you sometimes, that you’re never going to cope. It’s very normal to feel that way: But the truth of the matter is that it’s not the feelings that kill us, it’s whatever we try to do to avoid those feelings that will kill us – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, obsessive internet use, shopping. Those are the things that do us harm. The feelings themselves are not harmful.”

Becoming vulnerable isn’t something to fear, but something we should accept and use. It is a key ingredient to change. In the end, Brene Brown has a point – it is the times when you are defeated, vulnerable and proved wrong that are the life changing moments.

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