Once I was attempting to relate to a young man who was a die-hard cocaine addict. He snorted eight balls almost daily (or so he confessed). I do not challenge my clients as the important information is not in how much or how often they use but why they use. He challenged my level of understanding.

He asked me if I ever used. I said that I never did. He asked if I ever had any addiction. I also said I never did. He then drew back into the chair and smugly said to me, "Then how can you help me? How can you understand what I am?"

My response was that he was right. I cannot understand his addiction. And I cannot discuss it with the authority of experience. But I am a physician. I can observe, study, examine and advise. A cardiologist does not have to have had a heart attack to understand how a person with a myocardial infarct feels. And you will not choose a cardiologist based on his having had a heart attack. You will do so based on his ability to investigate your symptoms, study the effects, understand the condition and choose an appropriate treatment.

But more so, I am human. I told him that, behind his drug abuse is an emotion. There is a reason for his initial exploration of the drug and a reason for his continued attraction. I am more interested in that. And I can explore that, because I have had hurt in the past. I understand emotions. I am trained in
exploring the invisible facets that make up emotions. I can definitely discuss those with him.

So why don't we explore an area we can both accept is a problem and where I have some expertise? I know how to help him understand that and stabilize it. We will leave the management of the drug use to him who has contact with the inner demons that drive its use and access to himself on a moment to moment basis. Let us examine and fix what we can manage, his deeper feelings or emotions.

The rest of the session was amazing in what it revealed. I will summarize it here in order to make my point. This young man grew up on a farm in rural Ontario. His mother was a driven, ambitious woman who worked at a hospital in a town some distance away. So she was away for long hours every day. His father was a stay-at-home dad who fancied himself an artist. So his method of parenting was to require complete silence from the only child in the home so that his creative juices could flow. The boy learned to retreat and play alone. In the evenings, his mother would relate to him from her strengths. So she taught him academics. He could read and do mathematics from an early age. So, when he went to school, he displayed the two major attitudes he had developed. He read and he retreated from socializing. In the school bus, while other children did childish things, he would read. By the time he was in Grade 5, he was already reading Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, on the bus. But he was lonely, scared and socially inept. Then, in Grade 6, he was introduced to amphetamine in the form of MDMA and later crystal meth. It was a miracle. While under its influence, he was able to socialize. He became popular with a large group of friends. Of course, he stopped reading and studying and pursued this course of social acceptability. All his friends were those who, of like mind, were also using these chemicals. Of course, it progressed to cocaine. With cocaine he was able to maintain his social acceptability albeit within a circle that perpetuated the use of the drug. Gradually he dropped out of school. His mother was chagrined but the artificial
authority that cocaine gave him allowed him to shut down her entreaties.

At the time I saw him, he was on his way to jail having already been convicted of
criminal behavior associated with the use of the drug. I invited him to consider exploring his emotions and letting me help him to rediscover himself and develop his ability to respect himself without the use of cocaine as a prop. I believe that he was too afraid to lose what he had discovered as the only society in which he felt comfortable and too lost in regular society to consider this offer. I call to mind 'Red" played by Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption.

Unfortunately I lost contact with this young man. I have not printed this to show the success of my intervention. Rather, I accept it as one of my failures. Nonetheless, I have inserted it in order to show that, when we are dealing with emotions, either as a condition displayed in its pure form or as a behavior that hides or allows the person to hide from the emotion they cannot manage, our job is to see that frightened, hurt inner self and work on healing that, not just relieving the pain or suppressing the behavior.

For more information on exploring the inner self and leading the person to healing it, please visit www.understandingchange.org.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Albert de Goias is a physician licensed to practice in the province of Ontario, Canada. I first became interested in the plight of the distressed person while in family practice on Ontario in 1978. At that time, I saw medical conditions that appeared suddenly, intensely, and without anatomical precedent. Research led me to recognize the impact of stress on the body's physiology and I published findings, first at symposia at university, and then in medical publications.
By the end of the eighties, I saw people who were going through a different sort of transition, that of being uprooted from war-torn countries, and lost in new surroundings without enough resources to cope. In the early nineties, I was involved in a different transition, that of people who had to face new responsibilities they recovered from a life of addiction. By accepting that these people simply lost or never developed the belief in themselves to manage rationally when life became tough, it was easy to show them how to build and draw from their most superior strength, that of creative intelligence and believe in that. It became easy and successful to get them to lift themselves out of a rut of addiction and take their place as mature members of their community, usually without the stigma of being a recovering addict. People stopped using because they learned to really like themselves rather than like themselves because they were able to stay clean.

Website: www.understandingchange.org