While there are many issues that are universal in treating addiction, professional men often have specific challenges that must be understood and addressed. The men we treat most often still have their careers and their families. They have been extremely successful in those careers and have done well financially. They often are highly respected by others, especially outside their family. These successes often cloud the reality of their illness and contribute to their denial. Often there are enablers in their lives who do not know how to intervene. They come to us following some type of crisis, be it related to work or their families. Just the act of coming to a rehab and admitting to others that they have a serious problem is difficult for them. They see themselves as strong, stable, intelligent and proud. So, when they arrive here, their defenses are going to be up, and they continue to portray this persona of having it all together. Losing control is abhorrent to them. Control is important to their success in life. Unfortunately, with the disease of addiction, holding on to the notion that you can control it can have deadly consequences.
Reluctance to Ask for Help
One of the issues professional men have with addiction is a complete reluctance to ask for help. There are many reasons that contribute to this resistance. Often, they have this belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness. They want to portray to their family and friends they have everything under control. They see their role as husband, father or leader, and they cannot show vulnerability. They believe it will hurt their credibility and change how people view them. For them it is a humiliating feeling to rely on others.
Not asking for help is also related to their difficulty in trusting others, especially with intimate aspects of their lives. Many of our clients have relied on trusting themselves and their own thinking and it often has been highly effective in their work but when it comes to recovery from addiction, trusting yourself can prove deadly.
The men we treat also struggle with sharing emotions. Asking for help and showing humility and vulnerability is usually associated with sharing emotions. That again is something they often shy away from. There are many reasons for this. Some of the men have been taught from an early age that men do not show emotions. They often have fathers who are strong and controlled. They are in professions where emotions are not shared readily except possibly for anger. There is a sense of pride, and being vulnerable and sensitive is embarrassing for them. Sharing emotions can leave them feeling out of control which is uncomfortable. Letting go of control runs counter to their being.
Often the clients we serve have had trauma in their life. They have stuffed those feelings and left the trauma behind, often thinking that they can just forget about it and move on. Part of functioning involves ignoring those feelings because they are just too painful to deal with. Addressing these issues can lead to feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness.
The other challenge for these men is the concept of admitting defeat to the illness of addiction. They perceive they have succeeded in life in many areas and cannot grasp the idea that this is one battle they are not going to win. They struggle with the idea of admitting powerlessness over anything.
So how do we address these issues?
One way is to provide an atmosphere of safety for them. They learn quickly we are not going to shame them. We are going to treat them with dignity and respect. We then challenge them to look inside themselves and start addressing those feelings. If they feel safe, it is more likely they will share.
Emotional Intelligence Education
We teach them about emotions; how to recognize them, how to express them, what their purpose is. We teach them how not addressing their emotions contributes to their addiction and hinders their recovery. We help dispel the myths about men and emotions and encourage them to embrace their humanness. With a safe environment we encourage them to express themselves.
We help them understand what they have control over and what they do not, and assist them in accepting those things they do not have control over, like their relationship with drugs or alcohol.
We reinforce their successes and their strengths. Those do not go away with recovery, and in fact can improve and increase. We help them normalize losing to this disease and stress that it is more about its strength than their weakness. We expose them to other professionals who have changed their lives and admitted they were powerless over their addiction.
We address their trauma by helping them talk about it, and process feelings around it in a safe manner. We help them understand how not dealing with the residual effects of trauma can hinder their recovery and their happiness.
Practice New Skills
We encourage them to ask for help while they are with us, so they can be prepared to do it when they leave. If they do not ask for help, it becomes hard to interrupt a relapse process from ending up in disaster. By creating a safe environment we give them a positive experience in trusting people. When they ask for help and are vulnerable, they learn it is not catastrophic and does not impact how people see them as men.
All these issues are at the core of recovery, including admitting powerlessness over the disease, embracing and sharing feelings, trusting others, addressing traumas and asking for help, giving up control and allowing others to guide them. Without these skills, remaining clean and sober becomes challenging, and happiness can be elusive. Developing these skills make sobriety, personal and relational happiness possible.