Power of The Let Go

I recall hanging from the monkey bars in grade school; hanging on as tight as I could for as long as I could, proving to myself (or maybe the cool kids) that I was so strong. This usually ended with blisters on my hands and dirt up my shorts. Yet, the next day, I’d be at it again.

Working with clients and families with substance use disorders, I have a lot of experience with the hold on and the let go. Essentially that is what addiction is. Not to oversimplify such a complex problem, but it is fear of letting go. The addicted is afraid to face themselves, the loved ones are afraid to let them suffer, so them attempt to control and protect.

I have fundamental belief in the potential for persistence despite obstacles. This core belief drives my empathy and success in guiding those addicted to alcohol or drugs out of chaos. It is extremely hard to maintain an addiction. If that potential can be redirected...magic happens.

Folks rarely stayed hooked on drugs just to ‘party’ or ‘unwind’. What starts as a rush, turns into a nightmare. So who gets hooked and holds on to those monkey bars despite no real gain and a lot of pain?

Those that perceive the pain they are currently experiencing as better than the alternative.

Patterns continue based on risk versus benefit, and that relies on our individual perception of the pattern. We continue with the familiar, until we change perspectives and commit to a new way.

Nobody can just tell someone to "stop, you are killing yourself". One, they don't really believe it, or Two, they don’t care.

So the key to unhooking someone from ongoing addiction and repetitive relapses (despite treatment) lies within the individual and their perception of what letting go may cause. This goes for the addicted AND those that love them.

To understand why they don’t just stop the madness goes beyond physical dependence and withdrawal. This pattern goes beyond enjoying the ‘high’, as many no longer even get positive sensation from their drug of choice, they simply use to not feel sick.

Speaking with hundreds of patients with multiple relapses, I've heard:

  1. Everything was so much better when I was sober

  2. I can’t remember why I went back, but it went downhill quickly

  3. I continue to use even though it causes negative consequences

So why go back? Because they never really let go.

They kept escape in their back pocket as an option. They usually keep one person close enough to catch them if they started to fall. They didn’t find the underlying cause for their use, and they never addressed the motivating factor to a life of addiction. So at decision time...under stress or cravings...return to the known was more natural (instinctual) than trying something new. New is scary, holding on is familar.

So here we are, all hanging on the monkey bars, challenging ourselves:

I will do what I want. It’s my life. It’s my choice.

And boom - relapse with perceived control over the situation. Until it falls apart again. Some are still holding on as the whole jungle gym collapses; those are our overdose deaths.

From my experience in the field the following are commonalities of those that have “let go” of their substance of choice and remained in recovery past 2 years (as they define):

  1. Did not return to the same peoples, places, things that supported their use. For some this was changing their job industry, saying goodbye to friends, moving out of town, divorce.

  2. Continued ongoing treatment/counseling for 6-12 months and developed a sober support system.

  3. A 30 day inpatient program alone is stabilization, not solid groundwork for lasting recovery.

  4. Whether a 12 step program like AA, A treatment alumni group, or other accountability peer support group...those that stay sober have a support system.

  5. Addressing underlying causes for substance use - mental illness, trauma, ineffective coping, environmental stressors.

  6. Remaining on prescribed medications for recommended length of time and not abruptly stopping without discussion with medical provider and counselor/therapist.

3. Able to speak openly about their addiction and let go of shame and stigma

associated with it. Hiding something you are proud of (recovery) is an isolating

and lonely lifestyle.

4. Openly self assessed for cross addictions and addiction swapping. (I used to do

heroin, now I just smoke weed daily. I used to drink hard liquor every night, now

I’m watching excessive porn). This is an indicator that there is still more root

cause work to do.

5. The family/support system worked their OWN recovery program; found a way to

focus on themselves versus hovering, protecting, controlling their loved one in


Loved Ones:
Read number 5 again.

How I assist:

I offer Assessments for those wondering if they need help and, if so, what kind and where to go. The process takes honesty and vulnerability or I’m not able to offer appropriate recommendations. It entails one or two phone/video calls (about 3 hours total) and the client receives a detailed written assessment that covers severity of alcohol/drug use, overall wellness, risk factors, and specific treatment recommendations.

I offer Advocacy and Case Management for those in treatment/early recovery. It is not easy to navigate medication, health problems, lack of resources, ongoing withdrawal and cravings to use. Adding a professional 1-1 partner in their recovery shows dedication to doing what needs to be done to change their life. For families who used to help facilitate addiction through shelter, food, money...consider supporting your willing loved one’s recovery by paying a portion of their fees for an Advocate/Case Manager.

For some cases, a Formal Intervention may be the best option for your loved one’s safety. This is a whole family process and requires commitment and cooperation from several participants.

Asking for help is a form of letting go. Stepping back and allowing someone the opportunity to feel the burn is also letting go. One cannot peel someone's hands off the monkey bars.
Let Them, Let Go.

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