“I need help.” They’re three simple words that roll off your tongue when beckoning a salesperson, calling a towing service, or if, God forbid, you’ve fallen and you can’t get up. But if you are an addict, it’s like trying to communicate in a foreign language. Even when the adrenaline-pumping, euphoric effect of your drug of choice has given way to the agony and isolation of dependence, when the experience has morphed from the drug making you feel good to needing it just not to feel bad, it is so hard to utter those words: “I need help.” Yet, they are the words that just might save your life.
‘If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get’— Stevie Wonder
Many of us are hung up on the idea of asking for help, even in dire circumstances. We live in a world that prides itself on self-reliance. We’re supposed to carry our own weight, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. This mindset tells us that accepting help from others makes us weak. We become dependent, or worse yet, a burden. The truth is that needing and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, by refusing to seek out help, we ignore the fact that we are social creatures who need to cooperate to survive. If none of your friends or family knows you’re battling a drug or alcohol addiction, it is on you to tell them. (Chances are your loved ones may already suspect something is wrong.) It really doesn’t matter whom you reach out to — a friend, a family member, a doctor or a member of the clergy. The danger is that holding back can turn a problem into a crisis. And now addicts in more than a dozen states can add law enforcement to the list of people who have their backs as police departments from California to Massachusetts have begun imploring addicts to come to them for assistance. In some municipalities, there will be no charges and no arrests. Instead, people seeking help are walked through the process toward detox and recovery. A Navy corpsman had hit bottom when he finally opened up on Reddit: “I just don’t know how to ask for help, I’m a corpsman, there’s a million guys I know I could go to but I don’t want people knowing my business. I haven’t been particularly suicidal but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t fantasized about it.” A man on the brink —who may have feared shame and embarrassment by telling someone he knew about his struggles — received an outpouring of support on the discussion forum. The truth is that fears about appearing weak by asking for help are sorely misplaced. We assume we’re imposing or think the person will say no. But research reveals that people tend to severely underestimate how likely others are to step up. There has been so much emphasis on giving back, but remember that somebody has to be on the receiving end. Somebody has to say, “I need your help.” The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous involves more than just acknowledging you have a problem. It means admitting you need help. Amongc AA’s Daily Reflections, a collection of 366 inspirational messages about living life sober, is this: “Am I willing to ask for help and am I willing to be a help to another suffering alcoholic today?”
You Show Courage by Asking for Help
Best-selling author and professor of social work Brené Brown tells us that shame is merely a fear of disconnection — the fear that others will see something about us that will make us unworthy of acceptance. But for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. To be really seen. “You must have the courage to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart,” she says. And if you’re an addict, that story maybe, probably, involves trauma. Few people use heroin, for example, just for fun on a night out with their buddies. There’s almost always an emotional scar they’re trying to wipe clean.Or it might be that there’s a history of addiction in your family and you carry genes that make you more vulnerable to becoming an addict.
Willpower Is Not the Prescription
Asking for help for an addiction to drugs or alcohol should be no different than asking for help when you’ve fallen and slipped a disk. There’s no shame in taking the stairs too fast and suffering a debilitating injury. There’s also no shame in suffering from a chronic medical condition like addiction. Why can’t you beat it on your own? Because, over time, drug use changes the brain, including the parts that allow you to exert self-control. Willpower is not enough to break its hold. Asking for help is smart, not stupid. The addiction you’re facing is a serious illness and by reaching out for help, you are taking the first and most difficult step toward recovery. In treatment, such as through inpatient rehab or an outpatient program, you will learn lifelong coping skills and ways to manage stress that will help prevent relapse. The risk you are taking in opening up, in letting yourself be seen, is far less than the risk of doing nothing. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. By Laura Nott