“amongst those who treat addicts of any kind generally agree that anger and shame help no one and is actively counter-productive.”*
I have to think about that statement.
I do not agree at all.
Ok, for the physician/ARNP/PAC, anger at the patient and shaming the patient are not good practice, don’t work, and could make them worse. BUT anger and shame come up.
In many patients.
Sometimes it goes like this with opioid overuse: the person shows up, gets on buprenorphine, and is clean.
It may be a long time since they have been “clean”.
One young man wants to know WHY I am treating him as an opioid overuse patient. “Why are you treating me like an addict?”
I try to be patient. I recommended that he go inpatient, because I don’t think we will cut through the denial outpatient. Very high risk of relapse. “You have been buying oxycodone on the street for more than ten years.”
“I’ve been buying it for back pain, not to party.”
“Did you ever see a doctor about the back pain?”
“Buying it illegally is one of the criteria of opiate overuse.”
“But I’m not an addict! I’ve never tried heroin! I have never used needles!”
“We can go through the criteria again.”
He shakes his head.
He is in denial. He is fine. He doesn’t need inpatient. He is super confident, gets work again, is super proud.
And then angry. “My family still won’t talk to me!”
“I’m clean. I’m going to the stupid AA/NA groups! Though I don’t need to. I’m fine!”
“What have you noticed at the groups?”
“What a bunch of liars!” he says, angry. “There are people court ordered there and they are still using! I can tell. They are lying through their teeth!”
“Did you ever lie while you were taking the oxycodone?”
Now he ducks his head and looks down. “Well, maybe. A little.”
“Do you think your family and friends could tell?”
He glances up at me and away. “Maybe.”
“Your family may be angry and may have trouble trusting you for a while.”
“But I’ve been clean for four months!”
“How many years did you tell untruths?”
Shame and anger. Anger from the family and old friends, who have heard the story before, who are not inclined to trust, who are hurt and sad. The first hurdle is getting clean, but that is only the first one. Repairing relationships takes time and some people may refuse and they have that right! Sometimes patients are shocked that now that they are clean, a relationship can’t be repaired. Or that it may take years to repair. My overuse folks are not exactly used to being patient. And sometimes as they realize how upset the family and friends are, they are very ashamed. And some are very sad, at years lost, and friendships, and loved ones. I have had at least one person disappear, to relapse, after describing introducing someone else to heroin. He died about two years later, in his forties.
Shame and anger definitely come up in overuse illness.
The above is not a single patient, but cobbled together from more than one.
*from an essay titled “F—ing yes, I’m a fatphobe” on everything2.com. Today there are two with that title. The quotation is from the second essay.
I believe that shame is a step in the road to recovering. I think it is the element that can lead to making amends and taking responsibility for damage done to relationships. Anger? Definitely there, but a little more difficult. Anger led me to cut off my brother and I don’t regret it. It’s very complicated and what you’ve written here is, IMO, right on.