Love and Care
Addicts feel emotionally abandoned, fundamentally uncared-for. Ultimate egocentrics, they interpret this as their fault. They come to believe they’re unworthy of the love and care they long for but can never obtain. They conclude they’re unloved because they’re unlovable. Addicts describe this feeling as a “hole in their soul.”
Our family and friends couldn’t be expected to grasp this, rehab instructed. People who’d never hated themselves can’t understand those who do, we were counseled.
In conspicuous contrast to feeling uncared for, in rehab you’re intensively cared for whether you believe you deserve it or not. A big part of that care can only be described as love. THe staff insisted explicitly that we were not only lovable but deserving of it. They said things like, “Let us love you until you can love yourself,” un-self-consciously and often. And that’s what they did. They accepted us as we were, even deep in denial and belligerence, and cared for and about us in spite of obvious faults.
But the love one gets at a rehab facility isn’t some kind of hippie, touchy-feely ideal because it’s paired with honesty. Feeling secure in their care enables staff to get you to see the hard truths you have to face to get and stay sober. The best way I heard this put was from an AA speaker, a doctor, who described the myriad hoops he had to jump through — random drug tests, etc. — to get his license back. After listing all the stringent conditions, he concluded, “Now, that’s love.”
A treatment staff’s care and love provides a great deal of the impetus for the willingness to take treatment seriously. For those not fortunate enough to attend rehab, the same love and care can be found at 12-Step meetings, including the same honesty.
Rehab’s goal was to teach us to care for ourselves in a way we’d never done before, which was hard enough. Compared to believing we deserved it, however, that’s the easy part. To believe we were deserving of love required a kind of psychological self-surgery none of us knew how to do on our own. That’s another reason AA is a “we” program, we were told. 12-Step programs were meant to provide a road map for accessing that cared-for feeling in fellowship with others who could appreciate our struggles because they’d been through the same thing themselves.