Ambivalence is a word that comes up often in the world of recovery, as it applies to almost everyone that has experienced or currently lives in active addiction. The definition of ambivalence is “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.” As a person who was so deep in active addiction, that “something” was the idea of ever getting the help I longed for. But it felt completely out of reach, not because of lack of support or resources, but because of the conflict within myself to change my way of life. There were so many reasons beyond the stigma of addiction and fear of asking for help that kept me sick for so long.

My Take on Ambivalence

That gray area of wanting to get better but not knowing how weighed heavy on me during my use. I had always felt deep down that the shell of a person I had become was not true to who I really was. I graduated high school as an average student and went right on to college, all the while drinking as I thought someone in their early 20s would. I began moving up in my career in apartment management, dabbling in different substances but mostly socially drinking. Pretty soon I was moving to Hawaii to live with my soon-to-be husband who was stationed there in the Army. At that point, I didn’t think life could get any better. But the continuance of what I thought was “normal” drinking turned into a problem. This eventually transitioned into heavy opiate abuse that turned my world upside down. That’s when I learned the true meaning of that internal conflict one faces in addiction that I never understood before.

Reaching out to anyone for help at this point was nowhere in sight. For most people living with substance abuse, the term “rock bottom” comes into play from the conflict of knowing “this can’t continue” but being scared to stop. Something disastrous must happen to stop this. Although I had many rock bottom moments in my path to recovery, the importance of having a support network to aid in each one was vital. Having one single person, or your entire family if you’re lucky, to say “You are going to get through this, and I will help” ignites the fire to make the change.

Why the Conflict? Shouldn’t a Person with Substance Abuse Want the Help if Given the Opportunity?

There I was, having lost basically everything of importance in my life: my job, home, cars, and dignity. Yet I was still hesitant to think of inpatient treatment. What could possibly be holding me back at this point? I believe my top three reasons apply to most who have ever been in this position themselves.

  1. Withdrawals. As an intravenous heroin user, the fear of coming off this powerful substance stood in the way every time I had even thought of reaching out for help. Imagine the flu or even COVID (minus the cough) and multiply that by ten. Body aches, hot/cold, sweating and nauseous, plus the intense craving for more because you feel like you need it to keep living. Throw in the mental aspect of it as the dopamine in your brain plunges, causing major depression and anxiety. Who wouldn’t be terrified to feel these things? I knew medical detox would help with most of the symptoms, but it can’t take away everything.
  2. The fear of losing the ability to numb the pain and ignore my problems. Think of why a person typically begins using substances to begin with. Whether it be trauma that’s never been worked through, grief, abuse or an undiagnosed mental health disorder, we are self-medicating. Another powerful roadblock to recovery was knowing I must work through the issues I was running from.
  3. Facing the disasters I had created through active addiction. Here’s a big one. I had completely morphed into someone I could not recognize from all the terrible things it had fueled me to do. Stealing from people that mean the world to me. Throwing away a career I had worked hard to achieve. Most importantly, failing as a mother and wife. Those are just a handful of things people face while choosing to enter treatment. Think about people with legal issues or who have been cut off from the ones they love due to their addiction. I was so lucky to have a family willing to support me through this journey as I know so many are not.

The Sun Starts to Peak Through the Clouds

With the aid of my mother, father, stepmother and husband, the decision to enter residential treatment was not a hard one. They took the time to sit with me and talk about that internal conflict, that ambivalence I felt. Where was I really going to go if not to treatment? I had lost my home because I lived onsite at the apartments I worked at – the same job I just got fired from. I had negative dollars to my name, and I had sparkles of hope to keep going. Repeating those reasons to get help are so important in aiding someone into the choice of treatment. In my case, my beautiful son and family that had so much faith in me were it. They were all I had at that point. I adored my husband, but he too was a partner in my addiction, and we both had to get clean for the sake of our marriage. What are your reasons to keep going? I guarantee they are worth much more than that substance that is ruining lives.

I know every situation is different and that it is not always as easy finding those reasons to live, but deep down (I know it can be really, really deep for some) this is what every person with a substance abuse problem longs for. I feel as though our spirits are gone when we live in active addiction. We are simply surviving in an animalistic fashion, with the characteristics of our personalities hidden away by the use of alcohol or drugs. Inpatient treatment changed my life. My spirit began to show, slowly but surely, through therapy and the bonding of my peers.

Peer Coaches Have Been There Too

That is how Youturn Health can give hope to friends, family and the people who want that spirit of themselves back. At Youturn Health, we are here to find the right coach for you or your loved one that can say, “I know where you are at, and I have been there myself” will give hope to the hopeless. Not only do we provide coaches for the individual, but with addiction being a family disease, Youturn Health has an array of family coaches to aid in finding your loved one the right path to recovery. We know the decision to enter residential treatment is far from easy. Let us help guide you.

Emily Goff, the author of this post, is a Peer Coach at Youturn Health and works to support people struggling with stress, anxiety, mental health, grief, and suicidal ideation. For more information on substance use disorder, please check out our Substance Misuse Resources.