Our journey from recreational use or drinking, into addiction and finally moving into recovery can be compared to a waterfall, the little trickle of water continues to grow into a larger, faster, more forceful way, and as it begins to build and build, slowly picking up pace towards a rocky, uneven edge.
Often, it isn’t until we get to this point that we begin to see that our prior actions were leading to the place we currently find ourselves in. Yet we still continue to use or drink, continuing our old behaviours and actions until we finally fall of the cliff face into a raging waterfall. We then frantically begin to reach out for anything we can hold onto, yet we still continue downward.
Eventually, our life comes crashing down around us, bumping into rocks and jagged edges and debris. We finally surface, gasping for breath, grabbing into whatever we can to stay afloat.
Once we finally take hold of firm, stable objects to grasp onto, it allows us to gently float towards the bank where we can finally move onto firm, stable ground, free of the unstable dangers we previously experienced along the course of the river.
An Exercise In Self Reflection
We’ve explored this metaphor with addicts and their families, and it has produced some interesting “aha” moments. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.
Take a few moments to think about your addiction.
What words and/or images come to mind?
Stop right here. Don’t read any further.
What comes up for you? Make a note (or two). Write it down.
Now, take another moment to consider “intervention.”
Repeat the process above.
Do the same with “treatment.”
What came up? Were the words and images positive or negative? How would it feel if those words and images were directed at you? Did anything shift as you considered different aspects of the recovery process?
Spend a little time with these questions. How do your answers make you feel? Many of us notice there are a lot of negative feelings that come up when we consider addiction. Maybe you conjured up images of lying, stealing, feeling out of control, dirty needles, overdosing, ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, friends who’ve died, betraying family and friends. It can be hard to feel compassion for ourselves or anyone else in active
But what if we thought of addiction and recovery like a river?
Take a few moments to imagine this river. What direction does it flow? How fast is it going? What’s in it? What’s on the shore or riverbank? What else do you notice?
Take it a step further. Get some paper and a pen and draw everything you just imagined. How does each feature of your river represent some aspect of addiction or recovery? Label your drawing if you like.
How do you feel about addiction now? Has anything shifted?
The River At Drink ‘n’ Drugs
When we’ve gone through this exercise at Drink ‘n’ Drugs, our drawings have included rushing rapids to symbolise active addiction, waterfalls that plummet people into treatment, rocks that represent triggers and challenges, people drowning in addiction, bridges that lead to recovery, counsellors throwing ropes and pulling people to safety and many variations on these and other themes.
The “Aha” Moment!
The “aha’s” come when we realise that we don’t tend to blame people for drowning or for just treading water. We understand that sometimes people jump in over their heads, get caught in the current or get swept away by forces stronger than themselves.
If we find ourselves in this swiftly moving river, we recognise that we need more than human willpower to get back out. Much more. This is where we can find some compassion, which can be a life raft we offer to ourselves and others who are in recovery.
Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease and its rapids are fast and deep. Some of us dive in and never make it back to the surface. Others fight the current for many years. Most of us need help to make our way to shore and keep from falling in again. It takes a lot of practice to become a strong swimmer.
Why It Matters
So why does it matter if we talk about addicts or rivers? Or people getting lost in the rapids?
It matters because we are in the midst of a national and international epidemic.
We’re losing 470 people a day to opioid overdoses and alcohol-related causes. That’s the equivalent of a Boeing 747 crashing every day. And yet, despite this crisis, only 1 in 10 people who need treatment are able to get it.
One reason more people don’t seek treatment is the stigma surrounding addiction. Thinking and talking about addiction as a river is one way we can fight this stigma and make recovery more accessible, according to research conducted in Canada. I encourage you to do your own research by inviting others to grab a paddle and see where the river and the conversation, leads to.
Become A Lifeguard & Throw A Lifeline For Others
Our ideas of our own rivers will have all of the same features, yet how we see and place those features will be different and unique to each of us.
Having gone down your own river or still travelling down your river still can give you a unique opportunity to help others who may be heading towards their own waterfall. You can throw them the lifeline of help, support, experience and knowledge that you’ve gained from others who threw you your lifeline!
Want Help With Your River?
Once you’ve discovered your “Aha” moment and decided to make small changes towards a long, happier, productive and prosperous life, you can find a wide range of groups, charities and organisations who can help you to overcome your addiction. You can find contact information for them on our help and support page here.
You can also find others who are in a similar position to you, or have been in a similar situation previously, who can help you by providing you with peer support through our social media platforms.
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