I have been working and studying in the field of mental health and addiction for more than 38 years. Throughout my career I have seen many advances in the treatment of addiction. There is still a long way to go as we face an opioid epidemic that was only recently declared a National State of Emergency by the Federal Government.
By Charles Robinson, Clinical Director Clean Recovery Centers
One of the tools I incorporate into my work with clients is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I find that these work particularly well for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The Four Agreements focus on these four primary concepts:
1) Always do your best
2) Don’t take things personally
3) Don’t assume anything
4) Be impeccable with your word.
A person suffering from addiction has a frame of mind that can be described as chaotic and detached from reality. The minds of addicted people tend to run a million miles an hour. They become ashamed of the past and fearful of the future. There is an inability to live in the present. They often become extremely suspicious and paranoid, thinking that everyone is thinking about them and judging them. In the depths of their addiction their mind begins to equate using with living and not using with the risk of death. As a result, their behavior to outside observers may look quite irrational most of the time.
DON’T SHUN, DON’T ENABLE
At some point, everyone who cares about the suffering addict becomes very hurt. Often the family shuns the addict and that is about the worst thing a loved one can do. There is nothing wrong with letting the suffering addict know that you love them so much you will not enable them any further. Until they are seriously willing to help themselves, you can no longer be a resource for them. Name-calling and piling on guilt can only make things worse and decrease the chances that the addict will seek help. In short, the suffering addict lives in a perpetual “hell on earth.” The pain becomes so intense that addicts often die from overdoses as they attempt to further numb the pain away, or they consider suicide if they are unable to receive effective treatment.
Learning to live by The Four Agreements is the antithesis of the addict’s life while in the depths of their addiction. That is why it seems to help so much. The addict has become used to a life style that is increasingly more dangerous and harmful. When using, the parts of the brain that are used for judgment and decision-making are largely disabled. The resulting behavior is that of someone who lives to use and uses to live. Stealing, lying, cheating, and worse become commonplace. These default neuropathways tend to define the suffering addict, and until this is interrupted and new neuropathways are formed, the chances of recovery are slim. This is why treating people at a cognitive level is vital.
LEARN LIFE ANEW
Once in treatment, the addict will do a tremendous amount of soul searching through step work and many forms of clinical treatment geared towards recovery. They need to learn life anew. Working towards following The Four Agreements enable recovering addicts to form robust neuropathways as they incorporate the ongoing learnings from therapy.
- They learn to do their best in all they do realizing that is all they can do. In the depths of their disease they have been their worst selves. Addicts in general are very sensitive people and more so when very ill.
- Learning to not take things personally and the skills to do so helps them greatly. They realize it does not matter what anyone thinks so long as they are doing their best.
- Learning not to assume things is also very beneficial. Many addicts have a sense that the world is out to get them, that the world is conspiring against them. Of course, this is not the case and learning “not to assume” is a critical skill that can help tremendously. This very uncomfortable paranoia slips away.
- Lastly, learning to be impeccable with your word is vital. In the depths of their disease, an addict tells lie, upon lie, upon lie. Being impeccable with your word is the exact opposite. They learn that it feels much better to live in their truth than in the lies and deception of addiction.
A NEW, ROBUST PATH
In short, The Four Agreements help put recovering clients on a very robust path. Life becomes easier, more meaningful, and the simple joys of living start to come back. I know many people who have recovered using tools like The Four Agreements. They are some of the finest people I have ever met. Life becomes about other people and not themselves. They become some of the most upstanding and trustworthy individuals in society.
Most people do not live their lives in this way. Often recovering addicts learn to live a life far more pleasurable and rewarding than many others people ever do. Some recovering addicts come to see that their addiction was a gift. Their lives become vastly superior to anything they could have hoped or imagined once they have recovered. They also tap into a very strong desire to share the gift of recovery with others in need.