They're logging hours behind the computer screen, searching for sex-themed sites. They're avoiding social engagements…
Men and Recovery: 6 Benefits of Comradery and Community in Healing Addiction
By Tommy Williams, LADAC, ASAT-C, Primary Therapist, Men’s Sexual Addiction Program, The Ranch
As a recovering addict, I understand what men go through in their journey to free themselves of addiction. I also know that comradery among men in rehab is an important part of the process of healing.
Men, left to their own devices, will act tough, shut down emotionally and believe they already know it all and can take care of their own problems. Once they get into a room with other men who are also suffering, the outer shell begins to crack and the façade falls away.
Addiction does not discriminate, and, by the same token, mutual support among men is not related to their status in life or their background. At The Ranch, men in treatment may be young or old, rich or poor. They could be atheists, Orthodox Jews or Seventh-day Adventists. But there is a common thread that binds them together: When men reveal their authentic selves in a community of other men, true healing begins.
Studies show that friendship and social networks can increase pain tolerance and this is true for emotional pain. We see people in The Ranch’s men’s rehab center lightening up and straightening their lives out in group work and community with other men.
First Steps to Healing
- Admitting there is a problem. The first step to recovery is to do something different and quit using. One must also accept that the changes that come along with sobriety will not happen overnight. A man may start out in group with his arms folded, insisting he is not the one with the problem. The breakthrough comes when he admits, in front of others, “My life is out of control.” In rehab for men, that level of vulnerability opens the door to the truth.
- Creating boundaries. Male addicts tend to be lone rangers. They’re not used to following the direction of others, but that’s an important part of getting back on track. In the first weeks of recovery, there is no phone and very little TV. Distractions can easily take someone off the path, so they are removed. Connections to people from the old life are deleted from cell phones. As boundaries are formed around people who are bad influences, new relationships can be built.
Male Bonding Can Help In Many Ways
Here are some of the ways men support one another in healing.
|1. Permission to share secrets. Male addicts tend to compartmentalize their lives. When they come into a men’s rehab center, they generally have secrets. There are things they never told anybody. As they get open and honest, they start realizing that there are other people here who are like them. They see it is OK to break their no-talk rule because they will not be judged. One study showed it is important for men’s recovery that they share their stories. For so many men, it comes as such a relief that they are free to tell their truth.|
2. Safely looking at trauma. Research shows trauma is at the source of many addictions but many men are not even aware of the burdens they are carrying. Many men begin to discover early life trauma while talking about their lives with other men. As they share stories, certain themes arise, such as abandonment, abuse and attachment issues. Sometimes they break down and cry, as if they are still the wounded 5-year-old. In the process, many of them discover the lack of intimacy in their lives is due to never getting the nurturing they needed as children. They begin to realize they have come to rely on sex or a substance to soothe themselves.
|3. Developing honest and intimate relationships. Men who have endured childhood trauma and neglect often learned very early on that they’re on their own and become self-sufficient. But they lose the chance for intimacy and, because they are emotionally adrift, they are not used to nurturing behavior. In rehab they learn how to formulate close relationships, beginning with the other men in the room. One of the greatest joys I have as a therapist in rehab for men is watching men hug each other and speak from the heart, share their hardest stuff and not be judged for it.|
|4. Self-love and feeling worthy. Toxic shame is a big part of addiction and it usually comes along long before the addiction. It can develop from experiencing trauma through physical and/or emotional abandonment or abuse. The way they dealt with it was to medicate it. In the company of other men, they begin to see: I’m not so bad. They begin moving forward in life with a stronger sense of self because people are showing them respect.|
|5. Reestablishing a moral compass. Addiction is not a moral shortcoming, it’s an illness. But the disease can rob someone of their sense of right and wrong and cause them to lie and cheat. In treatment, their conscience starts coming back. Because they are honest in front of one another, willing to break down and share the truth, they can find their way back to integrity. And they can develop relationships to continue outside of rehab that will support them in continuing living in this way.|
|6. Finding spiritual sustenance. Although The Ranch is not a religious program per se, men can find their own way to spiritually. In recovery, people often find a power greater than themselves and it may just be a group of men who are going through similar issues and can support you on the journey. In the space of this intimacy with other men, men get very honest about their lives and feelings. And this, in many cases, can help men feel more connected to God, their faith or some kind of spiritual connection and studies show this aids in continued recovery.|
As a mandated reporter, I am legally bound to report such things such as admitted homicidal or suicidal ideation, child abuse or neglect and elderly abuse. Other than that, I want those in rehab for men at The Ranch to feel like they can say anything here under the shield of confidentiality. This means they can share their most difficult and shameful stories and know that the people in the room will respect their courage. It’s not unusual for everyone to tear up — and to also cheer for the person who has finally broken free from their darkest secrets. They are also met with love. I believe there is nothing more powerful than that.