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Wellness Wednesday You can beat your addiction, even in lockdown

Mental Health Occupational Therapist Michelle Murray says living with the shame of addiction is always tough, but lockdown pushes even harder. She says there is hope.

I’M A MENTAL Health Occupational Therapist. I support ordinary people with addiction among other mental health concerns to build a life of meaning and purpose, a life worth living during their recovery.

Day after day I see the crippling shame that surrounds addiction in Ireland today. I’ve have seen how this shame has flourished in lockdown where face to face support groups have been postponed, routines turned upside down and counselling sessions paused.

It’s been a very difficult time for most, but largely for those managing addictions.

Addiction and shame

I hope to use my platform to begin an open conversation about addiction that will break through some of the shame experienced by those recovering with this diagnosis and for those hiding in the shadows of lockdown afraid to get help. 

I have three questions for you to ponder before we begin:

  1. What assumptions are you making about a diagnosis of addiction?  

  2. What words come to mind? 

  3. Do you know anyone with an addiction?

Let’s chat about some common assumptions here when it comes to addictions:

  • Addicts are male
  • Addiction is an easy excuse for people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions
  • Addicts are criminals
  • Addicts are homeless.

Or perhaps, you believe that addiction is all just a myth and these so-called addicts are just delusional or attention-seeking.

The reality is that addiction is a real and diagnosed mental health condition that affects ordinary “normal” people – men and women, young and old, straight and gay, wealthy and poor – and it is thriving in Ireland today.

Addiction appears to present more often in males and is less likely to be disclosed among females. Common risk factors for developing an addiction include having experienced childhood traumas (such as sexual or physical abuse, neglect), living with family members with addictions and having a history of other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Brain mapping research suggests that a person presenting with addiction is more likely to be geared toward risk-taking behaviours and uncontrollable urges.

The powerful disease of addiction comes in many forms. We’re mostly familiar with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, whereas compulsive sexual behaviour is a relatively new term to be recognised in the field of addiction and psychiatry. 

What is addiction?

An addiction is described as an uncontrollable compulsion to use a substance or to behave in a particular way in order to feel or maybe not feel a certain way. For example, someone with an alcohol addiction will use alcohol to get their “fix”.

It is the dependency and need for that fix that classes it as an addiction, not the actual behaviour itself. 

Living with uncontrollable urges during lockdown is made a lot more difficult. People are finding that not having the usual support systems in place is discombobulating. Those who normally ‘manage’ addictions are forced to innovate and create new meaningful daily structures that will help to keep them occupied and engaged in healthy self-care practices, all the while managing the shame and stigma of living with an addiction.

What if addiction could be viewed the same way as diabetes? To be prevented and cured. I would like to see us get to the stage where we loved, respected and cared for all people with addiction just like we do those affected by other illnesses. It is possible to start treating it like other chronic illnesses so that the shame and stigma can be eliminated.

Battling addiction

Most of the clients I support and those I know in my personal life with addiction find the shame associated with this illness as one of the biggest barriers to their recovery. Shame lives and breathes in silence and so lockdown is a breathing ground for shame.

Not being able to talk openly about addiction with family, friends and strangers means that people are suffering in silence.

What can you do to help yourself?

  • Routine: Make a weekly schedule that allocates time for addiction support (phone/ online), social connections, self-care and leisure. Set goals each week to spend a certain amount of time engaging in each of these areas. Check out my video on how to create a meaningful routine:

Anchor Therapy / YouTube

  • Compassion: Show kindness to yourself, just like you would to a child or a loved one. Acknowledge that this is a hard time for you and that it will pass. It’s okay to have days that are harder than others. This is hard and you’re doing the best that you can.

  • Share the load: Empathy is the best way to eliminate shame. By telling someone about your struggles, whether it’s to a friend or in a counselling session, you are breaking down the issue, inviting empathy and making it all the more manageable.

  • Practice yoga and breathwork: this is a form of mindfulness that can help you to feel a sense of control and calm in your body. As addiction is felt and experienced within the body also, it’s important to learn how to manage urges and compulsions through your senses. Take a slow deep breath by counting in for four seconds, holding your breath for five seconds and breathing out for six seconds. You could also match this breathwork with a movement e.g. lifting your arms overhead as you breathe in and lowering them down again as you breathe out. This is yoga! I have more free accessible videos posted on my website here.

  • If you’re looking to access help for addiction for the first time check out Addiction Recovery Ireland for a list of support services. 

We need to work harder now more than ever to create more compassionate spaces in our communities that invite open conversations with friends and family about addiction. We need to educate ourselves more about this condition.

We need to empower each other so that we can create a safer and more accepting Ireland for every ordinary person living here. At the end of the day, we are all just ordinary people with struggles, regrets and hardships and we’re doing the best that we can with the current situation.

It’s a simple message. Show respect and empathy and help those around you during this difficult time for all.

Michelle Murray is a Mental Health Occupational Therapist and Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator. If you’re interested in learning more about how Occupational Therapy support might be able to help you with your routine reach out to Michelle Murray at Anchor Therapy Michelle can also be found on Facebook and Instagram as the_wellness_anchor where she posts regular tips and tricks to support your mental health.

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