In this blog series I am going to speak specifically about Substance Use Disorder but the principles are so darn helpful I think they can apply to a wide variety of issues. First up in the discussion? I am going to ask us to question our assumptions. This is not easy work because most of our assumptions are deeply ingrained; they feel REAL and TRUE.
But what if we are wrong?
A couple years ago a wife made an appointment with me to talk about her husband’s possible dependence on alcohol. For years she had ASSUMED that he did NOT suffer from a Substance Use Disorder with alcohol because he didn’t “act like the drunks in movies or on tv.” Therein lies an assumption. She ASSUMED she knew what it looked like too suffer from a Substance Use Disorder – sloppy drunkenness, homelessness, embarrassing snafus and misbehaviors, loss of jobs and the like.
“He doesn’t act like THAT at ALL!” She exclaimed. But she couldn’t quite scratch away that itchy feeling that he DID have a problem; her doubts about his wellness made her feel kinda crazy. I listened and listened and listened some more. Here’s what she reported:
- Her spouse had a DUI (but it was on vacation so it hardly counts).
- He had driven drunk with the kids in the car (but only because she was late getting to the school awards banquet – he wouldn’t NORMALLY do that).
- She had begun searching for “empties” and found plenty of empty bottles of Jim Beam (but he only drinks beer so this is confusing).
- No sex life because he “falls asleep” so deeply every single night.
- He’s a good worker but has had a string of job failures (none his fault, he is just very unlucky).
“It is possible that all these events (and there were more) are unrelated,” I told her, “but it seems unlikely. I wonder if your false assumptions about what the disease of addiction looks like are causing you confusion, not craziness. Do you think your snooping is normal? If so, then why did this behavior on your part only start the last couple of years. You cannot stop going through his texts or looking under the bed for empties. Does that tell you anything? Maybe part of your brain is trying to speak up and refute some of those false assumptions.”
Ultimately, she agreed; an intervention was held; her husband went into treatment and after a couple slips, learned how to flourish in sobriety. Several years have passed since those early days of conversation and I hadn’t talked to her in years. She called me recently and asked that I specifically step up my educational game related to talking to families about taking action when they suspect that there is a SUD. Her husband has maintained his sobriety since those days when she first intervened and she is extremely grateful. But she is also aware of the years that they lived with assumptions that delayed awareness and treatment. This series is intended to honor her request.