One thing I’ve learned over the years is that addiction blinds people to the truth of consequences. Addiction causes people to misinterpret these negative impacts across a wide spectrum, including emotional consequences, intellectual consequences, physical consequences, and spiritual consequences. Because we treat the whole person at The Center, we see and work with these multiple impacts daily.
Brandon came to us professing to feel nothing. When Brandon was asked in group sessions how he felt about a story or concept, his stock response was to shrug and say, “I don’t know.” If asked to describe how he felt about a memory he shared, he would seem puzzled by the question. As we worked with Brandon, we soon suspected that when he said, “I don’t know,” he desperately was trying to achieve “I don’t care.” Brandon did care; he cared deeply. But caring, he’d learned, made you vulnerable and susceptible to pain. I’ve found, for some people, addictions can act as emotional dams, holding back pain.
The addictive behaviors create a structure behind which disturbing emotions are kept contained. The illusion is these emotions are being kept under control, but that is not the case. The floodwaters of pain continue to build and apply tremendous pressure to the structure of the addiction, requiring continual fortification.
Because of the perceived danger of any sort of release, these emotional dams hold back pleasure as well as pain. Happiness, gratitude, interest, empathy, desire, and delight are walled off too. In my line of work, a person who is emotionally damming is said to have a flat affect. The blank face of their emotional dam is, quite literally, their own face, which displays little or no emotion. That was certainly true in Brandon’s case.
Emotional content being held back will continue its destructive pressure unless that pressure is released. In an odd way, one of our jobs at The Center is to burst emotional dams. We act as professional spillways, allowing that pent-up emotional pressure to be expressed within a supportive environment.
Tears, therefore, in my business, can be incredibly cleansing. When Brandon finally broke, he did so with a torrent of tears. He kept apologizing, choking out that he couldn’t stop crying, as if that was somehow unacceptable. He seemed genuinely shocked at the intensity of what he called his “breakdown.” I suggested he jettison the word breakdown and consider his experience a breakthrough. Weathering that flood of emotion was difficult, but it allowed him to begin the slow process of learning how to “feel” again—apart from the emotional suffocation of his addiction.
Some people come to us suppressing all emotions, and they are a challenge to open. Others are just the opposite. They are a challenge to contain because they scatter their emotional states, which are almost always negative, indiscriminately in every conceivable direction. I’ve had my manhood impugned, my professionalism vilified, and my Christianity called into question. I’ve been yelled at, cussed at, cried over, raged against, argued with, bargained with, and accused of every nefarious motive possible amid these emotional tempests.
If you are struggling with addictive behavior, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.