As a psychiatric nurse, I deal every day with people who are trying to cope with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. Many of them have been trying to cope with the distress of their illnesses by self-medicating. Some abuse prescription medications such as anxiolytics or pain meds, while others use marijuana and tell themselves it’s “not really a drug.” Some drink excessive alcohol, and others take anything they can from LSD to mushrooms to crack cocaine to meth.
The one characteristic all these people have is that they come to treatment in pain. And just being in treatment doesn’t mean they are hopeful about being there. A large part of the staff’s job is to help the patients find that hope. Without it, nothing else progresses because the work in overcoming illness and addiction is hard.
If someone arrives still under the influence of drugs/alcohol, they have to go through detoxification. We use medications to try to ease them through that process, but it is still not an easy one. However, almost always after detoxing, the patient is much better able to consider other things on which to focus and to stay focused on those things that form the steps of recovery.
During treatment, other means of coping with stress need to be found for each patient, along with better habits of responding in new, less destructive ways. The lucky ones find the right person with whom to explore, process and resolve their underlying issues, particularly trauma. Without that process, relapse is all too common.
I admire anyone who makes that first step and starts some kind of treatment. I use the analogy that everyone has a little red wagon, and we pull it around, carrying our emotional baggage. In treatment, we try to help the patient unpack some of that baggage, put it in the right storage or maybe even discard some of it, making the wagon a little lighter to pull.
Treatment is available, but you may have to look for it. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to afford wonderful private facilities. Others have to hope they are lucky enough to find good care in a public system. Keep looking. Ask for guidance, but seek help if you are dealing with addiction or any mental illness. I have seen life-changing results from getting the right care.
Best wishes in your recovery.
Dee G. Henderson, MSN, RN-BC
Editor’s note: Dee wrote this blog post in honor of National Recovery Month.