The most powerful thing you can say to someone with an addiction is a question, and the question is, "What do you think?"
I know, you're thinking, Amber, I already know what they believe, and they are all wrong. They just don't get it.
If you think that, there's possibly a little truth in that statement that maybe they don't get it, or perhaps they're wrong about some things, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they're right or they're wrong. What matters is what they think. That is critically important because when you know what they believe, you have the starting point to help guide them in the right direction.
You cannot start where you want to start because, most likely, you're 10 miles down the road from where they are, and you will not get their attention.
When you're 10 miles down the road, you have to back up and find out where they're starting from, and you have to use that information to help walk them through the process.
This solution became clear to me in a recent family session. Let me set the scene; Campbell and I were doing a family session, and it was me, Campbell, the person with the substance abuse problem, and their parent. They told the mom about what was happening, revealing the young person's secrets and lies. As you can imagine, this young person was upset about the situation and not happy at all. They kept saying, "But you didn't even come to me. You didn't ask me what was going on. You just listened to them!"
When that person said that, I thought, to be honest, the last person you want to ask to find out the truth about what's happening is the person with the addiction. Let's face it; credibility's not always that great.
But the thing about it is that this young person had an excellent point. It's not so much that the mom should have taken everything they said to heart and believed everything, but everyone was planning a small intervention, and while this was happening, there was one problem.
No one stopped to find out what that person thought about it.
Important: If you put someone into extensive treatment when they're not in the right stage of change, you're probably going to end up wasting a lot of time, money, energy, and heartache. Timing is critical when it comes to deciding this. You want to know why that's important because it tells you what stage of change the person is experiencing.
Of course, there are more steps involved in getting someone out of denial and into recovery or treatment if that's what needs to happen, but asking them what they think is going on and how they feel about it is the absolute perfect place to start.
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