The Importance Of Getting Vulnerable In Addiction Treatment

Posted on: October 30th, 2019

Vulnerability is a powerful, popular term, being used quite often regarding personal development the last couple of years. Since the internationally renowned and outspokenly sober leader of the self-help and personal development march Brene Brown led a TED Talk called “The Power of Vulnerability”, people have turned toward the idea of vulnerability with more interest than adversity.

For most people, the idea of vulnerability leaves a difficult taste in their mouth- the idea of being open, raw, and completely, radically honest, is a hard pill to swallow for them. By dictionary definition, being vulnerable means “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”. The definition alone is evidence enough why we generally avoid a state of vulnerability, within ourselves, and with others. To be in a susceptible position which puts us at risk of being attacked or harmed is to be in an unpleasant space. Easily, and likely without argue, it could be said that as human beings, we aren’t exactly keen to be attacked or harmed, physically or emotionally. However, there is a catch to the dictionary definition of vulnerability which acts more as a limitation. Only looking at the susceptibility toward the negative of vulnerability, i.e., being “attacked” or “harmed” limits how vulnerability might also make us susceptible toward resiliency, bravery, courage, and strength. The limitation is this: what happens if we are attacked? What happens if we are harmed? Most importantly, what happens if, and most likely when, we survive and come out on the other side of vulnerability? Therein lies the magnificent, transformative power of vulnerability. With a small perspective shift and a giant leap into the unknown, we can take fear and utilize it, creating a strength we have never known before.

Going to treatment for drug and alcohol addiction can be a daunting task. Full of group therapies, individual therapy sessions, and emotionally raw dynamics, we know that treatment is going to ask a lot of us. Specifically, we know that we are going to be asked to get vulnerable- to put ourselves, all of ourselves, out in the open for others to see. In front of strangers, in front of people who don’t know our story, we are expected to lay it all out in the open, receive feedback, heal, and grow. As Brene Brown says, she defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”

The point of opening up in treatment is not pushing ourselves beyond our comfort level for the sake of getting uncomfortable. By getting vulnerable with others, we start to stop our common practice of emotional isolation and learn how to connect with others. “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take,” Brene Brown says, “if we want to experience connection.” Living in fear and isolation keeps us disconnected from ourselves and from others.

All human beings on planet earth face the challenge of vulnerability in measures great and small. Each day we step outside our door we become a constant calculation of probability and possibility, with a running risk factor. There are a million and one things out of our control in our daily lives which make us “susceptible” to harm. Yet, the harm we fear the most is connection, intimacy, and honesty with other people. We use our fears of vulnerability to our advantage, especially when we develop an addiction in our lives. Hidden behind a chemical cloak, we make believe that we disappear from the world entirely. Convincing ourselves of false truths that we’re too different, unwelcomed, unworthy, undeserving, and apart from, we shroud ourselves further from society and connection. Eventually, our efforts wear thin. Upon entering treatment we realize that in order to survive in a social world, we have to learn how to connect to those around us. The very thing we sought to avoid for survival becomes precisely what we’ll need to survive.

Vulnerability Takes Time

Learning how to be vulnerable doesn’t happen in a day. Vulnerability doesn’t work by waking up one day and deciding “I’m going to get vulnerable, right now” and then staying vulnerable for the rest of your life. Each time we have an opportunity to step into uncertainty, to take risk, and to expose ourselves emotionally, we have an opportunity to practice vulnerability. The more we practice being vulnerable, the more comfortable with vulnerability we become. We learn to embrace risk, endure “harm” and thrive regardless.

Vulnerability Breeds Resilience

As we grow in our sobriety, we come to realize something remarkable about vulnerability- we’re capable of withstanding risk and we’re even capable of bouncing back after experiencing some harm. All that is out there for us to endure, does not knock us all the way down. We don’t relapse. We don’t turn to destructive behaviors which cause damage to us and/or to others. Difficult feelings come, then difficult feelings go once we learn in treatment how to process them and work through them. Lessons are learned, growth is achieved, and we keep rising to the challenge of the uncertainty of another day because we have finally realized that we are resilient enough to make it from one day to the next.

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