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'Tough Love' Has to Go

August 05, 2019

This blog has been focused on treating addiction as a chronic disorder and the elimination of stigma—in particular, the stigma that we create. A recent conversation emphasizes that we have a way to go.

The Sober World is a nicely done monthly magazine often seen at at Starbucks locations in South Florida. It reaches a lot of people. The publisher, Patricia Rosen, recently stated:

“I would love to hear your views on 'Tough Love.' Who believes in it, who doesn't and why? It should be an interesting conversation. On the night of Dec. 12, 1994, in Madison, Wisconsin, Theresa J. McGovern froze to death in a snowbank. She was 45 years old and the mother of two young girls.”

My response was: “I think that we’re our own worst enemies. We often talk about stigma, yet we’ve treated people with a chronic disorder by allowing them to freeze to death on a park bench. How can we get rid of stigma and show the world how we treat our own?

We maintain the stigma by treating ourselves as people not deserving better.

It’s been accepted that people in residential care can be cut off from the rest of the world. Residential care has often been provided in remote areas; no phones or computers allowed.

It’s so that patients can focus. People being treated for cancer don’t need to focus. Truth be told, we’ve been hidden away for 28 days so we wouldn’t bother or embarrass anyone.

Last, I will ask how those of us who have this chronic disorder have accepted being treated for acute episodes rather than having services available at any point in recovery.

I’ve been around long enough to have done all the above.

Never too late to change!

Here are a few subsequent comments.

From Dr. Bob Lynn, a national and international clinical advisor for program development and training: I just don't get it—what's the desired outcome? Sure, each case is different but I for one will not close the door on my child in their time of need. I agree with Michael it is counterproductive to isolate patients from their families in residential treatment, and yes this is one way some programs perpetuate stigma.

Another responder: If my family enforced "tough love" on me, I'd be dead. Today I have 12+ years sober and am eternally grateful for my family.

Another: I totally believe in tough love... Jesus loved me so much that he died on the cross for me after he was whipped and beaten.

Then another's response to the last comment: As an ordained Pastor I wanted to know your thoughts. So, because you believe Christ had a plan, which he knew the outcome and process of in advance. One that was so difficult, He cried out “Father please take this cup from me. Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). You then choose to sign up for the belief that all tough love is appropriate, not considering other factors or possible ramifications for exhibiting this behavior? I want to state I’m not here to tell you that you are wrong, yet I do think that in the aforementioned comparison, it might be wise to deeply consider the context and application. Jesus did.

I think that what is written above makes at least two points:

  • Religion must be an individual’s personal choice, not part of a program for recovery; and

  • 'Tough love' is a horrible thing.

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