From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #5 – Self-Medication and Addiction
July 3, 2019
If men are socialized not to express any emotion except anger (see my previous post about men, anger, and rage), and anger is seen as inappropriate in many situations, boys and men often learn to turn to substances or behaviors to numb themselves against feeling those feelings they cannot express.
Men in my parents’ generation often turned to socially-acceptable self-medications like smoking and drinking to cope with stresses, and I saw my father regularly shelve his own self-care in order to care for his patients in a busy medical and surgical practice.
It took me a long time to realize how completely I’d internalized this coping strategy myself until I was deeply into problem drinking in college and graduate school. And because graduate school was seminary, and I was preparing to be a minister, there was a strong incentive to keep this problem a secret.
When I got sober on May 10, 1993, it was the beginning of a long process of learning how to cope with life on a new basis: of owning my emotional life and expressing my feelings instead of being enslaved by them.
That learning process continues to this day. But huge barrier to many men developing a healthy emotional life and good self-care is this prohibition on feeling, and the difficulty men have in forming close, trusting relationships with other men.
And the thing about self-medication is that it works for a while to divorce ourselves from troublesome emotions that get in the way of the work, play, and relationships of daily life. Eventually, it stops working, and indeed boomerangs on us, and we find ourselves at the end of our own resources.
And although I owe everything good in my life right now to recovery, I’m aware of how far I have yet to go in the areas of self-care and a small network of close and trusting male friendships.