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Trap of addiction invisible to users

Addiction is like an invisible cage; invisible to the one in the cage but visible to everyone else. The addict insists that they are free, that they have the freedom of choice and that life is good. But they don’t know they are trapped.

They have been caged so long they forgot what freedom looked and felt like, and trapped has become the new normal. I talked to a newly recovering guy recently who explained that he used to think he was doing “FINE” while the reality was that he was losing his business, his family and his car. He explained that freedom began, for him, with the honest recognition of his condition. His cage was his denial of his self-induced disasters.

Recovery can’t begin until the person in the cage begins to become aware of the nature and consequences of being trapped. Have you ever seen an animal that has been in a cage for most of its life offered its freedom? The first reaction is fear. They don’t want to leave the safety of the cage, much like the addict who yearns for the perceived safety of his cage of choice.

Once the cage door has been opened, it becomes increasingly hard to deny the real world.

“The bottom” for an addict is the point at which the door first starts to creak open. Treatment is helping the addict to keep the door open long enough to understand the deluded nature of their fear and begin to believe they can survive the outside world.

Ongoing sobriety only starts by stepping out of the cage and continues by learning to live life in the outside world. This task is usually a long and difficult one that requires the recognition of the need for regular outside assistance (asking for help and staying humble), the need for regular self appraisal (looking at yourself rather than others) and the need to clean up the interpersonal messes that have been so much part and parcel of the addictive lifestyle.

Life is a little scary sometimes, but it’s a whole lot better than living in a cage of your own design.

• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting


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