Actor Ben Affleck is not walking onto a fantasy movie set following his 40 days in rehab.
Like millions of other recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, Ben’s entered back into real life which is full of consequences and scary moments ahead. The ‘family’ dynamic includes the support of his former wife, Jennifer Garner. After filing for divorce three years ago, the couple moved forward with finalizing the end of their marriage earlier this month, while Ben was undergoing treatment. Luckily for Ben, he still has ex-wife’s friendship. Ben’s fame and money will not buy his freedom from the mental illness which millions of other people afflicted with alcoholism endure. In fact his stardom and riches have often proven to be a hindrance to his long-term sobriety. He’s often jumped back into the same lifestyle, work, schedules, and social environments—-making them his priority. This is a common mistake made by many people all over the world who suffer from substance abuse disorders. A VIP-status for an alcoholic doesn’t exist. Actually, it makes it worse. If real stages of growth are not maintained, it’s a fairy tale—to think any substantial long-term changes will work. It’s an arduous process, but Ben will prosper as long as he continues to work from the reality that his recovery is a daily reprieve, based on his mental and emotional conditions. He will need to practice and sharpen the tools he received during treatment and acquire more strategies for maintaining comfortable sobriety. Families of drug addicts and alcoholics are as much in recovery as the people they are loving and supporting. Applause to Jennifer for learning the difference between enabling and helping, as part of her own journey of over a decade of living with an alcoholic. Jennifer didn’t allow the hurt from her strained domestic relationship with Ben to interfere with getting her estranged husband the help he needed. She is credited with coordinating the intervention, and then driving to him to the treatment facility, stopping along to the way to pick up his favorite fast food meal. This is a spectacular example of how a family member can be of service in the solution, as opposed to being taken hostage in the chaos. Allowing the divorce to go through while Ben was in rehab demonstrates Jennifer’s commitment to self-care and attending to the welfare of their children, as her greatest priority. She’s promoting boundary setting, which is critical to her overall health and well-being, and the preservation of her family’s interests. Like so many kids of alcoholics, the children have endured the emotional pain of living with an alcoholic. It’s obvious that both Jennifer and Ben realize the traumas their children are experiencing need treatment as well. Ben’s treatment journey began in 2001 when his friend, fellow actor Charlie Sheen drove him to Promises in Malibu. His almost twenty years of relapsing should not be seen as failures, but for what they are, part of his recovery. Like any other life-threatening disease, continuation of treatment procedures are critical to maintaining health. Unfortunately, due to the shame and stigma associated with the general public’s perception of alcoholism, Ben’s growth and courage in battling his disease has not been acknowledged. However, that seems to be changing as Ben himself takes to social media platforms with vows to be of service to others, and acknowledging his commitment to ensure his children escape the shame associated with his disease. Ben’s understanding of his disease has matured and his resolve to stay sober has strengthened almost two decades since his initial introduction to sobriety: “I went to rehab for being 29 and partying too much and not having a lot of boundaries and to clear my head and try to get some idea of who I wanted to be,” Ben said at the time. It was more of a ‘let me get myself straight,’ before it became a rite of passage.” There is no cure for alcoholism, but it is treatable with vigilance and open-minded willingness to do what’s necessary. Letting up on any of the practices and exercises is a downward dive backwards. Stopping a doctor’s treatment plan for cancer would most likely result in the patient remaining ill, getting worse, or even dying. It’s no different with looking after alcoholism, which is a progressive disease. It can be arrested only through continued, life-long abstinence. To maintain sobriety, staying on top of the illness requires diligent daily treatment. The great news is that people can live joyful, productive lives with purpose and meaning as a result of working a consistent after care program. Treating mental illness and addictions like cancer is tantamount to stopping the self humiliation, self hatred and shame. Chronic illnesses are far more survivable than acute ones. It’s time we treat addiction as a chronic disease.