Men’s Health Month: Recovery for Men

June is Men’s Health Month. As our understanding of mental health and addiction continues to grow, it’s crucial to stay aware of how your mental health may be affected by greater forces at work–in both society in general and your family dynamic–because you are a man. While this article includes general statements that apply to many, each person’s situation is unique; even if these ideas don’t apply to you, it may be worth considering their potential relevance to others in your life.

To be clear, analyzing the way that being a man affects your mental health absolutely does not mean that being born with a certain set of chromosomes or biological characteristics dooms you to emotional repression or any other negative consequence. These traits develop due to how men have been socialized in American and other cultures throughout history. It is not your biology that saddles you with intense, often destructive expectations and perceptions; it is the role you have been assigned in society.

Macho, Macho Man

You’ve seen it on movie screens, in books, in games; you’ve watched it unfold, time and time again, from the schoolyard to the business world. Men have to be strong, not weak. Men have to be able to endure, not vent. Generalization though this may be, many truths have been constructed upon it. The heroic male figure of countless stories, told to impressionable young men worldwide, is a private, mysterious figure whose strengths stem from discipline and a staunch unwillingness to relent (never mind that the same traits often apply to the villains they fight).

This exaggerated depiction of the so-called masculine ideal is tightly interwoven with substance abuse. You may have heard that “a man is supposed to hold his liquor,” or you may have learned that “real men” can use regular casual drinking as one of few acceptable outlets after a long day. You may have understood that, as a man, you can celebrate every milestone and mourn every tragedy with a hand on a bottle.

The Man’s Role and Social Isolation

On another level, men tend to become socially isolated more quickly and more easily than women. One contributing factor is that despite the progress society has made towards separating a person’s gender from their career path, men in many places are still viewed as the breadwinners of their households. Being thrust into this role of constant stress and obligation can cause you to develop the feeling that you’re on your own no matter what you do.

This can make it much harder to reach out and connect with people on a deeper level, leaving you stewing in your fears and uncertainties because you don’t feel able to open up. When you have nowhere else to go, drugs and alcohol can become much more appealing–both as an outlet and as a way to accept your lot without feeling the further obligation to try and change.

Emotional Repression

Another reason men can have a hard time opening up about their emotions is that they may have internalized the idea that emotions are inherently “unmasculine.” Just like society tends to shore up the image of the successful man as confident, unwavering in his trajectory in life, focused on action and results, it tends to pull women in the opposite direction, encouraging them to take on the emotional burdens of the men in their lives. 

As a result, men conditioned this way may view emotions as inherently feminine, somehow counterintuitive, or threatening to their success as a man. This leads many men to repress their emotions, and substance abuse can act as an enormous nail in that coffin.

The Benefit of Same-Sex Recovery

One of the reasons that so many men tangle with dangerous levels of substance abuse is because society doesn’t place a positive emphasis on other outlets. For many men, part of seeking help for an imbalanced life is learning to accept input from others and develop emotional vulnerability in healthy settings. Because this process can take time and give rise to discomfort, it can make a significant difference to undergo therapy, group exercises, and other forms of assistance in the exclusive presence of other men working through similar issues. 

Pursuing recovery in the company of other men can allow you to see the power of transformation in people like you and help you realize that you’re not as isolated as you may have thought. This is a crucial concept to accept for your long-term health.

Living as a man means navigating a world of expectations, demands, perceptions, and standards that are already set for you when you are very young. To find stability and happiness in the world means carving out your own way of being, sometimes counter to the ways that society may encourage you to act. Until you achieve self-acceptance and find comfort in who you are, struggling to find peace against the supposed masculine ideal can cause you deep cognitive dissonance and lead you to make unhealthy decisions simply to cope with emotions you feel unable to express. If you’re struggling with substance abuse and aren’t sure how to turn things around, reach out to Cornerstone Healing Center. We’ve built a peaceful, attentive environment for recovery and self-improvement in Scottsdale, Arizona, staffed by compassionate professionals who are ready to help you overcome your challenges and change your life. Call us at (800) 643-2108 to learn more.