One of my first official speaking commitments was at conference held for law enforcement in regards to the opiate epidemic. The purpose behind this conference was to discuss the methods used to bring help for those who cannot and do not know how to help themselves.
I sat on a panel as a recovery specialist that participated in a county-wide initiative that would take the fight against heroin in a different direction. This is not to say that I am or was an authority on every aspect of addiction nor does this mean that my addiction was worse or better or to be compared to anyone else. However, instead of connecting people to treatment because of their lifestyle, it was my effort to connect people towards treatment because of the reasons behind their lifestyle. And the reasons are everything.
Everything has a reason. There is a reason why we speak and why we move. There is a reason why we find ourselves in the same routines and the same patterns with the same outcomes. In fact, even in self-help programs like the 12-Step programs aimed towards alcohol and narcotics, the only step towards improvement that regards drugs or alcohol is the first one. This acknowledges one fact —our behaviors are a response, and in response; we find ourselves sinking in the quicksand of our lives and submit to the idea that yes, eventually we will submerge and sink too low, that we are beyond repair, and inevitably we are going to die this way.
One of the questions asked by a high level politician was, ”What can we do to coerce people off of heroin?” This was not a question directed towards me but more towards law enforcement. I listened to the answers, which made sense on the political stage; however, the answers were geared more towards how law enforcement could change the fight against addiction. But after some of the other distinguished members of the panel answered, I was given a chance to respond.
I don’t think there is anything anyone can do to coerce someone off of heroin nor do I think there is anything anyone can do to coerce people from any addiction. In fact, I would rather change the word coerce to empower because empowerment is the only way to create change. To help someone change is to give them a reason to change; it’s to empower them; it is to encourage them and to enable them to understand their inner ability to overcome. To help someone change is to strengthen them at their weakest so that they can withstand the beginning process, which, in the case of physical addiction is tied an unthinkably sick withdrawal. But aside from the physical withdrawal and when the physical need is gone, then we have the mental withdrawal and the mindset, we have the thought process to deal with and the emotions that churn our thoughts and ideas, which trigger the anxiety machine, and cause the craving to fix or fill the empty void.
In the sense of reasoning; in most cases, relapse occurs or the return to an old pattern happens when the thoughts come in to strip away the empowerment.
The encouraged become discouraged. The ideas conflict with emotion and the two combine and become overwhelming. And same as it was unthinkable to get through the physical demand of the drug itself —the idea of emotional sobriety becomes unthinkable and unrealistic.
The ideas in this case always come to one question: “What’s the point?”
And of all questions, this is the most important one because this regards value. The truth of the matter is we are all, “What’s in it for me,” kind of people.
The angle of view and our perception is what holds us back. The way we see things and the way we find ourselves stuck in the rut of old thoughts and old feelings; when we feel like no matter how we try, we just can’t seem to fit or find ourselves in a way that makes sense; immediately, we have the internal need to satisfy our discomforts the only way we know how because in all fairness, the reasons why we got high is because we needed a distraction. We never thought there was another way to solve the dilemmas in our life; therefore, if we can’t fix them, at least we can placate them for a while with our own forms of anesthesia.
In my case, I used to euthanize myself in pieces at a time to slowly dissolve and find myself wrapped up in my own narcotic cocoon. And no, this never fixed anything. this never helped me, but the high did provide me with a distraction. Unfortunately, the distraction came at a price and each time I tried to distract myself, and each time I tried to find myself cloaked in a warm, mental vacation, my length of stay was always interrupted and shorter. Meanwhile, I was trying to do was to find that feeling i had with my first real high. This, by the way, is why that say on the street, “The first hit is always free,” because one it has you, they know you’ll be coming back.
The anxieties are tough to overcome. The basic fears and concerns we have and the struggles with boredom, and of course, let’s not forget the regret machine and the memories of our past and the wreckage of what we’ve done; these are all heavy things that weigh on the mind. And the mind has a natural need to fix itself. Therefore, we find ourselves stuck in the secular belief that nothing can and will fix us. Therefore, in the case of the addict and addictive behavior, we go back to our old routines as a means to appease the emotioanl discomforts.
Back to the question at hand, there is no way to coerce someone from their lifestyle; however, since we are in fact, “What’s in it for me,” kind of people, we need to find a way to continuously remind, explain, and express exactly what’s in it for someone to achieve emotional sobriety.
I use these words together for a specific reason. More importantly to get off heroin is to stay off heroin. But without reason and without the intrinsic value of why someone would stay clean, the idea of staying clean is unthinkable. First, I think we need to move away from the “black and white” ways of sobriety’s maintenance. There are different pathways to recovery.
There are 12 step meetings and smart recovery programs. Some find comfort in the church and some find methods through intense therapy, hypnotherapy, and life coaching.
There are those who have found their way towards a better life through medically assisted treatment. But so be it. Whichever way a person chooses to get better, then let them get better.
If the numbers of addiction and deaths as a result of overdoses are as astounding as reported, there needs to be a change in our methods of treatment. If it is true (which I don’t agree it is) that addiction has never been like this before in our country, then what are we going to do about it? And if I am right and addiction has always been this way and with the same statistics, then why aren’t we doing something differently?
From my experience, shame is a big problem in the treatment community. Fear-based programs are a problem. Teaching people they cannot trust their thoughts, although I understand the reasoning behind it, this is not an empowering life skill.
I have been clean and sober for 27 years. I am not afraid of my addiction nor should I be. However, I do understand it. I understand me and what happens when I interact with thoughts that do not serve me well and patterns that put me in a place where I do not want to be. This is empowerment.
I used to drugs to gain a sense of freedom. I found myself addicted to certain behaviors because the behaviors soothed an internal itch that I could never seem to scratch. I interacted with people in a way that would solve my emotional discomforts. And in a sense, I used more than drugs to fix me. I used everything I could to satiate the needs I couldn’t reach. But take away the itch that I can’t scratch and take away the social discomfort, take away the regrets, and take away the awkwardness of everyday life and the fears of social or personal rejection, and take away the aspect of clinical as well as situational depression and the uncomfortable memories that I tried so hard to get away from, and then help re-wire my thought process, and then yes, I think if I were still sick and on drugs then I might have been able to be coerced into treatment. And that’s just it. Addicts and alcoholics (much like anyone else in this world) are just people trying to fix that unfixable aspect in their mind.
How do we coerce someone into treatment? Well, since coercion is rarely possible; we have to empower them. We have to help them rewire their patterns to a different method of distraction. Rehabs and treatment centers teach coping skills, which are important; however, if the need for drugs is so great that one would literally risk their life just to achieve their high, coping skills fall short and living skills are essentials
Drug use is a means to balance the unbalanced scale in our mind. Sobriety is the ability to balance that scale without the use of an outside and provenly self-destructive method. How do we make this happen for an addict?
We need to teach them how . . .
And that’s what I want to do.