An Ounce of Prevention

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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”    ~Ben Franklin

Shi…oops, I mean, stuff happens. I’m referring to relapse, specifically. Relapse is a part of the recovery process. It is a crappy part, but a part nonetheless. It is extremely rare to have a patient enter treatment and stay on the straight and narrow without a single relapse at some point in his/her treatment episode. I state this fact not to give patients an excuse to relapse, but to help to avoid the guilt and shame that keep patients using illicit substances once they do relapse. Relapse, like shi…stuff…happens.

Typically when people make the decision to enter substance abuse treatment, they are “gung ho” about making changes and are “all in” regarding their recovery. In the field we call this the Pink Cloud stage. Being excited about recovery is a very good thing; the problem lies in the ennui that comes after the Pink Could stage ends and everyday normal sets in. When that Pink Cloud lifts, everyday normalcy can seem…boring, despite being exactly what they expressed they wanted most when entering treatment.

Education regarding what to expect throughout each stage of treatment is the best defense a patient can have to protect his/her recovery. Any counselor or addictions therapist worth his/her salt will arm patients with adequate knowledge from the very start of treatment. After all, it is easier to handle situations if one is expecting them and has a plan of action to deal with them when they arise. This should include identifying the individual triggers for illicit substance use. Knowing the things that make a patient want to use, and having a plan of action to avoid those things and for how to handle them when they are unavoidable, are important elements of any treatment plan.

For anyone in recovery, it is also important to have support outside of the treatment setting. This entails more than simply finding a sponsor. This means changing the people that one surrounds oneself with, which can be a painful process. It means cutting off people that are damaging to one’s recovery, even if they are viewed as friends. It means not frequenting the same places that led/lead to using, or that contain people that use. One needs to change one’s playmates as well as one’s playground. There are many avenues to finding recovery support. A simple online search can be a good starting point for finding support meetings in one’s area such as  A.A., N.A., Celebrate Recovery, etc. Any treatment center should also be able to provide referrals upon request. Regardless of where it’s found, outside support is essential for anyone in recovery.

Recovery is never easy. Few things in life that are worth having are. One of the most awful aspects of addiction is that it is fatal if left untreated, so the choice should be easy, even if recovery itself is not. The choice is yours: life or death. What’s it gonna be? I hope you choose life. There are many beautiful things left to see and do. There are people that need you. You are here on this earth for a reason. You are still here because you are meant to make a difference to someone. That is why we are all here. That is why we all have differing struggles and different talents, to aid each other in this place and on this journey, until we reach our final destination. And we don’t need to do it alone. That in and of itself is a beautiful thing, even when the world is not. Choose life; there is more beyond the struggle.

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If Something Doesn’t Change, Things Remain the Same (aka “Duh”)

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I hear it all the time; on an almost daily basis. “Why does all this bad crap keep happening to me?” The therapist in me recognizes the external locus of control. For some reason people do not recognize the simplicity with which change can occur in their lives. In Catholicism we refer to it as “avoiding the near occasion of sin.” The concept is very similar; don’t put yourselves in a situation in which bad consequences are likely to occur.

Spelling out for people why “all this bad crap” has happened seems to make a light bulb go off. Recounting the series of events and bad decisions that have lead up to the present moment seems to bring about an “aha” moment. But why? Why did the potential for these bad consequences not occur to the person prior to thinking and acting in ways that lead to the bad consequences? The initial response when I try to point out to the person why things have unfolded in this particular way is indignation. “How dare you suggest that I caused this to happen to myself?” But then, the “aha” happens. Then the “wow, how did I not predict that?” moment occurs.

I think that the way society promotes instant gratification has a lot to do with the problem. Because people want what they want right now, they do not bother to think any further than how to get it. If people would visualize the scene and play it all the way through to the end, realistically calculating the potential for things to go wrong, they may get better final results and avoid the mess that ensues by not doing so. For instance, if I am on parole, and want to catch up with my friend, Jimmy, who is also a felon and a known drug dealer, and I decide to run over to his house and have a drink or two, which leads to snorting a line off of his glass coffee table and then getting into a fistfight with his girlfriend because she was also drinking and did a line and doesn’t like how Jimmy looked at me while I was leaning over the table, I shouldn’t be surprised when the cops are called by the neighbors who hear the ruckus, and I end up back in lockup with my parole violated. How does the famous historical quote go?… I think it was George Santayana who said it; and I’m paraphrasing…”Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them?” Hmm, I think he’s got something there.

So… I guess the answer lies in learning to think before we speak or act. It lies in learning to delay gratification. It lies is learning to contemplate potential outcomes, both positive and negative, prior to acting. So breathe…and think…and then proceed.

Judge Not…

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As an addictions therapist, I am frequently confronted with having to help my patients to navigate the judgment they face due to being labeled “addict.” My response usually involves educating the family members, significant others, or friends of the patient regarding the disease of addiction. It seems as if society has condemned those suffering from a substance use disorder as morally defective simply because they have become addicted. This continues to puzzle me. In this day and age of having instant access to information at our fingertips through the internet, it makes no sense that so many people have completely incorrect information about addiction.

The judgment faced by those suffering from a substance use disorder is one of the most frequently reported reasons that people wait to seek treatment. It perpetuates the stigma attached to addiction, and putting off treatment and continuing to use illicit substances can prove deadly. It’s a nasty game of Russian Roulette that people play when using drugs. Tolerance to the drug of choice builds, meaning the person must take more to get the same effect. So he/she continues to use more, and his/her body continues to tell him/her that he/she is not well without the substance. So the use continues.

It is important to note that just because tolerance goes up, does not mean that the amount that is his/her fatal dosage goes up. It does not. Every addict says, just before overdosing, “I know how much my body can handle.” That is false; he/she is wrong. Sometimes, DEAD wrong.

So, how can we prevent the knee-jerk reaction of judgment regarding those suffering from a substance use disorder? My first answer is, when encountering judgmental fu… um, sorry …folks…EDUCATE ‘EM! The second answer is to remember that it is only by the grace of God Himself that you are not sporting those shoes. (Each and every human being is wired for addiction. If something feels good, we want it, and we want it as often as we can get it.) I believe that God made us all different, with different talents and different issues, so that we would learn to help each other, not so we would use a person’s weaknesses to build our own sense of self-worth by inviting “better-than” thinking, or by using those weaknesses as a weapon.

God is the only one equipped to judge anyone. Let’s face it, we human beings are just not equipped. In fact, we suck at it. So maybe we can start a movement involving dumping the bullsh…pucky  attitudes and hangups, and agree to act out of love for the human race, and get ourselves back on a path toward progress and intellectual and emotional evolution. It doesn’t matter whether we agree on matters of politics, faith, morals, or whatever. We don’t HAVE to agree in order to get along, or in order to still honor and respect each other as also running in the same (and hard-as-hell sometimes) human race. I think if people would take a moment to truly think about it, they would realize that life would be so much easier if we start helping each other and stop trying to tear each other down. As the old adage states, “A joy shared is doubled; a burden shared is halved.” This aptly illustrates what being there for one another is all about.