Kick Addiction in the Ass #SwearYourWayToSanity
Substance use disorders are receiving a lot of attention these days. However, addiction was a problem long before opiates got all of the attention. Truth be told, I am not an expert in substance use disorders because I want to believe everything that people tell me. I realize that with addiction, people feel ashamed or guilty or are in denial and don’t always tell the truth. I accept that I am not good at determining who is honest and who isn’t.
Here is what I do know without a doubt. There are folks who are neurologically wired to become dependent upon substances. For example, my dad smoked heavily. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and had half of his lung removed. Even after this, he continued to smoke on the sly until his death of lung and colon cancer. He just wasn’t able to quit. I tried smoking earlier in life, and I hated it. I have, without a doubt, abused alcohol in the past, but I can go without it. I am not wired for dependence, and I am lucky.
It is important to remember this basic fact about wiring when we move into judgmental mind. We may think that people with addiction are weak or immoral when it is really a biological disease. It isn’t about weakness or laziness. It is about having this unrelenting demon inside your head that is never satisfied. At the same time, this demon can be tamed with hope, discipline, and a strong plan.
The challenge with addiction is that we haven’t yet been able to identify successful interventions that work for everyone. I believe the success rate for substance use disorders recovery is around 25% (success meaning abstinence). There are those out there who endorse a harm reduction model, which suggests that you can just cut back and learn to use less. I fundamentally disagree with this because, as I said, any use triggers the brain demon. The problem is ability to control use. If control wasn’t a problem, there would be no substance disorder. The key is to starve the demon, which means no use. Anything else is continual feeding.
I recognize that the AA/NA model isn’t for everyone, but keep in mind that some AA/NA meetings may not be about religion as much as spirituality. I went to one meeting where the person said her higher power was the people in the room. What works about AA/NA is having a group who supports you and knowing you aren’t alone. You can hit up a meeting any day of the week and can get a sponsor to help if you so choose.
We know is that a person must accept and admit that s/he has a problem with a substance (e.g., alcohol, pills, any mind altering substance). (In my experience, true acceptance is owning the problem — no excuses — no blaming others.) Once a person accepts the problem, the person has to be ready to make a detailed plan to fix the problem. Just accepting that there is a problem isn’t enough. (And don’t lie to yourself. Getting clean is going to be painful. It’s going to suck sometimes. This isn’t the time for fairytales because they won’t help.)
Folks need to have a complete understanding of:
triggers: those things that set off the desire to use
barriers: those things that will get in the way of trying to stop
replacements: those things that a person can do INSTEAD of using
rewards: those things a person does to celebrate success (NEVER forget this part)
For each thing that you plan to do, you need to ask yourself about your belief in your ability TO DO the thing you plan. I can tell you that I will drink iced tea every time I think of drinking wine, but do I really believe I can do this? Have a backup plan just in case. My point is — don’t make unrealistic plans. You have to have confidence in your ability to do the things you say you will do.
Furthermore, folks need to accept that every mistake, every mis-step is an opportunity to learn. There are no failures if you keep trying. Recovery necessarily involves self-forgiveness while never forgetting the past and never letting your guard down.
Make a plan with a date to stop. Go public with the date, but give yourself time to have a detailed methodical plan before attempting to quit. Have a list of things you can do when you want to use:
-call a friend
-go do something else — most anything else
- go to a support group meeting
-do a visualization exercise
-call a hotline
-consider medication from your primary care provider
Write a list of coaching and motivational statements on index cards so you can read them when you feel weak. By all means, journal your progress so you can reflect on what works during a good day and what helps on bad days. What I think will become clear is that some days are bad because of biology. Sometimes you have a bad day — not because of stress — but because your brain is having a bad day. What can you do? Move on motherfucker! See yourself in your mind’s eye for the person you are deep inside and the person you want to be on the outside too. Have a vision. Talk back to the negative thoughts that say, “You can’t!” Counter these with “You are! You can! You will”
While I do believe in genetics and biology, I also believe in a strong element of personal will and control (including asking for help), which holds equal power. I’ve been thinking about my next book, and what keeps coming to mind is writing about people who showed up and kicked ass in their own lives. You will have to take my word for it that I have seen a lot of beauty and happiness come from tragedy. It isn’t always the case, but it can happen. Mostly, I think it comes from a willingness to make it happen instead of waiting for it to happen, as well as the ability to face all truths — not just the ones you want to see. It takes strength to survive tragedy for sure, but it takes some kind of a force of nature to kick addiction in the ass. You inspire me. You blow my mind every time. #SwearYourWayToSanity