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The Truth of Addiction The Conundrum Continued Part 2

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

The Truth of Addiction, by Ben Nesin, Life/ Recovery Coach Harvard Medical School Postdoctoral CE Pain Management and Addiction Program

Part 2 of an ongoing series

In my last post I talked about why some treatment programs stand out above the rest. The programs that took the time to address healing of the mind and the body were definitely superior. When I had the opportunity to learn about my own brain, I also found this invaluable. This helped me understand why I continued to make decisions that were so destructive to my life. I also spoke about the importance of support when it comes time to reintegrate back into society.

In this post I will share more of my experience. I'll take a look at the power of the words we use to talk about addiction. And I’ll discuss the idea of advocacy on behalf of those struggling with addiction.

As an addict I racked up mountains of problems, and ultimately, I needed to work through all of them. The scope of these problems encompassed a reality that may be hard to grasp. I struggled with a sense of being a lesser person in the eyes of society because of these enormous problems. This will likely sound all too familiar to others suffering from addiction.

We all have problems; that’​s life. The problems associated with addiction feel compounded with life's normal woes. There is such a mountain of problems that is created through addiction. Enormous debt, loss of driver’​s license, and a criminal record that kept me from getting normal paying jobs and working towards a career... these are just a few examples. That mountain is made of individual problems, and ultimately I have had to face each and every one of them.

With addiction came an overwhelming degree of loss. I experienced loss of trust from loved ones and the loss of friends who didn't use. There was the shock and trauma of getting to know new people in recovery only to find out one day they had overdosed and died. One of the hardest, for me, was watching a past girlfriend take her last breath. She overdosed and died in my arms. Every day, I think of these losses and what I can do to help prevent more of them.

Calling addiction a disease is tricky. It is now commonly accepted that addiction is a disease. I understand and accept this on one hand. On the other hand, I don’t always find it helpful to put it in this category. As a human I am blessed with the ability to make choices. Embracing that power to choose my path has been an integral part of my recovery.

With other diseases such as cancer, removing or curing the disease by mental effort alone isn't an option. But I have the ability to choose whether I overcome addiction. I accept that, genetically, one might have a chromosome or gene that can be linked to predisposition to addictive behaviors. But the way I see it, therein lies responsibility. One can take precautionary measures in situations where addictive behavior could rear its ugly head. Knowledge now becomes responsibility.

Words are so powerful. Transformational vocabulary and labeling have been incredibly meaningful in my path to recovery. I will continue to discuss these topics in future posts. The impact they can have on one’s sense of self are enormous. When and wherever possible I choose to use words describing that part of my life in the past tense. So I say: I suffered from addiction, not: I’m an addict or hi my name is Ben and just a human being instead of such pejorative words such as junkie; it makes me physically ill a bit every time I hear the words alcoholic and addict. They hold such negative connotations and carry with them such a dark and heavy weight.

As I said, calling addiction a disease is tricky. There are ways in which it may be more or less helpful depending on context. I admit, thinking about addiction as a disease reminds me that, on a daily basis, I need to do something to treat it. But in my experience, I don’t have a lack of reminders all around me as to the effects of bad choices I’ve made when I was consumed with addiction. It’s not hard for me to see what I don’t have - from a good employment record to a house, car, or family of my own - because of the choices I have made.

I’d encourage anyone to eliminate anything that contributes to their feeling “less than.” Sometimes this means thinking differently about the labels we choose and the terms we use.

Whether you believe addiction to be a disease or not, this classification allows the AMS (American Medical Society) and the government to allocate funding for those who suffer from addiction. And this funding is so desperately needed that, by all means, I'll call it whatever you'd like me to.

Note: when this was first written 2018 the DSM-5 still categorized addiction as disease. Since then through much debate and laboris research addiction and addict are being reword and removed. Until published i will not guess as to the wording but expect changes to include Substance abuse disorder instead of addict and possible complete removal of the disease concept. Dec 2019 information gathered from multiple resources most notably The New England Journal of Medicine 2019 publications

As I mentioned in the last post, sorting through the options for treatment programs can be daunting. I can tell you from first-hand experience that all programs are not created equal. In a vulnerable and depleted state, there is so much to navigate.

Cycling through the system of detoxes, inpatient programs, sober houses and halfway houses, I saw some of the sad realities of the downfalls within the systems. It was hard to stomach a lot of this. It was often painful to see the crude realities of what one could access - or not - due to insurance. The sense of being a pawn, in a vast system that may even be profiting from your affliction, added insult to injury.

Like many on the path to recovery, I saw these same themes played out again and again during multiple stays.

It often felt as if staff were ill-equipped to deal with the trauma that was uncovered during counseling sessions and treatment. Addiction so often involves buried pain, and drugs are a form of escape from these feelings. In the process of coming off drugs, old wounds are inevitably exposed. Trust is essential in this process. Without trust, and skill in dealing with trauma, it is very hard to guide someone through to recovery. We all know that trust takes time to establish. This may be especially true when working with this vulnerable and sensitive population.

In the case of a relapse, this problem intensifies. Someone who has progressed through the system may find themselves being shuttled back to square one in the case of a relapse. It feels devastating to have to unearth and revisit all those old wounds again. It was exhausting to be fed through the system in this way, to try to build trust again with a new counsellor. There was no continuity of care to help along the bumpy road toso called” recovery”.

In the case of a relapse, it would make a world of difference to be able to connect with someone who already knew your story. It would be a lifeline to have someone with whom you had already established a trusting relationship to return to in this situation.

As the person who is struggling with addiction, I would encourage you to do your best to advocate for yourself and what you need. No one knows you better than yourself. Your ability to speak up, voice your needs and talk about your concerns can make a huge difference. If you don't voice your needs, you run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle. The more you speak up, the less you become just another number in the system.

Note: if you read the former language used in the first sentence here, I no longer use the term addiction and instead would like this to read “as a person who had struggled with a substance abuse disorder that brought about unwanted consequences…”

Remember this: you are as unique as your own fingerprint. Remind yourself of this when describing who you are and what you would like to do to change for the better.

This isn’​t easy, to say the least. I get it. When arriving at a detox, most of us feel completely defeated. Our self esteem and energy levels are in the toilet. The last thing we feel like doing is advocating for ourselves. Usually, we're trying to avoid drawing attention to ourselves in any way. We just want to feel better: just give me my dose and let me go lay down. But since no perfect program exists, we have to work with what is out there.

Note: I am currently working tirelessly to examine past and present effective methods that combined will have the best chance of success. I am recruiting scientific heads of their fields and individual successfully recovered people to help me formulate an effective change to a broken system.

I look forward to a day when programs are created, with strong analytical and clinical foundations, that account for the complexity and nebulous of our human brains and human needs. Such a program would encapsulate our needs from detox to treatment and beyond. Until then, we need to work the best we can with what is available. We can accomplish this through learning from one another, asking questions, and becoming educated about what’s out there.

The more we can consider the whole person in recovery, the better. We need to move away from applying band-aid after band-aid to the problems that arise. Real healing can occur when there is more space for long-term solutions. So we need to keep looking beyond the temporary fixes.

The epidemic of addiction has become so far-reaching in our society that we just can’t look the other way anymore. We have to rise to the challenge that is being presented and try to learn all we can about how to help. We are all impacted by this modern tragedy in one way or another. As counselors, peers, friends and family, it is our duty to ethically align ourselves with organizations that support multiple pathways to recovery.

When we look around at the toll addiction takes, it's hard not to think that so many losses could be prevented. This is a poignant reality that strikes home for anyone who has felt the pain and suffering of losing a loved one. Whether the loss is due to drugs, alcohol, psychological issues, or a combination of these, it is so hard to accept.

The loss of a single person feels unacceptable. We have the potential to prevent these tragedies: through education, advocacy, and the support of strong communities. We can continue to share our experiences with one another in the hopes of making a difference. Even if it helps one person, it's worth it. I encourage those who have lost a loved one to best remember them by reaching out a helping hand. We can make a difference for those who are in a current state of need.

We can learn so much through helping others. And this help can come full circle. Those who have received help can one day be in a position to offer help to others. There is strength in returning the help we have once received. It’s clear that, amidst this crisis, we need each other. Don't be afraid to ask "what can I do" in our fight to save ourselves and our loved ones

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