Sunday, April 3, 2016

Addiction .. it is NOT a choice

Preface: The content of this blog is based on my own opinion, experience and research. Some of you *may* not like it, you may not agree, you may hate me afterwards,  I will say this, all of that is ok. I'm just starting a conversation about a topic that typically takes "a wrong turn at Albuquerque" and then is followed by a slide down the rabbit hole into the depths of ignorance.  I am NOT an addiction professional, I am, however, someone who has walked this walk and can talk MY talk.  Everyone's story is different, but typically starts off the same.

A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook the other day:

This particular friend was sharing something he believes to be true. He is entitled to his opinion, he has also endured a lot of loss surrounding our current heroin epidemic.  I commented that I disagree, I wasn't nasty about it and didn't even say he was wrong, who am I to tell him how to think?  I simply stated that I disagreed, wholeheartedly, with him.  Other people, took to the side of offense with this post, the comments that came out of this one simple meme were, in some cases, ignorant.  In other cases, rude. But in most cases, uneducated.  For as many lives as heroin has taken, particularly in this area, it is likely that many of these uneducated commenters have never dealt with the reality that is "Addiction."

Here is my story.  I am NOT an addict.  I am someone who has loved an addict.  I've dealt with addiction in my life long before I realized what it was, but I will start my story at a point in time when it got real for me, which wasn't till the end of the chapter.  Bear with me while we venture into the unknown of what may come out here, as I'm not even sure myself.

In January 2012, I was sitting in a family meeting at an inpatient rehab facility, my very first family meeting, there would only be two, but this was the most significant.  In walks the counselor, she stands up at the podium, doesn't even try to get everyone's attention before beginning her talk.  She says "I want everyone in here to hold up both hands and make fists, for every statement that applies to you, put up one finger." I thought, "ok, I'll play along." By the end of the 10 question series I had all but one finger up.  She looks around the room and says "congratulations, you are all co-dependent."  This was my rock-bottom, if you will.  I am not someone who gets sucked into this type of life, or so I thought.  
Backtrack a few years, to February 2008.  This is when I should have started to realize that I was involved in something that could go before me, undetected, not because I didn't want to see, but because I was uneducated.  I was uneducated in something I didn't know I needed to be educated in.  Drug abuse.  I was out of town with the addict in my life, where it was revealed to me that there had been cocaine use, heavy cocaine use, for the entire year prior.  You'd think I would have seen signs, I would have known what was going on right under my nose (pun not intended) ... but no, I was CLUELESS! because I was uneducated in this subject.  My immediate response was "how am I going to help this person?" (it's what I do, I'm a fixer, I help people, I fix people). I was reassured that it had stopped but that this person needed help staying away from it.  I thought "I can do this, no problem", remember, I'm a fixer, I fix people.) This led me down my rabbit hole.  It turned into lie after lie after lie.  It turned into sneaking around behind my back, it turned into broken promises.  It was bad.  I didn't know how bad it was, until one fateful day.  It was, honestly, the biggest eye opener I had ever had (we'll get to it in a moment.)
From here, we'll fast forward to January 2010. By this time, my eyes were opening wider and wider with each passing day.  I had a baby with this person, my life changed, my priorities shifted and I started to see, little by little that this was not how I wanted my life to be. January 2010 brought the DWI, it brought my taking my 6 month old daughter out into the freezing cold temps at 3:30 am to go pick this person up from the police department after having been arrested for having blown some crazy number over the limit of an aggravated DWI charge (the equivalent was something like 20 beers in an hour - CRAZY, right?) At this point, I knew the problem had gotten far out of control and would need some kind of external help (keep in mind, I'm a fixer, I fix people).  This began the 2 year journey of outpatient rehab facility failure, AA failure, therapy failure, ultimately ending with the failure of the inpatient facility.  Throughout this 2 year span life had gotten extremely out of control.  There was one person that tried to help the addict in my life reach sobriety.  This person had been sober for many years (I can't remember the exact number of years, but it doesn't really matter) and instead of asking the addict this question, turned to me and asked me "what are you doing for your own recovery?" I thought, quite angrily, "MY RECOVERY? I am not the addict here.  I don't need help." I was wrong. Remember how I kept saying "I'm a fixer, I fix people"? Well this is where I needed the most help.  It was suggested that I go to Al-Anon, support meetings for the friends and families of addicts. I went to my first meeting, walking in there thinking that I was doing it to "help the addict in my life", as most people do.  When I walked out of there, I was no longer walking into a meeting to help the addict in my life, I was walking in to my next meeting to help myself.
I will say this, 12 step programs are life changers. They save people by the way they change people. My first meeting, I was running late, I almost didn't walk in the meeting, but a kind person, also running late, smiled at me and said "you coming in? I'll walk in with you." (I'm sure he knew that it was my first meeting). I sat in a room of people who were there for the same reasons I was.  One girl, who would quickly become my sponsor, was the key that kept me coming back to meetings. She gave me her ODAT (One Day At a Time) book and inside of it she gave me her phone number.  That one gesture is what made me come back to my second meeting and she was there, again and again and again.  I only went to that particular meeting a few times, as I was able to find a smaller, more conveniently timed meeting that I began to attend.  Through these meetings, I learned that the only person that I could fix was me, and THAT was the most important piece to my entire puzzle (remember that eye opener I referred to above, this was it!!!).
Even with the program in hand and my rather successful go at living one day at a time, even one moment at a time, at times, I still ended up co-dependent.  This was a shocker to me.  I needed this drama in my life to survive, no, actually I was manipulated into thinking this was the case, without knowing that was the case.  And so we come back around to January 2012. Immediately following this meeting, I realized this was the beginning of the end, this was my rock bottom. Having realized that I had become co-dependent was my rock bottom.  Nothing was going to change in my life, unless I chose to make changes. That change came in March 2012, when the addict in life no longer had control over me and I released this person from my life.  I had finally realized that I had to do what was best for ME, not US. I had to take my life back from spinning out of control, I had to allow the sunshine to come back into my life.  And so began my recovery.  Long after I thought I had started.  My recovery began when I took my life back. When I made the change to push it all away from me.  It ended up being the most momentous change of my life.
You may be asking what happened to the fixer in me.  Here is the simple answer, it's still there, but instead of fixing others, I fix me. This is the truth of recovery.  Recovery comes when you start fixing yourself.  I realized that the fixer in me was also the enabler. The fine line between being supportive and being an enabler is so fine, it is often unseen.  Parents and loved ones almost always fall into the role of being the enabler, without even realizing it.  I stopped being the enabler. I stopped providing a place for the addict in my life to manipulate. I stopped being co-dependent. I stopped thinking that I could save this person, that I could stop this person from making poor choices. I stopped thinking that this person's rock bottom could be determined by me.  The addict in my life had to do all of that for himself. I cannot say, even to this day, over 4 years later, if this person has stopped using. I've been told that he has been sober since October 2012, it's not my place to decide if it's true, I cannot judge his life based on the past I know. Actions speak louder than words. You learn this when you have had an addict in your life. I will not comment on the afterlife of the addict in my life, as I cannot honestly comment on whether or not his sobriety is true. That's on him. That's his life. That's not my concern. Not even when my daughter is in his care.  Because I cannot fill my brain with thoughts of what he is choosing to do, that is co-dependency, a life I left behind 4 years ago.  As long as my daughter comes home unharmed and happy, I choose to believe that the right decisions are being made while she is there.  I have no grounds to think differently unless that changes.

This is what I know about addiction, it is NOT a choice.  It is a disease.  If you can partake in recreational drinking and drug use and NOT be consumed by it afterwards, you are lucky.  A person who has a chemical imbalance in the brain is not so lucky.  The unfortunate part of this is that oftentimes, one is not aware there is a chemical imbalance until it is too late. I will say it again being an addict is NOT a choice. Starting the journey to use drugs and alcohol, those are choices, we can all agree on that (I hope, anyways).   Understanding how your body reacts to the overuse of drugs and alcohol is something that is rarely considered.  Underlying reasons that cause people to turn from occasional use to abuse go undetected, frequently, because society is unfair, society bullies, society doesn't offer the option for someone to make a mistake, society thinks they are fixers. Society thinks someone whose brain has been affected by the use of drugs and alcohol can just "STOP." This is not the case.  Below is a side by side comparison of the brain, on one side it's a normal brain, next to it, a brain on meth. These structural changes to the brain are oftentimes irreversible. This is not an opinion that I have, it is scientifically proven.

Society is judgmental of addiction, of any kind. One cannot simply "stop" once the brain has been altered.  The brain begins to adjust to these alterations, forcing the body to think it requires this change. Addicts have to fight, long and hard, against all the odds (because they have lost the trust of everyone who loves them) to stop using.  An addict cannot choose to use another drug in order to stop using their drug of choice, this is what will become the gateway drug, something that will ALWAYS lead the addict back to their drug of choice (again, proven scientific facts, not my opinion). We have been shaken to our core by this recent heroin epidemic. Too many lives lost.  Sadly, by the time someone realizes they need help, and are able to ask for it, it could be too late.  This epidemic needs to come to an end, unfortunately, the cost has already been too high and will continue to rise.  Parents need to have real discussion with their children about drugs and alcohol and their correlation to addiction. It needs to be bigger than "drugs are bad" or "just say no". Parents need to become educated, they need be informed. The younger generation need to be educated, and informed about this.  Sweeping it under the rug is no longer an option. If you aren't having the conversation with your kids about the effects of drug, alcohol and addiction, chances are someone else is, and by the means of peer-pressure. I don't know about you, but I don't want my children learning about drugs, alcohol and addiction by means of using. Have the talk. Make it informative and make sure it is well received.