I have been studying Addiction and the Brain. Interesting to be able to see my own cycle of abuse and recovery in the material, and have a better personal (and professional) insight into what happens in our heads during the progression of addiction. It’s really fascinating to be able to see what actually occurs as we progress through the various stages of addiction, and why we even get to that point to begin with! The more I study and understand addiction, the more I realise that it’s almost a “Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.” crap shoot as to whether we end up in active addiction. Sure, living in an environment of any type where someone with the predisposition to develop a substance abuse disorder, does place us at a higher risk. However, there are also people who fall way out of the parameters of these risky surrounds and lifestyles that are introduced and sensitised to substances through medical procedures. They are just as likely to develop a disorder if they are exposed to substances through completely legitimate avenues.
Of course living in an environment wherein one is exposed to substances is going to increase the chances that we try (and like) these things, especially since we feel less due to lower levels of neurotransmitters and off kilter receptor cells. Basically meaning that our drug or behaviour of choice makes us feel better and more normal than where we start out because of of brain chemical make-up. There are various factors that attribute to this including genetics, stress and chronic use. So it’s a complicated combination of elements that ultimately lead to whether we are likely to develop an addiction. And it’s an equally tricky balance that allows us to overcome addiction and work through the recovery process. This is another mine field, depending on our point of progression in the disease when we finally ask for help.
We experience physical, mental, emotional and spiritual deterioration as addiction progresses and we are often faced with crisis before we start looking for help. It’s normally not the physical side of the illness that leads to us seeking assistance in overcoming our disease, but rather the emotional and mental breakdowns in our state of being, our close relationships or our inability to cope in these areas that leads to us reaching out. I don’t believe that anyone has to “hit rock bottom” as I have mentioned before, because we all have different breaking points and these are necessarily reached when we are lying in a gutter, with a broken moral compass in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other. I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea that you cannot get well until you have no further to fall, and there is a stark realisation that you are dying physically and spiritually.
I do believe that some level of understanding of our condition is necessary, that we come to the realisation that we need help and that we seek out this help. But telling someone that they cannot get well because they still have to experience the deepest depths of their disease does not work for me personally. Yes, we do have to come to terms with the idea that we can NEVER partake in our substance or behaviour of choice EVER again. That we cannot control our use and life a happy, healthy life. These two factors are essential for recovery, but I believe that the “Road to Recovery” can be stepped onto any time we believe that our disease is out (or getting out) of control. I feel that there is too much one-up-manship going on in recovery programs. I remember being told in a mutual-help group that I wasn’t a real alcoholic, because I didn’t fit the traditional pattern of what an alcoholic was at the time (or perhaps in that particular group).
But I had decided that my addiction needed to be addressed and I was going to do it! I attended other meetings and was met with disdain more than once by people who said that you had to drink every day, hide your habits (and empty bottles) and be a non-functioning member of society & family to be looking for help. There have been changes in this way of thinking, but at the time it made me reconsider my alcoholism and led me to the point that I believed maybe I wasn’t an alcoholic as much as I just needed to curb my drinking and drink a little less on the evenings that I chose to partake. I wan’t drinking every day, I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone and although some of my relationships were on shaky ground and I’d done some dumb things when I was drunk, according to the feedback I was getting at meetings and the people I was talking to, I certainly wasn’t a full-blown alcoholic yet, I merely had a little drinking problem.
And so I arrogantly thought I could drink and control my use!! I was wrong! They were wrong! And just because I didn’t fit neatly into what people thought an alcoholic should be, I lied to myself. Ideas and thinking have changed considerably about addiction over the last ten years or so. Approaches to recovery are constantly being reevaluated because of the phenomenally high relapse rates once people leave treatment. It has become more and more evident that this disease of addiction presents differently in different people and that that there is no cookie-cutter approach to recovery. And that just because you haven’t hit the very lowest point that you can hit, doesn’t mean that you can’t and won’t be able to move through the stages of a recovery process and live a fulfilled, healthy & holistic life, free of your addictive substance or behaviour.
I’ve got lots more thoughts and ideas on this subject, as well as thoughts on the recovery process, but I’ll leave those for another day.
‘Til next time