100 Grateful Addicts Said

Note: This is an excerpt from “Not My Child” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2018)

Another title for this work could be “100 Grateful Recovering Addicts Said.” The book is the result of hundreds of hours of work at the Recovery for Life Treatment Center. We have asked people who are active in their recovery, either by choice or court-ordered, most of the questions you want answered about the addict in your family.

They are honest and, at times, raw responses. We invited them to help us help you!

A BIG PROBLEMO

You see, we have a big problem. At Recovery for Life, we have been working with people with every addiction imaginable for about 20 years. We partner with people to rescue and empower them to seek freedom from everything from drugs and alcohol to bad behaviors like gambling and over eating.

In our treatment program, we work with people from 16 and up who have gotten DUI, drug possession charges, or failed drug test. I have been conducting an informal experiment for several years now. Here’s how it goes. In our group treatment program, we meet in a room of about 12 people with differing levels of substance use.

I ask them to pair off. One person pretends to be 16. The other person is an adult. It is the adult’s job to convince the teenager NOT to do what they have done. That is, not to take the path the adult has chosen. We ask the adults to focus on arguments that will be both convincing and compelling.

Before we get to their conclusions, here are some of the most common ideas they have come up with (not in any priority order):

“You will go to jail, losing your freedom.”
“It’s all about your bad influences. Get new friends.”
“Talk to someone, find a mentor.”
“Think about the consequences.”
“Set meaningful goals for yourself.”
“I’ve had a near death experience, or I saw someone die.”
“It will cause financial hardships on you and your family.”
“You need to learn coping skills.”
“If your parents bribe you not to use.”
“All new drivers should have an interlock on their cars.”
“You need to become educated about drugs and alcohol.”
“You need to go to a ‘Scared Straight’ program.”
“Admit I’m weak-minded…”
“Accept that I’ve been through traumatic experiences.”

Here’s the real problem. The conclusion every time we do this experiment is the same. None of these things, nothing we could ever come up with, and no one would have deterred the 16-year-old from doing what they’ve done (drugs and/or alcohol).

They felt that no person or experience could have kept them off the path they have taken.

CONCLUDE WHAT?

Nothing. No one. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. No argument would be compelling or convincing enough to keep a 16-year-old from making the wrong choices. As a parent, grandparent and therapist, I hate that! “Give me something to work with guys,” I explain every time. The resounding “nothing” comes back every time.

Up In Smoke

Note: This is an excerpt from “Not My Child” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2018)

The Korean war was not kind to my father. He would often awaken in the middle of the night with severe sweats and nightmares. I always wondered why he could never watch war movies. This was soon translated into a very stern demeanor and ended in a drive to make his sons into little soldiers. I had the privilege of being the first born. By the time my youngest brother came along, dad had mellowed a lot and was just too tired to carry on the military tradition.

It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand the symptoms he had shown all my life. The anger and frustration he had and the ability to “check out” emotionally and mentally began to make sense – PTSD. As you can imagine, I grew up with a lot of stress, both in our home and within me.

That stress soon developed into a world view that everyone was out to get me. After being bullied in school for years, I began to seethe with anger. With no outlets, I became frustrated constantly. I remember, soon after getting my car, it wouldn’t start. One of my classmates had gone out and re-wired the alternator. What may have been funny to them became enraging to me.

Wanna toke?

One day, late at work, a friend came up to me and asked if I wanted to “smoke.” Innocent as I was, before I knew it, we were smoking a joint behind the store. The first couple of times I tried it with my new friend, nothing happened. I felt nothing, but I wanted to please my friend, so, I kept trying it. Peer pressure set in.

The third time, I got it. The euphoric feeling of the green cloud swept over me. A big smile on my face, I forgot all my hurt and anger for a couple of hours. It really worked! Immediately, I was swept in. I became overwhelmed and obsessed with chasing that feeling every chance I could get. My life became centered around smoking. A group of us began to buy and sell whatever we could find. We were a group of buddies who just wanted to get high.

This went on for three years. Eventually, any drug that came into the neighborhood became my drug of choice. My every day pursuit of “feeling good” led me to shop-lifting, stealing from friends, and selling drugs. I lied to my parents at every turn. This was now my lifestyle.

I remember coming in the night of my high school graduation. Family had come in from out of state. The cake sat on the dining room table. At that time, I had gotten some marijuana laced with DDT (as in, rat poison). Since I had been smoking it for several days, it was doing something strange to my brain. I had the sensation that I was constantly rolling down a hill. I was becoming a zombie.

Quickly, my mother ushered me into the kitchen alone and began to cry. I will never forget that conversation. “Why? Why? Why? What’s wrong with you?” On an evening of great celebration, I was lost in the green cloud.

My big breakdown

I was systematically breaking my mother’s heart. I was consistently angering my dad. He was taking away all my privileges. High, I almost totaled my car. I was arrested for shoplifting. I was suspended from school for marijuana use. This all happened within a few short weeks. It felt like a thick rope was tightening around me. In the midst of it all, I still just wanted to get high. That’s all that mattered.

We had not yet gotten cocaine or heroin into our area, but I had graduated to taking phenobarbital as I could steal it from the pharmacies. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion. There I was, angry and depressed, taking a drug that made me feel heavier and depressed.

After a full Saturday of binge-smoking with my friends, I felt exhausted. I had become so empty and only had one aspiration-the next high. I remember falling into my bed that night and questioning many things in my life. I began to envision all the bad things I had done. All my life was centered and focused on what I wanted. I had a desire to get better, but had no ability within myself to change.

A cry for help

In my desperation that night, I cried out to God for help. “If you’re real God, please help me.” A sense of peace came over me, and I found rest I had never felt before. The very simple decision to invite God into my struggles and seek His healing was life-altering. Sure, I had my struggles after that, but from that day until now, I have never been the same.

I’m Not A Super Hero?

Note: This is an excerpt from “Break Free” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2017)

Denial hits us in two ways. First, it leads us to believe lies about our area of recovery. (Example: “I can do this on my own,” or “I’m not really that bad off.”) Second, denial prevents us from accepting the truth about our true state. (Example: “I am only able to triumph over the addiction with the help of my group, my family and God.”.)

SIGNS OF DENIAL

Today many treatments for alcohol addiction are available and recovery is possible. The bad news is that in order to become well, the person affected must admit that a problem exists. Denial presents the greatest obstacle to recovery. By it, a person insulates himself or herself from any need to change. The following statements are often used to keep people in a state of denial and prevent them from moving forward. Scale yourself by putting a number in the line provided on the following examples: (0= not at all, 5 = somewhat agree, 10 = Strongly agree).

DEFENSIVENESS: “When someone points out a weakness, I become upset and my first response is to fight back, defending myself and then I get away.” The first form of denial is the refusal to admit that anything is amiss. The person, when confronted with his/her problem using, may insist that drinking is a private matter and therefore none of your business. Frequently, the person will attempt to change the subject in order to halt the conversation altogether. (this is often referred to as a smoke screen).

Circle the answer that most describes you . . . When well-intentioned people call me out for an attitude or behavior I should learn to:

Defend myself no matter what

Listen and evaluate

Thank them for their help

Point out their faults

WHINING: “But . . . I’m doing better than I used to.” Denial can also take the form of rationalization or justifying drinking. The person may speak openly about the potential problem while at the same time feeling his or her own behavior is well within reason. They may attempt to show you how their own drinking compares favorably with someone else’s or they may shift blame for individual instances to anyone else besides themselves.

When someone constantly “commends” (compliments, throws out hints about how great they are) themselves, what does it reveal about them?

They are insecure about their recovery They aren’t acting wisely

They are being competitive with others Other . . .

LYING/SECRECY: “I hide my behavior and lie to cover it up.” If the person does not flatly deny the problem, they may instead try to minimize the problem. This form of denial includes hiding alcohol and lying about how much and how often drinking occurs. The person refuses to own up to the actual amount of drinking they do or attempts to paint other people as overreacting.
Today, I am willing to admit ____________________________________ about my struggle with addiction.

LACK OF SELF-CONTROL: “There are other areas of my life that are also out of control.” They really do believe that their drinking does not rise to the level of addiction. They really believe that others drive them to drink. They really do think that they need the alcohol in order to cope in the same way someone else needs coffee to wake up in the morning.
Other “out-of-control areas of my life are: ______________________________________

A “HOLIER THAN THOU” ATTITUDE: “I constantly point out others’ weaknesses and faults and how to correct them.” They will say they have not hurt anyone, have not lost their job, and don’t have cirrhosis of the liver or any number of other comparisons which make their own issue appear small. They may say that they only drink when their spouse is unkind or their child misbehaves or the boss is unreasonable. They feel they are not that bad off.

A person who criticizes others often is probably:

Too proud to be patient

Guilty of the same things

Trying to help the best way they know how

About to take a fall

Other . . .

Criteria For Substance Dependence

Note: This is an excerpt from “Break Free” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2017)

People who are addicted cannot control their need for alcohol or other drugs, even in the face of negative health, social or legal consequences.

The illness becomes harder to treat and the related health problems, such as organ disease, become worse.

ADDICTION IS A CHRONIC, BUT TREATABLE, BRAIN DISORDER.
People who are addicted cannot control their need for alcohol or other drugs, even in the face of negative health, social or legal consequences. This lack of control is the result of alcohol- or drug-induced changes in the brain. Those changes, in turn, cause behavior changes. The brains of addicted people “have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brain that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving,” says National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow. (HBO.com Understanding Addiction, accessed 12/19/15). It is “as if the individual was in a state of deprivation, where taking the drug is indispensable for survival. It’s as powerful as that.”

ADDICTION GROWS MORE SERIOUS OVER TIME.
Substance use disorders travel along a continuum. This progression can be measured by the amount, frequency and context of a person’s substance use. As their illness deepens, addicted people need more alcohol or other drugs; they may use more often, and use in situations they never imagined when they first began to drink or take drugs. The illness becomes harder to treat and the related health problems, such as organ disease, become worse.

“This is not something that develops overnight for any individual,” says addiction expert Dr. Kathleen Brady. “Generally there’s a series of steps that individuals go through from experimentation and occasional use [to] the actual loss of control of use. And it really is that process that defines addiction.”

SYMPTOMS OF ADDICTION INCLUDE TOLERANCE
(development of resistance to the effects of alcohol or other drugs over time) and withdrawal, a painful or unpleasant physical response when the substance is withheld. Many people with this illness deny that they are addicted. They often emphasize that they enjoy drinking or taking other drugs.

People recovering from addiction can experience a lack of control and return to their substance use at some point in their recovery process. This faltering, common among people with most chronic disorders, is called relapse. To ordinary people, relapse is one of the most perplexing aspects of addiction. Millions of Americans who want to stop using addictive substances suffer tremendously, and relapses can be quite discouraging.

To appreciate the grips of addiction, imagine a person that “wants to stop doing something and they cannot, despite catastrophic consequences,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We’re not speaking of little consequences. These are catastrophic. And yet they cannot control their behavior.”

Alcohol and other drugs mean different things to different people. For some people, alcohol or other drugs play a major part in their lives and everyday activities. For others, consuming alcoholic beverages is part of their social customs. Some people may choose to use alcohol now and then but try to avoid drinking to the point of impairment. Many people choose not to use alcohol or other drugs at all. The reason a person may choose to use or not use alcohol or other drugs also varies. Regardless of your pattern of use or reasons for choosing it, it’s helpful to be aware of your own relationship with alcohol or other drugs. Take time to step back and look at past choices, results, and what you want for the future. (2010 The Change Companies® & the Commission on VASAP).

Making Rock Bottom Work For You

Note: This is an excerpt from “Break Free” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2017)

ROCK BOTTOM: The lowest level of lifestyle you have had, usually defined by poor choices. Tony Robbins once said there are two things that motivate people to make dramatic changes in their lives: inspiration and desperation. As crazy it might sound, there is actually tremendous power in hitting rock bottom or  a low-point in your life. http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2010/08/24/the-power-of-hitting-rock-bottom/ (accessed 12/7/15)

Srinivas Rao is a personal development blogger/surfer who explores various life lessons inspired by riding waves at his blog, The Skool of Life. He’s also the host/co-founder of BlogcastFM, a podcast to help you take your blog to the next level. http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2010/08/24/the-power-of-hitting-rock-bottom/ (accessed 12/7/15)

If you are at a low point in your life, I encourage you to give some thought to why this could be a defining moment that completely changes the trajectory of your life. If you’re asking yourself “why am I in this situation?” Then you are setting yourself up for failure. You’re going to need to shift your focus and ask yourself the question “How can I use this opportunity to take my life to the next level?”. If you do that you’ll find that dramatic positive change is inevitable.

WHAT SHOULD YOU GET FROM ROCK BOTTOM?
A life-altering experience, a desire to never go back there . ..

CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE. When you’ve hit rock bottom you know it. There’s no hesitancy or second-guessing. You have a firm, graphic visual burned into your mind. Anything less than this is secondary. Change your language from “I think it may have gotten as bad as it can,” to “I KNOW . . .”

REFRAME YOUR SITUATION: After defining rock bottom, you begin to maximize the consequences of your previous addictive behaviors. Exaggerate the ultimate results of what could have happened. From consequences, you reframe your future as a silver lining opportunity. Since you have lived through it all, you have something to give back

FACE YOUR WORST-CASE SCENARIO. Rao goes on to explain, “The beauty of hitting rock bottom is that you truly have nothing to lose. When you hear stories of homeless people spending their time in libraries and filling their minds with knowledge to eventually become millionaires, it makes you realize that you have tremendous power to change your life if you can just tap into it. The beauty of having nothing to lose is that it gives you the power to be completely detached from outcomes, one of the biggest things that gets in the way of accomplishing goals.”

BIG RISKS/BIG GOALS: With absolutely nothing to lose, you are in the in perfect position to take big risks and set big goals. When you are at a low point, then you have a tendency to really push the envelope of what’s possible. The byproduct is that we now live a life that is far better than what we had originally imagined.

What “Big Risks” could catapult your recovery?