For over twenty-five years, I was an addict for alcohol. Along with hazel eyes and pigeon toes, I inherited something else, a propensity to find relief from life, it’s ups and downs, it’s unpredictability. This fearful nature ran deep in my family and we used alcohol to smooth out life’s rough edges. Like my Finnish ancestors, I was driven to recapture the emotional and spiritual relief alcohol provided, even when I knew my drinking hurt everyone around me.
Back in the day, my family used alcohol to celebrate and they used it to quell their discontent. Fear, anger, and domestic violence was commonplace in our home. Our “good times” weddings, birthdays, cook-outs, usually ended in a brawl and hard-feelings. Try as we did, John Barleycorn won; Mom died of an unchecked aneurysm at fifty one, Dad sunk into alcoholic depression, and my brother and only sibling, died of cirrhosis at 62. As for me, a downward spiral of alcoholism until…
In 1991, I surrendered. Somehow the losses and pain were no longer quelled by alcohol. Then, somehow an idea appeared. I decided to approach a man who had found a new way of life. He put his arm around me and said, “Patty, you’re going to be alright. For more than a year, he took me under his wing. On November 16, 1991, I had my last drink of alcohol. It has and continues to be a journey of willingness and unknowing.
Now these many years later, with the epidemic of untreated and under treated drug and alcohol addiction at such heights, I’m compelled to do something, anything, to share what was freely given to me, a New Life.
Could WeCARE, a grass roots recovery movement, much like the Aids Movement and the Gay Rights Movement be part of the solution? Could those who enjoy long term recovery be part of real solution? When I found my recovery, I feel compelled to spread the good word, recovery exists.
In our current addiction climate, time is of the essence. Many people with opiate addiction do not find their way into the anonymous church basements. For alcoholics it may take years, maybe even decades before they die from alcoholism. Not so with opiate addiction, our youth today often move from prescription opiates, to heroin addiction in a matter of months, weeks or even days. Times have changed since “Bud was King”. We who have found an answer, must demonstrate our recovery, so those who need us, can find us. We must welcome, engage, and support the countless men, women, and children who would benefit from treatment.
Recovery miracles occur all the time but these miracles happen not because of anonymity, they take place because of the spirit of the people, their belief in a power greater than themselves, a power which they determine for themselves without exception. In my personal recovery experience, I found there was nothing special about me. I just happened to know someone I trusted, who had traveled the road before me, and who was willing to take me along. Not everyone has this opportunity, not everyone receives this message.
We often hear people say, “Those people do not want help.” Maybe there are those who don’t know they need help, or those who are afraid to ask for help but nearly everyone must have help to overcome substance use addiction. This is a malady, which is difficult to overcome without real live support.
When addiction has its way, the sufferer begins to tell themselves lies, they believe their lies, and they forget the importance of their life. This despondency, this darkness, is the hallmark of the disease of addiction. This is proven again and again by the countless number of people who die because they forgot the reason their life matters. What’s the answer? For some, the answer is spiritual, for others a practical application of principles and values and for still others, Rational or Smart recovery has provided a way out. There are as many paths to recovery as there are people who suffer the disorder of addiction, we are all on our journey to wellness.
Can we develop a new paradigm of recovery, where anonymity is traded in for common good. This is not a proposition to throw out anonymity; instead it would create alchemy. Could those in recovery form a movement of sober, compassionate, people who seek out the sick, suffering, and dying and offer them a hand up? Could the word altruism, a founding principle of the twelve step community, take on a pro-active meaning once again?
If you are interested to know more, please attend a WeCARE meeting and support a visible recovery movement. We currently meet on the last Monday of the month at the First Baptist Church of Belfast, on 95 High Street, Belfast, Maine at 6:00. You are welcome to bring your ideas, energy, and compassion.
WeCARE: Waldo Encourages Community Assisted Recovery Efforts, has a mission to build a collaborative, non-judgmental, environment to support addiction recovery through education, advocacy, and compassionate community action.
Please help us, to help others. We are certain when recovery is brought into the light of day; we will see there is nothing to hide, indeed, recovery is something to celebrate.
REALITIES OF RELAPSE
Thoughts become cravings that render us susceptible to this detrimental condition. Some may call it a slip; doesn’t that sound benign? Is that similar to “a little cancer” returning? Or falling off the wagon and landing in a bed of hay? The brain, being conditioned to enjoy pleasure, is easily convinced. Daily doses of resentments, boredom, and bills combined with occasional self-pity and a gnawing hollowness in our gut deliver us to this decline of potential hell once again.
Why do so many in recovery relapse after days, months or years of sobriety? To listen to the stories of those fortunate enough to regain sanity there does not appear to be one single cause. This unexplainable phenomenon has red flags, which include multiple ingredients. Foremost, our deepest brain cells are storages of memory. Pain, trauma, fears, inadequacy and so much more are part of who we are. Paradoxically, even warm and loving memories can trigger a relapse given optimal conditions. “Don’t get restless, irritable, or discontent” is a common warning heard in recovery groups. Well guess what? You will. If you’re human and breathing, you will. When we feel not OK, our brain signals a plea to medicate the discomfort.
Resentments will mount creating speed bumps along the journey. If we don’t slow down and recognize them for what they are we will damage the vehicle, ourselves. Even in recovery we are capable of extraordinary destruction. Often the subtlest forms of revenge are developed from our thoughts and are manifested by varying types of passive aggressiveness in our relationships, or by corrosive sarcasm. The child in us wants what we want, when we want it and how we want it. Our expectations of others are mortifying at times.
Secrets anchor the soul. Some are traumas that were done to us. Often it may be generational shame, which was never ours to bear. Yet, perhaps an act or harmful behavior we have done to others. Or the emotional and verbal bombardment that wounded us so long ago. Regardless, this core of disgrace perpetuates in our body, in our cell memory. It is the final element to be released.
Without the capacity to maintain honesty with ourselves, it can be a slow but steady decline to a further bottom then from whence we came. In recovery, rationalization occurs before realization. For many it requires a diligence of a spiritual nature. It is a daily requirement, much like medicine. Recover is a verb. An action word that too often becomes a noun by complacency. Recovery requires working spiritual muscles, even when you don’t feel like it, or when it’s just easier not to. In order to regain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health purposeful effort must be put forth. The warning symptoms of relapse cannot be ignored or the malignancy will result in profound darkness once again.
~ Teri Blackadar
The attempt to elicit pleasure by stimulating the brain’s “feel good centers”; in pursuit of the next “buzz”, the next “high”…. a quest which regrettably is a chase for desperation. This hunger moves individuals to take risks and make choices that profoundly affect outcomes in all areas of their lives: health, professional, financial and personal. The illusion of satisfying these ravenous cravings in an attempt to recreate gratification, leads to a progressive devastation of both body and mind. This condition is debilitating emotionally, often physically, and most assuredly spiritually.
Like a hurricane, addiction wreaks destruction causing substantial pain to everyone in its path. More than a family disease, it affects our communities and nation. Staggering statistics and a fractured health care system are current realities. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that death due to overdose of prescription medication is epidemic. Use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs account for “600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.”
I am not a neuroscientist, nor a psychologist. I am a registered nurse and have witnessed hundreds of human beings during their most vulnerable moments. The perspective I offer is a view from the other side of the hospital bed, from my own personal experiences, and from those courageous enough to share their stories.
Frequently, I encounter various common disorders in which their root cause is substance abuse. It is well known that tobacco causes heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Cause of death will be labeled with the latter on the death certificate. But was it really? Addiction could easily be replaced as the cause of death for innumerable end of life situations. Depression is anguish for those that suffer from it, but often there is self-medication with drugs and alcohol that perpetuate the disorder creating additional despondency and darkness. I do not wish to belabor the point but I do want to bring clarity to the enormous strain substance abuse has on our physical and mental health. I have witnessed an assortment of accidents, falls, and mishaps in people under the influence. From simple lacerations, to motor vehicle traumas, bar room brawls, domestic violence, and death, addiction destroys lives. Addiction injures everyone. It provokes denial, relapse and futility. The addict is consumed with self-loathing and shame, yet repeats the behavior, over and over.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, fondly called “the Big Book”, by those in the AA fellowship, it is said, “alcohol is a subtle foe” (pg 85). This proclamation is certainly true for all addictions. The affected brain is triggered by any of the human senses, as well as thoughts, feelings and memories. It can be a fleeting moment that is acted upon without thinking it through. I recall many years ago, when in my mid 20’s, feeling somewhat pudgy after two pregnancies (and intermittent food binge activities), a thought occurred to me while food shopping: maybe if I smoked a little instead of snacking I would lose weight. The decision to purchase a pack of cigarettes that day in the grocery store triggered a relapse that lasted 15 years.
In what way is the potential addict’s brain different prior to the onset of substance abuse? Are their brains unlike those of non-addicts? Do certain types of addictions affect the brain in the same way or in a different way? When addictive substances change the brain circuitry, is this damage always permanent? There are various theories that include a genetic predisposition, such as exists for heart disease or cancer.
Many persons in recovery believe they were “born that way”. Recent research has uncovered intricacies of the brains reaction to various substances. Some include temporary changes, others permanent. Let’s face it; some substances are easier to beat than others. Each addictive substance or activity in which one engages, (i.e. gambling, over-eating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, tobacco) has it’s own unique challenges to conquer.
We as a community often cannot comprehend the disease of addiction. Even among medical professionals there are misunderstandings, disagreements and opinions. This disease is bewildering, chronic and progressive regardless of the age of onset or the substance used. Rehabilitation centers and 12-Step recovery groups have provided invaluable assistance. Yet, it is not enough. Too many rooms have empty chairs. There is a multitude of people “out there” who “need” help but maintain their secrets. However, there is a light that illuminates hope. It is shining within those who possess rewarding and victorious lives in long-term recovery.
What if those people stepped out from the rooms or church basements and into the daylight? Across the United States there is a movement that is cultivating this very concept. People in recovery are “coming out” to be visible to those desperate and in need. Due to the dedication and commitment of numerous community members in Waldo County, there is a grass roots organization called WeCARE (Waldo Encourages Community Assisted Recovery Efforts), now in it’s infancy.
The paradox is this: those who suffer from the disease of addiction are chasing desperation, and for those fortunate enough, desperation can be the catalyst of healing and recovery. In that way it becomes a gift. For some, it is a grace received generously and in abundance. For others a “bottom” that is uniquely their own. The gift has the potential for complete transformation when received by a willing and honest heart. A heart that is prepared to rise from of the abyss of misery and embrace what is freely given for relief of their affliction. Our response as a community is to move beyond judgment and stigmatism toward awareness and compassion. In this way, WeCARE can be an essential element of this gift.
~ Teri Blackadar