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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

07-23-17 | By

A Most Misunderstood Disease: A Fact Called Addiction

disease of addiction

People in recovery are some of the most passionate, intelligent, empathetic souls – who unfortunately spin their spirits and energy into a tornado termed addiction.

How can society’s stigmatized view of addicts and the often forlorn opinion addicts hold of themselves begin to really change?

How can our culture unite in a positive, productive front so that this hurricane like force can finally crawl out from the bedrock of shame, misinformation and death? We need to petition the public, politicians, the still suffering addict and the recovery community to sway away from self-pity city to a healing haven?

Imagine a venue of restoration and acceptance; a place of palliative answers?! A place where we stop counting the number of fatalities, failures and focus on solutions! 

During the 60 Minutes interview with whistleblower DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi, he referred to the pharmaceutical industry by stating, “this is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to get into bad pharmacies and doctors offices, offices that distributed opiates out to people who had no legitimate need for these drugs.” Rannazzisi, other field agents and attorneys working for the DEA chastised pharmaceutical companies like Cardinal Health, McKesson and Amerisource Bergen. So here we go again, another blameworthy bullet directed at lobbyists and big Pharma; that’s all newsworthy information but how does this help the mother who’s shaking in shock as she is identifying her child’s blue body? Rannazzisi is to be applauded by calling out those who turned a blind eye by saying, “these weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats!”

But how can we use this information to start our own revolution on the dysfunctional war on drugs?Hopefully, with eyes and hearts truly wide open, we will see the malady of addiction for just what it is… a DISEASE!

“Sometimes we go about feeling pity for ourselves, but behind our back a great wind is carrying us all along.” Ojibwa proverb

No one is sent into our lives by accident. We don’t wake up completely off course from the path of life by accident. And as hard as we try – we have NO control over the pace of time. Second chances are gracious gifts but unfortunately some blind folded by addiction see these as another sly signal that they’re invincible.

Some supernatural spirits, like the good Mother Earth; may guide us like MapQuest when we need to make decisions.  But many people have a hard time trusting themselves or others – especially addicts, because they’ve been trusting a crafty and canny disease for so long.

Our families aren’t picked for us – just like our height or our skin color wasn’t fashioned for us.
Somethings in life are just facts. Genuine genetics, just as simple as my eyes are green, I’m 5’4″ and I’m an addict. I’m a women in long term recovery. Recovering from things I’ve created in my own casual relationship with reality and from stone cold facts like my body’s bio-social, chemistry doesn’t process alcohol normally.

Falling victim to the pain of whiplash via a car accident is quite different than being overcome by the physical, psychological and soul-sickening grip of addiction.

Unfortunately some souls have a difficult time wrestling with the harsh differences between these realities. The real stone cold fact is that addiction is a disease, just like any other disease a person may check off while filling out a “new patient form” at a doctor’s office. I doubt nurses gasp when reviewing a new patient’s chart and see high blood pressure checked off. But if you answer “yes” to the question “have you ever been hospitalized for a mental illness or addiction”; some medical professionals treat you differently; as if you had scribbled in leprosy on your form.

Even though our nation now is witness to a heroin epidemic that’s stealing hundreds of souls each day; many people still see this as an issue of weakness and immortality. Often I can’t even properly ponder how hellish the active state of addiction was to myself, daughter, family and friends. It’s like trying to understand why someone would handcuff themselves to charging rhino.

No human is born without some affliction.

No soul I’ve ever meet hasn’t woken up in an ER stating “Thank God, my addiction is in high gear again!”  I recall the day when my Dad announced that he had to quit smoking and lose weight or “I’m going to die; I’m going to quit cold turkey!” So as a barely pre-teen, ankle bitting believer; I hopped on my bike and peddled to Acme food market. I purchased a pound of sliced turkey from the deli and gleefully brought it home for him to eat for dinner. He would be cured for sure after one hearty filling of a triple decker turkey sandwich. Right?

I was misinformed, often like society’s dimness regarding addiction or mental health issues.

I would place gold stars on a calendar that hung in Dad’s garage workshop for each day he didn’t smoke. I hid the remainder of his Camels in the attic next to the unused Xmas ornaments. Out of sight, out of mind – could it really be that easy? Months later on a boring Saturday afternoon, I snuck into the basement with one of the hidden Camels and had my first cigarette. The savior now needed saving.

I didn’t belittle or shame my good friend Mark when he killed him self when I was in high school. I understood his intense pain and his inability to open the door labeled “HELP!” I wasn’t appalled when I learned my close, kindred spirit, brother-in-law was tackling outrageous numbers of brain operations because his disease of hydrocephalus, had come back to haunt him.

Addicts are not gods, goblins, androids, zombies or monsters – we are completely – incomplete. Emotions are hard to process or embrace (good, bad or indifferent). One day I’m happy; like a dog seeing their owner come home each with their tail wagging full force. Then a day later I maybe devoured with doom as I glance at the future. What’s that four-letter word people spouting to me – hope? Emotion Intelligence seemed so foreign to the arrested development of my monkey brain.

The disease of addiction, like any mental or physical disability can be diabolical, deadly and can turn an individual and their family upside down. It gives us a chance to change, rise to the occasion and stand tall without being stigmatized. Or it can make us crumble under its villain like stance. It can bully us into isolation or drive us down a super-sonic speedway of denial.

Circumstances and life events which we try desperately to control can pave a path of insanity – like a forest fire consuming everything in its path. Or we find ourselves trying to catch a whisper of serenity; but without help from outside ourselves we become exhausted and defeated.

Time is a gift; to me the most precious of measurements. How do we find time to save ourselves while trying to help family, friends, work, organize bills, shelter our children, walk the dog, dash to Walmart for cat litter – let alone socialize? Or stay sober and spiritually fit? How many more funerals do people have to attend until we wake up? Perhaps over 150 overdoses each day enough isn’t a high enough “count for media headlines”; or do we wait until it becomes a greater epidemic? We didn’t start wearing breast cancer survivor pins until we began burying almost all our female acquaintances who suffered.

The more time I spend on any path of recovery  I have – without a doubt found that if you petition to a higher power with an open heart – you may get lessons that are delivered with a hard punch! But these teachings stick to your soul and make your heart seem to grow an extra chamber. We defrost. At first we become unhinged, like someone blindly looking for exits from a smoke-filled movie theater; that’s rerunning a shit show called “This Is Your Life”.

We slowly glue our body, spirit and relationships back together. Once we surrender, this chamber of calm, opens up for us to be filled with hope. Small doses at first, but like the heart is a muscle – behaviors of blind faith – moving in awkward directions we had resisted before; seem to strengthen this muscle. At times it’s difficult to want (just not need) to get better – because years spent in misery can become oddly just as addictive as the drugs themselves.

For me, using was alluring because not caring allowed me to check out, not follow through on anything except getting high and then no one expected anything from me. My shame and insecurities were as high as I was souring. I didn’t have to process the fact that I was raped in college, engaged in cutting behavior as a teen or even that someone might actually still love me; even though I felt like a dress on a clearance rack that nobody wanted.

Good or bad statements I heard like “Oh Jeannette’s a losing bet, leave her to rot” or “Jeannette’s doing wonderful; wonder what plans she has in store for her life?” Ugghh, the distress and guilt either way scared me senseless.

But, these times of either feeling shameful or serene required work, asking for help and unclenching my grip from my trumped up illusion of control. Joy to me is having realized I don’t know A LOT of things. I don’t know what I “don’t know” if I haven’t let certain sensations wash over my sober being. I realized every book I read, any rationale or behavior born of intellect, was just a roundabout. I ended up right back in the same spot I started.

The more you HONESTLY know yourself, the less judgmental you become of others. I just started listening, taking suggestions and screamed “NO” to my disease one hour at a time. What a gift to be relinquished of the bondage of a loathing, destructive, self-centered disease.  To walk away from the debating society and stop writing myself poor, misleading infomercials!

No more pointing fingers at others for my mistakes, less gossip and more empathy are essential. Humans who pause; who don’t judge and are more grateful; more imformed, instead of infested with fear – become imperfect or dare I say HUMAN?

Imagine that – just a human being?! Which is exactly who I am and where I am; it’s where I began and where I’ll end. And I’m okay with that today.

Slowly I became unhinged from Step “Zero” (called “I got this”) and moved out of self-pity city. I’m blessed and a mess. A messenger, mother and human in recovery from a chaotic disease which no longer holds me hostage. My freedom now runs a parallel path with my ability to trust an imperfect process.

I still move forward even if I feel I’m confronting a mountain, like unhealthy gossip; a career change or just walking my dog or listening to a meditation podcast. I’m simply grateful my daughter visits me during college breaks at my home, with a huge hug, and not at a jail or at a cemetery plot.


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