Friday, April 7, 2017

Addiction is a disease

My heart has been so heavy the past few days. So many horrible things are happening. I get it.
Drugs are taking over the town we live in. People are overdosing and getting hit with Narcan, not just once, but multiple times, and sometimes as many as twenty people in one night. As bad as this is, I still don't think they deserve to die. As bad as this is, they are human...just like me....just like you.

I know that what I have to say may not be popular, but that's okay. I don't expect everyone to understand my point of view. I actually hope most of you do not understand, because if you do, it likely means you have walked through hell either as an addict yourself, or with one you dearly love. If you don't understand, consider yourself lucky. I hope you never have to.

Anyway, here are my opinions (and that's what they are...opinions).

There has been an article circulating ALL over Facebook called, "A 12-step guide to show that 'drug addiction is NOT a disease'." The title alone initially turned me off, but I like to read articles that pose differing positions as mine to educate myself more and to attempt to understand the position from which others are coming. Addiction is such a complicated thing and I do not believe that anyone has a solid, infallible idea of its origins or particularities.

However, all I know is what I've learned through treatment, 12-step recovery programs, sitting in rooms with other addicts, and my personal experience. And here is what I believe.

I believe that addiction is a disease. 

I believe there is something within an addict that makes him/her different from others, and I believe this "something" is genetic. It took me a rather long time to come to that conclusion. When I first entered treatment, I was adamant that this talk of addiction being a disease was bull. I, like many others, stood the ground that it was a choice and that people who thought it was a disease were looking for an easy way out, a "get out of jail free" card (no pun intended). However, after some time, I began to see a larger picture....I began to see that there, indeed, was a chemical component involved.

In AA, this is called the X-factor. This is an explanation of the X-factor found in "The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:  Interpreted by the Hazelden Foundation."

Many people get high when they use drugs or alcohol. But, they can stop using if they feel sick or if using leads to problems. This is not true for chemically dependent people. Drinking or using drugs makes us feel great. And once we start using, we cannot stop even when we want to.  Experts think this happens because our bodies react to drugs and alcohol in a unique way. We call it the X-factor because no one knows exactly why this is true. Many studies have been made of this problem. But so far no one can explain why some people become chemically dependent and others do not. The main point is that we are not responsible for the X-factor. Think of it this way: Some of us have blue eyes and some of us have brown eyes. Some of us have a heart condition and some of us don't. Likewise, some people who use drugs and alcohol will get addicted to them, and others will not. People who have blue eyes or diabetes are not bad people. They are not weak-willed or lazy. Their bodies are just different from the rest of ours. In the same way, those of us with the X-factor are not bad, weak-willed, or lazy. Our bodies just respond to alcohol and drugs in a different way.

No one knows where this phenomenon originates or what makes certain people have it. It's why some people can take prescription pain pills for a short period of time and never think about them again, while others take them for a short time and learn they can't live without them. There is way too much on that topic to delve into here, and I'm not willing or able to provide that info.

What I do know is that there is something in my brain that makes me an addict. Had I never been exposed to opiates, I think the disease would not have awakened. However, when I was only 16 years old, I smashed my finger in a car door and ended up having a screw placed in my fingertip. I was given Tylenol with codeine, and something in my head changed. I can remember nearly everything about that first experience, I know what chair I was sitting in, what food I was eating, and even what clothes I was wearing. And that was twenty years ago. After that first encounter, I spent the next several years relishing in that memory. I couldn't wait for it to happen again. I believe I became sick in my early years, my disease just lurked underneath the surface, waiting to overtake me.

When I first entered treatment, I did not think I had a disease.  You know what I thought? I thought I was just a bad person. I thought I was scum....a sinner. I thought I would never change. When I learned more about the concept of addiction as a disease, I found hope. Many non-addicts believe that we addicts give up when we accept that we have a disease....that we just succumb to it and become card carrying victims. Oh, but no. Quite the opposite. When I looked at this new information that I possibly had a disease, that I was genetically predisposed to addiction, I let go of the belief that I was just "bad." That belief was what trapped me in guilt and shame. That belief was what kept me an addict. That belief was what gave my disease complete control of me.

Now that I know I have a disease, I know that I HAVE to stay completely away from the thing that makes me sick. For me, that is pain pills. They keep me sick. They keep my disease active. Because I have this disease, I have to exercise my CHOICE (yes, I definitely believe the choice factor comes into play with addiction...but more on that later) to manage my disease or it will manage me. If I CHOOSE to not use, my disease will remain in remission. If I DECIDE to use, that disease is gonna flare right back up. I have to take the proper precautions (every time I use that phrase I picture Harry from Home Alone saying it) to not let my disease end fatally.

I believe that I will always have this disease (more on that later). That does not mean that I will live in active addiction; rather, knowing that I have a disease makes me scared, even terrified, to go anywhere near pain pills. It means that I choose to live in pain rather than to take pain pills. When I start taking pills, the choice goes away and the disease takes back over.

I don't care if your list of 'why addiction is not a disease' is twelve steps long or two hundred miles long. I can give you a million examples and first hand experiences to back my case that it is, in fact, a disease. It's okay that you support your really is. And I will continue to support mine, because knowing that I have a deadly disease keeps me alive.

I have written a rebuttal to each 'addiction is not a disease' argument.

1. Cancer doesn't have a 28 day rehab.  I sure wish there was a twenty-eight day rehab that cured cancer.  Furthermore, I wish there was a twenty-eight day rehab that CURED addiction. Unfortunately, there are neither. Rather, both diseases are progressive and deadly. 

2. You can't point to the exact moment the cancer started. I also can't point to the exact moment the disease of addiction started.  I'm gonna assume sometime in my formation as a fetus, because I carry a genetic predisposition for addiction.  I can, however, tell you the exact moment that I knew I was different, and that was when I was given pain medicine as an innocent young teenage girl. 

3. Cancer can't be eradicated with hard work and self-discipline. The word eradicate means to destroy completely and put an end to. I guess this example means that addiction can be eradicated? Believe me, I work my butt off and use as much will power and self-discipline as one can muster, and I still have the disease of addiction. It might not be in control, but it's still there. I've seen people with twenty years clean and sober take one drink of beer and their alcoholism return in full force. If someone can show me how it is completely eradicated, I would appreciate it!  I have a disease, I just choose to starve it.

4. Cancer doesn't give you satisfaction, a high, a confident feeling, or an enjoyable moment. I find it funny that the word satisfaction is used to describe addiction because that lends itself to the notion that addiction can be satisfied. Quite the contrary. A true addict has a desire to use that is insatiable. This disease is a beast that can never be fully fed. Addiction is enjoyable? I will admit that it is fun for a season. I rather enjoyed getting high. But, the fun/enjoyment ended when I tried to stop using and couldn't. I definitely didn't feel satisfied or confident when I came to that realization. 

5. Cancer doesn't make you the life of the party.  Well, neither does addiction. I'm pretty sure the person sitting in the corner nodding out isn't the life of the party. I'm pretty sure the person convulsing, seizing, and foaming at the mouth isn't either. Believe me, my addiction never made me the life of the party. Instead, it made me an isolated, hateful, depressed ogre who was on the verge of committing suicide. 

6. You can't get cancer because your friends convinced you to try it. Yep, you're right. And, unfortunately, we sometimes don't know that we have the disease of addiction until we try drugs or alcohol. That makes even more sense for ALL of us to stay away and never try it. 

7. We don't know what caused your cancer.  I so wish we knew what caused cancer. I also wish we knew what caused the chemical component of addiction....why some people's brains are wired differently....why some are predisposed to it. I wish I could know for sure if my kids will have it. All I can do is encourage them to never find out.

8. You can't spend money, steal money, or sell yourself for money to buy cancer.  We do often steal money and do gross things to get drugs.  Yes, we do.  Because we have a nasty disease that drives us to do bad things that we normally wouldn't do. My disease turned me into a monster. My disease made me someone that I am not. 

9. You'll never get in trouble with the law or go to jail for cancer.  Actually....funny story. I was in treatment with a school teacher (gasp) who had found herself deep in addiction and the trouble that surrounds it. How did she get there? She had cancer as a teenager and after she started using opiates to treat her pain, she discovered that she was the proud owner of two deadly diseases. Luckily, neither one killed her. Rather, she chose to seek treatment for both of them.

10. Cancer doesn't feel good.  I won't even pretend to understand what cancer feels like. I can't imagine, and it breaks my heart to see victims of cancer become so weak and powerless. It does feel good to get high....for a season. But, let me tell you, there comes a point in time when it no longer feels good.  When it hurts so bad that you just can't stop. It breaks my heart to see those with the disease of addiction become so weak and powerless.  

11. After you recover from cancer you aren't tempted to slip back into it.  Some people with cancer (with proper treatment or miraculous healing ) are lucky enough to have the disease go into remission. That might not necessarily mean that the disease is gone forever, it just means that it is, at that moment, dormant. Sadly, the cancer often comes back and many don't win the battle a second time. With addiction, we often experience a thing called sobriety. It doesn't necessarily mean that our disease has vanished into thin air, it simply means that the disease is dormant....and as long as we starve it rather than feed it, it will stay that way. Sadly, many people relapse and don't win the battle a second time. 

12. You don't lose friends and family because you have cancer. In fact, you tend to gain more.
Yes, the disease of addiction is so serious that it rips parents from their children and children from their parents. It tears apart marriages, breaks up life-long friendships. It robs us of any meaningful relationship we've ever had. But, when those of us who suffer admit to it and walk the journey toward healing together, new relationships are formed. Honestly, I have more friends (true ones) since I became open about my disease than I ever did before. I have a recovery small group that has become my lifeline. They are my best friends and the ones I want to do life with. Those of us who share the same struggle bind together and hold one another up. We are all survivors of a deadly disease and we celebrate that with one another. 

Honestly, that was a pretty good attempt to disprove the biological ideology of addiction. I'm fairly certain that this article succeeded in 'proving' to thousands of readers that addiction is not a disease. Really, I'm kind of glad that people are having dialogue about this disease! Even if my view opposes yours, I'm glad we are talking about it and not ignoring it. I am, however, not happy that some people continue to converse about it in such a derogatory, ignorant way. There is a huge difference in asserting that addiction is not a disease and stating that we should "stone those addicts to death" (yes, I actually read that statement this week and it reminded me of a time I heard a preacher say that teenage girls who get pregnant should be taken out and stoned. So, yeah.....).

Here's the deal, you can take your twelve step guide and I'll take mine. The big difference is that my 12-step guide is going to lead me to a life of freedom despite my disease.  While I have a disease, I'm going to choose to not let it control my life.  I'm gonna do whatever it takes to keep it at bay.  I'm gonna do whatever it takes to make sure that this disease does not rob me of life or of true enjoyment. I'm gonna do whatever it takes to make sure that a disease that is out to kill me does not succeed.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, you are absolutely right that addiction is a disease and one must try to recover from it as soon as possible otherwise your problems will be increased. At the local opiate detox norfolk my sister is also getting her drug addiction treatment. I hope it will help her thoroughly.