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What am I Going to Feel — Is this the Real Concern?
It has been said that most of our life is spent solving problems. When we are born we have the problem of communicating with our parents which we solve by crying. As we grow older, we have the problem of getting from one place to another which we solve by crawling, then walking, then riding a bicycle, then riding a bus and ultimately driving a car. We have the problem of acquiring the necessary skills to function in society so we go to school. Every morning we have the problem of what we are going to eat and what clothes to wear.
Since most of us don’t want to be alone, we have the problem of choosing the people we associate with at work and at home. We have the problem of finding a mate, creating a relationship that works for both of us and keeping it together.
To a greater or lesser degree, most of us have found ways to solve most of these problems and we have what is considered a normal life. Of course there have been times in our lives when we have been confronted with situations where we have considered with favor the advice offered in the Peanuts comic strip by Charlie Brown, “No problem is too big to run away from.”
As tempting as Charlie Brown’s solution may be, most of us learn that if we don’t deal with the “big” problem eventually it will cause more problems. Therefore, we work to solve the big problem, whatever that may be, the best we can and go on with our lives.
In working with people who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol, one thing seems to be central to all of them—they started using the drug or drinking alcohol to solve a problem.
For some, they drank to ease the pain of a lost love or lost job or lost opportunity, and then they began using alcohol to help them deal with other problems because they made the decision that it was easier to not be “all there”. At first it was just a drink or two, but their tolerance increased and they had to drink more to “dull” the pain of life. Once started on this downward spiral, they found themselves drinking more and more until their drinking started to affect their health and their ability to function in society.
Others had an injury or surgery and were given painkillers like OxyContin to relieve the problem caused by the pain of the injury or surgery. Many first became physically dependent on the drug and then became addicted. Because their tolerance to these opiate painkillers increased, they began taking more and more of the opiates not only to solve the problems created by the pain but also because it made all their other problems easier to ignore and justify. Like the abuser of alcohol, the increasing use of the painkillers began inhibiting more and more their ability to function and have a normal life.
The more reliant on drugs or alcohol they are, the more many addicted people are seen acting irrationally. These addicted people are often from “good families” and have no criminal records. They have bright futures—often with families of their own. They are intelligent. They either have or at one time had good jobs. Yet, we see them continuing to use drugs and alcohol even though they freely admit that their addiction is destroying their lives.
Many people are coming to Novus who have spent ten years or more under the influence of drugs or alcohol and have come because the problems created by drugs and alcohol have reached the point that the substance abuser sees that they have no choice but to handle their addiction if they are going to be able to live at all.
The question that many of their family members ask us is, “Why did they have to ruin or almost ruin their lives before getting help?” The answer is of course different for all substance abusers, but there are likely some answers that apply to all of them.
It is no longer just the fear of withdrawal or going through the entire rehab process. In speaking with a number of people who have come to our medical detox, they often express what their biggest concern is about handling their addiction. In most cases it’s not the horror stories they have heard about experiencing withdrawal symptoms or about the detestable conditions found in some other medical detox facilities. (One paramedic told us about a detox center in New York City where the patient was locked in an 8×10 room and their meals were pushed through a slot in the door.) A good medical detox can make withdrawal much less of an ordeal, and many people can detox and have few unpleasant symptoms. There are rehab programs that have higher rates of success. It isn’t even the time required to detox and go to a rehab.
What then is the reason most often given? After years of facing problems and experiencing life through the altered perceptions caused by alcohol and drugs, most addicts are terrified of how they are going to react to problems after they are off drugs or alcohol.
They may have fallen in love for the first time or gotten married and had children all while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. What will their personality be like? Will they be able to experience joy and how will they react to issues at the job or with their spouse or children?
Understanding that this fear is often a big part of the addicted person’s reluctance to confront their drug or alcohol problem may help in dealing with friends or loved ones that need a good medical detox and then an effective rehab. The addicted person cannot be assured that they are going to have no problems coping with life without drugs or alcohol.
The only thing that can be promised the addicted person is that it is healthier to be free of their addiction and there are effective ways to deal with problems without drugs or alcohol. Most of them recall pleasurable times they experienced before they were addicted. Almost all of the people who come through Novus express how much better they feel both physically and mentally and how much easier it is to confront things with a “clear” head.
While ultimately the addicted person will not know until they are clean, there are people who have handled their addiction and can testify to the benefits. Ask any former addict.
The Beatles’ John Lennon was a heavy user of drugs and alcohol. After he handled his addiction, he had a message for addicted people. He said,
“The basic thing nobody asks is why do people take drugs of any sort? Why do we have these accessories to normal living to live? I mean, is there something wrong with society that’s making us so pressurized, that we cannot live without guarding ourselves against it? If people take any notice of what we say, we say we’ve been through the drug scene, man, and there’s nothing like being straight.”
At Novus we help people start on the road to being straight.
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