There is a popular TED talk that I've watched and its been sent to me many times by friends who know our family story and know I am on a mission to help families impacted by addiction. It's by Johann Hari. It's titled, "Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong." It is thought provoking, there is research, data and compelling storytelling. Watching the TED talk shifted my perception a great deal and that shift served my family very well but I think he missed the mark on one very critical point.
The opposite of addiction is not connection. It's this.....
The opposite of addiction is innovation.
Connection is actually the medicine to treat addiction not the opposite of it.
In the TED talk, Johan uses the example of the rat park experiment (3:25) to explain how connection is the opposite of addiction. It sounds possible in theory except for one thing. We have "rat parks" here in this country. For a lot of people our whole country is like the rat park described in the TED talk but for my example lets use college campuses. Substance misuse and addiction is rampant on college campuses. There is plenty of comfort, primal needs are met, loads of people to be friends with, plenty of food and sex but the kids are binge drinking, misusing xanax, adderall and oxy-contin and walking the path that leads straight to addiction or substance use disorder. So the rat park thing just doesn't hold up here. Why?
Because people have been conditioned to seek connection & comfort in substances not people.
And some, not all, will become full blown addicts and alcoholics. Here's where Johan's the morphine experiment example (2:33) doesn't hold up. Some, not all people will become full blown addicts and alcoholics, because not all people have the same brain wiring and some, not all have a higher propensity for addiction and Drugs are designed to addict people. Designed to make a profit to create customers. The more addictive the more money can be made.
People with addiction and their families do these predictable things that perpetuate the disease.
1. Disconnect - losing touch with loved ones, passions, dreams, experiencing hopelessness.
2. Isolate - being alone, cut off from natural bonds.
3. Freeze - lack of energy, emotional depression, narrow mindedness, inaction, numbing with drugs or alcohol to escape.
4. Panic - translating fear into manic activity or workaholism.
To innovate, to change, to transform you have to do the opposite of those four things.
1. Connect- reach out to others for support, for guidance and love. Seek help and seek comfort.
2. Be in Community - stay connected to people who love you and understand and live the way you seek to live, people with your same core values
3. Act - Respond to the situation or episodes with calm, with understanding, with a plan and execute the plan all the way through.
4. Calm - recognize the "hooks" and how you are reacting the same over and over and do something different. Unhooking means not reacting. Being still and looking at how you can respond with calm assurance, help, support, love and connection. Maintain the calm in the chaos.
For me, I began a transformation process before my child, during that time I started to recognize the hooks of addiction, the patterns and where I was reacting not responding and then I came up with a one sentence responses that unhook me from the patterns. I wouldn't interact with addiction. I wouldn't interact with someone under the influence. It was futile. "I am not talking with you while you're under the influence." I'd say and then I'd wait and respond under the conditions that served getting help. I'd offer compassion and a form of treatment. It was like a series of mini loving interventions leading up to a final intervention where we poured gallons of love over our child and influenced treatment by having a plan and executing it all the way through and we are still innovating, changing, transforming in recovery almost 2 years later. Hand over my heart, we are well, happy and peaceful and our son is healthy no longer being beaten down by addiction.
To treat addiction, substance use disorder, substance misuse you have break the bond with the substance and create an environment for healthy bonding. There has to be change. There has to be transformation not just for the addicted loved one but within the whole family as well, which then ripples out in to the community, which then ripples out into our nation.
It's the butterfly effect and the transformation process of a butterfly combined.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. It has to begin with us. If you need more innovative solutions to addiction in your family, reach out. I am devoted to helping families get to the other side. I can offer you connection, community, action, calm and guidance and resources. All you have to do is reach out.
You can watch the TED talk here. I admire Johan Hari, his work and his devotion to ending addiction and the stigma so that families don't suffer and people get the treatment, love and compassion they need. He's INNOVATING and that's what works.
I AM DEVOTED TO INNOVATION,
There are three things that are powering addiction and substance use disorder in a family system, in a community, in our nation. Three things that feed addiction, keeps it alive and doing its work to devour a person, a family, a community. Our whole country really.
What are the three things that perpetuate addiction, keep it in the shadows, keep it from seeking treatment, keep the family from seeking help, keep people sick that need help, kill people.
Blame, Shame & Guilt.
Blaming the person not the disease. Shaming the person for having the disease. Perpetuating guilt by not accepting/acknowledging addiction and substance use disorder as a disease.
Allowing blame, shame and guilt into the conversations, the situations, the interactions with addiction and substance use disorder will only give addiction what it needs to survive.
Of all three, shame is the most dangerous. Shame is a killer.
Shame looks like this:
"You've ruined your life," or "You're ruining your life."
Life has not been ruined. "Life" is the big picture. The moment may have been ruined but not life. If you are telling your child they've ruined their lives because they are in active addiction then you are feeding shame and addiction with what you belief.
You have to believe that there is life in recovery and its a beautiful, healthy, deeply connected one worth striving for, worth getting treatment for, worth devoting to.
"No one is going to accept me, love me, understand me, forgive me with this disease."
If your family doesn't accept you, love you unconditionally, understand you, forgive you then it's going to be a tougher road to recovery. As a family member do you want to make the road to recovery one grounded in love and healing or do you want to make it harder?
"Don't tell anyone about this. Keep it a secret."
Addiction loves secrecy. It's how it thrives. It lives in secret, in the dark, killing a person, a family from the inside. It keeps everyone on the outside on high alert not knowing what's going to go down next, when the next dangerous, emotionally challenging episode is going to happen. It can not live in the light. In the light, there are boundaries and structures and most powerful of all there is LOVE.
The one action to begin to end the pattern of addiction and substance use disorder in your family is to starve those three things. How do you starve addiction? Love the person and love yourself.
1. Accept addiction as a disease and treat it accordingly with professional help.
2. Treat addiction as separate from your loved one.
3. Refuse to give it what it wants. Your anger, your blame, your shame, your guilt.
4. Stay grounded, neutral and action oriented.
5. Do what people in recovery do and support your family member.
6. Confront the disease. Face it head on. Over and Over again until it's getting the treatment it needs but love the person.
Feed your family and your loved one with compassion and connection. By understanding and recognizing addiction and substance use disorder as a disease of the brain and treating it that way at every turn blame, shame and guilt dissipate, cannot survive and the disease has nothing to feed on.
As long as you treat addiction as nothing to be a ashamed of, then it becomes nothing to be ashamed of.
It's a matter of perspective that saves lives.
The only way we are going to cure addiction is to cure it as a family and a community.
Until you understand that the problem is not the person, the problem is addiction and the way the family and community is treating it is not correct then it will be alive and sick and devouring the things you hold dear.
Which side do you want to be on?
The side that perpetuates addiction or the side that is devoted to recovery?
I've devoted my life to helping families impacted by addiction recover their lives. I'm not much of a stats girl, more emotion and spirit, but I cannot deny the statistic that one in three people is affected by addiction or that 60,000 people died last year from overdose. I cannot bear what it is doing to our children. The ones suffering with addiction and the ones growing up in an addicted environment, being born addicted, losing family members. I just can't.
I hope that a national response is enacted because of the stats but it is really on us to change the way addiction is treated. It's on us to create the environment that fosters recovery on the ground level. It's on us to be compassionate, understanding, forgiving, educated, aware and action oriented.
There was a moment when I was sitting across from my therapist and we were talking about breaking the pattern of addiction in my family for my children. She said, "it has to start with your kids, they have to want it." I said, "No, I don't believe that. I believe it has to start with me for it to end for my kids." And so I took the actions needed to foster recovery, whole family recovery and recovery for my child and to break the patterns that supported addiction. I devoted myself to family recovery.
What's one action you can do today to change the way addiction is treated in your family or community?
End blame, shame and guilt by accepting addiction as a disease and treating the people with it with loving kindness.
I AM DEVOTED,
#familyrecovery #recoveryispossible #noblamenoshamenoguilt #bethechange #lovewins #wecandohardthings #100days
Photo Credit; Jen Lemen with me at the Facing Addiction Concert October 2015. The day I devoted to ending the silence around addiction in our family.
“I am my father’s daughter. I have his eyes. I am the product of such sacrifice. I am the accumulation of the dreams of generations and their stories live in me like holy water. I am my father’s daughter. “ - Jewel
"What is it like?" He asked me. "now that he's gone."
"I feel like there is no one to go to, like I just have myself."
I look in his eyes, smile a little, and tell him where I'd been the last since my father died unexpectedly after a motorcycle accident and ten excruciating days in the hospital. He'd been with me the night of the accident. He'd been with me for the 10 days after. He knew that I'd spent my dad's last day at his bedside and then gotten into the hospital bed with all the wires and the tubes and laid down with him, my head on his shoulder, turned up his ipod full of oldies and bluegrass music, prayed the rosary and then sang along with the songs until my dad took his last breath three months and 10 days after my mom did.
We'd parted ways a few days after my dad died. I imagine he just couldn't bear my pain. I could barely bear it either so I don't blame him for walking away.
I told him I'd spent the last two years invested in healing the empty space where my dad was supposed to be. I'd traveled. I'd reflected, I'd dug deep, I'd cried an ocean of tears. I'd met with healers, guides, gone to therapy. I'd peeled back layers and layers of my soul. I'd been alone on purpose. I told him I didn't want to find myself in a relationship where I was trying to fill the needs my father hadn't with another man, a relationship based on "daddy issues" that had never been healed, or fill the giant empty space of a father holds in his daughters heart so I devoted myself to tending to the wounds of childhood and the overwhelming grief of losing the natural anchors of life. I'd peeled off the definitions that had been placed on me by my father that where not my own. I'd gone all the way inside myself to find the truth of me and made myself whole, keeping only the real love that my dad had shared. Alchemizing the pain of his loss and his hardness into gold and forgiving the parts of him that he couldn't share that left me longing.
I'd had a good ending with my dad. I'd spent days after my mom died riding on the back of his motorcycle, wandering long roads, saying nothing just smelling the smell of his neck with my arms wrapped around him, he'd planted a flower garden in my back yard and red roses in front of my house. We'd had BLT's for dinner down in Clifton. He'd been coaching my golf game. We'd had hard honest conversations. We'd had sweet honest conversations. We'd talked about love. We'd showed up for each other. He'd called me his angel over and over and over. His heart had broken open. It was the closest I'd ever felt to him.
Losing my dad left me unmoored in a way I still can't describe and there are days I feel extremely raw and hyper sensitive which must be the side effect of the grief thats still pooled inside of me and will likely always be.
My dad's life was hard. He was a product of a verbally abusive, violent and alcoholic marriage. His father was an angry man who mistreated my father. His verbal abuse shaped my father's being and self worth. While surviving that made him tough, it also toughened his heart and a deep anger was passed down to my father. I understand that now.
In my eyes my dad shone like the sun. He was handsome, cool, incredibly resourceful and clever, a total badass with a magnetic personality. He could fix anything and I mean anything. He could figure anything out. It was his super power. He was a cross between Clint Eastwood, MacGyver and Chuck Norris. He was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen and the scariest. The walls that he'd built to protect his heart were solid.
I can look back now and find more of the love, the tender moments, the soft heart, the devotion that my dad had for us. It was hard to see and feel it a lot of the times when he was alive. I was so afraid of his judgment, his anger, his pain that I'd built my own wall around my heart to protect myself. But I see it now. Anger was blocking our love.
I understand now, especially now, that my dad was suffering in my mom's addiction, from the impact of his father's addiction and the emotional poverty he was raised in and did not know how to handle it, change it or be free of it. I understand now that his anger was not intended for me, although growing up, it felt like it was. I understand his choices, his way of being in a much deeper and different way now. I understand my father.
I understand that he was devoted to freedom and service. His life, upon reflection, was about being true to yourself and showing up for others. The way he showed his love was through acts of service.
This is the eulogy I wrote for my dad, Buddy to everyone who knew him.
Every day. He got up, got ready and then showed up for someone. He showed up by helping people, by being a good friend, a good neighbor, by teaching people how to do things, by bringing you something you needed or by making your environment a little bit better. He planted flowers, mowed your grass, spent hours at the driving range perfecting your golf swing, he taught you how to change your oil, rotate your tires, he brought your dog treats, he swung by on his motorcycle for a chat, he explained some complicated chore or fixed your dishwasher, your lawnmower, or your front door for you. He helped people be better. He made things better. He fixed things up.
He always did exactly what he wanted, and what he wanted to do was to do something for you. I know that in some way Buddy showed up for each one of you somewhere in your life and that’s why you are here.
As a father, grandfather and a high school teacher he did something much bigger. He fostered independence and self reliance which in turn created personal freedom, strength, confidence, success in life. Hundreds of his students have valuable skills to offer, have built a better life, and have even followed in his footsteps and become teachers who foster the same. His students experienced him much the same way his family did. We were all a little in awe of him because he knew how to do everything, kind of scared because he commanded respect and wanted his confirmation that we’d done it right. He had high expectations. High, because he could see that you could rise to meet them. He didn’t let people off the hook. In fact he expected you to try harder in all things. He was a hardass but with a big mushy heart that he kept kind of hidden.
I didn’t really see that mushy heart side of him until our mom was dying. I had come to understand the way my dad showed his love. It wasn’t soft. It was tough. He was tough. Clint Eastwood tough. When his beloved Pat died three months ago it broke his heart open. I saw a side of my dad, maybe my mom only knew. He began to express his feelings and love in a way that we had never seen. A wall had come down. I feel blessed that we had the time we had to experience his deeper heart, his tenderness. To see and feel the raw emotion and love for my mom, for us, expressed by the man I’d idolized all my life was a gift.
I can only be happy that they are together again. I know they are with us. In us because they created us.
There is a little bit of Buddy inside of all you too. Because he showed up for you. Because he taught you something. How to do something, fix something, to figure things out. He taught you how to show up and help without being asked. He taught you that you can always make something a little bit better and because of that, you should.
Because of my dad we can change a tire, build a playground, drive a stick shift.
Because of my dad we are not afraid of “some assembly required”
We know how to use power tools.
We can jump start a car, with or without jumper cables, mow grass, remove stitches, fix a toilet and maybe one of us might even be able to park a 55 foot yacht.
We know how to take care of a pool, resurface the driveway, cut down trees.
I don’t like some of that stuff but I can do it if I have too.
Because of my dad, we like the smell of grease, marlboro’s and brute cologne.
We are totally at home in a garage.
Because of my dad we can snow ski and waterski. We’ve searched for seashells, sand dollars and starfish and eaten lobster right out of the ocean in the Bahamas.
We know that “Every little thing, is gonna be alright.” Especially when you’re watching the sunset or doing the electric slide in Treasure Cay.
Because of my dad we love music. We have a sound track to our life. We know all the words to all the song and we love to dance.
I learned from Buddy that your kids will always mess up your stuff but you’ll love them anyway. That you can wear a thong bathing suit no matter how old you are.
That comfortable is cool, orange is the best color and 13 is lucky.
I learned to push the gas when you needed to get out of a tricky situation and not to be afraid to go fast.
I learned to always kiss and say I love you.
I learned that to be happy you have to do what you want, help others along the way and love your person deeply.
I learned the best way to love someone is to let them be exactly who they are and let them feel free. That love doesn’t always look like what we expect it to look like and just because it doesn’t look like what we expect it to look like doesn’t mean it isn’t love.
I learned that when two hearts are truly joined they will find a way to be together.
Our dad, Buddy would want you to be happy for him that he is truly free. Free to be with the woman he loved, free of pain, free to do exactly what he wants, to sing and to dance. Every day. For Eternity.
I am my father's daughter, by my life, by being true to myself and in service to others I honor and show my love for him.
I AM DEVOTED,
Family Recovery Activist
I help families that have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.