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,
Yesterday I was met at the path near my daughter’s elementary school by a close friend of mine, she came running up to me. “I am going to tell you something that will make you sad,” she said. “you’re probably going to cry.”
She told me a story about a young man who died the night before from a heroin overdose. Her family knew his family. They were devastated, confused, frightened, so so sad.
It was the second story I’d heard like that in two days. On Tuesday a beautiful young girl died from an overdose in Centreville, the town next to mine, I didn’t know her, but a lot of people I know, know her and her family. They are devastated, confused, so so sad.
“Why does this happen? How does this happen?” She asked me pleadingly.
These stories disturb me in the deepest way, the profound loss, the unfathomable grief and because it is going to keep happening, until something changes and the something is how we as a society, a medical community, a spiritual community, a family, as friends, as co-workers as humans view and treat drugs and addiction.
Change is happening just not fast enough.
Overdose actually happens every four minutes. By the time you’ve read this post it will have happened somewhere again and a family, a community will be devastated by the loss. A beautiful life will have ended because of a disease activated by one misinformed choice.
These kids were not approached by a drug dealer from Mexico and offered heroin which they said yes to. A bad crowd didn’t surround them at school and say “hey come join the bad crowd, we are over here doing drugs and getting wasted and messing up our lives because its so much fun.”
That isn’t how it starts.
Its starts with a genetic predisposition to the disease addiction or an environment where addiction or substance use is prevalent. 1 in 3 children meet the criteria for it. Someone in the family already usually already has it, a mother, father, uncle, aunt, grandparent. It may or may not have been addressed or treated. It may not look like "addiction" to the rest of the family. It may be "heavy drinking" or an eating disorder or hoarding, gambling, cigarette smoking. It may look like taking xanax for anxiety but for longer than its necessary or oxy contin for pain, but longer than its really needed or not following the prescription.
Addiction is activated when one of their friends says, “hey I took this oxy contin or this xanax or this adderall from my mother, father, sister, brother. Or I stole some wine/vodka/beer/pot from my house, Or “I got this oxy contin/adderall/xanax from my doctor.” It makes you feel really good. Let’s do it together.”
“ok” says the uninformed child with the immature brain, and the potential genetic predisposition for addiction.
Now the disease is activated in an unformed brain. As the disease progresses through three stages the behavior goes from “normal teenage curiosity, everyone is doing it, I did it when I was young and I’m ok” mentality to a downward spiral that takes the entire family with it. The brain has been hijacked to obsessively seek the feeling created deep in its center and the family is taken hostage, until one of three things happens. The person is confronted and medically treated and enters a life of recovery, they experience serious consequences of the behavior like jail and then hopefully are medially treated and enter a life of recovery or they accidentally overdose and die and everyone who loves them suffers.
Heroin is the cheapest thing a drug addicted brain can get. It doesn’t start with heroin. It ends with it.
Heroin is not a drug of choice. It is a drug of desperation.
That is how it happens.
I don’t know the details or circumstances behind either of the overdoses, but I can be sure that the family was under siege and that they’d been fighting for their lives and the life of their child bravely but silently, without a lot of support. Frightened for their child. Terrified of what might happen. Knowing that there was a great chance that what happened would. And not being able to talk about it in their community or at work. Everyone was suffering.
With addiction all the rules are different. The treatment path is different for everyone just like any other disease it needs an individual treatment plan. Support can be confusing, ambiguous, inaccurate, outdated. There are no clear instructions like take them to the doctor, get a diagnosis, admit them to the hospital for rounds and rounds of treatment. No team of specialists and physicians gets together with the family and says, “Here is the treatment plan we suggest based on this individual. We are going to do this, this and this. We are going to monitor their brain, then scan for disease again in 3 months, 6 months, a year. We will keep treating until it goes into remission. And this is how you care for them in remission.”
These changes are coming. But not fast enough. We only have four minutes before it happens again.
“What do I do?” she asked. “What do I say to his mother? His father?”
These two children died from a disease. Treat their family like any other family who lost a child to a disease. Open your arms to them. Open your hearts. Love them. Hug them. Let them cry in your arms. Pray for their peace. Accept their grief. Hold their hand and listen.
Offer compassion, soul nourishing food, your warm embrace.
You don’t have to say anything more than “I love you.”
With love and hope for all the families,
photo credit: Danielle LaPorte
The next person who tells me “They just need tough love or has to hit rock bottom is getting punched in the face.” I said to my friend one day. I meant it with my whole being, with my whole heart. I am not a violent person but "tough love" makes me mad.
I am the mother of a young person in long term recovery, what that means is my child had a substance use disorder, the disease that affects the deepest part of the brain. The part of the brain that recognizes your essential needs. Those being food, shelter and water. Once activated by substances like alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain pills, xanax, and other highly addictive prescriptions, the brain then recognizes that drug or alcohol as an essential need, like food, shelter and water and it will make the body do anything to keep that feeling, fill that need. The brain becomes conditioned to need it and the most effective treatment is professional medical treatment in a controlled environment. For people with this disease, the only true bad choice was the first one, after that, it becomes primal.
Because I am a mother, daughter, friend, lover of people with substance use disorder I am privy to anonymous meetings and private FB groups that speak to the issue of addiction and substance use disorder and offer support. I am allowed in those secret places where people spill their guts and other people sit silently or post comments and witness the pain and chaos that living with someone in active addiction creates. These are safe containers for people to express themselves and sit with or read what other people are going through. A fellowship, a community. I believe that its important to have these containers and these safe places. I believe in fellowship & community.
BUT, I call bullshit on the messaging that goes around the circle and in the private Facebook groups that the ONLY way or the best to treat someone with this disease is with tough love also known as abandonment and waiting until they hit "rock bottom," which could possibly be an accidental overdose or waiting for them to "want it," which doesn't make sense if you look at the brain science especially for young people. I’ve never been able to get behind tough love or rock bottom and I tried the "waiting" thing and "waiting" is my BIGGEST REGRET as a Mother.
To the people with limited to zero education on addiction and zero experience in the arena, saying “tough love is what THEY need," you activate my desire to punch something, preferably the person saying it.
The tough love method depends on law enforcement to treat a disease. Law enforcement is to protect and keep our communities safe not treat addiction or substance use disorder. Diseases are treated by the medical community.
The tough love method encourages homelessness, isolation from family and community, rejection and shame. What someone with addiction needs is a safe place away from drugs and alcohol, professional treatment, including therapy and practices that create healing, and most of all, a community of understanding, support, acceptance and love.
The tough love method causes damage to relationships and family connections. The tough love method creates the ideal conditions for crime. The tough love method is why we are in an addiction epidemic.
What people with addiction and substance use disorder need is not tough love. What they need is unconditional love and understanding from family, friends and community, and professional treatment by the medical community not by law enforcement. Substance use disorder is a disease not a crime.
What family members need to love someone through this disease is education, understanding and acceptance from the community, support from the medical community, and a clear protocol for treatment like any other disease. What family members need from law enforcement is to catch and incarcerate the people perpetuating the disease by dealing drugs. The profiteers of the disease.
If you found out your child, your friend, your family member had cancer would you wait until they hit rock bottom before seeking treatment? If you found out your child had depression would you wait until they hit rock bottom before seeking treatment? If you found out your child had a heart condition would you wait until they hit rock bottom before seeking treatment?
Would you offer tough love and kick them out until they wanted to go to the hospital or the therapist or the doctor? Would you encourage homelessness? Would you call the police and have them arrested?
This is happening in the realm of addiction. This is the messaging that pervades the anonymous family support. This is the word on the street. This is also what someone who doesn’t know anything about addiction and what its like to be in its clutches thinks is the solution. What I hear is, turn your back on someone you love even if its your child. What I hear is “they are not worth it.” and guess what, that’s what they hear too and that perpetuates the cycle of guilt, shame, and unworthiness at the heart of the problem.
What I want to hear is….."This is how we take care of ourselves while supporting and loving our children, family members, friends as we battle this disease together." What I want to hear is…….. "I love you, even while we are going through this hell." "I love your kid, your person, they are worthy of my love and understanding, my acceptance, because they are a human being."
I believe that the only way we are going to get better is by treating whole families and changing the way addiction and substance use disorder is treated by every single community. The medical community, the law enforcement community, the religious and spiritual community, the government, and our personal communities. And it starts by educating all people and especially the families of people who exhibit the symptoms of the disease so that they know the signs and can intervene with treatment options, support and compassion.
I am all for boundaries and safety of the entire family and community but do NOT speak to me of tough love or rock bottom, ever. I am not having it.
Every time you say “they just need tough love” you are perpetuating stigma, shame and the disease itself.
When you find out your child or your child’s friend or someone you know is using a substance activate your deepest love and the response that a dangerous situation calls for, professional treatment, inquiry, safety and support. Substances, any substances on an immature, not fully formed brain are dangerous.
I repeat ANY SUBSTANCES on an immature, not fully formed brain are DANGEROUS. It is never ok to put substances on an unformed brain.
If you have a family member with addiction or substance use disorder or what you think might be a problem, seek help, seek treatment for yourself and your person. Don’t wait. The longer you wait and watch it unfold, wondering what to do, wondering if its a problem, waiting for it to get better, waiting for rock bottom the worse it will get and the harder it will be to treat. It is a disease with stages and it affects everyone in its path. It is a chronic potentially fatal disease. It doesn’t get better by itself and it doesn’t get better with tough love. If it did there wouldn’t be 23 million people suffering with it.
I am fired up about tough love, rock bottom, choices and the messaging that perpetuates stigma and addiction. I’ve been listening to my partners in law enforcement, medical treatment, government, fellowship, community and support. I’ve been listening to stories of recovery and people on the front lines activating change. I’ve been listening to families, mothers, brothers, sisters, children of people with substance use disorder.
I am listening. And nowhere in the conversation are we using tough love or rock bottom and where they are talking tough love, people are suffering, visibly.
Over here, we are speaking revolutionary change in treatment and unconditional love for our sick people trying to get well.
Bullshit on Tough Love. That’s what I say.
Reach for help. Help is closer than you think. You can reach for me by email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will guide you in the direction you need to take care of yourself and you
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.