Monday, September 21, 2009

A Disgrace

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Ch...Image via Wikipedia

"The national data released today confirms that untreated alcohol and drug addiction remains at pandemic levels, with 23 million Americans suffering from the disease, approximately the same number that suffers from type 2 diabetes," said Victor Capoccia, director of the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap initiative. "But you wouldn't know it from the way our country responds to the problem. Only one in ten Americans affected by addiction is treated, as opposed to four out of five people with diabetes." --Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

This can't be okay.

We have had "wars on drugs"; we have had "just say no"; we have had boot camps; we have had zero tolerance policies.

Not one of them, frankly, has been worth a damn. Like the man said, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.

Let's try a little common sense.

  1. Get serious about the fact that we are talking about a disease. Not bad habits or behavior. Not a lack of "will power". Note some personal weakness, but a disease. An illness. A malady. Like cancer. Like heart disease. Like schizophrenia. A disease.
  2. Make treatment available on demand. No crap, no managed care nonsense, no nothing. If you ask for treatment you get it. Plus, let's look at some of the highly successful ways of getting someone into treatment, like intervention.
  3. Let's redefine the role of the Criminal Justice System. Is there any other illness in which the courts take such an active interest? Criminal Behavior should be where the courts come in, and rightly so. We are all responsible for our actions, and have to face the consequences. But, let's not criminalize the fact of the illness itself. It does nothing more than to force the addict further underground into a subculture promoting ever more anti-social and deviant behavior. Someone commits a crime--robs a store, shoots someone over a drug deal or during a theft, then they deal with the law and accept fair punishment. But regardless, if drugs are at the heart of the crime, then treatment has to be a part of their rehabilitation. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that most of the people in jail are not hardened criminals, they are excellent candidates for a second chance.
  4. Listen to families, they want help and they want to help. Families need education in addiction and help to deal with the devastating consequences of addiction. Substance Abuse Treatment, unfortunately, is not family friendly. Not that there are not exceptions, but where I live, there is exactly one (1) family education program run at no cost. In case nobody noticed, that's not enough.
Addiction is an individual's nightmare, a family tragedy, and national health emergency. The limitation of treatment to the point were less than 10% of individuals impacted by the illness are receiving treatment, is a national disgrace.

We are so much better than that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Sacred And The Profane: Spirituality in Recovery

I was having a cup of coffee the other day with Grateful John. He said that he was angry with his daughter over her arrest for drunk driving, and described what options he had. It went something like this:

"I wanted to bust her blanking face in and slap some blanking sense into her but my blanking conscience kicked in and told me to call my blanking sponsor. I did, and he said to pray on it. blanking pray? I'll blank pray, I said. But I did, and I asked my Higher Power to take the whole thing over because I couldn't blanking deal with it. I had to turn it the blank# over to God as I understand Him and get out of the blanking way. I'm not ready to deal with that, I look at her and see myself, my own blanked up excuses and I get angry, not at her. At me for being a blanked up father because of this blanking illness. Thank God I called my Sponsor"

Only he didn't really say blank

I am not thinking that Grateful John is likely to be helping the Pope draft his Christmas Encyclical this year, but I do believe that his faith and trust in God, and his willingness to do God's will, are as strong and valid and true as any more pious, and less profane individual's.

This is a good example of the way that the sacred and the profane co-exist in the 12 Step Programs. As my Uncle Jerry the Bartender, sober over 30 years in AA, once said, "a lot of us aren't exactly Choirboys when we come in."

It's true. It's also true that very few addicts and alcoholics seek out the 12 Step programs because they feel a sudden need for spiritual growth. Addicted people go to meetings out of fear and desperation. Sometimes desperation for something that will work and fear that they have found it. The illness of addiction so utterly takes over an addict's life that in a pathetically perverse paradox, the thing destroying them (the addiction) feels like the only thing that makes life bearable. To threaten the addiction with recovery is like threatening life itself, and every corrupted survival mechanism kicks in. Addicts come to their first 12 Step meetings in fight or flight mode.

And yet, there they are, usually hanging right on the wall, or in case someone missed them, read out loud at the beginning of the meeting:

The Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It doesn't leave a lot of room for doubt that this is a spiritual program with a Higher Power at the heart of it.

So, how does the world of the active addict and the world of the spirit co-exist?

Pretty Good, actually. Ask Grateful John why he's grateful?

(More to come)