The curse of addiction

May 4, 2016

addictionYou’ve read things here by my friend, Lisa Brock, before. She posts some of the most interesting commentary on Facebook and is one of the most interesting women I know. I got to know her when we both taught at the University of Tampa but I came to appreciate her even more over the years we’ve been Facebook friends. A few months ago, I read this on her page and she graciously agreed to let me share it here. But first, a few words from me.

Addiction sucks.

I know this because someone I once loved was an addict. He told me when he was in recovery that well-meaning friends and family would ask, “why can’t you just quit?” and while he understood the question, he thought it showed they didn’t understand addiction.

Addiction changed his life for real and for good in ways large and small. Its power is awesome and not in a good way. And so, in the interests of maybe helping someone else understand what is almost un-understandable, I am sharing Lisa’s most excellent words.

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Some years ago, my husband, Farrukh, through a series of somewhat random events, met a young African man I’ll call ‘Whoever.’ This brand new acquaintance presented in a very positive way that drew Farrukh and then me, to him.

Farrukh led the effort to find out more about his life, his youngish marriage, his family, his wife’s family and his hopes for a new life in America. Life was hard for him but he was optimistic and his smile was high voltage! As time wore on and we peeled back the inevitable layers of a life, we learned that Whoever had a terrible secret that often kept him from being completely honest with us. And while it is always disheartening to learn that what you think you see is not the reality, we understand that life is complex so we hung in there with him.

The terrible shame

We dug a little more and learned a little more about his life – including a terrible shame he could not shake. It was not his fault but that is how shame works I guess. We tried in earnest to help, finding and offering resources that were solid and readily available. But as we leaned in closer, we began to understand that our collective reach was going to be limited in ways that signaled a treacherous undoing.

Slowly and painfully we watched him unwind, loosen then lose his grip, and eventually succumb to very dark behavior that he was unable to manage or confront. Eventually Whoever left the place where we knew to find him. And over time, he became one of those wafting memories that we visit from time to time – never seeming to settle…

I can’t say I had confidence that he could do what was needed to escape his demons but I never – EVER – lose hope. I learned how to do that from people (including family members) who beat theirs when no one would have given them odds. But today when I got home, Farrukh called me over to look at his phone and it was obvious the news would not be good. So I read with trepidation as the wife of Whoever recounted how sorry she was to let him know that Whoever had been found – dead.

She was so sorry to share the news but she wanted to thank Farrukh for the help he had offered the man she loved. Even sadder, she recounted how she’d had to leave him, afraid for her physical safety but never losing her feelings for a man who became someone else when he drank.

NOT a moral failing

Recently I was talking with a psychiatrist friend and I asked about the curse of addiction. I have read pretty deeply about brain research and I know good people who cannot seem to win this battle. I don’t believe it is a moral failing. It can’t be. Because even when they lose EVERYTHING…family, friends, dignity, health, wealth, the ability to enjoy life…you name it – they keep going, living in constant search of their wicked coping substitute – even when they KNOW better. We can love them, loathe them, beg and cajole them but addiction is a formidable foe, often leaving those who love them in a painful, sadistic almost, chaotic or catatonic state.

But my doctor friend described it in a way that really grabbed – and helped – me.

“It IS a brain disorder.”

“Okaaaayyyy. Well…” I slowly ventured in…”what about the choice to do it in the first place?”

“Ahhhh, that is the RISK” she said. “It is a silent disease that is triggered with use. If the risk is never taken, it lies dormant, but if triggered – addiction can take over. And since addiction is a progressive disease, it inevitably brings about an early death.”

At 33, Whoever surely testified to that.

And what an absolute, terrible, awful, heartbreak that is.

64 comments on “The curse of addiction
  1. T.O. Weller says:

    Hi Lisa,

    What interesting timing. Today is my two-year anniversary as a nonsmoker. May the 4th be with you. 🙂

    The story of Whoever is a painful one. Having suffered from addiction myself, and having family members who have also suffered from various forms of addiction, I truly understand the struggle and the heartache.

    Now I’m going to say some things that could stir it up and maybe even cause great upset for some …

    Despite my experience … in fact, because of my experience … I have come to believe that we live what we believe. What was a curse became my blessing.

    I’m not going to start preaching “new agey” stuff, even though I could. Some of the more substantial work in what is defined as new age/spiritual would be applicable and that’s the stuff that helped me beat addiction — first to medication and then to nicotine. The thing is, I don’t have to because science is beginning to back me up.

    If we can trigger it, we can also shut it down. Why do we think we have the power to do one and not the other? The brain can change — it’s plastic, and we have the ability to change our own brain.(Reference: Norman Doidge, “The Brain that Changes Itself”.)

    In fact, our biology is very much connected to our emotions and beliefs. (References: Bruce Lipton, “The Biology of Belief” and Candace Pert, “The Molecules of Emotion”)

    I’m the last one to negate the power of addiction. It’s real. I’ve lived it. But we also shouldn’t negate our own power in the face of it. I can’t help but wonder … if we helped people to believe in their own power as conscious creators, how might that change the experience and perception of addiction?

    • Lisa Brock says:

      Well no controversy for me there…I totally get it and believe it to be so. But how do we gets addicts who may have began using from a young age to UNDERSTAND and BELIEVE this too? Bigger minds than mine will be needed here!

      • T.O. Weller says:

        Agreed — therein lies the challenge. It’s not a “quick fix”, and our culture is all about that, isn’t it.

        For me, it took years … literally … and initially it did require help from others. With that, I grew strong enough to understand and believe. Kind of like putting training wheels on a bicycle.

  2. Candy says:

    Addiction and depression. Both misunderstood.

  3. What a sad story, I have known many people in my life that struggled with addiction. It’s one of the worse things for a family to have to go through

  4. Cori says:

    Oh wow. This is a very powerful post. I find what the psychiatrist said very helpful and enlightening.

  5. Marnie says:

    This is my 13th sober yearand yes, it is very difficult to explain to a ‘non-addict’. And I have to agree with T.O. Weller a bit…we can summon the power to shut it down but that path is different for everyone. It was always so confusing to me to sit in the 12 Step rooms and know that I was able to beat it – for today – but others just couldn’t get there. An interesting post, thank you for sharing:)

    • T.O. Weller says:

      Hey Marnie! 13 years!! That’s awesome!
      I was talking with my husband last night about this post and my sense that many people don’t like what I have to say. It confuses me — why wouldn’t people like to believe in their own creative power?
      My husband made a point that I just didn’t see: by suggesting that we all have that power within, those who haven’t found success may feel like they’ve failed or that they’re somehow lacking. That is so not what I intended!!
      We ALL have it. I’ve been coming from the place that says, “If I can do it, anyone can!”
      Do you think that those in the room that can’t beat it struggle because they don’t BELIEVE enough in themselves … they don’t BELIEVE they can do it? And, if that’s the case, what do you think would help them to believe?

      • I’m going to answer for me, not Marnie. Addiction is so complex I don’t think there’s a simple answer. There are many roots are there are people almost! For example, if addiction is self-medicating for an underlying mental illness that has not been effectively treated (or even not responsive) then I can’t see recovery is as simple as an act of will, as it is for some. I don’t think it has much to do with belief in self, in that situation. If you want to understand the kind of depression I’m talking about, take a look at Willam STyron’s book on his depression. I think it’s easy for those of us who have beaten any addiction, for me it’s tobacco, to believe that anyone can do it. I believed that, too, but have come to see it differently. I submit that it is easier for some and if it were simple to solve, it would’ve been solved long ago, rehab would work etc etc. Not so at all. The same with “helping” others. It’s impossible. An addict has to do it him or her self and for him or her self. Congrats to all who have beaten addiction of any kind and love and compassion to those who still struggle.

        • T.O. Weller says:

          Absolutely! Love and compassion first and foremost. By suggesting that we help others believe in their own power, I would hope that compassion & love would be seen as the necessity that they are to such a process.
          Depression, ah yes! That was the root of it all for me so I do understand. I guess that’s why I have such a fire in my belly about it.
          Not that I have the answer, because you’re right, it’s an individual experience (and I would be remiss, as they were with me, to even try to suggest that we ‘standardize’ anything), but that’s exactly the point. We don’t have the answers and we need to ask more questions.
          We are comfortable talking about mental illness and addiction for its difficulties — and that’s often where the ‘standardizing’ begins, strangely enough — but we are not when it comes to lifting that veil. A big part of my struggle out of it all was with the language, the perceptions, and the assumptions that doctors, family, friends … everyone … had. It kept me down and it took a decade of my life for me to find my way out. Now, looking back, it may have been so much easier if more people had asked more questions.
          So, I guess, that’s where I am now. Ready to put the questions out there … and, honestly, I’m still trying to find a way to articulate it all. Admittedly, it’s a work in progress — thank you for giving me the room to try. 🙂

    • Lisa Brock says:

      That is what I have learned too. It is highly individualized…

  6. Dia Darling says:

    I wish more people realized that addiction is a real disorder. There is no part of me that doubts anyone struggling would rather have their family abandon them, lose their job and feel horrible all then time, instead of being clean and happy if it was a choice.

  7. Anna Palmer says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My uncle is a doctor who does research on Addiction. It seems to be one of the biggest mysteries in medicine. And certainly to the people who love the people who are addicted. I don’t want to call them addicts because that takes away their inherent humanity and defines them by their disease.

  8. Beth Havey says:

    Powerful. Addiction is a disease and calling it a brain disease makes perfect sense. And as a nation we still are far from understanding how to treat mental illness on so many levels. We first want to accuse and ask questions later. Thanks for this informative and touching post.

  9. Andrea says:

    Since 1992, I have been alcohol-free, gambling-free, clean, and sober – since 2000, I have been debt-free! 🙂

  10. Jessica says:

    I understand addiction and more so I understand seeing someone you love go through addiction. My mom was an alcoholic and she has been clean for over 3 years. There is hope. I cling to that and tell others that as well.

    • Lisa Brock says:

      My Father-in-law, a decorated military officer was a very high functioning alcoholic. He got clean at 52 when he retired. He told me over and over, “Never abandon hope. You cannot imagine what one goes through BEFORE deciding and everyone if different so NEVER give up hope.”

  11. I live with someone who has an addiction. Illness has made it so he can’t indulge like he did, which is better for me but not so great for him.

  12. Lori says:

    Such a sad story for Whoever and the many Whoevers out there…”but never lose infinite hope.”

  13. Michelle says:

    Until you live with it or through it, you can even imagine what it does.

    • Lisa Brock says:

      I believe that is true. Like most things really but this one is on the side of ‘I never want to be there…’ nor would I ever wish this on anyone.

  14. Nancy Hill says:

    Great post AND great comments. My hubs, the neuro-chemist, has shown me through his research, other’s research, and ongoing conversation that the brain and neural system adapts, responds, and changes with every interaction. I know from experience and my own studies that everything is multi-directional and we can never undo, return, or recreate anything. If these brainiacs do not yet understand the mechanisms of addiction, surely regular old folks like us should not presume to think we know what addiction is creating in another person’s life or body. Compassion and changing our brains through what we do, think, and upon what we focus also changes everything. We are marvels. Life is a miracle. I am in awe.

  15. alison says:

    Addiction is so heartbreaking for every person involved. My heart hurts when I hear another story on how people have lost someone or lost the person that they knew to addiction. It is so sad.

  16. Lisa Brock says:

    I don’t know anything even close to the heart break it wreaks…

  17. Brain disorder – that is an interesting way to think about addiction that I had never considered before. We all know someone who struggles with an addiction of some kind. Your post is going to help us all understand it better. Thank you.

  18. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. Ten years into my first marriage, my husband became addicted to cocaine and alcohol. Our life became a hell, but there was no way to reach him. Your doctor friend is right about the way addiction affects the brain.

    I worked extensively with nicotine researchers to develop one of the Nicorette/Nicotrol Nicotine family of smoking cessation products.Smokers continually are told to just stop smoking, but no one realises that nicotine is the only alkaloid that opens a receptor in the brain that subsequently will never close and go back to normal… not craving the drug. When heroin addicts stop using, the receptor in the brain that has an affinity for heroin closes back up. When smokers quit, the nicotine receptor in their brain screams “feed me” until the day they die. That’s why smokers have such a difficult time quitting. It isn’t lack of willpower or a failure to understand it may cause cancer and heart disease. The problem lies in their brain. Brenda Coffee

  19. Leanne says:

    I completely agree that addiction is a brain disorder – it seems to me that true addicts can change what they are addicted to (make it something a little less dangerous to themselves or others) but can’t change being an addict – it is something deep within their psyche.

  20. KatR says:

    My addiction was cigarettes. I just couldn’t quit until I realized it was because I really didn’t WANT to quit. Once I actually made up my mind to stop smoking, that is what I did. I stopped – cold turkey. No patches, or gums or anything else. Just sheer willpower. I have now been 100% smoke-free for 2 years, 10 months. Once I made up my mind to quit, I never slipped, not even for one puff!

  21. Denise C says:

    I can’t really identify with people who have serious addictions, and I have a hard time mustering up much sympathy for the, but there’s a lot to think about here.

    • Lisa Brock says:

      Here is another thing a psychologist friend shared with me years ago…we were having a discussion along these lines…I shared that it was hard for me to understand addicts and he said this…What is one of your weaknesses…and I said ‘Good food.’ And he asked me if I had ever eaten something that I KNEW I should not have eaten. The answer is a resounding “YES!” He asked if I’d ever had a discussion in my head BEFORE I ate something I knew I should not – but then ate it anyway. Answer: YES! And really, that helped me tremendously. I have done it MANY times – KNOWING – I should NOT. It isn’t exactly the same – but it helped me.

  22. My husband fought hard to get clean and sober at 33. He just celebrated 25 years.
    He works day and night to assist others asking for help. Heroin is such killer in our area and everywhere now.
    It is so frustrating, heartbreaking and yes completely misunderstood.

    • Lisa Brock says:

      WOW…KUDOS and more to your husband. I don’t think many REALLY understand how tough that fight really is…and 25 years is a heck of a track record…good for him. And you too!

  23. Angie Scheie says:

    My first marriage was filled with the eye opening struggle of all kinds of addictions. Ultimately, they led to divorce for my own health sake. I tried to have hope but that can be a really hard thing. It’s a good reminder though to keep on hoping and I can use that message in other areas of my life too :).

    • Lisa Brock says:

      I must confess that I don’t think I could do it. I know who I am and addiction would be VERY hard for me to hang in there with. It is a shame as it must surely play into the issues of an addict to be abandoned but I just don’t think I could hang in.

  24. Bree Hogan says:

    What a powerful post! Addiction is so hard and the struggle is real for those people who go through it. What an enlightening piece.

  25. quin B. says:

    I feel as if my life has been so insulated. I’ve never experienced the horror of addiction nor has anyone close to me. My heart goes out to those who struggle with this silent killer.

  26. Jenny says:

    Addiction is so hard. I’ve watched people I’m close to struggle with it over and over. And it’s not that they don’t want to do better, it’s that it’s very, very hard.

    • Lisa Brock says:

      That is one of the hardest things for others to understand…the person OFTEN really wants to get better. They just don’t know how or they cannot overcome it…

  27. tp keane says:

    Addition is the substance that will turn a good man into a one they never wished to become. It’s only by their own will power and determination that they can overcome it. But sometimes, even that’s not enough.

  28. I really love the quote n image!!This is such a great inspirational post!!

  29. Lisa Rios says:

    Such a beautiful quote to start with. I very much agree that addiction is such a complicated & even a sensitive thing to deal with as it is different with every individual. And you need to put your best to find a solution to make sure your loved ones come out to the real life & real world.

  30. Addiction is a real disorder. I’m glad that more psychiatrists and doctors are coming to that conclusion. My local hospital actually has a great MICA program (Mentally Ill Chemical Abuse), that I have personally seen many people take, and it has helped them greatly.

  31. Unfortunately for addicts, the cost of rehab nowadays will leave them homeless. If only our government will do something about this issue rather than building a lot of prisons.

  32. Kirk Fields says:

    Hello there..! Thank you for sharing such an encouragement words. This information really reminds me to do not attempt use drug in every single of my life.

  33. These are some really great facts, most of which I had never heard of! Thanks so much for providing such clear and concise information. It is always good to read up on what is current and going on around the world, better yet when it’s on a trusted site!

    Keep Posting and updates!

  34. Drug addiction is the biggest tragedy that parents majority are doing the best guidance so that their children will not involve the most shameful drugs. This is excellent topic.

  35. Family support is important for the recovery addict. Addicts need to know they have someone in their corner that is there to help them through the tough days. Sometimes they will need a listening ear, a hug or someone to be honest with them. It may be crucial for the addicts recovery for the family to go through counseling together.

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