U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s release of Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health at yesterday’s Facing Addiction Summit was an unprecedented moment in our country’s fight against addiction and substance misuse. It is the first time in history that a U.S. surgeon general has issued a report focused on drug and alcohol addiction. The report comes at a time when more and more Americans are struggling with the effects of addiction to opioids and heroin. One person dies every 19 minutes from an opioid or heroin overdose. And, the statistics related to other addictions are no less grim. One in seven people in the United States will face a substance misuse disorder, and only 10 percent will get the treatment they need to overcome it.
As my daughter does her recovery work from drug and alcohol addiction and anxiety, I too work my recovery through Al-Anon.
I won’t go into details of how my daughter and I both came to this point because I’m guessing many of you are already familiar with the scenario— failing grades, arrests, court appearances, isolation, detachment, and on and on.
I spent many fear-filled nights of insanity sleeping with my phone next to me waiting for that call parents fear most… Was she in jail again? Was she in an accident? Did she overdose? Was she dead? I received one of those calls. My daughter was in such a bad place that she couldn’t even finish her last semester of college.
Finally, I gave in to my fear, checked my ego, and accepted the help of many friends and family. With mixed emotions of anger, pain, shame, and guilt, I put aside my resentment of being forced to face my daughter’s issues, and on a Sunday morning her intervention team showed up at her college rental house. To say things didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. The well thought out plan of getting her to agree to go to treatment failed; she would not go.
I left the intervention feeling defeated and numb. What now? As hard as it was, I tried tough love and cut her cell phone service off and thus lost total communication with her. However, she still had our family dog, Bailey, at the rental house.
Little did I know that Bailey would be the link to finally getting my daughter into treatment. Late one night I received a call from my daughter’s roommates; Bailey was sick and they couldn’t get a hold of my daughter (no surprise). I went to pick up Bailey and had an enlightening heart-to-heart conversation with the roommates who were just as concerned about my daughter as I was. This unfortunate course of events (Bailey rebounded) helped me to formulate a plan to convince my daughter she needed treatment.
Four weeks following the unsuccessful intervention, my daughter was on a plane to treatment. She was fortunate to have some of the best treatment service available and after five months, a few relapses, and with the grace of God, she is now home.
While my daughter was in treatment I knew I had to do something for myself, so I found an Al-Anon group and started going. I knew that what I had been doing in relation to my daughter wasn’t working, and my hope was that through Al-Anon, I would be able to find new tools to help me get through these new challenges I was facing.
I’ve learned so much from the Al-Anon fellowship and hearing the experience, strength, and hope of others dealing with the disease of addiction. By working the 12 Steps through Al-Anon I have learned that I am powerless over the disease of addiction; I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. With this new knowledge, I fearlessly let go of the control I so tightly held onto in the hope of changing my daughter. Fear still creeps in, and when it does, I have learned to let go and let God. It’s one day at a time but I am committed to not letting fear define me, my life or my choices.
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The following is a partial transcript of a conversation Dan Griffin had with Jerry Law as part of his Men in Recovery video series. Jerry is an interventionist and the Director of Family, Education, and Leadership Training at The Meadows. Through his role at The Meadows, he works with families of clients who are in treatment to help them understand how they can support their loved one and begin their own process of healing.
DAN: What is the greatest gift recovery has given you toward being the man you always knew you could be?
JERRY: Really, there’s a one-word answer for me, and that’s freedom. The very first time I drank alcohol— not the first time I tasted it—but the first time I really drank it, I was 17 and I had a blackout. It just kind of went downhill from there.
For the next 30 years, I continued to drink off and on. I’d drink more and then less and then a lot more and a little less—until I was drinking daily. I couldn’t not drink.
When I reached that point, I tried everything I could think of to quit. Like the old joke says, “Quitting’s not hard, it’s staying quit.” Everything I tried didn’t work.
Finally, I found the divine paradox of recovery, that victory comes from surrender. When I finally embraced that and began to do what others who were successful in recovery were doing it really set me free. Now I’m free, not only from alcohol, free to live my life. That’s the greatest gift that recovery has given me.
DAN: Freedom has come up multiple times in these interviews with men in recovery. It starts with the freedom from the addiction, and then you realize, “Oh, my God, I can actually do this.” Your freedom then begins to expand and expand. I’m free to be in a relationship as myself. I’m free to be in this world as myself and mean “yes” when I say “yes,” and mean “no” when I say “no” and live authentically in both my professional life and my personal life.
JERRY: That is so true. Like a lot of us, I grew up with some trauma and learned at a really young age how to shut down and close off and be inauthentic and lie really well. In recovery I learned that it’s okay to just be who I am—what a gift!
DAN: That’s what is so wonderful about The Meadows. You get to look deeply at the childhood piece. You get to look at the artifice that you’ve created and the authentic person within. As men, we get to look at the boys that we were and the men we’ve forced ourselves to become in light of The Man Rules. In recovery, there’s the freedom to be the men we really want to be and not be bound by those Man Rules. I’m free to be the man I want to be; I don’t have to be the man everyone else thinks I should be.
JERRY: The societal definition of what a man is, certainly in the United States, is so warped. It’s based on “Boys don’t cry, and “Man up.” Those rules work in some areas of life, but they sure don’t work in relationships.
In school, we had the debate team, where we learned to spar and verbally defend our position. Those are wonderful skills to have in many areas of life, but when we go into relationships and use those skills they just blow up in our faces. What we needed to have in school in addition to a debate team was a resolution team, because in a lot of cases nobody taught us how to resolve differences. So we try to stumble our way through and we make a mess of it. Then we turn to something—mood-altering chemicals or behaviors—to get some relief from the pain we’re in over these unresolved conflicts.
DAN: Stephen Bergman, M.D. says it leads us to be agents of disconnection. We aren’t relearning how to be in relationships in recovery, we’re learning how to be in relationships for the first time. What is so powerful for me is that we’re constantly moving from connection to disconnection to reconnection. It’s the reconnection piece that is so difficult, particularly for men. The more vulnerable the relationship, the more difficult it is to repair.
JERRY: Absolutely. And the more fear, the more anxiety I have about connecting the more I’m unable to have trust.
DAN: I talk about this in my book A Man’s Way Through Relationships. When we move into vulnerability and intimacy, sometimes we’re not prepared. A lot of men are constantly walking around the landscape of each other’s lives not knowing where the landmines are and never knowing when we’re going to step on a landmine that blows up the relationship. I’ve seen this happen with so many men, where they have a close, vulnerable, connected relationship until one disconnection happens and one person just says “I’m done.”
JERRY: Well, we tell ourselves that if this is what a relationship is, if it’s going to have this kind of pain, count me out. I just won’t do it. I’ll be a mile wide and an inch deep with everyone. But, pain is just a part of a relationship. It just comes with it.
DAN: But, it’s sad. It’s sad that that’s what we’ve done to men. We kind of stand outside and judge men’s inability to connect. I always say to people, if you’re one of those couples that don't fight, that scares me. It’s the ability to withstand the disconnection and the conflict and come back and compromise. I’ve found that in my marriage and in my closest relationships, that’s everything.
JERRY: I love what C.S. Lewis said: “Pain is God’s megaphone.” He didn’t say it’s his club, he said it’s his megaphone. Sometimes we’ve got to have that pain to recognize that something is wrong and the ask ourselves what we’re going to do about it.
DAN: Unfortunately, so many men are socialized to think that the problem is someone else…
JERRY: Particularly when we’re talking about men in the workplace. Men are typically in a workplace environment 8 to 10 hours a day. Workplace culture often promotes disconnection. it promotes being one up, and it promotes power-driven relationships. Then, we leave this environment and walk through the door at home at the end of the day only to find that our dogs have more authority than we do. Everyone at home—our spouse and our kids, they want to be in more connected relationships.
When men are at work, it’s all about power, all day long. Taking off that hat and putting on the spouse/ parent hat is difficult, and we often just don’t know how to do it.
DAN: That is so true. It’s really about how do we teach men how to be congruent in their business and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be that different from the other. Men can be vulnerable and share power at work, but can also translate some of his leadership skills from the business world to his life at home. We can all be more thoughtful about how we connect and how we work together.
JERRY: You’re right, Dan, It really is about congruence, because there are business skills that translate into home life successfully, and there are relationship skills from home life that translate into the business world successfully. You just have to learn with whom you can be vulnerable because not everyone is safe.
That’s what is so great about recovery. When you’re active in a recovery community you get the opportunity to learn how to be vulnerable around other people, and then transfer these skills into home life and work life and the community at large.
DAN: That is so true. The recovery community really shifts how men are allowed to show up. We do get to practice vulnerability and make mistakes and go through all of the pains of relationships.
The work you’re doing with families is so important because no person with an addiction lives in a vacuum, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful.
JERRY: We still live in this society that wants to brand addiction in strictly moral terms. But, it’s not about being bad, wrong, and stupid; it’s about being ill and doing things that may be bad, wrong or stupid. When families get their heads around that idea—“Oh, you mean my loved one isn’t just an awful person? Oh, okay here are some ways I can understand what’s been going on…”—then families get to experience the freedom of recovery as well.
DAN: And then, of course, they get the opportunity to look within which may or may not feel like an opportunity. But, it certainly helps to facilitate healing. Freedom is such a wonderful gift—in our personal lives, in our relationships and in the work that we do. It allows us to live our mission and to have a purpose.
Thanks for taking the time today, Jerry. I always like to let my guests have the last word, so take us home…
JERRY: I always tell families to educate themselves on addiction For me, freedom came from an getting education about the disease of addiction and what it really is. So, I say to families, if you’ve got someone who’s struggling, get help, and reach out. There’s so much help available. In some ways, our anonymity in the recovery world is our own worst enemy because there’s so much help available but many people just don’t know about it. So to men who need help: reach out. And to families who need help: reach out because it’s available.
By Tommy S., former client of The Meadows
Accepting fear while being fearless, is what fearless is to me.
In honor of National Recovery Month, we want to hear and share your story. What does being #fearless mean to you, and to your recovery? Tell us in a short essay (500 words) or short video (2 minutes), and we may feature you on our blog or Facebook page! Email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or share them on Twitter and mention @AndreaSauceda in your tweet.
You never hear of any dying from daily pot use. You certainly don’t hear about it in the same way you hear about deaths and other tragedies caused by alcohol and other “harder” drugs. And, there are some serious medical conditions for which marijuana is now believed to be an effective treatment. Additionally, the movement to legalize marijuana seems to be growing—25 states have legalized medical marijuana, while four states plus Washington, D.C. have gone even further and legalized recreational use of pot.
So, what’s the big deal?
Well…The big deal is that like any substance or activity that has the ability to alter your mood or neurological responses, marijuana can be addictive. And, like all other addictions, it can have a devastating impact on your life.
When people do start to feel that their marijuana use is interfering with their lives and relationships in a negative way, they often have trouble asking for and getting the support they need. Molly Hankins, in a personal essay for Nylon magazine, put it like this: “Being a junkie or an alcoholic who turns themselves over to a 12-step program, the sober lifestyle, God, whatever, registers at the David Bowie end of the addiction spectrum. Being addicted to weed barely registers as laughable and there’s no one in my life I feel comfortable talking to about it. As the era of marijuana prohibition in this country seems to finally be coming to an end, what is the popular discussion surrounding appropriate use? How much is too much? How do I stop if I want to but can’t?
Among the many excellent pointsMolly makes in her essay, her point about the need for a discussion around marijuana and addiction really hits home. The low rate of fatalities directly related to marijuana use, as opposed to heroin or alcohol use, for example, may have contributed to a general societal complacency around Marijuana addiction.
It’s important to note that even though weed may not be as fatal, statistically speaking, as heroin or alcohol, depression is often co-occurring condition that goes along with marijuana addiction. And, withdrawal from marijuana can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many people—like “Jake” who wrote a letter to Scientific American in 2012 describing his marijuana addiction—often end up having suicidal thoughts.
This means that the drug can, in a way, be indirectly tied to some fatalities. The drug may not be directly responsible for deaths related to suicide, but it certainly doesn’t help to prevent them. Here’s how Jake describes his experience:
“Over time, the proportion of high time to clean time became steadily more heavy on the high side. I went through several periods of suicidally. During my last six months of use the possible necessity to kill myself always seemed just a week or two away. My plan while I was at school was to jump off of a nearby parking garage. At home, I would use my dad's shotgun to shoot myself in the head. I didn't want to feel what I felt when I wasn't high. Luckily, I always got high before I was ready to actually kill myself.”
For those who become addicted to marijuana, "recreational use" of the drug slowly stops being fun or relaxing. The need to smoke in order to cope with life’s ups and downs and the need to hide how much you’re smoking (or ingesting) from others can have the same isolating and disruptive effects on a person’s life as any other addiction. Here are a few of the signs that someone may be dependent on the drug:
People who are addicted to pot often think that they aren’t "really addicted" if they don't smoke it every day. While it’s true that marijuana addicts can go a few days between smoking again before they suffer any symptoms, it’s important to note that that’s because the chemicals in marijuana can stay in a person’s system for days. Once all of those chemicals are out of their system, subtle but serious withdrawal symptoms can start to set in. The first sign is a craving powerful enough to drive the addict to use the drug again.
2. Irritability and Depression
People who are addicted to marijuana find themselves becoming increasingly irritable and depressed if they go many hours without another hit. Often they don’t recognize the connection between their mood changes and the drug. After several days without the drug addicts can begin to develop severe depression accompanied by frequent crying spells. Many in recovery from marijuana addiction say the experienced a rapid and immense drop in self-confidence and self-esteem along with intense feelings of worthless and anxiety. Some even developed suicidal thoughts.
3. Loss of Ambition
While some pot users may continue to function at their jobs and their personal lives, addicts may end up accomplishing a lot less than would if they were not addicted to the drug. People who were once active and ambitious may stop participating in work, school or social functions, and lower their ambitions or drop them altogether.
4. Physical Changes
Withdrawal from marijuana can also include physical symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite. People in withdrawal often also report having sleep disturbances and nightmares that can continue over a period of months.
Many people with addiction and substance use problems are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma associated with the disorder. This can especially be true for those struggling with marijuana addiction. Since many harbor the belief that marijuana is a completely harmless drug, many addicts might assume that their friends and or family members will dismiss their concerns, especially if they are marijuana users too who don’t feel that they have experienced any ill effects from the drug.
So, it’s especially important for those who fear that they may be dependent on pot to know that they are not alone - many people struggle with this particular drug in the same ways that they do. They are not imagining things—marijuana addiction is real and it can be treated. And, They are not weak - anyone can become addicted to marijuana.
If you think that you or a loved might have a problem with marijuana, reach out for help from a therapist and a local Marijuana Anonymous (MA) group.
If the addiction is severe and is accompanied by other disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder—and it often is— inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment may be needed. If so, look for a program that provides treatments that can begin to heal both the emotional and neurological aspects of addiction through trauma work, experiential therapies like equine therapy and art therapy, and brain-based therapies like biofeedback and neurofeedback.
Our specialists at The Meadows would be happy to answer any questions you might have about addiction treatment. Please call us anytime at 800-244-4949 or chat with us through our website.