Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Addiction comes in many forms...
I have been in the position to help many people deal with their addictions. And in doing so, I learned a fair amount.
@ShaneSchleger posted a couple very open and honest blogs about his personal experience in this area, something that is not easy for most people do. It leaves him quite vulnerable to the social stigmas, judgments, and close-mindedness that many people exhibit regarding this subject. Some are that way from lack of experience, exposure or communication on the subject, and others from it hitting too close to home, having had a loved one go through something similar, in a way where they felt powerless to be able to help. I applaud Shane, and Pauly (@TaoPauly), for being able to talk about such things openly in a forum where many others may benefit from the experience. It is in this vein of thought, that I feel I should share my experiences in helping others with their addictions, and what I have learned from doing so.
I will share my full background another time, and try to focus on what's important here, but feel that some background will help paint the picture. I'll start by sharing that I was a "straight-edge" (aka anti-drug person) most of my younger years. My mother was afraid I would grow up with an addictive personality because of my biological father, who was addicted to alcohol at a young age, and remained that way for most of his adult life. So for her sake, and because of her guidance, I probably skipped a lot of potential experimentation in my "college" aged years, and found ways to enjoy the natural highs of life from "being present in the moment", and helped those who I could, to avoid the addictions that I saw take many an artist from us at too early of an age. I was blessed with extreme intelligence, but little wisdom. My great Uncle Armand would often say, "you are more intelligent than anyone I've ever known, but you haven't got the common sense God gave a goat!" At times, this was true. But it was a long trail of experiences, not all of them a bed of roses, from Nuclear Engineer, to heavy metal band guitarist, to living the nightlife and partying like a rockstar... to earn that wisdom, from life experiences.
After the Navy, after the band (I avoided the whole drug scene miraculously during this time in the late 80's), after my marriage of 10 years in the 90's, after working at Sega of America for 6 years (left in 2000), after being Mr. Mom for 5 years to my two children, in 2005, I suddenly found myself in my "college years". It was during this time of living the "night life", hanging out with everyone from club owners, to DJs, to strippers, to bartenders, to drug dealers, that I learned many things about human behavior. I have always gotten along with everyone. In high school, I was able to hang out with "eggheads" (honor roll students, top the class grade-wise), the musicians, the jocks, and the "druggies" - those who cut class and smoked a lot of pot, experiencing their "college experimentation years" in high school. I've always been this way my whole life, bridging class or race stereotypes, growing up without any prejudices at all, with an open mind towards everyone, viewing everyone equal. I think it was because of this, that I was able to overcome the stereotypes of "drug drealers", and ended up with half a dozen dealer friends. These weren't gang-bangers, or mafia members, or the kind of drug lords you see on television and in the movies. These were much more like the TV show on Showtime "WEEDS". Small time, normal people, supporting their families. Same goes for the friends that were going to parties, or raves, or strip clubs, etc. Everyone had their own drug of choice, but would "cross-party" from time to time, depending on what was going on. It was very SOCIAL. Everything from pot, to cocaine, to acid and mushrooms, to ecstasy (or X or Rolls or Molly), to mescaline... things I had always been curious about, but had never been a spot where I actually was comfortable enough to try.
All this changed, when I was separated from my "babies-mama", and living 2 hours away from my children. I was no longer Mr. Mom and had all this time on my hands. I had a job fixing computers (IT Tech) out in the field, so I drove as much as a truck driver, about 1,000 miles a week, all over Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. I met a really cool friend Mary, who later became my best friend and roommate, and my best friend Jennifer (in Ohio, I have many friends named Jennifer!). Through these two people I met several dozen people in the area, many of whom became friends, good friends even. Suddenly, I went from bored after work, just playing computer games occasionally, to having a real social life. Some of those friends were DJ's playing at parties and clubs and raves, and some where club owners, or promoters, who threw many of those parties. Most of the people I hung out with, were in the "night life" scene in some manner or another.
I was pretty lucky (or maybe astute?) to avoid the negative people in the scene, to befriend the genuine people. How I started out with a trip to a bar because I was done working for the day and bored, to meeting someone who worked at the strip club next door (as a cashier), to meeting just about everyone who worked at said strip club, to meeting a bunch of DJ's and musicians, and all their friends, is one of those things that was hard to explain, and felt like "destiny". I think I was just in a healthy place in my life, after years of depression, and trying to force things to work for my kids. After leaving the video game world, 2000 to 2005 was a literal hell, except for my kids. I would have gotten into Poker back in 2000, if I hadn't gone down the roads I ended up choosing. I had been alienated from my family, moved cross country a couple times, lost everything in some of those moves, and I had to let it all go to deal with all the extreme changes in my life. I was finally living in the moment, again. Or was I? I was working towards getting a guitar again, taking things day by day, focused on rebuilding my life from scratch. Something I never wanted to do, but was less scary once I started doing it.
To be fair, I had a lot of emotional baggage, and stigmas I had to deal with, from my years of hell. But I hadn't started dealing with them yet. And that's kind of important, and going to be a major theme of this blog post, and something important to know about addiction as a whole. Instead of dealing with my problems, I chose to help others deal with theirs. (not a drug problem, just life problems)
I was in a place where I hung out with a lot of people doing drugs, going to parties, concerts, raves, etc. Many of my favorite people, lived by the P.L.U.R. motto, Peace Love Unity and Respect. Think modern day hippies, and you are in the right ballpark. One Love. We are all one. In this setting, I met a lot of people who told me their life story on the day I met them. People have always done this to me, because I'm easy to talk to and really listen, I guess. But in the party scene, it was enhanced for people under the influence of drugs. Whether drinking, or tripping, or rolling, or just having a good time around people they felt wouldn't judge them for their problems, people talked and shared, a lot. It was easier for me to help others, than to help myself. It was a distraction. It quickly became "my addiction", helping others. It gave me something fulfilling to do in my life, where I had a huge void caused by the bad decisions I had made, and the void it left when I restarted my life. And these are some of the things I learned....
Addiction comes in many forms. "Too much of anythying, is a bad thing". This is a very true expression. Everyone has different limits. Everyone has a different "Achilles Heel", something they should never touch at all, not even in moderation. You can be addicted to heorine, crack, meth, all the supposedly "hard-core" street drugs. You can be addicted to man-made pain killers, Oxycotin, and similar "downers". These are the most addictive drugs known to man! You can be addicted to "the demon alcohol" (a song by Ozzy), and alcohol BY FAR has the worst withdrawls of any addiction.. these withdrawls can actually kill you in some cases! (almost none of the others withdrawls can kill you). I thought my biological father (not my adopted Dad), was going to die from alcoholism. He was the first person I met who HAD to drink a little to stop the shakes. He had tried to stay sober when I saw him for the first time in 16 years, but was shaking so bad, we got him a six pack, and after a couple beers, he seemed "normal". He drank for decades, and I gave up on the idea that he would ever stop, and accepted the fact that one day I would get a call that he was no longer with us. He told me he had tried every drug known to man, and kicked them all, but not alcohol. It was different for him. Fortunately, that is not how the story ended, and he is still around, and SOBER for years now.
You can be addicted to Exercise. Sex. Video Games. Gambling. Money. (finally a tie in for a poker blog!) Anything that you do too much in your life, and let other areas suffer irresponsibly.
Some of these often lead to another addiction, prescription anti-anxiety pills. Valium, Prosac, Xanax, Klonipin, and similar prescribed psycotropic drugs . MANY of these prescribed "medicines" are from the largest drug dealers of all, the pharmaceutical companies. Use with caution. People react differently to different kinds. I can take a Valium with no problem, but a Xanax will knock me out for 12 hours. My friend Kevin could not take Klonipin, because he would get stuck on a bad thought, and couldn't let it go unil the meds wore off, EVERY TIME. Klonipin didn't affect me at all. I could write a whole different blog post just about the dangers of presribed meds, but we'll save that for another time..
While hanging out in this scene, getting my own "drug education" from safe place, reliable sources, with friends for baby sitters, and learning how to baby sit others, I learned a lot. Listening to people, I learned why 90% of people have an addiction....
Some people are predetermined biologically to have a weakness towards certain substances, and they are the exception, not the rule. All of us have met at least one person in our life that NEVER touches alcohol (or drug of your choice) because they turn into something completely different. Or they can drink anything, but Tequila, because that one causes them to become a mean drunk, or blackout, or whatever. I use this example because it's the most accessible to most people. Alcohol has been legal for a very long time, but there are still some people who should never touch it. Drugs are the same way. But the way people get started is very often the same in almost everyone.....
"I know that's my problem, but I don't want to deal with that right now." If you talk to someone long enough, they will tell you what their problem is, and you will quickly find out if they WANT to talk about it and deal with it (which is very often the cure!), or if they want to forget about it. This is what *I* was doing, helping others to deal with their problem, so I didn't have to deal with my own. I wanted to deal with them, but didn't have the answers, and found it easier to help others. Occasionally, I would try to talk to someone about my problems, but it was very easy to set my problems aside in favor of helping someone with "much larger problems" than my own.
The vast majority of people I met who had an addiction of some kind, told the same tale. I'm doing this to avoid dealing with that. It really is that simple. The subjects they didn't want to deal with were wide and varied, from normal stuff like bad relationships, to severe stuff like victims of crimes. But why they got addicted was predominately because they didn't want to face a fear, or deal with some emotional baggage. Or they had a void in their life they didn't know how to fill, and addiction was how they filled it, for now.
The more I talked to people, the more I found I was able to help people deal with their problems. I was able to help almost two dozen people stop some form of addiction, or depression, or unhealthy behavior. I lost count, because for every 4 you helped, at least 1 would go back to the addiction or escapism. But I felt good about helping those where the help stuck. Where they dealt with whatever issue was their main problem, and moved on with their life. I like to think of some of these things as "potholes on our road to maturity". I saw so many lessons in life, wise expressions that were true, played out before me, that I had a much greater respect for all those things I knew to be true.
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." This went on for a couple years, me helping people, getting a reputation for being a "captain save-a-hoe", but having great results. My friend Mary pointed out a few times that I was helping others to the point that I wans't helping myself, and it was O.K. to put myself first. I wasn't ready to listen yet, though I knew it to be true. It was a problem I could deal with later "when the time was right". This was the same mentality of many of those who were addicted that I wasn't able to help. For no matter how experienced a helper you might become, even a professional therapist, you can NOT help someone that doesn't want to help their self. The true art of helping, is getting them to want to do it on their own. You can guide, advise, and offer support, just "be" there in their life, but it really is up to them. This is the number 1 rule of helping someone through addiction, and it can be a hard one to learn. You cannot walk for them, you can only walk beside them.
You should NOT become an enabler. This is tougher with those closest to you. It is human nature when someone else is suffering, to want to help them to not suffer. With a little thought, you can choose help that does not enable. "You spent all your money on drugs and now the power is going to be shut off? No, I won't give you money to pay the power bill (which may or may not be spent on drugs instead) but I will help you chop wood for the fire place." Or "you can stay here as long as you are sober, or in a tent in the back yard if you can't be". It's tough, because with some people we worry that they might go suicidal if we withhold support or help. But it's healthiest to choose those things that do not enable. Be careful with things and financial support, but be generous with talk and emotional support. So many people have made it through terrible times, just because they had someone to talk to at the right time. You will often see me talking to the homeless, or schizophrenic on the bus, etc, and this is why.
Despite my running so well in helping others, with rather high success rate, there were a few I could not help. And I took it very hard that I could not help these people. I almost looked at it like a puzzle that I could solve given enough time, or enough info, or enough patience. IQ might be knowing What to say, but wisdom is knowing How to say it, or WHEN to say it, so that it will be heard. This is usually when people ASK for help. There are those who I helped for a time, but later returned to some addiction or another. There are those who died before I could help them enough. And those were the hardest of all to deal with. I had helped people so much, that I almost viewed it as my job, and someone had died on MY watch! I'm sure Doctors, Nurses, EMT's, Fireman and Policmen, can relate to this. (My ex-wife was an ICU nurse for years) I became VERY depressed over one very close friend that EVERYONE loved because she was such a kind and sharing soul. She was addicted to EXCESS in EVERYTHING. She had more problems than anyone I know (up to that point). She was a tiny little thing, but she did ALL the drugs, and could outlast anyone and everyone. But she was also one of the most generous people I knew, would open her house to anyone, would give anyone the shirt off her back. She was abruptly gone one night, passed away in her sleep. It shook the whole area. Almost everyone I know was affected. I was deeply depressed and even in numb in shock, for months. She touched many lives, and I'm sure of at least a dozen people who changed their ways after this, probably more that I don't know about.
It was in this time that I heard to learn an important lesson that I had been putting off...
"In order to help others, you must first help yourself." By taking care of yourself, you are in the best place to be able to help others. And you are teaching by the best way possible, by example. All you current, and future, parents and mentors, keep this in mind, "The easiest way to learn most things, is by example." Taking care of yourself is a necessity of life. Problems don't go away just because you put them aside. They will still be there waiting for you to deal with later. And if you don't deal with them, it might become harder to deal with. And you might collect other things to deal with, that are just a symptom of the real issue, thereby disguising the real problem. You may eventually have a hard time figuring out what the REAL problem is! Balance is key. Moderation in All Things.
Luckily for me, I was able to figure out what my problems were, face my fears, and fix my problems, as best I could, and go on with my life in a much happier and healthier way. Remember, no one is perfect, everyone has problems. Many major problems come from a bad or neglected childhood. That was a very common theme (so please remember this if you are in a position to be there for anyone growing up!) Years of people not having self worth, or looking at their self in a negative light. Our childhood however does not define us. People are able to redefine themselves despite tragedies lived through, whether as children, or as adults. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Life is not about the mistakes we've made, but how we learn from them, and move on. This is what makes us human.
All those wise sayings, wise books, parables, psalms, wisdom handed down from generation to generation, came from humans who have learned, most by experience, some by learning from other's shared wisdom. Take the bits that apply to you, and your situation, at the time they have meaning.
There is so much information in the world these days. Sometimes it's hard to find what you need, when you need it. But, it is my sincere hope, that this little bit of wisdom finds it way to those who need it, and to those who can share it with others, for this is the way of our world. When you don't know the answers, find someone you can trust to talk to. It can make a world of difference.
Be kind to yourself, and others, for life is hard enough as it is. Be yourself. We all have within us the power to be evil or good. Please, choose wisely.