Pretty Rat Cage.

There is a popular TED talk by Johann Hari that has received nearly five million views. In it he reports that after three years of extensive research he is convinced that we are incorrectly addressing addiction treatment. Instead of using punishment as a deterrent we should be saying “I love you.”

I wish I could have said I laughed. Instead my breath died in my throat. Of course I take this particular TED talk a little more personally than most. The premise that a lack of love had somehow been the missing ingredient… well, let’s just say I took umbrage.

Hari bases his conclusion partly on research done in the 1970s by Professor Alexander of Vancouver. Alexander recreated an experiment done earlier in the century that showed caged rats consistently chose heroin laced water over fresh water. In Alexander’s experiment the rat cage was outfitted like a rat “park.” They had room to exercise, ate good food, and had females to fraternize with. The result? The rats hardly ever touched the heroin water. The conclusion? Addiction is about your “cage.” (If only we had prettier more loving cages….)

I venture to say that such a conclusion is over simplified. If this were true the poor would be more likely to suffer from addiction than the rich. (This, by the way, is categorically untrue.) And, from personal experience, if loving an addict cured addiction – well then my daughter would be well. There are thousands of us who love our sick children – love them unconditionally! – and they remain addicted.

However, I do believe that self love is lacking. Parents of addicts report a higher number of children that suffer from low self esteem, personality disorder, social anxiety or depression. I have also heard parents say that these children were uncharacteristically giving…almost to a fault. And that they naturally gravitated to connecting with the “underdog.” Addicts themselves nearly unanimously acknowledge feeling uncomfortable in their “own skin.” They report feeling “different,” “misunderstood,” or “alone.” Hari cites this as failure of social engagement – a result of our bigger homes and social media interactions. But here again I beg to differ. We have always had addicts, even when we had closer knit social circles. The social disengagement is more likely an internal process, not an external one.

I have three children, only one of whom suffers from addiction. I told each one of them that they were important, beautiful, and loved by me. My middle child did not believe me. I could see it in her eyes. When she slept at night I would sneak into her room and whisper these things again into her ear. I was hoping that somehow, just somehow, my words would imprint themselves on her unconscious brain. I was singing her love songs.

Observing the Pattern.

“I woke up twice last night. And not to go to the bathroom. My body was sweating, heart racing, my eyes impossibly open. Normal nightmare body response. Except this was not a typical nightmare. I wasn’t falling, or being chased, or recycling scary bits from a ridiculous movie. This was real. I saw Sarah running up to my car window proclaiming that she had been discharged from the hospital, and asking me to buy her some cigarettes, that “she’ll owe me one.” I was so happy to see her. And then it dawned on me that she had run. That she wasn’t going to accept any help. And I was filled with anger, and fear, and sadness and anger and fear and sadness – I was spinning, and sweating, and desperate. And she was tying a long pink lace on a fancy hightop sneaker.”

Just another dream. But it is uncanny how the subconscious pinpoints the most fearsome fact of substance abuse: that the addict appears ignorant to the danger they are courting. The family, however, sees the train wreck approaching. It’s a well worn cyclical pattern. First you note the restlessness, the mounting body tension and the explosive language. Then comes the quiet storm of evasiveness brought on by late nights, sickness and lies.

This is the worst part of living with an addict. Seeing all the signs that they apparently miss. I have heard it said that the addict is a “selfish person.” A “liar.” And “hopeless.”

Addicts definitely lie to cover their tracks for as long as possible. And they are selfish – to a degree. But it is hard to think of someone who is self destructive as truly “selfish.” Hopeless? – yes, it often does seem hopeless.

Putting all labels aside; how in God’s name can you help someone who does not think they are in trouble? Who will sweetly tie a pink shoelace while contemplating where to score their next hit?

I am convinced that the addict has to slow down long enough to recognize the internal rhythms of their own bodies and minds.  Not an easy process considering man’s natural tendency is to tread the well worn path – thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately the addicts behavior is so extreme. And the consequences of their behavior that much more obvious. What they really need is the space and time to redefine their relationship with their own patterned responses.

Insurance companies, in our experience, have offered ten days within which to make this lifestyle change.   Ten days!

There is Sadness.

Sadness pervades my every day. I suppose it’s natural to have a dip in your “happiness meter” when your child is a heroin addict. The sadness is like a low level hum in my body. Everyday things are different now. It’s hard to listen to other parents complain about the smallest of things; like disappointment in falling grades. It’s hard to enjoy a glass of wine when you know your child should not. Even previous hobbies, in my case art, become “diversions” (whereas before they set me free). It is hard sometimes to even smile.

It is better than what came before though – which was anxiety. Anxiety based on the false belief that it was up to me to solve my daughter’s problems. Or, at the very least, to put the magic elixir in her hands. Various attempts over the years include enrolling in four different schools within four years, aptitude testing, educational consultants and weekly guidance check-ins. Then came play therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, medication, psychological testing, behavior modification charts, hospitalizations, and family contracts. Then Department of Children and Family intervention, AA meetings, police arrests, court room visits, drug testing, probation, detoxes, rehabs, transitional service facilities, residential homes and sober homes.

I would do it all again. Of course I would. But I have learned to let go of the results. I have replaced my frustration with compassion. This, however, is where the sadness has seeped in.

Sadness because there is resignation. I can not fix this.  I was told this earlier at Al Anon: “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.” Now I know it to be true. The sick person must ultimately heal themselves.

Resignation and compassion…..better than anxiety and frustration.

And that’s all I can say about this today.