Addiction

Fate and Faith

In Angel’s Arms may be a new venture, but addiction is not new to me. In 2006 I became addicted to prescription painkillers. A year later, I was a full blown needle using heroin addict. The learning curve is far from steep when you’re an addict, however for the families it is quite the opposite.

I was in my first stretch of recovery that I got introduced to a non-profit organization that helped parents of addicts deal with their child’s addiction. My mother had found them by catching a chance segment on a news channel she rarely watched, and the owner of the company helped to guide her as she learned the ins and outs of opioid addiction.

The woman who ran the organization learned everything she knew the hard way, by dealing with her own son. She started to develop plans and protocols for parents to put in place, and showed them how to leverage their child into making the choice to get help. As the years went on, and I continued to relapse, my mother started making her own rules and finding her own ways to deal with me. Eventually, we broke away from the organization which was in another county and started doing the work ourselves in our own town.

From these experiences I learned what parents needed to know to understand the beast that is addiction. I learned how to talk with them, to coach them, so that they could be the force necessary to save the life of their child. As an addict myself, I had something no one else in the previous organization had, which was the ability to work the problem from both sides. I could work with the parents and the addict themselves, because I was one of them.

Even after years in recovery, I still am one of them. I always will be one of them.

It has always been my dream to make a living coaching families, providing youth drug education, and by speaking publicly about living life as a mentally ill, drug addicted millennial. Instead of pursing that, I buried it. I started a handcrafted soap company, which was a creative outlet. I went to cosmetology school because I believed that I wanted to pursue a career in the field and expand my business. I got normal jobs that were just okay. But no matter where I went, I found someone who wanted to talk about addiction. My soap customers, my classmates, my coworkers, and even the strangers who sat in my chair. This disease has touched so many people, I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything that didn’t somehow bring me back to addiction.

Then in the fall, I noticed that I was becoming ill. I was vomiting daily, I was dizzy, and I was short of breath. Exhausted by the simple act of bathing and dressing myself. I had to take a leave of absence from school. I could no longer work, not even for myself making soap. I had nothing but time on my hands. None of my doctors could figure out what was wrong with me. The Saturday night before Thanksgiving I gave up and went to the Emergency Room. I spent the entire week in the hospital.

I became a human pin cushion, having blood drawn multiple times a day. Various tests including three ultrasounds, an MRI, and an endoscopy. Still no answers. They stop all my psychiatric medication. Still no improvement. Finally, they send me home with no answers. I follow up with the clinic and my liver enzymes continue to get worse. I am currently waiting to have a biopsy of my liver after the holidays. My body is broken, but my mind is right. I know what I’m supposed to be doing now.

None of the great doctors at Yale New Haven Hospital can tell me what has caused this liver damage. And I speculate that the biopsy won’t tell us either. Because I think fate is what caused it. Fate wanted me to slow down, way down, to a dead stop. It wanted my brain to keep working while my body sat still. Fate wanted me to remember what I truly love doing, and find a way to start doing it. As long as I am sick, I cannot work a regular job. But I can still do the job I love the most, which is helping to coach families whose children are dying from the deadly disease of addiction. I can still guide them, inspire them, support them and direct them. I can still teach kids about the science of drugs and the brain. I can still speak publicly to my peers who may feel as lost as I once did.

Some people call it God. The God of my understanding is simply the manifestation of fate. The hand of God to me is really just destiny moonlighting under a different name. And regardless of what you or I call it, it brought me right here. Right back into the work I’m meant to be doing. Right back where I belong. So as the new year approaches, I’ve got a new plan to get back into my old work.

And when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

The Disease of Addiction for Dummies

If I had a dollar for every time someone suggests that addiction is a choice, not a disease, I’d be very wealthy. Because addicts are the source of their own illness, it’s easy to see why people have a hard time accepting addiction as a real disease. It is true that there are choices involved in the decision to start using and the decision to stop using. However, none of that disqualifies it as a disease.

Type Two Diabetics make the unhealthy choices that lead them to their disease. However, no one is trying to claim that the disease isn’t real. You can be the cause of the problem and still have a medical condition. Just because it is your fault doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Diabetics also make the choice to recover. They seek medical attention, they monitor their blood sugar and they use insulin.

Addiction is no different. We make that choice to start using drugs. But let’s remember that in the opioid epidemic, thousands of people only took the drugs that were prescribed to them by their doctor for a legitimate reason. Due to the abysmal health education in this country, the average person may not know the risks. It’s even less likely that they understand that prescription painkillers are just lab made, pharmaceutical grade heroin. If this was more widely understood, I bet a lot less people would be accepting prescriptions for OxyContin for their headache or sprained ankle. These are serious drugs that were developed for serious problems. The reason they are being prescribed left and right for ridiculous ailments has to do with the reckless greed of Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin. I will elaborate on that sorry situation in a future post.

So even when justified, addicts have made the choice to start taking drugs. Legally or illegally, it doesn’t matter. With the genetic predisposition in place and the correct environmental factors at play, the addiction takes hold. Withdrawal is not a choice. The pain of true opioid withdrawal is proof that the devil is real. The need to stop this pain is a choice in the way that a starving person chooses to eat a sandwich.

Getting clean is also a choice. We have to decide we are ready to change our lives. But that choice alone is simply not enough for most of us. Diabetics choose to get well, but they still need medical assistance in most cases to change their way of life. The same is true for addicts. Medical detox, in-patient treatment, and out-patient clinics all play a part in our journey of recovery. Just like most conventionally sick people, we cannot do it alone.

It is undeniable that there are choices involved in addiction, but that does not invalidate the fact that addiction is a disease. It is recognized by the Center for Disease Control and the Surgeon General. Doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and nurses will tell you that it’s a disease. If you don’t believe these people, who are you holding out for? What expert are you waiting to hear from before you’ll finally concede that you are not, in fact, smarter than all of these experts?

There are four very important attributes to addiction that indicate that it is a disease:

  1. Progressive: If left untreated, it will get worse.
  2. Chronic: It doesn’t just go away. It is long term, and persistent even with the help of treatment.
  3. Genetic: Addiction runs in families. Science tells us there are genetic differences in the brains of people predisposed to addiction.
  4. Fatal: Without intervention, most addicts will die from complications of the disease. Whether it is an overdose, a drug related crime, or liver or other organ failure, this disease kills.

Given all of these facts, some people out there still don’t believe addiction is a disease. Keep in mind there are also a disturbing number of people out there who believe the earth is flat and that the moon landing was faked. There are conspiracy theorists for anything and everything controversial. Even years from now when science has blown this debate out of the water, there will still be people who refuse to accept it. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they will not only stand by their ignorance but double down on it.

The problem with this is that these people can be the partners or parents of addicts who are in need of support and understanding. Getting and staying clean is so much harder when you have people who are supposed to be close to you undermining your illness. So much of recovery happens emotionally, and having that support makes the fight a little easier to win.

So if you love an addict, put your pride to the side. Get behind them and help them fight this disease the same way you would if it was any other illness.

The battle rages on and trust me, we need all the help we can get.