Once again the headlines are talking about an increase in drug overdoses. This time it’s being blamed on fentanyl. In the past, it’s been blamed on OxyContin. Whenever this happens the media talks about an opioid crisis. There’s all kinds of stats. Comments are made about these horrible addicts who should just stop taking the drugs.
What I seldom see is the question of why are so many people trying to escape their lives? How does someone become an addict? Why do people want to alter their mood? What is the root of this issue?
I was addicted to pain pills. I started taking them because of a chronic pain issue. The cause of this pain has never been truly diagnosed. I do have hyper-mobility syndrome. In other words, I’m double-jointed; all of my joints. Doing basic movements can lead to hyper-extension which causes damage to the joint. Over the years this damage builds up and creates chronic pain. I have to be careful walking because I can hyper-extend my knee when I am swinging my foot forward. I have to be careful swimming for the same reason. I can’t kneel. I can’t do push-ups because my wrists dislocate. Even my back will hyper-extend. It’s a painful, chronic condition which was not taken seriously by doctors. I’ve seen many over the years. I’ve been told to think positive and I’ll get better. I’ve been told that I will just be in pain for the rest of my life. Imagine not being able to sleep a whole night through because you’re woken up by pain. Imagine waking up every morning and feeling like someone took a 2 x 4 to your lower back, EVERY DAY. It is debilitating. It is frustrating. It is very difficult to function never mind enjoy life. I tried many, many therapies and medications. What worked for me was Percocet. It was a wonderful feeling to go from a pain level of eight to a pain level of three. At eight, I could not get out of bed. At three, I had my life back!
So, pain killers work and they work really well. The problem is they also work for emotional pain. If I was having some emotional difficulties, popping a pill was much easier than trying to resolve the difficulty. Due to the process of homeostasis, I needed to take more and more pills just to maintain basic functioning. After a while, I wasn’t getting high anymore, I just needed them to function. (If you’re tempted to judge, learn about homeostasis. You will then understand why an addict needs to take more and more just to be able to get out of bed.)
I ended up in rehab a couple of times. I found a medication that works for my pain which does not produce euphoria. I have come out the other side.
While in rehab, I met many people. What they all had in common was that they were using their addictive substance as a coping mechanism. They had experienced some kind of trauma which had never been addressed. These were not horrible, lazy degenerates. These were people who were hurting emotionally. They did not have the skills to recover from that trauma. They grasped whatever they could find to keep themselves surviving. Imagine being on a sinking ship. Are you going to pass up a cushion which floats in the hopes that you might find a proper, government-recognized flotation device? No, you are in survival mode. You are going to grab the closest thing which will get you through the next moment. That is what addicts are doing.
Why are there so few resources to help people deal with emotional trauma? How many addictions would have been prevented if the original trauma had been treated when it happened? Why do we find it so hard to say “I’ve been hurt. I need help.” We have huge buildings called hospitals which deal with physical trauma. When are we going to have the same resources to deal with emotional trauma?
I imagine that some people who are reading this are still thinking “Addicts are bums, suck it up, get over it.” If you are one of these people, how do you handle your emotional traumas? Have you ever experienced being sexually abused? As a child, were you told over and over “You’re a waste of skin. I wish I never had you. You ruined my life”? If you were raised in a loving, supportive home your opinion of addicts is meaningless unless you’ve made an effort to understand them. If you have suffered unresolved emotional trauma what do you use as a coping skill? Do you like to have a glass of wine every night? Do you look forward to parties with your friends so you can do some shots? Is your credit-rating shot because you like to shop to excess? Are you overweight because food provides so much comfort?
I’m not sure of a solution. I think that a great deal of damage is done by keeping secrets. When abuse happens, the tendency is to cover it up, pretend it didn’t happen. I know that the reaction to the survivor’s sharing of their experience can cause more damage than the actual abuse. I know that there needs to be more awareness of abuse, more support for the survivors, more compassion for those who have chosen an unhealthy coping skill.
I share my story in the hopes that others will do the same. Let’s peel back the curtains. When you see an addict on the street, see the child that was so incredibly hurt that he chose this horrible life. Share your love and compassion. They don’t need more shame. They need understanding. They need support.
If you know of a child being abused, contact Children’s Aid. Your action could very well prevent an addict from being created.
Share your love. Even if you are not convinced that addicts deserve support, that abuse survivors deserve treatment, even if you think I am full of shit, I love you.