I can recall a wise friend of mine once telling me about his experience in AA meetings. He said not only that he had been diagnosed with it, but also that in the 12-step program he was in, people with bipolar disorder were greatly over-represented.
Something that I often have thought about is, how do people go from regular people to alcoholics and then addicts? I watched a very insightful TV miniseries that came out of Britain called Traffic which was mostly about Heroin. I found it interesting in many ways. One of the things that was enlightening was not only that there is a huge problem with heroin addiction destroying lives in Britain, but that the opium poppy, which is what heroin is derived from, is grown openly as just another cash crop. I don’t know all the places that it is cultivated, but in another documentary I saw about the present war in Afghanistan, American and other countries’ soldiers are instructed not to harm the opium crops or obstruct any of the farmers from cultivating them. It seems so tragic that this problem could be cut off at the source but it is a very complicated problem. First of all, the Afghan farmers who grow the opium poppy don’t get very rich of their crops, they barely earn enough to feed their families and it would cause such extreme hardship if the crops were destroyed and forbidden throughout the whole country that there would be starvation and death to follow.
Another thing that must be considered is that if the production of opium poppy crops went underground, there would be a great deal more profiteering and violence surrounding it. Opium has existed for thousands of years in Asia and there are large numbers of people all over the world in serious dependance of the drug.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to instruct a poetry class in a homeless drop-in centre that had a safe injection site. The purpose of me teaching this subject was to help people to be able to express themselves about how they felt about the opiod crisis. This referred more to things like fentanyl and oxycontin, though heroin and other needle drugs are used in the community. What I learned from this experience is that a great deal of the people who end up homeless and addicted start out just like any normal person. They go through school, get work experience, find a job, and then one day they have the unfortunate experience of painful illness or injury. They may get benefits for disability, but a lot of them have to rely on savings and selling possessions like vehicles and houses just to put food on the table. These people get prescribed pain killers and soon find they can’t do without them. Then something happens (in a lot of cases) where the person realizes that street drugs work better and are much cheaper than designer painkillers. Then we open Pandora’s box and before you know it, the person is addicted and homeless. Then of course there is another side of it, a childhood trauma, often sexual abuse makes a person so incredibly ‘messed up’ for want of a better term that they turn to drugs to blank out the pain and the nightmares and bad memories.
I think at this point it might be useful to state that there are some drugs that end up as gateway drugs, but attitudes and concepts of this are changing. Now, even experts are saying that the real gateway drug is trauma. But I have known some people who were in recovery who told me about how they got started. In my own case, I actually used THC before I even drank alcohol in amounts sufficient to inebriate myself. I only did it a handful of times but things happened when I did this. I found in doing it I made the only strong connection with my older brother of my early teen years. Soon after I started smoking cigarettes and then I began to drink, just a little at first, but soon I was getting drunk every weekend, and soon after that I was drinking at least something every day. I almost couldn’t understand why I started to like alcohol so much because my dad was a drinker and I blamed a lot of my problems on his aggressive behaviour after his daily intake of at least 12 beer. I remember being so worried he would get an impaired driving conviction or that one time when he was driving drunk with the whole family in our van he would go off the road at high speed and kill us all. Looking. back, that could have been where a lot of my life-long difficulty with anxiety came from. I always felt (at school with bullies) that my health, safety, even my life was in danger. That anxiety stunted my social growth. I never had a girlfriend in school, never went to a single school dance. I did know a couple of young women and had a date or two but I couldn’t even look females in the eye, I was so ashamed that they would find out how messed up I was. Then came a cadet dance. Just about every time I went to a cadet dance I just sat in the corner, but this time, a friend brought a large quantity of beer. I got really drunk and came very close to having sex with two young women in the same night. It was a deadly connection I made in thinking that alcohol equalled calming of the nerves, which equalled sex. It took me a long time to quit.
Around the age of 20, I started to take psychiatric medications on a regular basis and I tried to quit drinking. Then I nearly killed myself one weekend drinking extremely strong rum on a camping trip. I blacked out everything after my first drink. I took my medication after drinking and vomited all over the place and alienated friends completely that I had known for years. Luckily though over the years I was able to keep control of the drinking and I used THC very few times. What scared me though was going through my early to middle adult years and finding out that friends had done such drugs as crack, morphine, cocaine and just about anything a person could name. I wanted to cut ties with them but as a person with a mental illness I had few friends so it was difficult.
Along the way I developed some theories of addiction that I think are relevant to share. Sometimes, people use drugs to self-medicate away some of their mental health issues. I recall a party I went to where I downed a bunch of beers quickly and then was bouncing off the walls in a state of mania. I thought, as I thought that alcohol meant more female attention, that alcohol also meant a release from my depression. For as long as I connected good times with booze I was unable to stay quit for very long. Fortunately maturity really helped me and at this point it has been years since I drank or used drugs or even smoked a cigarette. Some people who are really successful, like high-priced lawyers or rock stars end up doing a lot of drugs and I think I understand why. They work extremely hard, rise up to the top, have everything they ever imagined, but deep down they are just ordinary people who need things like love and satisfaction in life just like anyone. Their lives seem empty or they regret that things will never get better and in this time they turn to drugs. It’s astounding what some rock stars have done, like Stephen Tyler of Arrowsmith admitting that he had consumed literally six million dollars of cocaine in his life.
Mental illness can lead to addiction. Substance abuse, and this can lead to homelessness, and alienation and eventually even your life isn’t worth that much. What I feel has to happen is that people need to learn more about themselves, possibly through therapy, group therapy or 12-step meetings. What needs to happen is that a person has to rebuild a world view. They need to come to understand the importance of living the clean life, the good life, the advantages of being stable and trustworthy and the steps they need to take to become that way. It starts with abstinence, but the work isn’t done with just that. My wise friend from the 12-step program, now departed, once said that “We don’t have a cure for addiction, we just have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” With that I will leave you dear readers. Remember you can write me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and that my books are available on amazon.