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The Debate Continues

From Courage to Change, March 24: “When I accept that alcoholism is a disease, I am forced to face the fact that I am powerless over it. Only then can I gain the freedom to focus on my own spiritual growth. ‘A family member has no more right to state, ‘If you loved me then you would not drink,’ than the right to say, ‘If you loved me you would not have tuberculosis…’ Illness is a condition, not an act.” The NIH (National Institute on Drug Abuse) has stated: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive behaviors.” The debate continues: is it a disease or a choice? A person who has the disease, before they know it, might try a dangerous drug or alcohol and become hooked. Another person who doesn’t have addictive disease might experiment in the same way; but he can walk away. Disease just is; you either have it or you don’t. Choice is what the addict decides to do about it: get help or not. I have two daughters: Angie has been a drug addict for fifteen years; today she chooses to continue in her disease. I have another daughter who has also tried drugs a few times; but she walked away. She chose to live healthfully. Which one of my girls is an addict? Accepting that addiction...

Accepting Addiction As A Disease

“Learning that addiction is a disease offers us a new understanding and suggests that compassion could replace anger and hurt. We can spend our time wishing things were different but must accept the fact that we have no power over another human being. We need to care enough about ourselves to give up the struggle over which we have no control. We may have tried many things such as keeping score, pointing the finger and blaming others in order to keep from feeling so much pain. No matter how harsh reality is, we can learn to accept each new day with confidence. Accepting addiction as an illness helps us realize we cannot waste action and energy in fighting the battle but instead we can seek recovery for ourselves.”   Is it a disease or a choice? I’ve entered into this debate many times. But I’ll leave the final word to the experts, one of whom, Nora Volkow, I quoted in my memoir: “Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees. For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National...

Wake Up America!

From “Thirty-One Days in Nar-Anon,” Day 29: “Through the sharing of other members and the warmth of their friendship, I started to develop a new strength. I recognized my powerlessness, accepted drug addiction as a disease and avoided having expectations. My frustrations began to vanish. With all the knowledge I acquired through the Nar-Anon program, literature and phone support, I became more open-minded. This brought me a sense of serenity and helped me set more realistic goals for myself.” Would we even be having this conversation if our children were suffering from diabetes? Of course not! Addiction is a gravely misunderstood disease, shrouded in secrecy, shame and stigma. Bikies, tatooes, and skid row…oh how times have changed! But thanks to the many programs out there that are educating the public about the true nature of addiction—that it’s a brain disease—awareness is increasing and attitudes are slowly changing. Look how in one generation the American perception of alcoholism has evolved. We had a recovered alcoholic in the White House for eight years, a man who freely admitted that he struggled with alcohol when he was younger. Alcoholism is also a form of addiction, remember, and it’s my fervent hope that Americans will start to view drug addicts with the same compassion offered to many alcoholics. When public perceptions change, so will attitudes toward our addicted children. My daughter, Angie, is a heroin addict. If she felt less shame, would she be less isolated? I believe so. In a few other countries, and even in Seattle, WA, there are programs in place to help addicts manage their addiction. This support is...

The Courage To Change Our Attitudes

A friend just sent me this link to a show about a new way to treat addicts in Seattle—a far more humane way to deal with the growing epidemic. Addiction has come out of the shadows, and the conversation is growing. Attitudes will change over time. And the shame and stigma will eventually be replaced by more widespread compassion and an increase in more effective treatment programs. Chasing...

What Makes Rainbows?

From Courage to Change, March 14: “One beautiful day, a man sat down under a tree, not noticing it was full of pigeons. Shortly, the pigeons did what pigeons do best. The man shouted at the pigeons as he stormed away, resenting the pigeons as well as the offending material. But then he realized that the pigeons were merely doing what pigeons do, just because they’re pigeons and not because he was there. Active alcoholics are people who drink. They don’t drink because of you or me, but because they are alcoholics. No matter what I do, I will not change this fact, not with guilt, shouting, begging, distracting, hiding money or bottles or keys, lying, threatening, or reasoning. I didn’t cause alcoholism. I can’t control it. And I can’t cure it. I can continue to struggle and lose. Or I can accept that I am powerless over alcohol and alcoholism, and let Al-Anon help me to redirect the energy I’ve spent on fighting this disease into recovering from its effects. It’s not easy to watch someone I love continue to drink, but I can do nothing to stop them. If I can see how unmanageable my life has become, I can admit that I am powerless over this disease. Then I can really begin to make my life better.”   My recovery has been, among other things, about redirecting my energy into a positive force for my loved ones and me. Before I learned the tools of recovery, though I appeared to be content and successful, I was deeply troubled and unhappy on the inside. Then, when my...

Angie’s Gift To Me

Memoir Excerpt: “When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift. ‘Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!’ Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993. “Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it. “Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?” “Yes, Angie, my darlin girl, I am. And...