(Originally posted to my previous blog, March 23, 2014)
I heard this at an N/A meeting tonight…
“I would never wish newcomer problems on any living soul.”
I was totally blown away, because it echoes something I read in David Sheff’s book Clean:
“Prevention efforts have failed, and so too has what passes for a treatment system. Ninety percent of people who need help never receive it. Indeed, people with addiction are more likely to wind up in prison than in rehab. Those who do get treatment enter a broken system that’s almost impossible to navigate. When addicts must decide what to do, they’re usually in crisis and terrified, consumed by worry, and immobilized, and yet in this compromised state, they must make one of the most complex and important decisions of their lives.”
Newcomer problems. The Big Book talks about them in “The Doctor’s Opinion”:
“These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.”
Newcomer problems. Newcomers are people, fragile people. Fragile people of all different ages, races, sexual orientations and beliefs. Fragile people, many of whom had traumatic backgrounds for which nothing was done, until they found their “cure” in a bottle, pill, needle, or their parent’s medicine cabinets. Forced to make important decisions, under not only the duress of learning how to stay clean/sober for the first time, but also their problems (or “outside issues” as they are incorrectly referred to in meetings) which have piled up on them, which they have piled on themselves.
And they are, truly, astonishingly difficult to solve.
Russell Brand had the following to say in a UK article which wrote about the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman:
“This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does not work. We know that the people who devise drug laws are out of touch and have no idea how to reach a solution. Do they even have the inclination? The fact is their methods are so gallingly ineffective that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm caused by substance misuse.”
I believe Mr. Brand is sadly, dead right. I am now firmly convinced that these people do not have the inclination. Drug policy is and always has been set deliberately, by people who either have been hurt by addicts in their own lives, those who bought into the “scourge of addiction” hype without further investigation, or the benefactors of the prison-industrial complex. Because Mr. Brand is dead right, so many millions of unknown, unnamed addicts throughout history have found themselves simply, dead. Dismissed as hopeless, drunkards, lushes, “the town drunk,” junkies, crackheads, cokeheads, tweakers, ravers, ragers, freaks, bath salt zombies – the list of derogatory labels could go on ad infinitum. They choose not to search for solutions because it would mean victory and freedom for the very enemy their fear has created, the enemy whose plight has lined their pockets.
Addicts are the castoffs of society, the scapegoats for every “upstanding” citizen that pays their taxes and commit their sins behind closed doors – the ones who can keep it together while they secretly have their hand in whatever cookie jar they like. Unlike those with serious, obvious mental illness, addicts somehow “chose” their disease. The belief that addiction is a moral and spiritual failing first is still pervasive in our society, even after 100 years of evidence to the contrary. Prior generations are still in power, still influencing our politics, the legal system and the population with their decades-obsolete and irrelevant moralizing, as well as dangerous magical thinking substituted for real problem-solving measures.
For instance, imagine modern churches implementing the 12 Step model of recovery as a way of getting nearer to god (“Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over sin…”). Attendance would probably plummet to 10%. Very few people have the capacity for honest self-examination which are demanded of addicts right out of the gate. Addicts are already guilt-ridden when they are “unplugged from the Matrix.” Like a person who wakes from a nightmare and finds it to be real, they are suddenly flooded with a whole host of thoughts which they would naturally want to avoid by clinging to their only security blanket. Any “normie” would be no different if they were faced with the same circumstances. They would probably piss themselves and cry like scared children. I certainly did.
When I left rehab for the first time, in early December 2009, I was facing two misdemeanor charges in a different county, $24,000 in hospital bills from an overdose (without a job you must buy your own insurance, and I had been denied coverage by BCBS for “pre-existing conditions”). I was behind on every bill I had, and owed the IRS close to $1200 in back taxes from 2008 – a matter completely unrelated to my addiction which simply reared its ugly head at the wrong time. Oh and I had a girlfriend who I owed money to, who was still using. Newcomer problems. “Outside issues.”
I am a fairly educated person, a fairly intelligent person with resources most addicts simply don’t have, the least of which being my own computer and the ability to use it on multiple levels. It took me almost a year and a half to navigate and overcome all of those difficulties. Oh, and I was trying to maintain what gainful employment I had and learn how to stay clean and sober in the face of it all. I succeeded with the help of the wonderful friends and strangers I met in the rooms of recovery. Very little of that help came from “blood” family, save for a few select individuals.
The only way this purgatory of revolving doors and empty promises will change is if addicts are empowered to rise up and lobby on their own behalf. It’s time for addicts to become powerful voices for change. Imagine the power of 1,000,000 men and women whose sole purpose in life for years was to obtain illegal substances – or legal substances by illegal methods – at any cost, for their own pleasure, now made clear-headed, substance free and focused in one single unified direction. If no one will help, we must choose for ourselves the road we will go, and then walk with our heads held high.
First, information must be immediately available to them upon discharge from rehab: who their congressmen and women are; how these individuals have voted on drug policy or mental health issues; and the most current biological and scientific research on treatment, spelled out in layman’s terms. Second, addicts must gather as they have in recovery meetings, to vote en masse for those public officials and judges who have their best interests at heart, and to discuss the crucial public health issues relevant to addicts without fear of reprisal.
The technology exists to make this happen. This is not the Bronze Age or the Wild West. We are no longer living in the era of the Gutenberg press, web-fed newspaper publications or coin-fed public telephones. With a laptop and smartphone, virtually anyone on earth can access anyone else on earth, and communicate a message to them. Many addicts have limited computer skills and, as a result of financial difficulties (or ruin), will never be able to access one, even one as simple as a basic smart phone. Where those services do exist, the way the information is disseminated to the population is grossly inefficient.
Additionally, the science and technology behind diagnosis, treatment and recovery are decades-old. Rehabs are still essentially beds, kitchens, meetings and nurses. Sure, blood pressure monitors and thermometers now have digital displays, but the the analog devices from the 1950s and 1960s do the same job. We can squeeze years of music, a portable HD television studio, and a phone/internet communicator into device the size of a deck of cards. Yet we can’t develop affordable bluetooth/wireless devices that stream realtime vitals to doctors and nurses? We can create Google Glass, but can’t develop a brain scanner to record changes in an addict’s brain activity – again, in realtime? I find all this extremely difficult to fathom. It seems reminiscent of the drug companies who’d rather research pills to help a 70-year-old man’s erectile dysfunction, versus more targeted medications for those struggling with “the scourge of society.”
I know I have the tools to begin disseminating information in my community. This blog is one of those. However, these are problems bigger than any one person can solve. I certainly don’t have all the answers.
But it can happen. Occupy Addiction, anyone?