As a clinician who works largely with addictions and the intersection of trauma and life, I get to be on the front-lines in a seemingly unending parade of adventure and experience. I picked up a heroin/fentanyl rig from our bathroom this afternoon. I walked around in the blue gloves offering prostate exams but for some reason there were no takers. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my partner in crime, Dawn Taylor, consulting on one of the most complex cases you could imagine. That day began with an RCMP corporal at the homeless shelter, someone had procured a video projector, probably from the same inexhaustible storehouse where all those nice bikes come from.
Addiction is a complex and fascinating issue, if you can somehow remove the never-ending cacophony of tragedy and loss. It has taken me years of full-time employment to come to understand just a small part of this complicated thing, even with it so present in my own history. The information we all read in the media, in what we assume are serious articles written by addiction experts, is ofttimes laughable. This week I read again, for the 400th time, about the debate whether or not marijuana is addictive. I dare you to say it is, or it’s not, or have no opinion at all – it won’t matter, you’ll still be called an idiot. The misinformation and self-delusion from both sides of the McInformation Universe make it next to impossible for the average Normie to retain any level of informed dialogue. Is marijuana addictive?
So much of what passes for real information is the reality television version of reality. These same websites and professionals are often completely unfamiliar with the subculture they are lecturing. Just because you have a Ph.D. and get to charge thousands of dollars because you are the flavour of the month doesn’t necessarily guarantee you know what the hell you are talking about.
Being a stoner is to be a part of a community, of sorts. This subculture brings it’s own rules and mores and values which are impossible to truly understand from the outside, much like the priest who is giving marriage advice. I am not saying that addictions counsellors who have not been druggies have a lesser understanding and therefore are less effective. So much of what we do in the counselling room has little or nothing to do with your drug of choice. Impulse control, trauma, and mental health are all universal issues.
It doesn’t take an addict to help an addict but it does take one to understand how funny it is that we managed to convince you that the only reason we wanted medicinal marijuana was for the physical pain. I studied the outlet across the street from my addictions office for 6 months and you would be impressed by the number of Ford F-150’s that represent at 4:05 pm on a weekday, driven by two dudes straight off the construction site who jog across the street to the store. The last time I was in there the owner offered me a “pull” from her vape, but I’m guessing that was for the pain that she inherently recognized in my burdened soul because weed gives you wings. You can send me angry emails until the cows come home but it won’t change the fact that my job entails knowing how to separate the truth from bullshit. I have clients who use medical forms of cannabis and understand the difference between CBD and THC and aren’t really interested in being baked all day; and I’ve seen dozens of clients who show me their Medical Marijuana Card and we have a good laugh. It’s all going to be a mute point on October 17, except that now a whole bunch of us have decided to try it out, now that it’s legal. I polled several rooms in the past couple of months and that’s a real thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I barely care anymore, it’s just a reality in my world. This article is not about the evils or benefits of weed, so don’t go off on me. Dawn Taylor and I have an entire upcoming podcast on pot coming this winter that is guarenteed to upset a few of you, so hold on. (Yes we are launching a podcast this winter called “Reality Therapy” with the tagline “Welcome To The Argument”).
I set out to write an article about how difficult it is to leave the life, even when you want to quit and it’s clearly time to move on. As usual, I meandered a little. All this diatribe was leading to the realization that quitting the self-medication game is a lot harder than most people think, and all too often that addictive personality thing we’ve all heard about is more a learned behaviour than a genetic one. Your dad may have been an alcoholic, and that may be why you think you want a drink right now, but it’s also possible that when you were a preschooler you watched your father self-medicate his tragic life and that taught you a little something. Perhaps your parent was addicted to rageahol, and you figured out that it’s way easier to check out than hang in. There are literally hundreds, nay thousands of ways we have learned to cope with childhood trauma or a controlling parent or that uncle who liked to touch you. You were the fat kid, or your complexion was a mess, or you were too shy to be the popular kid in school.
Name your poison.
Years of continuous drug use will create neural pathways hardwired to thirst for “altered”. Most drug users have difficulty imagining a world where they could not be buzzed, the real world can be incredibly boring or painful or confusing. I’ve watched hundreds of clients wrestle with the reality that they will never really get that monkey off their backs because they’ve been doing this for so long that they’re probably going to have that little primate in the back of their mind for the rest of their life.
I haven’t used cocaine in 25 years but that doesn’t mean I would sit in a locked room with a line of coke, if I knew no one would ever find out. Besides that, I may not jones for blow, but there is always something vying for my attention, and not always something good. People self-medicate with booze or shoes, chocolate or masturbation or video games – the delivery system seems less and less important the longer I do this. I could tell you stories of people who’s lips were raw because they ate 4 bags of sunflower seeds a day in an effort to placate the persistent hunger for meth or crack or because their anxiety is raging and it’s the closest thing at hand. People are clean for 15 years than they “go back out”, god only knows why. It might have something to do with the fact that you quit your drug of choice but never moved beyond that need to feel good even if it might feel bad after you come down from that sugar rush. I don’t usually tell clients that happy little factoid on our first visit together.
And let’s be honest, it’s not just the “junkies” we’re talking about. You went to that doctor after you hurt yourself and 6 weeks later you had a very hard time when your prescription for Percocet ran out. Addiction is easy because drugs really are as good as people think they are… for a while. I’m sorry but your youth group has a hard time competing with the spiritual orgasm that Dexedrine can deliver. If I’m completely honest with myself I’d love to get buzzed, some days.
Addicts have the best of intentions when they quit using. You might be surprised at how honest and kind and sincere a person can become when they are in The Program. Many sufferers are able to clench down and sweat it out, but that whole piece about being a normie for the rest of my life was harder to accept on an emotional level than I could have ever imagined. The rest of your life completely sober doesn’t sound as sexy as being blitzed on shrooms with good friends this Friday night. The relentless normal is difficult for some people to handle, week after week, and it isn’t long before recovering addicts often feel the claws come out from their backpack of chimps (I know, chimps are not monkeys; I ran out of snappy monkey references).
I have been told, more times than I can remember, how much harder it was to leave the life than the drug. As the sarcastic quip goes, quitting is easy, people often do it several times a week. Staying sober when all that stuff you ignored when you were high comes back calling, and you have no way to self-medicate because that group said you had to be completely clean, now that’s not so easy. This sounds allot like the ending of Goodfellas but I can’t help it, it’s a powerful and persuasive subculture. As Henry Hill said in that movie after he was placed in Protective Custody:
“See, the hardest thing for me was leaving the life. I still love the life. And we were treated like movie stars with muscle. We had it all, just for the asking. Our wives, mothers, kids, everybody rode along. I had paper bags filled with jewelry stashed in the kitchen. I had a sugar bowl full of coke next to the bed…Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I’d bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I’d either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies. Didn’t matter. It didn’t mean anything. When I was broke I would go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
Leaving the party to become a citizen often feels like it is going to suck. All you have to do is change your everything. It’s way easier to just give up and slowly succumb, in spite of that false narrative you keep telling yourself, the one where you don’t end up in my office.