Road to Recovery
‘Information without application leads to frustration’
By Jim Wilson
According to one literal definition, insanity means extreme folly or unreasonableness; however, a layman’s simple explanation of the same is described as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. And extended version of the layman’s description might also read like this: “If I think like I always thought, I’ll feel like I always felt, I’ll do what I always did, and I’ll get what I always got.”
One’s addiction to a substance can easily fit within this pattern. This vicious cycle is so readily acknowledged as a bona fide form of insanity in some recovery circles that one of the individual’s goals actually involves being “restored to sanity.” This pattern of insane behavior is easily recognized if you watch and listen to someone in the throes of an addiction. One of my favorite analogies for this kind of behavior comes out of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and it reads:
“Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital, a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs. On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?”
Substituting alcoholism and/or drug addiction for jay-walking in the above scenario paints a pretty descriptive picture of the substance abuse predicament, doesn’t it? It is applicable both for the person plagued with the addiction and also for those watching the addict from the periphery.
The use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs are at crisis levels across the United States and have a total annual estimated societal cost of $510.8 billion. From the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) statistics: 18 million people in the United States have alcohol problems, an estimated five-to-six million people have drug problems, more than 50 percent of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking and more than seven million children live with a parent dependent on alcohol and/or illicit drugs.
Specific to West Virginia, the following statistics come from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities.
-Estimated current population of West Virginia is 1.8 million.
- It is estimated that 152,000 West Virginians over the age of 18 have a substance abuse problem (slightly less that 10 percent).
- In 2011, West Virginia led the nation in bath salt cases.
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for West Virginians under age 45.
These statistics would seem to support a commonly held belief that most of us have been directly affected by the disease of alcoholism and/or drug addiction at some point in our lives. It may be a situation that you are being challenged to deal with now, maybe even as you are reading this column. It appears that community awareness of our substance abuse problem has been effectively raised in recent months, so simple awareness is not the intent of this column. Instead, I hope it prompts you into action, realizing that awareness is great for as far as it goes, but we must go much further to initiate real and lasting change, especially on the community scale.
A tidbit of wisdom I heard years ago implies that those things a person doesn’t deal with will somehow, someday and in some way deal with them. Addiction in the individual – chronic, progressive and potentially fatal if not treated – is just like that. It demands attention and does not go away by ignoring it, making excuses for it or applying any other form of wishful thinking toward it. The addict will both face and deal with his or her respective addiction, or the addiction will undoubtedly and relentlessly deal with the addict. Due to the progressive nature of this disease, untreated addiction will eventually carry its host into jail, institutions or death. In other words, the addict will ultimately get sobered up – else will be lock up, cracked up or covered up.
Road to Recovery
What’s in a number anyway?
Traveling down any road toward a destination has to have a starting point. This column’s title suggests we are on our way to recovery, but we aren’t there yet. In fact, we have only just begun. The starting point for addiction recovery is a dismal and dark place. You might even say that the road to recovery is a toll road, as one has to pay their pain-ridden dues before getting the green light to proceed. The darkest hour is right before the dawn, but the dawn is coming.
By the time you finish reading this article, more than eight people in the United States will die as the result of an addiction to a substance. Before today ends, an estimated 2,400 will have died for the same reason. You may or may not be able to assign a known name to any one of these numbers today, but they will occur again tomorrow – and the next day.
These numbers are important and always changing, but they aren’t the only numbers worth paying attention to. What about the parents, the children, the spouses, the friends, the neighbors and the co-workers who are on the front lines desperately trying to wrap their minds around the painful reality of substance abuse in their midst? What about the employers, the police officers, the teachers, the healthcare workers, the church leaders, the judges, lawyers and probation officers who are struggling to effectively manage the consequences of a substance abuse problem that is way out of their control? What about the communities that can’t hide nor contain their “elephant in the living room” anymore?
We’ll be addressing all of these issues and more in later articles, but for now please consider with me a few more numbers.
- Following the small two- inch dash which represented her life, the last date on the tombstone in a distant cemetery reads August 17, 1994. The inscribed date on the front end of that dash was September 2, 1970. Just shy of 24-years-old, she died of a drug overdose. In West Virginia last year, stories like hers were the leading cause of death, surpassing both traffic accidents and falls.
- A married, mid-thirties soccer mom with three children started taking prescription painkillers for back problems ten years ago. She developed a tolerance to the drug and started regularly depleting her scripts before it was time for a re-fill. To get more of the drug to feel “normal,” she resorted to buying illegal drugs on the street. She did this for several years before being arrested. She entered the West Virginia criminal justice system in 2009, where she joined ranks with roughly 8,000 more who were arrested on drug-related offenses that year.
- A 28 year-old unemployed young man who has been abusing alcohol and multiple other drugs since age 16 realizes that he is “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and enters a treatment center. There he learns to live a clean and sober life, one day at a time. He becomes a productive, employed and tax-paying member of his community.
I wish his story reflected the experience of the majority of the 152,000 adults in West Virginia who will need substance abuse treatment this year, but it does not. Unfortunately, many of these will be put on a waiting list for services they will never receive, others will be incarcerated, and still others will get lost in the confusion of trying to access appropriate services and just give up.
- Lastly for this month, and on a lighter note, a 46-year-old man who was blessed to find a Road to Recovery more than 9,100 days ago is asked to write a column for a local newspaper.
So, what’s in a number?
Individual lives are in these numbers, and so are choices. Some of these numbers can appear depressing and hopeless, but let’s not forget the power of the choices we make that help drive these numbers. Hope can be realized by the same standard- the power of one person’s choices can start a revolution, one life at a time.
In dealing with all of the uncertainties of this life, there are no guarantees of another day. If we have been smiled upon to see this day, then the 24-hour countdown has already begun. Perhaps the best time to start a revolution and deal with the substance abuse issue is today— 86,400 seconds and counting…