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How do we stop using drugs? Does it take pain to change?

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After much thought, this INTERNAL CRITIC or nasty narrator is why I used drugs…I Had to shut that voice the FUCK up!


“Louise, you have obviously not hit bottom yet, you have clearly not had enough pain.”  I thought I might explode in anger or disintegrate into tears the last time a so-called-counselor said this to me.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Two men in suits called me into a small room at the methadone clinic I had began attending about 5months earlier to begin the process of an administrative discharge.

Since I had been a patient at this clinic I had probably only seen a counselor once or twice, which was absolutely fine with me.  I despised the man who was the counselor to every patient at this very new clinic in town. I was their very first patient.  I guess I gave them more to think about than they expected.  I had been warned that if I did not pass a drug test I was out of there.

I did not want to leave so I put every bit of effort into abstinence for the next 72 hours.  I was sure I was in good shape.  I was so proud of myself.  I had not gone a day without drugs since my relapse over a year before.  No one at this clinic knew anything much about me because I am pretty difficult to get to know as far as therapist go.  I have not had good experiences when it comes to being honest with service providers treating my substance use disorder or my mental health.

I came in the clinic, smile on my face.  I had accomplished something and I had a small glimmer of hope.  Before I made it back to the counter I was escorted to the directors office.  2 men followed me in the room, as they towered over me they explained to me that I was going to be administratively discharged.  That means they were going to bring me down from 90 mg. of methadone super fast.  It basically meant I was fucked.  All the good stuff that I had managed to put back together seemed like a waste of time.  HOW COULD I START GRADUATE SCHOOL NOW?   That’s when he said I had not experienced enough pain to change.

This man did not anything going on in my life.  They had a sheet in front of them with failed drug tests.  I had only waited 72 hours before I took the test for them so I failed the test I was so excited I was going to pass as well.  Failed drug tests simply don’t tell the whole story. Shit, they don’t even tell part of the story.  In the months that I had spent at the clinic, I had been accepted in a graduate program, left the man who was abusing me, and moved back in the house with my mother and daughter.  I was making enormous positive change. NOW –it was all over, they were going to take me off the drug that was making it possible for me to have some stability.

I began to cry and my hope vanished.  I was truly hopeless in that moment.  The men did not have any sympathy or empathy, after all it was my fault according to them for continuing to use.  I needed more pain!  I could not handle any more pain.  Not one more hint of it.  What these men did not seem to understand was I was doing better than I had done since my relapse.  I am an emotional chic.  That is one thing about me.  I can really overwhelm myself with negativity and often I am not able to see through the problems in my life to the other side.  I feel like the hell I am experiencing will never leave, and that things will always be terrible.

I am grateful that we are beginning to understand that one of the definitions of addictive or chaotic use is “using in spite of negative consequences”.  Pain has never created change for me.  Pain immobilizes me and overwhelms me.  When the only scale of measurement is whether a person has used as substance that is a pretty weak indicator for success.  There are so many important measures for determining how I a person is doing.

  1.  Is the person working/maintaining employment?

  2. Is the person attending school or engaging in any activities to better their self or their future?

  3. Has the person arranged to begin working or going to school?

  4. Does the person have a stable living environment?

  5. Does the person have access to reliable transportation?

  6. How are the persons relationships?  Do they have constant chaos?

  7. Is the person in an emotionally or physically abusive environment?

  8. Is the person taking care of their health?  Are they taking care to use clean syringes and supplies?

  9.  Does the person have wounds and abscesses that are infected and need medical attention?

I believe it is simply lazy to rely solely on drug tests.  We should be focusing on behavior.  Is that not what truly matters at the end of the day?  The only thing that has ever helped me change or brought about change in my life is passion.  Passion or feeling like I belong to something make me want to get up in the morning.  Passion helps me make positive changes in my life.  When drug use gets in the way of what you want or desire doing you will change.

I believe we must begin to talk about drugs and recovery in a different way.  We are alienating people and forcing them into isolation.  I know that is what happened to me.  I have no interest in a program that does not respect the newest ideas and medicines science has to offer people like myself.  I do not respond well to comments like ” you have not had enough pain yet”…..that’s total bullshit.  I feel like my recovery should be self defined and is no one else’s business how I manage my substance use…or make positive changes.  There is no right or wrong way in my eyes.  It is not a competition.  Counting the days since I used is not important to me.  It places way too much emphasis on time.  What does abstaining from all substances for a certain amount of time really tell you about a person?  It tells you how long its been since they used a substance.  Well some substances because cigarettes and coffee and medication, well they are drugs too.  We must redefine recovery to encompass all the wonderful hard work people are making that in current 12 step programs are ignored and discounted because the only successful indicator for change is complete and total abstinence from all illicit substances and alcohol.

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