January 22nd, 2008. That was my when I hit my rock bottom, as us addicts and alcoholics, who live to tell the tale, call it. Maybe a more realistic (certainly, more descriptive) term would be “the absolute depth of my actively addicted living hell.”
That’s what it felt like anyway.
For those who go on to find recovery, as I thankfully did, we long to never repeat it. For those without a recovery, they have to live knowing it wasn’t their deepest depth. They’ll repeat and some. That’s still to come for them, as surely as the next hit or the next drink will. If they live to tell the tale, that is.
I lived. I got clean at 26 years old. My first time using drugs and alcohol was 8 years old, and I started using regularly at 12. I was addicted for 14 years. But I lived. I got clean.
And now? I continue to stay clean because I have a passion and desire to help those with a similar story to mine. Mind, we may be similar, but we’re never the same – of that, you can be sure. I have yet to meet someone who found themselves laying on their floor at 2am, desperate and contemplating suicide, if only I could just make it to the bathtub with a razor in my hand.
All my personal items had been sorted, as if the blow to my family could be softened in any way.
But I lived. Moreover, I needed to do something positive with that knowledge.
Now, having previously presided (yes, as a founder and as president) over a large family of addiction treatment centers in the U.S.’s northwest, I’m now based here in Arizona. With this unshakeable passion and desire, and that knowledge.
Now, just like you, I’m living in this time of coronavirus. Just like the rest of us, drug and alcohol addiction hasn’t taken a holiday this year.
Arizona & The Opioid Crisis
Addiction – it gets personal. Mostly, it gets low-down and dirty too. How’s this for personal? You will know someone who is abusing their opioid prescription painkillers. You will know someone whose alcohol consumption is dangerously high. You (or certainly your kids) will know someone who abuses recreational drugs like they were going out of fashion. In your extended family, among your friends, or someone within your workplace will be at least one addict or one alcoholic. At least.
Did you know that in Arizona over the last 3 years there have been more than 5,000 opioid-related deaths, and more than 40,000 opioid overdoses? In fact, more than 2 people every single day die from an opioid overdose in the state. Nearly half of them are aged 25-44 years old – in the prime of their life, you might say.
And it’s not just the opioid epidemic that’s taking Arizonan lives too early.
All forms of substance addiction are continuing to blight the lives of the young and the healthy – from abuse of “study aids” drugs, like Adderall and other ADHD medications, to “party drugs,” like cocaine and ecstacy, and to opioid prescription meds, and, if circumstances allow, a slow and deadly progression to heroin.
Opioids + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm
So, in this time of coronavirus, how can the addiction treatment community continue to assist people who are being left isolated and desperate, not by the pandemic, but by their chronic need to feed the monkey on their back, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or both?
Furthermore, around half of all those already suffering from the “chronic relapsing brain disorder” of addiction (the medical establishment’s definition) are simultaneously enduring a mental health disorder, such as major depression, severe anxiety or a trauma-related disorder like PTSD.
How are these socially-disadvantaged people able to receive the treatment they need when they have no choice but to isolate, to distance themselves from an already confusing and concerning society for them?
It is my personal fear that many Arizonan drug or alcohol abusers will sadly be dashed against the rocks, unable to find a voice loud enough to speak to an over-occupied medical community, and unable to find the safe harbor they need either through professional treatment or, at least, within a real recovery community.
There you have it – the U.S. opioid epidemic and the global coronavirus pandemic. Whichever way you add it up, you have an utterly isolating condition in a time of social isolation. It’s more than just putting mental anguish and idle hands together. It’s the perfect storm.
Today, successful addiction recovery has become exponentially more challenging. There’s the isolation to contend with, as well as an unfounded but quite real distrust of medical facilities, a profound difficulty in maintaining the good habits and the good routines that epitomize recovery, such as exercise and eating healthily, and, last but certainly not least, the problems we are all encountering at present in maintaining our mental wellbeing.
Can Innovation Conquer Isolation?
If you believe the answer lies in simply sitting in front of your laptop or tablet and receiving your daily dose of addiction and mental health treatment online, you’d be wrong. If only it were all that simple and straightforward.
Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware of the various “sober aware” and “sober curious” communities that are present online, and the current crop of unaccredited online addiction treatment programs available to those with an internet connection and the money. They may provide some level of help. I honestly wouldn’t know, as there is no official patient outcome data for these services (and probably never will be).
Let’s be honest, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-Step organizations have been present online for many years. However, they all fully understand that an online or virtual 12-Step meeting is a distant and poor relation to the face-to-face meetings held successfully all over the U.S. on any given day of the week.
Online help with an addiction is severely limited, and nowhere near the answer. Here’s exactly why…
Substance addiction isolates you. It destroys family bonds, it breaks the ties of friendship, and it rampages through your social life, taking no prisoners. Isolating you, always isolating.
Forget corona – addiction causes premature deaths, destroys marriages and families, creates unemployment, leads to legal issues, and costs a huge amount of good, cold cash (billions upon billions of dollars, in fact – more than twice that of any other neurological disease).
Everything described above leads to what one old British scholar described as that “splendid isolation.” All well and good if you’re a 19th century politician, but not if you’re a 21st century heroin addict.
There is no difference between, or a replacement for, your hand held by another when you’re in intensive care, or the smile and warmth from fellow recovering addicts in a group support meeting when all you could think about that day was using drugs again.
Interaction and social connection. That is exactly why you can never replace the professional medical care of a hospital’s staff, or the professional addiction treatment and care of an accredited drug and alcohol rehab facility, or even the fellowship of a 12-Step meeting in your local church hall.
Online addiction treatment is in its infancy. There is little doubt that in the future it will play a far greater part in successful recovery outcomes. However, at present, it falls short. Give me a mask-wearing medical clinician in a professional accredited treatment center, which has been formally certified as being coronavirus-free, among my peers, my fellow addicts, any day rather than an image on a screen of someone I’ll never meet telling me how to change my life.
We are now being asked to consider WFH – working from home. Would a professional medical facility ask us to consider “getting better from home”? The sooner the state of Arizona recovers from coronavirus, the sooner we can all continue our own recoveries. Until then, take the best help you can from wherever you can get it.
One last thought: Why can’t they make these protective masks transparent? Just think, we’d be able to see each other smile again.