Reprinted from Reach Out Recovery
by Marc Dunn
Another celebrity, Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead Sunday of an apparent drug overdose. Hoffman had been clean and sober for 23 years until a relapse last May. I do not know him and do not have knowledge of the specifics of his death or relapse, but if he was at all like thousands of addicts I have known he did not intend to die this way. We are regular people who suffer from an incurable disease.
He is not unlike thousands of others who die every year, nor is he any different from the 24 million of us who are presently sober and in recovery. We all only have our recovery today and must vigilantly work on it every day of our lives.
My daughter, Gaby Dunn, wrote, “Addiction is an insidious monster. As a child of an addict, it’s terrifying that someone could relapse after 23 hard-earned years of sobriety. My father was sober for two years, relapsed horrifically, and has been sober again for eight years. The addiction lurks beneath everything, never truly going away. An addict is never “cured. As a child of an addict, I should say that the addiction doesn’t only hurt the addict themselves, but also those around them. For example, PSH’s partner and three small children. The people who die of addiction are so random, so “there but for the Grace of God go I” that it is miraculous my father is still alive, and heartbreaking that those children’s father is not.”
We steal from our children and those we love something that can never be replaced, their peace of mind. But maybe, if we work at our recovery and grow spiritually we can give them a new peace.
Much has been written lately about the “cure du jour” regarding alcoholism and addiction. The good news is that there are solutions, but there is not a cure. These latest attempts to make medications the answer to alcoholism/addiction do not provide treatment or therapy for the mental obsession that accompanies addiction. Treating the physical symptoms without treating the mental issues will not work.
The first time I tried to stop drinking for more than a few days or weeks, it was by attending AA meetings and being stubbornly abstinent. This was to be “my cure”. I did it to get everyone off my back. My wife had threatened to divorce me and I thought this was the way to lessen the incessant feeling of being scrutinized every time I picked up a drink, which was often. It lasted about 3 years and I got nothing. My life did not get any better. It was a conniving attempt on my part to appear to be better. I would listen to old timers speaking of recovery and burglarize their conversations, repeating what I had heard as if they were my thoughts, pretending to have found some spirituality. It didn’t work.
I was out to dinner after about 30 months and without any premeditation said, “ It’s been 2 ½ years since I had a drink, I can probably have one with dinner.” The naïve responses were, “That’s great.” I was off and running for 6 months. The end came when I totaled my car in a blackout on the interstate, in the middle of the afternoon. Miraculously, I walked away without hurting myself or anyone else. My next step was to try recovery not abstinence. I found that they were compatible and my life could be better.
Addiction is cunning and baffling, it will linger inside of us forever patiently waiting for a moment of weakness: a moment that we think we are in charge again and take our will back. Then it will strike and things will get progressively worse. It does for all addicts who relapse.
A cure for addiction does not exist, “ we are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30)
Solutions for addiction follow two paths: recovery and/or sobriety. For those of us who are addicts these are two different ways of. All of us with the disease/mental health condition of addiction know this to be fact. We have lived it and can tell the differences.
What is the difference between sobriety and recovery?
Strictly speaking sobriety is the absence of mood altering substances: alcohol, narcotic drugs, pot, non-prescribed pain killers, etc. Sobriety with recovery is much more; it includes lifestyle not just abstinence.
The point of sobriety is life over death. We can achieve it by self-willed abstinence, the easier and undisciplined way, affording a less stressful lack of commitment, or by the action of recovery, a planned change of lifestyle designed to prolong life and make it more joyous and free. It is a medical fact that long-term alcoholism will result in a shorter more painful life, not just for the abuser but also for those closest to him/her. In abstinence we may be successful for short periods of time or indefinitely. But if the point of sobriety is recovery; then we are searching for a quality of life that includes peaceful happiness, better relationships, less expectations, more acceptance and tolerance, freedom and peace.
It is generally accepted that addiction is a disease if left untreated has a predictable end, premature death.
The disease of addiction has a gradual deteriorative affliction that devastates entire families and will continue to do so unless the addict member takes action to live a life of sobriety: physically and mentally. It affects the person who is addicted, that person’s family and everyone who interacts with that person.
Reports and opinions that lead to the conclusion that there may be medication to reduce the effects of alcohol/drugs and even repulse the user from using them but they do nothing to change the mental health issues an addict faces. Those issues will drive him/her out again once they either stop taking the medication or just impulsively decide to use.
Addiction is more than a physical obsession and the alcohol/drug is only a symptom. Treating the symptom does not cure the disease.
One of the things we haven’t done very well in working with those seeking help is updating our approaches from the way they were done 50-75 years ago. It may sound like heresy, but the world has changed drastically; medical approaches are different and better. Much more is known about mental health and addiction as well as the treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. They have certainly changed with improved results. Why would you go see a doctor today that was still examining and diagnosing you based on information he learned in the 1950’s? You wouldn’t.
The enormity of the problems addicts experience, both physically and mentally, and the quantity of human beings who have this disease has grown significantly over the last decade.
My daughter also wrote the following about kids her age discussing their ”thing” because everyone has a “thing”, She would ask, “What’s wrong with you, tell me in three words what’s your deal”. She heard them say, “my parents are divorced”, and my “childhood sweetheart died “or” I was raped in college”. My daughter responded to her own question, “Alcoholic, addict father.”
Thousands of addicts die every year and for every addict there are countless others, family and friends, who suffer from the loss that there addicted loved one has inflicted on them. We are not helping anyone by looking for a cure. We need to talk about the lifestyle changes needed to solve the addictions; alcohol, narcotics (pills, cocaine, heroin), sex, gambling and even food, because they all kill.
There is a solution, but not a cure. It is with the healing of the mind, body and spirit.