I was one of the stars in my law class- the class of 1996. I was glamorous, lived in a beautiful condo, drove an old BMW and had in tow my very cute male children who were toddlers at the time. People wanted to hang with me, study with me- pretty and popular. When word got around that I was recovering from a crack addiction, even men who would have done anything to date me fled. There was no compassion, no concern about my boys, my law career- people treated me as if I had AIDS or pneumonia or the flu. Even worse, my scornful ex husband taught my children to be afraid of me… To watch me and report back whether they saw me using or drinking…
Addiction is a disease of the brain and doctors say its 50% inherited 50% behavioral. Yes, there is an inherited gene that predisposes some of us to addiction. It is exactly like the genes that predisposes people to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And just like in all those aforementioned diseases, our actions or lack of actions can trigger the disease. We don’t go around shunning pie eating diabetics; we don’t admonish our over zealous entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes even though overexerction and emotional stress could lead to any of the number stress related diseases.
But we step over the homeless alcoholic, turn our eyes away from the rail thin woman trying to turn a trick to buy her drugs.
I pose no solutions. I make no suggestions, but addiction is a disease. Tell your children, the same way you would tell them about any other inherited disease. The addict you prevent maybe your own.
The Addict Writes
Over the next seven days I am going to break down how addiction works in the brain and results in affects in the body.
I have always wanted to know how addiction works in the body, so I did a little reading and found an article which even I could understand.
The information used in the “neurogym” article comes from a Harvard Study which began in 1938 and became the world’s longest study on human behavior.
The subjects were all male white men with the best of everything- and some of them ended up as alcoholics… (Oh my how could this be possible – they had everything!)
What was discovered was the disease and yes, I mean medically defined,disease of addiction, is a disease of the brain. It’s the very part of the brain that helps us make rational choices. The hormone responsible is dopamine.
Dopamine is the reward drug of the brain. This hormone is released when there is an unexpected reward. And the brain remembers this reward and secretes more dopamine therefore tricking the addict to choose the thing that induces the greatest reward rather than life affirming choices like food, sleep and shelter.
So the first effects of addiction are behavioral, i.e. all the wrong choices- by diease. According to my resesrch (which was finding and using research from others) The human brain was designed to register the rewards of food and sex…and not drugs.
(If there are any neuro scientists or Medical Doctors reading- please chime in.)
I know this is a lot to digest. Ask yourself what’s causing your dopamine secretion?
More on Monday. The addict writer chills on Sunday.
The Addict Writes
Years ago while in rehab, I noticed that most of the inpatients did not look like Halle Berry in Jungle Fever. In fact, I was one of the few black people in rehab. (“Most of yall go to jail”, said the pasty intake person.)
No, I’ve not gone to jail, prostitute myself for drugs,but I am an addict. Recently, the folks who create the criteria for what constitutes addiction removed the criteria of “trouble” with the law. I guess they realized that some of us addicts have quietly managed to escape brushes with the law. There are addicts whose lives seem perfectly in order as they drink a beer to start the day or fall asleep drunk in front of the television or quietly give themselves a “bump” either up or down. The pill to wake up… You get my drift.
But here’s an example of my addiction: Nothing went the way it usually does. No train to catch, no work today and immediately I think of consuming large quantities of caffeine and sugary pastries. And maybe after that I should get my nails done, after all its been almost been a month since I’ve had them done. Never mind the turn off notice for the electricity or the unpaid car insurance. Yes folks, I am an addict.
However, because of you, and because after 20 years I can manage my impulsive affictive behavior. Instead I bought a cup of coffee and sat down and wrote this blog for us. So, no I didn’t think of calling a dealer and the sugar would have only made me sick and feel bad- not kill me. Its a struggle- not the same as when I wanted to have a glass or bottle of Chardonnay or a hit of crack- but its a daily little struggle.
The Addict Writes
It was a very dark night as I weighed the cost of dealing with my crack cocaine addiction or simply committing an “accidental overdose”.Years ago, when a fellow crack addict, who introduced me to crack cocaine, told me that I was an addict, I sneered at him and told him to give up his role of amateur therapist. I believed that I could stop using anything at anytime. And look how successful I was, I had just passed the Washington State Bar- so no way dude- and pass the crack pipe.
I really didn’t get it, until the night it hit home that my crack use could kill me.
So for those who don’t know the definition of addiction I chose this one from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological,psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
While this definition is dry and scientific it captures the whole scope of addiction which affects all aspects of the addict’s life. It’s complex biology and brain circuitry, but the patterns can be broken and addicts can get the monkey, dragon or whatever you want to call it off of their backs.
For me on that night in February of 1997, I recalled something that a psychiatrist had told me years ago: If you commit suicide your children’s chances of committing suicide increase by 50%. I had already harmed my children who were 6 and 8 at the height of my drug addiction. I did not want to add an increased risk of suicide. Living and fighting my addiction, at least gave me the hope of someday explaining to them what happened to their mother who got lost in a crack pipe.
The Addict Writes
Dear Addicts who Read,
This morning as I super womaned my way to catch the 7:00AM MARC train from Baltimore to Washington DC.
I realized that my ‘ audience” is “recovered” or functioning addicts like myself. While I am not a “mental health practioner” in fact I am a lawyer who once was on television.
(Yes, all true.)
I am also a Mother of 2 adult male sons who have completely cut me out of their lives for years.
So, in the world of addiction I am kinda of a peer expert. Over the years I have gained spirituality, wisdom and self-love. Am I perfect? No, I am extremely flawed and I know it and own it. Everyday I try to learn from the last day and do better.
I write to share, I right to let you learn from my mistakes, so you won’t make my stupid mistakes.
I will show you all of my ugly that I have learned to own so that you may use my life as a lesson and a beacon of hope. After all, my life has been a cautionary tale.
The Addict Writes.