Ignorance is Not Bliss
Ignorance is not bliss
By Jodi R.
The first experience I remember directly linking to addiction I was 12 years old. My mother was being charged with embezzling money. I also learned she was aware of her problem with compulsive gambling and joined a group called Gambler’s Anonymous. I did not realize this was even a thing. Addiction… to gambling? At the time I was a very naïve 12-year-old. Not like kids today. I sat in the court room listening to my mother read her letter to the judge right before he sentenced her to prison time and probation. She had plead guilty and was letting the judge know everything she was doing to start recovering from what I now know is a disease. Who would ever think a shot for an alcoholic, or a line for a drug addict was the equivalence of winning to a compulsive gambler?
Gamblers Anonymous is the same concept as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. Although I have a feeling not many know it exists. Hell, I doubt people even think gambling can be so dangerously addicting. But I learned in attending these meetings with my mother, I was now 13, that at one point this was also a demon that made my mother consider taking her own life. There it sits disguised as, “a night out with friends,” or “just BINGO,” or even “just a getaway to de-stress.” In reality, across a fine line, it can turn into a dark clawed demon that will take over a soul.
As I got older, I realized that was not my first introduction to addiction. I remember as a young girl my dad just always drank beer. It was not something until much later I related to addiction. He was functioning, he was just mean. I have memories of his anger in the forms of clenched teeth, holes in the walls, and at one point, red splatter all over the dining room as a ketchup bottle was smashed on our kitchen table during dinner one night. The house was just filled with yelling and anger. I remember a huge difference when he finally quit drinking and in that I realized how much alcohol had changed him as a person.
I met addiction again when I had a roommate who used cocaine. She shared as I thought it was just something “fun” to do. I remember she had these quarters from her grandparents. You know, those state quarters that became so popular? I cannot even remember how many states were released at the time, but each time a new state was released she got a new roll of quarters. I remember she had a lot. It did not even occur to me how big the problem was as we were cashing those quarters in to just sit in the apartment and talk for hours on end. Cocaine makes you want to talk… a lot. We ended up having a falling out over, I bet you can guess…. Cocaine. She moved out and I never saw her again. And I am thankful the claws of addiction did not quite sink in far enough for me then.
Addiction welcomed itself into my home once again as I came home from work one day, conveniently for addiction, grieving multiple huge losses in my life and looking for a way to just stop the pain. My sister and a friend had lines on the table… “Hey what’s that, coke?” It was not, but those 4 words ended up being the very thing that gave those dark demon claws a huge opportunity. Crystal meth took over my life like a tornado. It made me feel amazing because it made me not feel anything emotional at all. I remember the lies I told; I remember how much I cannot even remember. It was only about 5 months, but it was all day every day. I stayed up so many days in a row, my body had to just give up and shut down and I woke up with the pen I was holding still moving. The things I did to my brain in that time. I remember the last line of meth I ever did. That morning was a Sunday, and I did my normal line before I went to work. I was emotional, and my body was hurting. A friend I worked with bought me a pregnancy test. “No way!” I thought to myself. She pushed me to just take it. “Double pink line, double pink line…Double pink line!” I just kept saying to myself. In that very moment, I decided whoever this was I just learned was growing inside my body was bigger than anything else and I would never touch meth again. She will forever be the thing that saved my life.
You see I have heard of so many people who only got away by dying. People who ended up in jail, dark demon claws still dug in deep. All the times I could have hurt someone, or myself. My fate could have taken a completely different path. I had to detox, and it was not easy. I almost lost someone I loved very much as I knew the truth had to come out. Blessed with how things turned out for me and heartbroken for those I know could not get away. My sister is one of the ones who just cannot seem to get away. Those dark demon claws are so deep, she starts to pull away and they just dig deeper. I have seen her lose everything, including her children. She becomes someone I do not recognize and yet someone who has become so familiar to me. Her own shame causes her to stray from everyone who loves her and cling to the very people who give her great opportunity to continue down her dark path. Why was I able to get away and she cannot? And when I say get away, I mean the claws. The demon is always there, waiting with those claws. I know if I even tried to “casually” use crystal meth again, those claws would dig right back in.
Here, I thought I was an expert on addiction. I had alcoholism, gambling, coke, meth. Oh man, I know addiction well! But I was about to meet addictions best ally…
I ran into an old flame from high school, we will call him M. Someone who I had a connection with that was so strong it was one of those easy relationships. No matter how much time went by, we instantly picked up where we left off. What I did not know was the demon’s claws were in him so deep because addiction’s best ally was on his side, and it goes by many names. Innocently called Percocet, oxycodone, and morphine, it is in its most dangerous disguise. Known more by its street cred as heroine, opioids are the worst of addiction’s allies. This demon had its claws so deep; it was able to manipulate me from the very second I reconnected with my friend. I was so unfamiliar with heroin that I did not even recognize it when it flooded my life, and to this day, I can say I still have never experimented with it. Heroin made me believe I could save M. For 2 long years I tried. I tried so hard! I know that without heroin M would have never stolen, abused, and manipulated me in those years.
He talked about quitting. Everyday he talked about quitting. He tried different things, but it was always easier to just surrender, for withdrawal from opioids when dependent, can cause a reaction in your body that feels like you are dying. After 2 years I found the strength and self-preservation to cut M out of my life for good, I had to literally block him from every outlet that could connect us again. Last year, after not speaking to M for 8 years, I learned he took his own life. The demon was too strong, and the claws were just too deep. All those years I thought I was mad at him and could never forgive him. But I realized I had forgiven him long ago, I just had to make the decision to not have him in my life. And the demon’s first opportunity with M began with migraines and a prescription bottle full of Percocet… and it ended with his life.
I believe as a nation we are dealing with an addiction crisis because we are not treating it as we should. Right there in the name, CRISIS! Maybe we should label it a pandemic, or epidemic. Those seem to raise more fear and gain more attention. Addiction is all around us. Some forms more dangerous than others. As I have gotten older, and now in nursing school, I realize, although not in the form of drugs, alcohol, and gambling, addiction is still in my life just not in its “deep dark claw” form. When I wake up in the morning, I NEED coffee. When I am stressed out, I NEED to eat… EVERYTHING! I shove everything I can into my mouth until I just cannot anymore. I used to smoke cigarettes. I crave being needed by people. All these things fall under addiction. And addiction falls under an even bigger umbrella, the Mental Health crisis in this country.
Today, my best friend is so broken inside she literally drinks away the days. I hosted my own intervention for her and told her she can no longer be trusted with my son, her Godson. I thought that would help. I had already tried smaller conversations and pleading. That was my “hail mary,” and even then, the demon is still winning. It is frustrating feeling so helpless. I do not know how to help her! It is easier for her to be numb than to feel confident enough to say, “I need help,” or to figure out why she needs to be numb. Why is that? Maybe because addiction is not treated like the flu. It is not labeled as a disease you acquired. It is treated more like something you chose. “You shouldn’t have started drinking,” or “You chose to pick up those drugs.” These are things addicts are faced with when they try to bring the demon into the light.
If you have the flu and you need to seek medical attention, there are urgent cares all over. Emergency rooms, hospitals, doctor’s offices. Insurance covers medical visits. Not necessarily easy but more accessible. When someone enters an emergency room with the flu, they are tested, hooked up to IVs, treated with dignity by a nurse and a doctor. Someone who comes into the emergency room with a drug overdose or under the influence are reluctantly treated for their objective symptoms. Then they are usually judged and treated like they are seeking more drugs. Even if they are there seeking help. When someone wants help from an addiction they go to the hospital and are given resources and assisted with the detox and sent on their way. Physically, they may be past the struggle, but the claws are still in deep because mentally they are still symptomatic. The problem is its symptoms are subjective, not objective. The medical field is only treating what they can see and measure. The insurance companies are only approving treatment for the objective. Hands are thrown up in the air “we’ve done all we can,” and people are shown the door. No direction, no hope. Doctors are taught to prescribe for treatments of symptoms. A pill to bring you down from your anxiety. A pill to bring you up from the anxiety pill that gave you depression. A pill for pain. A pill for constipation caused by the pill prescribed for pain. Are you dizzy yet? Between the unawareness of these crisis’, the current policies and procedures for treatment, and the regulations for assistance, I fear the crisis will only get worse.
There is a debate about whether addiction is a disease or not. Why is this a debate? Why is it so easy for people to accept the flu as a disease, but addiction is considered a choice? Why is the world shut down for a pandemic of a disease like the coronavirus but not just as much attention for how to better help those with mental illnesses such as addiction? For the individual, it is a systemic issue and for society it is an acknowledgement issue. Ignorance is not bliss! Especially in times of technology where our children can be influenced by a 30 second Tik Tok video, it is more important than ever to figure out how to get ahead of this. With the pandemic we started with what we knew, and we just kept searching for what we could do to help. We have not stopped. I feel the only way we can remedy this crisis is to figure out what needs to change and to start changing it! Trial and error if that is what it will take.
I think as a society people do not know. People do not know addiction is a disease. People do not know addiction can lie anywhere in anything. It can come in all forms. It wears disguises and can be easily excused. So, what can we do? How can we educate society to accept addiction as a disease? Can it be taken as seriously as a pandemic? Can it get as much awareness from people as You Tube and Tik Tok? We need to start at its tie to mental illness and keep going.
Honestly, I do not know the right answer. I just know we must get started and never stop until we find it!