I’ve lived in the same small town almost all of my life, and we’ve always been riddled with the demons of addiction and wanting to find the magic wand of sobriety and recovery.
Much of my professional life in the law, and many of the conversations I have, even now, has been about people finding meaning in their lives and working on getting sober. Addiction was certainly the “meat and potatoes” in my legal career.
Our society is riddled with addiction, in all its crazy forms and actions. You say “addict” and we think alcohol and drugs. Insidious and destructive as those addictions are, there are others, equally powerful, equally destructive of our souls and our community.
The list of dangerous, habit-forming thinking and actions is long; the list of destructive results is even longer. And your list looks a lot like mine.
This cause and effect are often unmentioned and ignored. It is the elephant in our village’s living room. To some extent, we all deal with it, in our own lives. And, we see the devastation our addictions cause in the lives around us.
Much of my work in the law came across my desk because of this addictive thinking. Being the good lawyer, I worked to find the remedy so that people could find happiness and move on in their lives. All too often, the addiction was too powerful, too all consuming. And, it is hard to be clean and sober in a society where addiction, and addictive thinking, is an accepted way of life and a widely accepted theology.
Yet, we’ve come a long way since the days of my childhood. As a kid, I was chastised for greeting a neighbor coming out of the liquor store, or commenting about someone being drunk on the street and asking “why”.
We didn’t have AA in our community, and there were no alcohol counselors. We knew there was plenty of addictive behavior, but addiction and complacency about its destructive ways simply wasn’t mentioned in polite society.
I am so grateful for Betty Ford coming out publicly, talking about her addiction to alcohol and opioids and how inpatient treatment transformed her life. At last, it was politically correct to talk about this taboo topic.
Recently, I’ve had deep conversations about addiction, and turning our lives around, becoming healthy and clean. It’s tough work, and we go deep with each other. Reaching out and being supportive is an essential part of the work, and the healing.
Paul Carr writes in the Wall Street Journal about his struggles to become sober (March 19, 2012). He didn’t choose AA, but he says each of us has our own path:
“If it worked for me, it can work for anyone, right? Wrong. The chances that any of the advice here will work for you are vanishingly slim. So, too, are the chances that reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" [Dale Carnegie’s classic book] will result in your doing either of those things. In truth, all self-help guides are guaranteed to work only for one person: the person who wrote them.
“The real secret to getting sober, and to repairing all the broken aspects of your life, is to take the time (probably through trial and error) to figure out the causes of your addiction and the aspects of your character that can be pressed into service in curing them. To do that, you'll have to figure out your own list of things you enjoy about drinking (for me: adventures, reckless spending, dating, etc.) and how you can keep those things alive through sobriety. Then you need to figure out what part of your personality will drive you to stay sober (for me: ego).
“And then, as every recovering addict will tell you, it's simply a question of taking one step at a time.”
—Adapted from Paul Carr's "Sober Is My New Drunk”.
Today, my community has an active, visible AA community and a variety of mental health professionals. Sobriety and addiction are respectable topics of polite society’s conversations. We even greet neighbors at the liquor store and openly support people in recovery.
Yet, in our search for economic viability, our community is busy funding and promoting brew pubs, and beginning to enjoy the tax revenue from the local marijuana stores. Every bar promotes its state lottery games, and the game terminals are conveniently located next to an ATM, with the bartender happy to refresh your drink while you gamble. Casinos advertise their first class celebrity entertainment, luring us inside for your Las Vegas experience. The Legislature depends on the state lottery to fund our schools and improve parks.
And, opioid addiction is at its highest level ever, as folks who have become dependent upon opioid pain killers then look for cheaper highs after the prescriptions run out. And, heroin is so much cheaper. A loaded syringe of heroin goes for $5, maybe less, right here in my town, cheaper than the black market for Big Pharma’s opioid pills.
100 million opioid pills are prescribed in Oregon, and one out of three Oregonians has received a prescription for an opioid. Oregon ranks near the top nationally in opioid use and in deaths. More people die from opioid overdoses here than car crashes. (Medicine in Oregon, Oregon Medical Association, Winter 2016, page 12.)
Big Pharma deluges us with TV ads, urging us to ask our doctor for medications and pain relief. Where are the ads about addiction; the social conversations about our addictive culture?
The addiction machine in our society is doing well.
And, you know good and well this scourge isn’t just here in the form of the strung out street person. This addiction is alive and well everywhere. It’s alive and well with neighbors, friends, and, yes, even family. It’s an uncomfortable truth.
We’ve responded by turning the addicts into criminals, with the criminal justice system busy making felons out of addicts, and locking them up in our jail for twenty days or so at a stretch. Our judges order them into treatment, and the system collects the court ordered fees for all that. But we don’t take on the tough conversations about really getting sober, or changing our culture’s addictive ways.
I don’t have a magic wand, and I don’t have a “cure all” solution. I wish I did; lives are literally at stake. But, I do know that one person, one conversation, one relationship can alter the course in a persons’ life, and begin the change toward how we as a community can heal.
It takes a village, you know.
Let’s start that conversation. Let’s get sober.
--Neal Lemery, May 25, 2016