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You Can Hate My Addiction Without Hating Me
While I was serving my prison sentence, I met a lot of women who were in for drug offenses committed against family members. One such inmate, let’s call her Amber, broke into her grandmother’s house while high on OxyContin. She stole every piece of jewelry in the house, along with a laptop and television, then pawned it all for less than $200.
Amber’s grandmother raised her and worked hard to give her a decent life – so why did Amber betray her like that? The Amber I knew was a person of integrity (now that she was sober), so her conviction seemed totally out of character. The fact that she had she done a complete 180 was terribly confusing.
Amber’s situation perfectly illustrates why it’s so important to separate the addiction from the addict. Simply put; we are not our addiction, nor or we defined by it.
More Than Meets the Eye
Addiction is a chronic disease that hijacks the brain, changing it in both structure and function. It exerts a long and powerful influence on our way of thinking, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behaviors – despite any and all adverse consequences.
Thanks to the tight grip on our way of thinking and acting, we’re turned into strangers that our friends and family members don’t know and certainly don’t like.
To the outsider, the answer seems easy: Just quit doing drugs. It makes logical sense to put down the drugs; stop once and for all and never look back. But, the urge to continue using is both psychological and physical.
The addictive quality of abused substances is due to one neurotransmitter – dopamine. Its release essentially activates the region of the brain commonly referred to as the pleasure center and this powerful reward strongly motivates drug use over and over again. Not only does this reward make us not want to stop using, it also makes it impossible to physically quit without experiencing the uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal. In some cases, the withdrawals are so severe that they lead to seizures and even death.
Don’t Give Up on Us
Once we become completely addicted, our relationship with drugs becomes the most important relationship in our lives. Anything that even remotely endangers that relationship – the grandmother, in Amber’s case – will be viewed as a threat and discarded.
The person you know and love is still in there – but it takes determination and a commitment to recovery to free oneself from the grip of addiction.But here’s the important thing to recognize: We don’t alienate or hurt our loved ones on purpose, although it feels that way if you’re on the outside looking in. Amber didn’t steal from her grandmother because she wanted to choose drugs over her loving family member; she did it because, in her mind, it seemed like she had to. From Amber’s point of view, it was a survival situation. She truly didn’t feel like she had a choice in the matter – she had become powerless over her addiction.
In truth, loving an addict can be (and usually is) painful. But it’s important to realize that, once hooked on drugs or alcohol, we are no longer able to make decisions of our own free will. We are controlled by the disease. The person you know and love is still in there – but it takes determination and a commitment to recovery to free oneself from the grip of addiction.
Don’t give up on us; we need your support now more than ever. And in times of stress and anger, try to make a distinction between the disease of addiction and the person you know and love.
Additional Reading: The “F” Word and its Effect on Relapse
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