Some of us remember the 1980s commercial that depicts a person frying an egg in a hot skillet. The narrator tells us that this is "your brain on drugs."
Get the picture?
That picture has remained in my mind for many years. Today, the war on drugs has taken a back seat to many other national concerns, but the reality of addiction continues to tear away at the fabric of our families and our culture.
We seem to have become a nation of complex addictions. Medicines meant to bring freedom from pain or anxiety morph into chemical treasures one can't live without.
Substances sold on the streets attract those of all income levels and races. Alcoholism still troubles us. It sits like a waiting imp at festive family gatherings and parties that begin with laughter but end in unpredictable places.
Even the Internet can be a snare that provides a constant, hungry companion that increasingly substitutes for human connection. And I can barely go one day without my sugar.
Breaking from an addiction is such a difficult thing to achieve, however, that it literally requires a life transformation. At a recent talk given at Bradford Health Services, a speaker, himself a veteran of recovery, used the patterns evident in his own life and researched data to paint a picture for us listeners of what it's like to experience the journey from dependency to freedom.
First, he explained that the brain begins to operate differently once its naturally balanced, regulated nature becomes disrupted. This disruption may come in the form of a first time experiment with a substance, a traumatic experience, or a very impactful occurrence in life.
The person's rational mind may begin to take a back seat to the emotional mind, which is seeking to re-regulate itself. The person craves some sort of substance to do this, and thus begins the cycle of addiction.
In order to break free, the use of the now famous 12 Steps has proven to be extremely effective. The person who follows each step has essentially chosen to go on a spiritual journey.
Our instructor gave us a very unique definition of spirituality, calling it "the quality and nature of the relationship one has with God, one's self, and others. Disease is what happens once we are separated from ourselves, God, and our fellow man. Separation occurs when what we believe and what we do are different."
Becoming an honest, authentic, humble person of integrity is the foundation from which true recovery grows. This transformation generally occurs within a caring community, along with a reliance on a power higher than oneself. Also, it requires a willingness to not just acknowledge mistakes, but to courageously and consistently right the wrongs in one's own life while reaching out to help others do the same.
The 12 Steps, summarized:
1. We admitted we were powerless over [our addiction] and that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove our character defects.
7. We humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we'd harmed and were willing to make amends.
9. We made amends whenever possible, but not when it would hurt others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and promptly admitted when we were wrong.
11. We sought God and the power to carry out his will through prayer and meditation.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening, we tried to carry this message to others and practice them in all our affairs.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a counselor and free lance writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.