I attempt to educate and demystify this perplexing illness. It is time it was viewed for what it really is, a mental health illness which has the propensity for lasting recovery if treated in the right way.
Will you listen to me?
Can we communicate, and can we connect? The title of this book after all is relevant in considering if you can listen, hear, and connect to what I will be talking about. Addiction and recovery is a great passion of mine. I lived in the grips of an out-of-control addiction for approximately 15 years. I knew in this time I was not a ‘bad’ person but sometimes my behaviour whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol turned me into someone I was ashamed of being. Not a good thing to feel, it left me depressed and hopeless at times as I tried to figure out how to hide what I was doing. I loved my mother and family but had to escape her knowing eyes on me. She was the first person ever to call my behaviour out for what it was. I developed a habit which is called a geographical in the recovery world, a running away from the present problems, imagining things would be different in another town, country etcetera.
It was not all awful of course, as the behaviour led me to some fantastic places, and I have lived in France, Australia, Jersey, Holland as well as England. Trouble followed me however to those distant lands and the out-of-control addict me resurfaced in every place I went to. It took time for others to see who I was, and to experience some of my crazy, but always in the end, the me I despised was seen. A series of painful life events led me to my rock bottom and in desperate need of rescue. No white knight for me but rescue never the less came in the form of other addicts who had somehow managed to stop their destructive use and were living ‘normal’ lives.
Today I am happy to tell you I have been clean and sober for over thirty years. I found the people to help me first in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and then in extensive therapy. Remember I was ‘crazy.’ I met many people along the way to here and now, who have been guides and mentors, wonderful generous souls who asked nothing in return from me except to be clean and sober and to quieten the unrest in my soul.
Along the winding journey of recovery, another set of circumstances pushed me into training to be a therapist. I often say it is three things that have saved my life, first of all, was AA, then personal therapy and then my training to be a therapist. All these things forced me into looking at and healing the great chasms in my soul, created when things were not as they should have been in childhood. AA, therapy, and training have been instrumental in keeping me clean, sober, and changing. I talk to others daily about how to change, about how to stop destroying self, about how to understand the many things that addiction can teach us. I have also learned how to quiet my unrest, and to nourish my soul.
I have trained in and become accredited as an addiction professional. I continue to study and learn about this perplexing monumental disease. I want the world to change its mind about addiction, to see it as a mental health problem, which needs treating and not punishing. I want perceptions about addiction to change and to this end have written and published other books on the subject. I have discovered that in the healing of self and in order to keep recovery for myself I have to ‘give it away’. It is in this amazing process of recovery and sharing it with others I have finally found the me I should have been at the start. The better version of myself. It takes many things however to keep what I have found, as the lure of euphoria is seductively strong. Even after all these years, I can still sometimes catch myself thinking that ‘perhaps I’m not really an addict’, with the unspoken ending being ‘so perhaps one or some wouldn’t hurt’ I know enough about the addict mind and myself today to know that only an addict would think like this. Non-addicts don’t have this kind of thinking. They don’t ponder the question at all.
Today my life is vastly different to the one stumbling from one disaster to another, never listening to anyone’s counsel except my own. Today I take pride in the work I can achieve. I am consistent and dependable. People trust me to do what I say I will do. I turn up and am accountable. I also have many wise and wonderful people who I communicate and connect with. In fact, I could not do the work I do successfully without those people.
The version of me that existed in the throes of addiction exhibited none of these things. Life today can be difficult, and along with the rest of the world, I have had to negotiate the pandemic and its limitations. Having observed the stress and loneliness this imposed. It showed in frightening detail how much we all really need the ability to communicate and connect. This recent world experience clearly demonstrates the need we all have to feel a sense of freedom and possibility to keep our mental health in optimum condition.
As I have continued to refine my sobriety I have discovered that one of my strongest passions is for the ability to translate the freedom I have found into words that will enable others to receive this gift. All this of course began and continues with communication and connection.
Words can heal but can also wound. It is essential therefore we learn how to be truthful and gentle in equal measure. Our communication as healers should be tempered with a desire to do good. We need to set our intentions but not become frustrated when they are ignored or ‘thrown away’ We cannot force our truth on anyone, we cannot make anyone stop using or destroying themselves with an addiction, all we can really do is show the path forward if an individual wants to walk it.
This way of working with the mental health of addicts is actually the only way I have found to be effective. In my early years learning to be a therapist working with addiction, I was taught that a firm hand and strict discipline was the most effective way. Most treatment centres used to believe that it was beneficial to ‘strip people down’ in order to ‘build them up.’ In my experience this method tended to, at best frighten some people away or create excessive self-willed stories that to all intents and purposes served nobody very well. The patient rebelled against the strict discipline or walked away. Who wins in scenarios like this? Only the addiction.
Our skill as teachers, therapists and as people in recovery can really save lives. But once we begin to function as though it is our wisdom and knowledge that is creating the changes, we actually lose our effectiveness. Humility needs to accompany whatever we do with people trying to find recovery.
Whenever I feel or see ego taking over, I remember my own journey to health and sanity. It was a massive gift given to me, yes I needed to ‘take it’ listen and follow direction but it was nothing clever on my part. I was just able to hear what others said to me. For this ability, I am truly grateful. What I ‘know’ today and what I teach today come from these humble beginnings. I want to give back; I want also to be able to change perceptions about the disease of addiction. I want to be able to communicate well and to connect with whomever I am talking to.
So will you listen to me? Can we communicate and connect?
There are many books written about relapse prevention, clever minds wrestling with this phenomenon of the recovery world. Why do some people ‘get’ the message of recovery and stay well, and some do not? It is a question that most people who are in recovery from addictive substances or behaviour ponder. It is a question of course that most concerned therapist’s contemplate.
I am both, a person in long-term recovery from addictive substances and also a therapist collaborating with people in rehab. I ponder this question a lot.
I do wish there were a definitive answer to the question, and that my book goes on to save thousands of lives. It is not exaggeration to talk about saving thousands of lives. As the disease of addiction claims thousands, and as the years go by, the numbers do not lessen but grow. No, there is not a definitive answer, yet I do believe there are answers. These are not simple or just one answer but are contained in the many different and sometimes obscure things a person contemplating a recovery has to do and think about. It is the continued application of these things that creates success.
This book will explore some of those diverse things. The book is entitled Communication and Connection which I propose are two particularly important aspects of recovery from addictive substances and behaviours. Even though it is just the beginning, without them you cannot travel far. So communicate what? And connect with whom? We will look at the things that need to be communicated about, and with whom we should connect with in order to do it. One without the other renders each useless or ineffectual. Most addicts can talk quite well, are good orators when it is needed, few know how to listen, or follow directions. Most addicts have many people they can connect with, however, some of the people in the practising addicts' life end up being just the sort of influence they should not spend too much time with. We are all creatures of habit, we tend to want to be around others who do similar things, like similar things to us. Most addicts keep part of themselves secret even from their spouses, partners, or best friends, especially if they do not share an addiction themselves.
As the disease progresses and the behaviours become more out of control it is not unusual for the addict to choose isolation as their preferred place of ‘safety.’ It is another reason that the addicts thinking, and actions appear so bizarre at times. In the illness, those who have it, know that some of the time the behaviour is questionable, so isolation becomes a desirable place to live. It is not just physical isolation, but an isolation that affects mind and soul as well as body. Addicts become shapeshifters, changing self to fit with whatever is needed. They can be present but distracted, their minds somewhere else. They certainly become adept at lying, using smoke and mirrors to conceal so much. Is it any wonder then, that addicts need to learn how to connect and communicate for change to happen?
We will explore all of these things and discuss addiction which is at the core of everything about this book. Without an understanding of the disease concept, there is very little else that will make much sense about the way addicts need to change and to continue to find ways to remain focused. Recovery does take work and application, some of which people have great difficulty doing unless they understand how serious an illness addiction can be. We will contemplate the brain and the mind and just what might be wrong when addiction is the powerhouse. We will look at soul and spirituality, which are concepts sometimes foreign at the start of recovery but become essential and exciting when the illness is managed, and the muddled brain of the addict begins to experience acceptance and life. I have asked others to write some of their thoughts about the subject to give texture and interest and explore just what an important and diverse subject Communication and Connection is.
Angie Cullen Family Liaison Support – RMN – Addiction Therapist
I always felt alone as a child, at home, I disappeared into books from the age of 4/5 – sitting quietly sucking my thumb in a corner. At school I was initially extremely shy and bullied – ‘sit on that wall and don’t move’ – so I didn’t. Other children came up to me and then I could be bright and bubbly and full of questions. The grown-ups were a different matter. Both my parents were alcoholics – Dad a GP with a strong work ethic and huge aspirations – a very clever man but big and scary. Mum very shy but quite strict. We moved 10 times to always bigger and grander houses – 10 schools – there were 3 of us (younger brother and sister) we were not asked how we were, just told to be good soldiers. I could make friends but never keep them. I could do the superficial polite stuff very well but never found out what happened after that.
Last school, a huge Notting Hill Comprehensive where I just got lost – in every way – I had already started smoking cannabis and taking LSD with the friends in my last tiny school. We lived in Chelsea then so at the age of 13/14 I rapidly wanted to be part of the flower power hippy in-crowd, and right there I had found my tribe with whom I started communicating and connecting.
Less and less school for this clever girl who had been near the top of her classes. I started dealing drugs to the rich and famous at the tender age of 16. The famous saying is if you remember the 1960’s you weren’t there – I can’t remember the 60’s.
Fast forward to 1981 – Rehab – ‘Do you want help?’ – Yes - New Tribe.
‘How do you feel?’ I had no ability to even say that I didn’t know. Eventually being scared of being kicked out of this place that I instinctively felt at home in, I asked them to help me – they did. I learnt some of the words to what I was feeling - fear, anger, shame, guilt, disappointment, confusion and hurt.
I had been chained by what others thought of me, expected of me and what I thought they wanted me to say or do. I was different with everyone, desperately trying to please. Who was I?
I found out in the forty-one years of working a recovery programme and learning how to honestly communicate and connect.
The Disease Concept
Alcoholism, drug addiction, (legal and illegal) and numerous things such as nicotine, caffeine, and even sugar are all substances that can be addictive, some more dangerous than others, but all harmful to the human body if taken in quantity. There are also behavioural addictions, such as gambling, gaming, food addictions, (Overeating, Anorexia, and Bulimia), sex addiction, and all manner of things found on the internet such as pornography, social media, plastic surgery and many more behaviours that when out of control become harmful to the human body, mind, and spirit. For all the many different substances and out-of-control behaviours I shall call them ‘addictions’ and for ease of understanding the people with addictions are called ‘addicts.’ Of course looking at each particular thing separately we have alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers etcetera, but they all have addictive behaviour. I use the term to highlight that this illness is much more than the name of the substance or action. It is often stated that calling it a disease is simply an excuse for bad behaviour. I hope to dispel that idea.
So what is addiction? Let us play detective.
It is now well documented that addiction can be classed as a disease; it is:
Primary – there is a genetic component to it that means it is present at birth.