3 Myths of Addiction recovery

Discover why you are addicted to cure it

3 Myths of Addiction Recovery, Chris Prentiss, Health

3 Myths of Addiction Recovery, Chris Prentiss, Health

The day my son Pax came home at age 18 and told me that he was hooked on heroin, I knew nothing about heroin except that it was an illegal drug that was powerfully addictive. I thought we would just get Pax off the drug and that would be that. Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long fight to save Pax’s life

No problem,” I told him. I called our family doctor, got prescriptions to deal with sleeplessness, cramping, headache, muscle spasms, pain and nausea, and sat with Pax for the next 18 gutwrenching days while he detoxed. When he was finally feeling all right again, I sent him back to school, glad for the experience and glad that it had been painful and severe, thinking, “At least he’ll never do that again!”

He was detoxed and sober 40 times or more, and each time he would relapse, sometimes the first day. With every setback I would ask, “Why? Why you are doing it?” Deep inside, in that intuitive place we all have, I believed there was a reason behind his addiction. Yet each time I asked him why he was using, he said it was the high. He said he had never experienced anything like that in ordinary reality—that it was “like looking into the face of God.” But I knew there was something deeper driving him to use.

Pax became addicted to alcohol and cocaine as well. I tried everything to get him sober. I took him to psychiatrists, psychologists and addiction specialists. They suggested residential substance abuse treatment programs, 12-step programs and more counseling. So we put him in treatment centers and sober living houses. Nothing worked—and none of them ever sought to discover why Pax was using heroin. All we heard was that same dismal, hopeless story: “Addiction is a disease. It’s incurable, and your son will be an addict and an alcoholic for the rest of his life. The best he can do is learn to manage it.” After several fruitless years of searching for a cure, I took him to a remote cabin in a wilderness area and kept him there with me for nine months, totally sober. I thought for sure we had it beaten. The first week home, he was again using heroin, alcohol and cocaine.

Desperate to find something that would heal Pax, I said, “Pax, unless we find a way to overcome your addiction, you will die. We have to create something brand new.” So we created our own holistic program that combined several therapies and focused on helping him get to the core of why he was using. After several months, I got a phone call from him at three o’clock in the morning from the sober house where he was living. “Dad! Dad!” I knew why he was calling.

I said, “You’ve found out why, haven’t you?” We met the next morning. He said he had been soaking in a bathtub when he asked himself the $64 million question: “What am I doing high that I’m not doing sober?” The answer flashed through his mind like a bolt of lightning.

I’m a single dad and Pax had always idolized me. He saw me giving lectures, producing feature films, writing books, starting companies and having conversations about metaphysics that he couldn’t understand. What Pax wanted, more than anything, was to have me see him as he saw me, the main star in his sky. Of course, I already did see him that way, but he didn’t know that. What Pax realized that fateful night in the bathtub was that in his heroin dreams, he was imagining himself as the hero, doing great deeds, and I was there, watching. His great journey into drugs and alcohol, a journey that several times nearly cost him his life, was a quest to be recognized by me as a hero. That day, 12 years ago, was the end of his using drugs or alcohol. A few weeks later, Pax said, “Look, Dad, we know how to cure people. Let’s do it.”

That experience, as heart wrenching as it was, became the impetus for our life’s work. We knew what worked, but just as important, we knew what didn’t work. We opened Passages Malibu in 2001 based on our new treatment paradigm. Now 12 years later, we know with absolute certainty that recovery is possible if you take the right approach—if you can move beyond the dangerous myths that, like thick concrete walls, block the light of hope. Here are three of the big ones:

MYTH #1: ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR ARE THE PROBLEM

Before we began our new program, everyone we encountered was treating drugs and alcohol as if they were the problem. They’re not. They are what people are using to cope with the problem. All dependency is a symptom of an underlying condition. People who are dependent are merely using alcohol (or their drug or behavior of choice) as a crutch to get through the day. Yet many doctors and scientists are still treating “alcoholism and addiction” as if they are the problems.

Suppose you had a chronic itch and scratched it regularly throughout the day. Would you have “scratchism”? Would you be a “scratchaholic”? What if you had a constant headache and to cope with it you took aspirin several times each day. Would you suffer from “aspirinism,” and would you be called an “aspirinaholic”? More importantly, would you be treated for “scratchism” or “aspirinism”? Of course not; you would be treated for the underlying conditions that led you to scratch or use aspirin—perhaps poison ivy or stress. It’s the same for drugs and alcohol. Treating people for alcoholism and addiction is like treating people for scratchism and aspirinism.

Without being aware of it, what everyone who is dependent on drugs or alcohol is trying to do is adjust an imbalance in their brain, body or emotions so they’ll feel calmness, harmony and a sense of well-being instead of anxiety, stress and pain. The real issues behind the substance abuse can be anything from deep emotional pain, ill health, low self-esteem or anything from depression to to hypoglycemia, a sluggish thyroid, brain-wave pattern imbalances or other hidden conditions. There is more, of course, to complete recovery than finding the “why.” But unless the “why” is discovered and healed, relapse is nearly certain.

I am not advocating that once someone has discovered and healed the underlying causes of their dependency, they can return to using drugs or alcohol. Can someone who has cured themselves of a heroin addiction take heroin again? Yes, but doing so will find him quickly addicted because heroin has such powerfully addictive qualities. Even after the underlying causes that lead to an addiction have been eliminated, certain substances still have inherently addictive properties. As for alcohol, many people relapse because they think, “I’ll just have one drink and I’ll stop.” The problem with that is that alcohol weakens our stop mechanism, and one drink most likely leads to many more. I gave up alcohol when Pax quit out of respect for him. Even though alcohol or drugs were never a problem for me, it was the best thing I have ever done for myself. What develops over the years of sobriety is great clarity. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.

The bottom line is that effective treatment starts with effective diagnosis. That means searching for the underlying cause or causes that drive someone to self medicate. It could be, and often is, a combination of factors—physical and emotional. To get at those real causes you need a balanced and personalized approach, one that restores balance in body, mind and spirit.

MYTH #2: A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL SOLUTION WORKS FOR EVERYONE.

The best method to complete recovery is to have the help of a support team to uncover and treat the specific reasons why someone is depending on addictive substances or behaviors to cope with life. Every person is different, and the reasons they have become dependent are different (though the reasons fall into four broad categories, which I will describe in the next article in this series—you’ll be surprised at what they are). Yet most approaches to treatment offer a one-program-fits-all type of service. That’s like taking several people to a clinic for treatment, one for a broken bone, another for a cough, one for acute diarrhea, another for an eye infection, and treating them all with a cast on the arm.

In the one-treatment-fits-all approach, clients sit in group meetings most of the day and listen to each other’s stories. At the end of the first week, everyone in the room knows everyone else’s story. That goes on for three more weeks, and people most often go home with the same core problems they brought when they arrived.

We’ve found that one-on-one sessions with individual therapists or practitioners are key because the individual issues at the root of the dependency are just that— completely individual. At Passages, a 10-person therapy team works with our clients in one-on-one sessions several times a day. That is not to say that someone can’t cure their underlying conditions on their own. They can, and many do. Many people who have read our book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, report that they have recovered completely just by reading the book and applying the principles described in it. In the book I talk about how you can create your own holistic, personalized treatment team with the support of health professionals where you live. This team should ideally be composed of a range of specialized doctors and health practitioners who will look at one’s individual situation from different points of view, which is what makes it holistic. Together, they will work with the body, mind and spirit to uncover the “why” and to stimulate the body’s self-healing potential. Most importantly, they can guide and protect the person who requires healing as they delve into areas that have been hidden but that hold the keys to their freedom.

When putting together a team of practitioners for yourself or someone else, keep in mind that the practitioners must hold the intention of getting to the core of why their client is out of balance, their “why”. An integral part of any treatment team should include a medical doctor (preferably a doctor who incorporates natural, holistic approaches to wellness) who will run comprehensive laboratory tests; a psychologist; a marriage and family therapist; a nutritionist to help uncover nutritional deficiencies, blood sugar problems, food allergies or other issues and help create a customized diet and supplement program; and a personal fitness trainer to get the body strong and in balance. Also helpful are learning Tai Chi or yoga and meditation to cultivate inner calm. I also recommend acupuncture treatments, which are often valuable in bringing balance to the body. Some people also benefit from hypnotherapy. Medical insurance usually pays for most of the treatment. If that is not an option and funds are limited, remember that one can do it alone by following the directions in the book.

MYTH #3: WE ARE POWERLESS TO OVERCOME OUR CRAVINGS AND ADDICTIONS.

Another aspect of the traditional treatment paradigm that contributes to its dismal success rate is that the treatment itself often reinforces a negative self image by affirming that we are basically powerless in the face of what has been labeled a “disease” and by labeling us as addicts and alcoholics. In fact, the poor self-image that labeling creates is a major cause of relapse.

In 1956, the American Medical Association named alcoholism as a disease and a couple of years later they did the same for addiction. Privately, I think that was done so insurance companies would pay for treatment. If you think alcoholism and addiction are diseases, just try “quitting” real diseases, like Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or cancer. Yet millions of people quit their addictions every year. In the light of that, how can we consider them diseases?

Throughout the world the existing primary paradigm regarding alcoholism and addiction is not only that they are diseases but also that they are incurable. We’re told that even if we stop abusing substances, the disease will continue and we will be addicts or alcoholics forever. In my experience, it is that belief that is primarily responsible for the stagnation that has existed for the past 70 years or so in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction.

Think about the negative effects of believing that alcoholism is an incurable illness and that you have it. Labeling alcoholism as a disease, a cause unto itself, simply no longer fits with what we know today about its causes. When people who accept the label of “alcoholic” or “addict” come under great stress or trauma, they mentally give themselves permission to drink and/or use drugs. After all, isn’t that what “alcoholics” and “addicts” do?

One of the toughest jobs we have at Passages is to help our clients reverse their negative self-image and unlearn their self-defeating behaviors regarding recovery. A frequent conversation I have with clients when I first meet them goes like this:

“Hello, I’m Chris. Welcome to Passages.”
“Hello. I’m Mary. I’m an alcoholic.”
“No, you’re not.”
“What?”
“You’re not an alcoholic.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, you’re not.”
“What am I?”
“You’re a sweet, wonderful person, who is hurting inside and who has simply become dependent on alcohol to get through the day.”

Later, that person invariably comes to me and says, “When you told me that I wasn’t an alcoholic, you made my day. It’s such a relief...You just don’t know.”

Labeling anyone as powerless—as an addict or alcoholic for the rest of their lives—stands in the way of healing. It’s also a nasty thing to do to someone. It destroys the promise of full recovery. It destroys hope, which is one of the most powerful ingredients for success. We are anything but powerless. We are powerful beings with unlimited potential. Affirming our power, not powerlessness, is the key to recovery.

We are changing the treatment paradigm. At one time, people thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around the earth, but then along came Galileo and Copernicus and changed all of that. It’s time to stop repeating the misinformation about alcoholism and addiction and to challenge the myths that are preventing recovery. It’s time to surge ahead into the future with a new treatment approach that embraces the truth that dependency is a symptom, not the problem, and that we have the power to heal ourselves completely.

Chris Prentiss is the cofounder, along with his son Pax, of the treatment centers, Passages Malibu and Passages Ventura. He is the author of The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach to Total Recovery as well as other books on personal growth, including Zen and the Art of Happiness; Be Who You Want, Have What You Want; The Little Book of Secrets; and The Laws of Love. To learn more about Chris Prentiss and his work, visit www.PassagesMalibu.com and www.PowerPressPublishing.com.and spirit to uncover the “why” and to stimulate the body’s self-healing potential. Most importantly, they can guide and protect the person who requires healing as they delve into areas that have been hidden but that hold the keys to their freedom.
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