by Carla Atherton, Director of The Healthy Family Formula
I mean it when I say that, when it comes to addictions, I’ve seen it all. Addictions to alcohol and marijuana, big-time drugs like heroine and crack cocaine, gambling, pharmaceuticals, “benign” addictions that aren’t even seen as harmful like gaming, shopping, e-cigarettes, and even food. You want to talk about a “gateway drug,” have a look at the behaviours and chemical highs our kids are becoming accustomed to by engaging with their handheld devices from sunup to sundown or by eating chemically addicting “food” on the go where the only clean-up is a bag or box that their burger was wrapped in and the only social engagement is the question, “would you like fries with that?”
I grew up in a home where alcohol and drugs were the norm, they were the tool for both having “good” times as well as to “cope” with the bad. I saw police and violence and deep pain and sorrow. Treatment centres, interventions, al-anon, therapy, family week, relapse, relapse, relapse. Yep. Seen it all. I went through the shame, the enabling, the denial, the rejection, the disgust, the trauma of never knowing what to expect or even that there was any other way to be.
Well, there is.
Gambling almost took my own family down. We also witnessed my husband’s good friend drink himself to death at the age of 45 and saw several kids I knew in my youth overdose, one in the backseat of a car, and another in his own bed where he just didn’t wake up. A good friend of mine was beaten with a baseball bat within an inch of his life while he slept by his roommate who was tripping on hallucinogenic drugs. As I write this, I am thinking about my sister’s friend who made it back from the streets where she was addicted to heroine, saved by the fact that she was pregnant; I am thinking about a few others who I am currently trying to help who won’t make it unless something is done now because their livers are giving up, they already have brain damage, or they have lost their jobs and all sense of self. I have seen people literally eating themselves to death, starving themselves and their brains replacing food with cigarettes, and obsessively gaming, ashen, grey and not sleeping, instead of hanging out with friends, laughing, engaging, living life. More, more, more, while getting less, less, less.
I have seen the systems we have in place fail time and time again because something is missing from what we understand about addiction and why it can grip those we love (and even ourselves), both young and old, so tightly that we will choose chocolate cake, a margarita, or a chemical shot into our arms over our very lives. In my late teens, I became a tiny voice against the gale force of addiction wondering why I was the only one who could or would hear. And as the years went on and I learned more from my work and experience, that voice got louder, bolder, and more effective. Systems will not save us first world people who are immersed in a culture of excess, instant gratification, and apathy, in a culture that values profit over good food, water, air, and shelter, a society addicted to the dopamine high these addictions can give us that nothing else in nature can. The problem goes deeper and wider than the people who are the “addicts.” And addictions are physical, yes, but are also mental, social, cultural, and spiritual. They are the result of our individual, familial, and collective experience. And the solutions have to address them all. Addictions usually come with a huge dose of denial, yet we can’t ignore this problem, because a lot is at stake here.
Addictions can and will take down not only the individual, but entire families, and rock the core of whole communities. How do we help our youth, our children and grandchildren? How do we help struggling adults who are supposed to be the foundational pillars of our community and family structures? How do we empower ourselves to reverse the current epidemic of addictions, heed the warning signs, and heal?
We can answer these questions by having conversations had in summits like The Addiction Summit. Let’s blow this thing out of the water by first, attending, then taking action, whether you are a parent, child, or friend of a person with an addition or are struggling, yourself!
I have a lot more to say about addictions, what causes them, the warning signs, how to help, and how to heal, so I promise to write a full article about it for you very soon based on the programs I’ve been developing! Because it is not the addictions that call the shots, we do.
May you and your family be well,