My career path up to this point has been in the area of domestic violence, corrections, trauma and addictions. Um, ya all that in 14 years post grad and four years prior to that. To say I have seen a lot and have had a heavy career is an understatement. I always joked that I have had the career that tends to make people incredibly uncomfortable. Not exactly the kind of chit chat over a glass of wine at a party. Generally speaking, new people who met me always either seemed to view me as a petite Madonna with a Boston accent, or probably crazy. Usually conversations about career would end after I drop the lead bomb about what I do . “Oh wow, that must be tough” would generally be what I would hear and then people would drift away from me like I had I some communicable disease they may catch. Believe me, I work in a hospital, I get tested for TB all the time, I don’t have it. Although here are my thoughts about what might be going on for you….
We like to think that addicts and alcoholics are “those people.” They are dreadful scum who have no self control, manipulate, lie and destroy society. They should be locked up if they refuse to stop using, made to use birth control. They are trying to suck off the government. When I meet new people, I am often appauled at their very rude and narrow responses. Working in this field yes has taken a lot from me. It is exhausting, frustrating and at times has felt quite abusive. Why I spent so long working in an environment where I often felt unsafe and abused in the name of helping people is a question that was raised and answered upon my healing path. But here is an interesting fact, you, me, everyone is no different than “those” people. They are the extreme example of something that is going on inside us all. What???? you say. Yes, I say and here is why.
We all have this part of our brain called cerebral cortex and just underneath it is the pleasure center. This area in the brain lights up whenever we do something that the brain perceives as positive. It’s called the reward center. When it lights up, it releases a neurotransmitter, dopamine, which makes us feel good. It reinforces “oooooo I like that, let me do that again.” There is a “highjacking” that can go on when the brain is flooded with dopamine. It wants more and more and more. Like when you eat sugar and then you crave sugar and then you eat sugar which makes you crave sugar. You end up like the Cookie Monster “Me wnats Cookies!” Who hasn’t experienced that? NO ONE! This happens with eating chocolate, simple carbs such as sugar, sex, shopping, etc. And who out there hasn’t had a behavior that triggered the pleasure center but also caused negative consequences, like say, gaining weight from eating “junk” food, having a hangover from drinking too much, spending too much money shopping, etc. Why? Because you are human, that is why. The difference between engaging in these activities that may not be healthy and them turning into an addiction is based upon genetics and psycho social factors, period. We have all at one time or another used something that felt pleasurable on the one hand, in a way that wasn’t generally pleasurable on another. You may have even got caught in a pattern where you were doing this a lot and then were able to stop. Addicts have difficulty with the stopping part because addiction is far more complex, that’s all.
Now that peace has set in and I am in a more balanced place, I have deep love for addicts and alcoholics. I love their tenacity, their rebellious nature (I can relate, I am pretty feisty myself:) When addicts and alcoholics stop using, they have an immense ability to come together to create a community of healing. While I still work in addictions, it is part time and in a different environment where I feel safe. This has given me an opportunity to help from a place that feels good for me. I felt compelled to write this post because I imagine that my work in this field is going to be immensely helpful to my holistic health clients because, we all struggle with doing things we wish we weren’t. This makes us human. The next time you see someone pan handling on the street who you feel will use your money to buy drugs, instead of looking at them with distain, imagine that person as your brother, sister, father, cousin. Send them loving kindness, peaceful healing thoughts whether you decide to give them money or not. You are them and they are you. We are all one, we all struggle, it’s the ties that bind us.