WILL SURGERY CURE DRUG ADDICTION?

The Washington Post reports that the surgical intervention, deep brain stimulation (already approved to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s), has been used to treat drug addiction. Gerod Buckhalter allowed surgeons to cut two nickel-size holes in his skull and plunge metal-tipped electrodes into his brain. The electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate the brain and affect the chemicals and reactions within the brain. “Buckhalter still requires anti-drug mediation, counseling, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He still experiences cravings, depression, and the anxiety that drove his drug use, but for more than 600 days after he underwent the experimental surgery, Buckhalter has not touched drugs again.”

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I searched for a ‘silver bullet’ to cure the disease. I wanted a pill, a person, something or someone to cure him. There was nothing. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Research is shedding light on the disease of addiction and identifying methods for curbing or stopping drug abuse. Deep Brain Stimulation might become a viable option in the future, but according to Ali Rezai, director of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University, who performed Buckhalter’s surgery, “This is not a magical cure. And it’s not going to work for everybody. This is a treatment that allows you to dial down the anxiety, improve the mood, make people more in charge of their bodies, make them less fragile and susceptible.” For my son, recovery was a slow build as he worked the steps, developed a relationship with a higher power, and fellowshipped with others living in the solution. Medical treatments are increasingly effective, but I believe they must be paired with the painstaking process of working a program.

 

SOMETIMES IT’S THE PAIN THAT SETS US FREE

A dad wrote to me: For ten years, I fought the chaos of addiction. With each relapse, I blamed both myself and my son. I was enmeshed in saving him and was convinced that I could. Eventually, the disease of addiction created so much pain in me that I could no longer deny the truth that recovery was HIS decision, his choice, and that I was powerless. I joined a 12-step program, educated myself, and sought out professional help. It takes great pain to set us free, but in our own recovery we find renewed strength, peace, and even serenity.

My reflection: I, too, fought the chaos of addiction. It took me fourteen years until I finally ‘let go and let God.’

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents don’t want our children to suffer. We want to protect them from pain, but sometimes it is the pain that sets us free. Many recovering people have told me that they made a decision to change their life when the consequences of their addiction became too heavy to bear. The same often happens to us.

AM I ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

A mom wrote to me: My son is two years sober, has his own place, has been at his same job for almost two years, and is managing his own money. His best friend, with whom he spends lots of time, just had surgery and has been given pain pills. Unfortunately this brings me to an old, scared place. I wonder if the pain pills tempt him? Do I ask him or just calm my inner self and thoughts? I never really know if talking or even asking would make him upset or be helpful? Am I allowed to ask about the elephant in the room or will that not be healthy for him? The fear is always there, isn’t it Libby?

My reflection: I know this place of fear, this ‘elephant in the room.’ 

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe the fear of relapse is always in the back of our parent mind. I wonder if it’s in the back of our recovering loved ones’ minds, too? No matter how justified, our worry can’t be laid at the feet of our sons and daughters, who are working hard to stay the course, to live a good life, and to manage their own anxieties. It’s normal to be concerned about ‘what will be,’ but all we have is today. Let us stay close and trust our children. Sure, this is tough, and continued recovery isn’t guaranteed. We’ve been vigilant a long time, but maybe it’s time to put our fears aside and enjoy the present.

RELAPSE AND RECOVERY

A young man wrote to me: As a recovering addict, I know well that relapse happens. It took me many attempts to find sobriety. Each addict is unique in his or her own way, but for me I spent more than a decade avoiding the true problem – myself. Drugs filled the void inside me, an empty space of insecurity and anxiety (and sure a rebellious side when I was young). The road to recovery is a long one and the answer lies within the addict.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I threatened, cajoled, pleaded, and would have sold my soul for his recovery. But all my machinations were futile. My son had to find the answer inside himself, and for himself.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years of addiction’s trauma to accept that relapse happens. By the grace of God, my son survived his many relapses. Lots of families aren’t as fortunate. Throughout it all I was forced to admit that I didn’t have the ability to cure the addiction, fix it, or make it go away. I was powerless, and my son needed to find the answer inside himself.

RECOVERY: THE STATE OF TOTAL SURRENDER

Alessandro Rodino Dal Pozzo, the president of San Patrignano, said, The path to recovery happens when you truly and deeply accept that things have to change.

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I thought that I could gauge when he was ready to accept recovery, when the pain had reached critical junctures, and when he would be open to professional help. I never could.

Today’s Promise to consider: Moments of extreme suffering can lead to important epiphanies for those suffering from substance abuse. The Big Book calls the opening that follows these periods, “The Gift of Desperation.” My son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction took him to a place where he was lost and a shell of himself. He was at the crossroads of continuing drugs or dying. He later told me, This was one of the most profound moments in my recovery process.

RECOVERY CAN BE TERRIFYING

My son wrote this in Stay Close about getting and staying sober: I was terrified – faced with getting clean, again. With nothing but failed attempts to reference, sobriety seemed impossible. It’s easier to want to change your life than to actually do it. Following through takes total courage, and I was scared to my bones.

My reflection on the above passage: During the critical months when my son made the decision to change his life, he worked with Dr. MacAfee, an addiction therapist who was highly intuitive and knowledgeable. He explained to Jeff that, when the using stops, a period of grief would inevitably come, for all the lost time, the years gone by, the people hurt, and the trail of destruction. He said, “The grief will overtake you, and it will be hard. But it’s also a sweet time. Savor it.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Our suffering loved ones know the chaos of court systems and legal problems. They know how to lie, deceive, and manipulate in service of their disease. What they need to learn how to do is to live a transparent life – how to be honest and faithful, and how to find serenity. Today, I pray for all those suffering that they source the courage they need to confront the demon of addiction.

THEY NEED SOMEONE TO BELIEVE IN THEM

A mom wrote to me, As I type this, our son just started methadone treatment, and our daughter is in a 28-day treatment program after being released from detox. I have to admit that I think it’s unfair that both our children are drug addicts, but I never lose faith. I keep praying for them to get well. It has been a nightmare of epic proportions and my husband and I are so very tired of living all that comes with dealing with addicted children. We just want them to get better and be able to lead healthy and productive lives.

My reflection: This mom is correct that addiction is a nightmare of epic proportions. I remember well the depression, the ache, and the suffering that our family endured during Jeff’s illness. I remember praying to find the silver bullet that would cure my son and stop the addiction. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all need someone to believe in us. Living in the solution takes monumental faith, courage, and determination from us and our suffering loved ones. While they try to find their way home to themselves, they need to lean on someone else’s strength. Positivity is a super power – one we can transmit. My son once asked me, “Never quit believing, OK, Mom?” I answered, “I won’t quit believing. Never.”

 

ADDICTION IS ISOLATION; RECOVERY IS CONNECTION

Tara Brach told this story: In the first week of life of a set of twins, each one was isolated in her respective incubator. One was not expected to live. A hospital nurse fought against the rules and placed both babies in one incubator. When they were together, the healthier of the two threw an arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart rate stabilized and her temperature rose to normal. Through connection and love, the weaker twin went on to live and thrive.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, the standard advice for parents was tough love. Although there were some aspects of merit to this thought, in Italy I learned a more effective approach for our family: “Stay Close. Don’t abandon him, but stay out of the chaos of his addiction.” By staying close, my son knew my boundaries, yet he also felt connected. He knew he was not alone in his battle.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, let us remember Rumi’s words:

Through love all that is bitter will be sweet. 

Through love all that is copper will be gold.

Through love all dregs will become wine.

Through love all pain will turn to medicine. 

Let us join together in prayer that love will be the healing energy in our suffering ones’ lives.

DOES OUR RECOVERY AFFECT THEIR RECOVERY?

A dad wrote to me: I sincerely believe that finding my own personal recovery allowed my son to find his own.

This dad’s comment is complimented by Beverly Conyers, who wrote in MomPowerIn the process of taking better care of my own life, my relationship with my daughter gradually improved. And when conflict with me was no longer a convenient excuse for her problems, she was left face-to-face with the consequences of her own choices. That was the beginning of her recovery. 

My reflection: For years, my son’s recovery seemed to be more important to me than it was to him, especially at the beginning, when he lived as he wanted while I immersed myself in fixing his problems. I needed to let go. He needed to confront the consequences of his lifestyle.

Today’s Promise to consider: Is it possible that by taking care of ourselves and working on our own wellness that our suffering loved ones will, eventually, do the same? Is it possible that by establishing firm boundaries that our loved ones will respect our stance? Is it possible that by staying close but out of the chaos of their addiction that our loved ones might decide to take control of their lives? For many of us, the answers are yes.

ATM OPIOID-DISPENSING KIOSKS

NCBI (The National Center for Biotechnology Information) reports that for safer drug supply there is a technology that can ‘dispense and monitor medications for opioid users. The My Safe machine is a biometric storage locker where people can pick up their prescribed medications.’ Wired magazine interviewed Dr. Mark Tyndall, a Harvard-trained doctor of infectious disease and epidemiology in Vancouver, who believes, “It’s the synthetic drugs – mainly fentanyl – that are cheaper, more potent, and easier to traffic. These substances have turned the drug supply toxic.” These machines allow pre-approved drug users to receive a prescription from their doctors to access safer opioids using a biometric scan of the veins in their hands. In just the last few years, dozens of ATM opioid-dispensing ATMS have opened from Vancouver to Toronto.

 

Discussion: This new harm reduction effort is part of a Canadian pilot program, and I am both intrigued and conflicted. I am intrigued because the war on drugs has not worked, overdose deaths are soaring, fentanyl is flooding the streets, and harm-reduction initiatives have been shown to save lives. I am also conflicted because this idea seems radical; however, needle exchange and injection sites seemed radical to me, too, when they were first introduced. Dr. Mark Tyndall believes that, “Criminalization is just a way to institutionalize stigma. Making drugs illegal does nothing to stop people from using them.” It is his belief the vending machines will help save lives.

 

For today, let us keep an open mind, educate ourselves, and learn about new harm-reduction initiatives. As for ATM opioid-dispensing kiosks, I’m still undecided, but I am committed to learning more.