The (not so) Great Escape



You’ve got a monkey on your back.  He’s strung out on heroin.  She’s kicking from withdrawal.  I’m jonesing for a fix.  These common addiction reference phrases suggest the unshakeable hold of addiction.  Just when you think you’ve beaten it, it’s back again and you find yourself discouraged, full of shame and even hopeless.  Alcoholism and addiction are epidemic in our society, with people falling into self-medicating cycles to mask underlying negative emotions or to escape during difficult times.  It can begin subtly: a person who has been furloughed due to the COVID pandemic backs up the start of Happy Hour from 5:00 to 2:00 to 11:00 a.m, and soon finds that she needs a drink in the morning to stop shaking.  A car accident victim is prescribed opioid pain medication to address a back injury. The patient discovers that the OxyContin he’s prescribed alleviates his pain, and that he also feels warm and free of other, non-physical problems.  His prescription runs out well before the end of the month since he’s often taken more than his doctor instructed.  Since the narcotic is a controlled substance, he finds it difficult to convince his doctor that he needs more and more to address his physical condition.  After several months, his doctor refuses to write prescriptions and the patient starts buying pills from secondary, sketchy sources and, ultimately, switches to heroin because it costs less and is easier to get than prescription pills. 

More recently, it has become widely understood that any behavior that becomes a distraction or that provides an escape from life circumstances or from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions constitutes an addiction.  Many of these behaviors–such as shopping, binge-watching TV, over-eating, exercising obsessively and even working–cross over into the category of addiction when a person’s life, routine and/or relationships are adversely affected.  Life balance is possibly more important than ever, as life has become more stressful, complicated and painful for many.

Whatever the substance, people use alcohol and drugs because they work.  Yes, they work in the short term to numb unpleasant emotions or to produce a feeling of well-being.  But when the high wears off, the problems are still there, and have often gotten worse due to the consequences of using drugs or alcohol.   Addiction is a disease, and it has to be treated with vigilance just like any other condition of the body, like diabetes, high blood pressure or, perhaps most fitting, like the cancer it resembles as it eats away at your life.  Addiction is known as a family disease because of the effect it has on the whole family, not just the person who is using.  

People with substance abuse issues often feel like they can’t have fun unless their using.  They worry that life will be boring as a sober person.  The truth is that experiencing life clear-headed and free from addiction allows them to feel truly present and engaged in life, instead of chasing after the next high and stumbling through their days.  I know because that is how I felt during my 20 years of alcoholism.  

It took a significant and sobering (pun intended)medical diagnosis to persuade me to stop drinking, and by that time my alcoholism had cost me far more than my health.  I had also lost my marriage and I had alienated many friends and family members.  Rebuilding my life as a sober, grounded, healthy person was so fulfilling and rewarding, even though I was often scared and unsure of how to navigate through life.  There was help available to me, and if you’re reading this post feeling like you need help YOU CAN BE SOBER and GET YOUR LIFE BACK!

In my work as an addictions counselor, I will help you to identify what triggers you have that result in drinking or using.  Triggers and cravings happen because of emotional discomfort or pain, but you don’t have to give in to your cravings.  It’s important to develop a set of coping skills that work for you.  Coping skills are alternatives to using.  They are things like talking to someone, engaging in physical activity, meditating or journaling.  I can help you form a plan of action that is specific to you, since there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to recovery.  Some of the components of a good recovery regimen are things like:

  • Attending support groups like 12-Step meetings, SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery
  • Engaging in therapy with an experienced addictions counselor
  • Establishing accountability through letting those close to you know about your plan to get sober
  • Caring for and nurturing yourself through good nutrition and spiritual practices
  • Having a routine and adhering to it 
  • Understanding that you may stumble, but that relapse is not failure

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone.  My approach to substance abuse counseling is, first, to provide a safe and nonjudgmental place for you to get honest about your addiction.  I will then help you to identify patterns and encourage you to modify those patterns to avoid alcohol and drugs by addressing the people, places and things you need to change in order to establish a stable environment that supports sobriety.  We will work together to remove some things, and add some things to your life so that you can have a sound support network that includes healthy practices, a stable environment, and sober friends and mentors who can help you along the way.  Value yourself enough to demand a better life!  Recovery is a brilliant, colorful sunrise, inviting you to embrace each day.