The Formula For Addiction

I am honoured to be part of the incredible team of compassionate, knowledgeable and skilled people who work at Top of the World Ranch Treatment Centre.   In spring of 2019, Intervention Canada aired a program featuring a young woman addicted to drugs who agreed to treatment at Top of the World Ranch.

Her story is one of many I have had the opportunity to learn from. My own journey into the hell of addiction, the stories of my fellow warriors in the rooms of recovery and the tragedies I have heard as a counsellor have taught me a great deal about addiction.

During the episode on Intervention Canada, the young woman shares,

 “I’ve never experienced this obsession or compulsion…it’s just f***ing chaos. I’d love to stop, but I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve never felt like I can’t get out. I’ve thought, “it’s gonna suck, but I can stop doing it”. But I don’t feel like that. I feel I’m going to die soon. Like a year, tops. Probably 6 months.”

People who have experienced the cunning, baffling, powerful and patient nature of addiction will know EXACTLY what she is referring to. Obsession. Compulsion. Chaos. 

The Formula For Addiction

Be The Change Counselling - Addiction

Those who have not experienced addiction will watch in stunned horror, thinking, “WHY!? HOW? This is insane! Just STOP!” Those of us who have lived it also watch in stunned horror, but think, “STOP! SURRENDER! This is insane! GET HELP!”
Just as 1 + 1 = 2, there is a formula for addiction. Obsession + Compulsion = Unmanageable Chaos. The obsessionthe addict experiences is much more than the longing we have for the piece of chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen counter. The level of obsession in addiction is unlike anything that can be explained. It is constant, relentless and unforgiving. It becomes the first thought in the morning, the last thought at night and occupies every second of every minute of every day. The only relief from the constant mental craving is to have “just one” in order to alleviate the relentless thoughts of using. The cunning and baffling thing with addiction is it doesn’t allow for “just one” because it flips a switch, resulting in the compulsionto keep using. The ability to stop is gone. This is where the concept of ‘choice’ disappears. The person suffering with addiction has “choice” of whether to put the substance in her body but once the drug has entered the brain, the concept of ‘choice’ is gone. As the saying goes, “one is too many and a thousand ain’t enough.”

Many of us become so overwhelmed by the trap we are in, we are convinced the only way out is death.

Given enough time in the obsession + compulsion formula of addiction, the result, (or =) involves missed work days, impaired charges, jail, divorce, psychiatric assessment, hospitalization, also known as unmanageable chaos. Those of us who have experienced this particular realm of hell are trapped in a vicious cycle; shame and guilt, lying to cover  behaviours, hiding to remain secretive, total and complete self-hatred. We spiral downward and eventually stop trying to manage addiction, surrendering to our powerlessness over the drug. We stop caring about ourselves, our loved ones, our hopes and dreams. Eventually we ‘come to’ and see the mess we have created. Many of us become so overwhelmed by the trap we are in, we are convinced the only way out is death.

That painful moment of awakening is what saved my life. I realized I had a choice. Keep drinking and die or seek recovery and live. The decision was 100% mine.

It feels hopeless. It looks hopeless. Yet, miracles happen. Sometimes a form of intervention occurs. It might be a formal intervention, such as the one the woman in the program experienced, where family and friends hold a professional meeting and the boundaries are drawn. “Get help, or get out”. Other times, it is an employer, “go to treatment, or lose your job.” For me, it was a moment of sober realization – “I am going to die if I don’t find a way out.” That painful moment of awakening is what saved my life. I realized I had a choice. Keep drinking and die or seek recovery and live. The decision was 100% mine. 

That moment of awakening was 10 years ago. The journey to recovery hasn’t been easy; life has thrown some big crises at me, however I have come through sometimes emotionally bruised, but always sober and with a deeper level of recovery. And just as 1 + 1 = 2 and obsession + compulsion = unmanageable chaos, I have come to realize there is an equally, if not MORE powerful formula for recovery.

Intervention Canada What is Recovery ?

Fellowship + Purpose = Recovery. Fellowship comes in all forms, whether in treatment with others seeking recovery, the rooms of AANASMART recoveryShe RecoversRefuge Recovery,or in working with a counsellor to learn about addiction and recovery. Through fellowship comes non-judgement, compassion, understanding and support. We learn we are not bad people trying to be good, but people with a brain disorder learning to recover. Purposeis the realization we have reason to be. We can live purposeful lives with meaning and value and happiness. We become positive and productive members of society. Recoveryallows for gratitude, hope, love, forgiveness, and the ability to help others who are suffering. Anytime I meet another who has found their way through the abyss of addiction, I am reminded – miracles do happen.

By: Nikki Hemstad-Leete  MSW, RSW
Be The Change Counselling 

What Is Anxiety?

Having chronic anxiety is being scared all the time. It’s the constant fear of failure coupled with the debilitating fear of trying. It is wanting friends, but feeling overwhelmed about socializing. It’s wanting to be alone, yet being terrified of being lonely. It is feeling everything all at once while being paralyzed to create change.

My coworker, (who I fondly refer to as “my work sister”) was discussing her work with people who battle anxiety. I was curious to know her definition of anxiety. “You know – it’s when people feel the beginnings of fear and foreboding. For some, it wraps around their shoulders like a heavy blanket. For others, it’s tightness in the chest and struggle to catch their breath.” Upon hearing her definitions, my own breath caught as I began to realize what she was telling me. All I could think was, “WHAT!?? That feeling I have always had in my stomach that moves its way into my gut and settles in my heart is actually anxiety!?? Who knew!?”

Like any other mental health concern, anxiety exists on a continuum. On a good day, anxiety are the butterflies that flutter uncontrollably when we are about to have a job interview. On a bad day, anxiety overtakes our entire body and results in panic attacks. Most days, most people experience anxiety on the continuum, somewhere in between the extremes. As with other mental health concerns, anxiety occurs due to biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual concerns. The why of anxiety is of  little interest to the person experiencing it. Most of us who live with anxiety are more interested in how. How to stop it. How to control it. How to prevent it from taking control of us?

I don’t believe anxiety can be cured, but I do know it can be treated. The best outcomes I have experienced both personally and professionally have been a combination of therapies. If anxiety is the result of adverse childhood effects, post-traumatic stress disorder, or inability to regulate emotions stemming from a constant state of ‘fight, flight, or freeze’, a medical assessment from a physician is recommended. Therapeutically, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy combined with Mindfulness Training can be beneficial. For me, both therapies work somewhat like this…..

I sometimes feel, seemingly out of nowhere, a slight feeling of panic bubbling up from somewhere inside me. Once I recognize the feeling, I also become aware of how the panic intensifies and  is now above my belly-button and starting to settle in my gut. My chest begins to tighten and I know I had better do something before it completely takes. I need to think, “this is anxiety. It’s a feeling, but it doesn’t need to take over”. I need to do, “deep inhale through my nose. Full exhale out my mouth. Close my eyes and continue to breathe. Deep through the nose, full out the mouth. Wiggle my toes and press my feet into the floor”. Think, “I am right here, right now. I am safe. Do, “Close my eyes. Breathe. What do I hear? What do I feel?”. 

It has helped. I haven’t found a way to win the battle against anxiety but I have worked hard at finding ways to stop it from overtaking me. If you struggle with anxiety and are interested in learning about potential tools for your toolbox to manage, reach out. I’m here to help.

wiggle my toes
I am right here, right now
I am safe

Why “Be The Change”?

The entire statement is, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Powerful words from Mahatma Gandhi. But, what do these words really mean? I thoroughly believe social workers are born and not made. Typically, we are the kids on the playground who are bullied or witness others being bullied. We see it, we feel it, we experience it and we want desperately to DO SOMETHING, but we don’t know what to do. Or how. So sews the seeds of change. And we often find ourselves in social work school, ready to save people and change the world. Our instructors get to work immediately teaching us about critical analysis. Then, to our dismay, we learn to critically analyze our own values, morals and beliefs. We uncover and discover what we believe are ‘truths’ about ourselves and others. We learn to discard beliefs that no longer fit. None of this is comfortable. People working a program of recovery, those who have survived a traumatic event, individuals who have connection between their head, their heart, and their intuition know exactly how uncomfortable it is to make searching and fearless inventory of the self. Yet, without uncovering and discovering, we can’t discard beliefs and behaviors that keep us stuck in patterns that hurt us.

So, what does “Be The Change” really mean? Just as Gandhi suggested, change begins within. As much as I would like to think I can change people, places or things in the world, I have learned, (often through painful acquisition) the only person I can change is myself. This realization has been both a blessing, (it sure takes the pressure off) and a curse, (letting go is hard work). I must be the change I want to see in the world. If I want a more compassionate world, I need to be more compassionate. If I want less judgement in the world, I need to be less judgmental. I have found the most challenge in being more compassionate to, and less judgmental of, my self. The reality is, if I don’t begin with kindness and compassion to myself, I won’t have any to give to others. This is what it means to “Be The Change”.

Learning to “Be The Change” in my world has occurred with the help of so many others. Family, friends, instructors, students and therapists. It has often resulted from experiencing enough mental and emotional pain to find motivation to change. If this is where you find your self and you believe you might be ready to begin the journey of uncovering, discovering and discarding, I encourage you to begin. Incredible transformation happens in the world when, one by one, we learn to “Be The Change”.