“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
--1 Peter 5:8
That passage from the New Testament warns about the dangers people face in life, but to us addicts it has a special meaning. It speaks directly to our struggles with addiction, which stalks us for so much of our lives. Opiate addiction is recognized by the medical community as a brain disorder. According to the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost two million Americans are opioid dependent. Addicts have moments, months, and years of reprieve, but like all other chronic, lifelong diseases, addiction flares up again and requires further treatment to get well. We call this a relapse. I hate the word “relapse.” It conjures up failure, which is so far from the truth.
In this book, I challenge the conventional thought that if a twenty-eight-day rehab “did not work,” it was a failure. Recovery from opiate addiction is a process, not an event. I have received bits of wisdom from every rehab facility I attended that ring in my ears and come out of my mouth as I speak about recovery. I went on to many more rehabs after my first, Father Martin’s Ashley, and it is Father Martin’s wisdom that continues to stay with me more than any other: once the bell has been rung, you cannot unring it. Getting well from this disease does not happen in one event, one rehab, one detox, one out-patient treatment. Like some diseases, it can take many different treatment modules to gain long-term sobriety. Thus it is a process.
In this book, I explore approaches to recovery that motivate addicts to do what needs to be done to stay well. I look at the scientific explanations for the low rate of sustained recovery for opiate addiction--the relapse rate is currently 93 percent--and at what the strong, committed folks in recovery say is the problem with sustaining recovery.
But science is only part of the story. I also explore my own struggle with opiates and share what the elements are that I think have given me my longest remission to date. I write about the commonalities I have seen between my struggle and the struggles of my patients who suffer from opiate addiction. I look back at some of the interventions I have done and provide updates on how those patients are doing today.
I also look at the insurance industry and the fact that not enough benefits are provided for people to get what they need to get well. We vilify the addict, but the real enemy is the lack of resources for people to get the health care they need. State resources are abysmal, and the rehabs they provide are not always very effective; they are more like revolving-door crash pads for detox only.
As I interweave the story of my own long love affair with opiates with the stories of others with whom I have come into contact, I offer hope, illuminating what I feel to be the missing links to long-term sobriety. Opiate addiction is a complicated issue, but I believe that if we approach it from a different direction, we can help reduce the carnage that results from it. The problem is huge, and I am under no delusion that I can fix it. But I can shed light on it, calling to arms those with the power to effect change. I do, in a sense, help fix the problem with every intervention I do. I jokingly say, “I am working in the war on drugs, one person at a time.” Still, that might not be too far from the personal solution for many families, even as other advocates work hard every day on a larger level to help solve this pervasive, costly, and devastating problem.
Again, addiction is a chronic, recurring disease like many others. People who suffer from other chronic diseases get a sympathetic pass when their diseases return, but addicts get scorn. That’s not fair. I want to give hope to those suffering with addiction and to the people who love them. There is a Yiddish saying, “If you save one life, you save the world entire.” This book is a chain letter of hope.