A Final Thought on Addiction

Two months ago I never dreamed I would be writing a post like this.

And then on November 19th, during what should have been an unremarkable Saturday morning, I collapsed into my own hands and said to no one in particular: How could everything we’ve worked for disappear in a day?

It happened that fast.

One moment my husband was the man I’d always known and, less than 24 hours later, he was in a rehab facility.

As you’d expect, I’ve been thinking a lot about addiction over the past few weeks. I’m doing this in an effort to support my family of course, but I’m also interested in sharing any breadcrumbs of insight around a topic that appears to matter a great deal to you as well.

Indeed, I’ve read every word of the stories about your husbands…

…about your wives

…about your sons and daughters

…about your parents and your friends.

I mentioned before that I’m not going to share the details of my husband’s recovery so he can walk his own path without fear of being exposed to thousands of strangers.

Even so… I feel blessed that he was fortunate enough to have found a treatment program that appears to have worked, and so I’d like to pass along something that has helped us emerge from this experience intact in the hopes that it might serve you too.

Essentially, from an immersion into the biology of addiction, I have learned that it’s an irregulation of the brain’s reward system. It’s not a personal weakness or a moral failing. It’s the result of dopamine circuits that are either subdued or misfiring.

Why this occurs in some people and not others is anyone’s guess; however, it’s generally accepted that children of addicts have a higher chance of becoming addicts themselves – and it appears that those with anxiety issues are particularly predisposed.

Still, regardless of how it happens, as my husband’s doctor said to me, “Once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it’s not going back.”

In other words, once the brain becomes addicted to the substance – whatever it is – it cannot stop or heal itself alone. Moreover, at this point studies show that our brain begins to embed the pleasure memories and suppress the hurtful ones because it comes to associate the drug with survival.

This is why an addict may seem to be “choosing” the substance over their family, for instance, when the reality is that they are no longer in conscious contact with emotional pain. It’s an evolutionary adaptation mechanism in the sense that an addict’s brain can, quite literally, reinterpret their experience to the degree that they become unaware of how their behavior is affecting other people.

As an example, my husband’s therapist shared the story of counseling a married couple in which the husband was an alcoholic who had no idea that his wife was about to leave him. The wife was furious – how could he not know – but over time she began to understand that he wasn’t lying, nor was he in a state of avoidance or denial.

He was simply an addict – and addicts cannot be held to a normal standard of critical thinking or reason.

Perhaps this sounds obvious, but for me it was extraordinary insight because it dissolved the urge to blame my husband for “his decisions.” To put it another way, it meant being able to separate him from the disease in the same way that I would separate someone who had cancer from the illness itself.

It’s in them, but somehow it’s not them.

For the record, I recognize this perspective is easier in my situation because we don’t have the life wreckage that tends to follow addiction in families. No emotional or physical abuse. No job loss or legal troubles.

Accordingly, my husband and I have the luxury of being able to go through this experience without thrashing against each other or even against the addiction itself. We are merely floating through it with an understanding that, despite the fact that we are being carried somewhere we never intended to go, we can take comfort in knowing we are being carried there nonetheless.