The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): The Final Installment

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The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): The Final Installment

By Anne Giles 08/29/17

"Love, evidence & respect." - Maia Szalavitz's answer on Twitter to "What fights addiction?"

Image: 
Author dancing far left. She was invited to join the conga line by her classmates. And she did
Photo by Leonard W. Hughes. Author dancing far left. She was invited to join the conga line by her classmates. And she did

A person with alcoholism walks into a bar...

That's what I was thinking when I arrived at the brewery where my high school classmates held the first evening's event for our 40th reunion weekend. Five years ago, I loved and frequented this brewery, thirstily ordering a beer flight, followed by a pint or two of their home-brewed stout. Today, I was thinking I might splurge for a tonic and lime, rather than the infinitely boring club soda and lime.

"Here we go," said a woman's voice over my shoulder. I turned to see two tall glasses plunked on the nearby bar table by a classmate I hadn't seen in years but with whom I was friends on Facebook. We embraced joyfully.

She pointed to the glasses she had brought from the bar.

"Lime?" she said. "I hope you like lime with your tonic?"

And that's what happened when I, a person who shares openly that she has alcoholism, walked into a bar.

I spent Friday and Saturday night surrounded by one of the top precursors for a return to use for people with substance use disorders: environmental cues. After 5:00 PM, human beings are an environmental cue for me, especially at a restaurant or a social gathering. My brain learned, through addiction, to automatically combine evening hours + people + alcohol = a very good thing. At the bar on Friday night, and again at the open bar on Saturday night, at any moment, I could have broken my nearly five-year fast from alcohol by simply reaching out my hand.

The brewery began to fill and my classmates and I, talking avidly, got crushed together. Their glasses of wine and beer would end up inches from my mouth, within downing range. I could sense an inner whimper of longing. Then something extraordinary and moving would happen. As if they were passing a relay baton, my classmates would shift their glasses to their other hands. Then they continued to converse with me as if I mattered and belonged.

I felt weepy from the kindness. I felt taken care of, looked out for, and tended. Not one person, not one, attributed to me any moral or psychological shortcomings from having developed alcoholism. Not one person questioned my ability to be present with alcohol and not drink it. They had known me since I was child. I was not be judged. I was to be helped.

Researchers are finding that kindness truly does help people heal from addiction. Love love - not cruelty, falsely termed "tough love" - from partners, family members, and one's community creates a web of social support and connection that assuages the sore heart and mind of a person with addiction.

If the brain circuitry involved with addiction and love are connected - if "addiction is basically love gone awry " - then, logically, as Todd Rundgren sang to my classmates in the year we graduated, "Love is the answer."

I entitled this memoir, The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story, to show the transformation that can take place in an individual's recovery from addiction to alcohol when belief-based practices are replaced with evidence-based treatment

Although anecdotal evidence, not empirical evidence, my story is classic according to the research on addiction. Most people who develop substance use disorders are exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), undergo trauma, and have at least one co-occurring mental illness. Evidence-based treatment, as summarized in Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, released in November, 2016, involves a straightforward treatment plan for people with substance use disorders, in priority order: medical care, including medications; individual counseling (general group counseling has not been found to be effective); social support; and access to support services. Simply put, if people with addiction can be helped to feel better, feel more connected, and receive support to build stable lives, they do pretty well.

In my case, what a nightly dose of alcohol did for me was treat the stress, distress and despair that resulted from a series of incidents I experienced as traumatic in 2006-2007. My use of alcohol was my choice until the mysterious turn occurred within the brain that results in addiction. In my individual case, what addiction looked like for me was that I could choose to postpone, but could no longer choose whether or not I drank each night, nor how much I drank. Even when I fell down the stairs, I had another glass of wine afterwards to soothe myself. I was compelled to persist with drinking, despite bone-jarring consequences. That is, as is well-known now, the definition of addiction.

When, without consulting medical professionals, I became abstinent from alcohol, I became untreated for trauma and my anguish deepened. How I went from drinking nearly a bottle of wine per night, to drinking nothing the next night, then the night after that, is another mystery to me. As of this writing, I have been without a glass of ethyl alcohol for four years and eight months. I continue to long to drink wine and beer, would prefer to be drinking them, and have to engage in evidence-based treatment, practice relentless attention management skills, and tend myself with evidence-based self-care to maintain abstinence. As I do with losses of other sources of love and comfort - my mother, my grandmothers, my former husbands and lovers, my cats and my kittens - I co-travel with not having.

Only after I was able to get my turn on my rural area's eight-month wait list to see a psychiatrist, did I get help with medications. Only when my intrepid psychologist discovered the depth of my trauma symptoms and shifted our therapeutic approach to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), did I begin to gain psychological stability. Only when I find social connection and a sense of belonging - as I did at my reunion - am I likely to become stable and fully in remission from alcohol use disorder. Social support, difficult to find in a rural area given my demographics, is the greatest deficit in my "treatment plan."

As I wrote when I began this memoir, my genuine hope is that the genre of "addictions memoirs" becomes extinct. If, as Maia Szalavitz tweeted, "Love, evidence & respect" fight addiction, then there's no story in people getting effective, evidence-based treatment for a medical condition and then getting on with their exquisite, precious lives.

The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here Part 7 here Part 8 here Part 9 here Part 10 here 

Part 11 here Part 12 here Part 13 here Part 14 here Part 15 here Part 16 here Part 17 here Part 18 here Part 19 here

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at annegiles.com. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.

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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.

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