Treatment of addictions isn’t working… there I said it!
Over the past 4 months, I’ve shared a lot of my own personal experiences as it relates to my history with traditional 12-step treatment models and alcoholism. The more research I gather, and the more conversations I have with people in the ‘business of treatment’, the more obvious it becomes to me that there’s a larger problem at work and what's being offered up as the standard of treatment isn’t working.
Before I share some ideas worth talking about, let me back up a few steps, and share some information I’ve learned. In sharing some of this information, my hopes are that you begin to question the current things as they are as it relates to the businesses of treatment and recovery. Please keep an open mind, recognizing I’m not trying to be antagonistic, or dogmatic, I’m only looking to stimulate a conversation away from treatment and recovery, towards one of the lifestyle changes, empowering transformations, and personal choice.
So, what’s the problem with the business of addiction treatment and recovery?
Treatments of addictions is BIG business. In the United States alone, the addiction treatment industry has grown to a staggering tune of $34 billion dollars a year, meanwhile, overdose death rates have tripled in the past two and a half decades.
While the growth is staggering, it pales in the scope of the human cost associated with excessive alcohol consumption and drug overdoses, which jointly accounts for nearly 127,000 deaths per year.
There are more drug treatment facilities than ever before – over 14,500 of them in the United States – and countless alcohol treatment facilities, with more being opened year after year. This is a tell-tale sign that more and more people are seeking treatment, more and more money is being spent on said treatments, and yet, more and more people are overdosing and dying from substance abuse. At what point do we stop, give our cultural head a shake and scream from the rooftops, “WTF is going on here!?”
[highlight color=”yellow”]It would seem that the treatment solutions being offered up are not working.[/highlight]
The Disease Model of Addiction and Where the Wheels Fell off the Treatment Bus
According to the disease model, ‘addiction is very much a brain disease’. It is reported that brain abnormalities cause people with the disease to become addicted to substances or activities once exposure to these stimuli occurs. This model considers addiction IRREVERSIBLE once acquired.
The ONLY way one diseased with addiction can recover ‘consists of developing and maintaining complete abstinence from all addictive substances and activities. Abstinence arrests the disease.’
Many of the treatment facilities and organizations that accept this model own the fact that complete abstinence is difficult to achieve and as such the model stresses the importance of peer group support and attendance at regular meetings.
What I found extremely interesting was the fact that many of the websites and literature surrounding the disease model of addiction and recovery, often compare alcohol or drug addiction to cancer.
One example from a very prominent site reads:
‘Cancer survivors share with the group their personal experiences of the disease and of recovery. Similarly, addicts and alcoholics support each other in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. They share their personal experiences of addiction and recovery and provide hope and inspiration to each other. When people support each other in this manner, they become more hopeful. Therefore, they are more motivated to take the necessary steps toward recovery.’
And here’s the crazy thing, if addiction is a disease like cancer, stroke and heart disease, and large amounts of money are continually invested in the study of these diseases, at what point do we demand results?
Not sure where I’m going with this? Bear with me a second.
Here are some figures to chew on:
Between 2008 to 2012, $735,985,000,000 of taxpayer’s money was allocated by the National Institute of Health to study diseases. These diseases included heart disease ($12 billion), Cancer ($55 billion), stroke ($2.2 billion) as well, $9.7 billion was spent to study the ‘disease’ of drug addiction.
Wondering what all these dollars in research studies have to report back from an ROI standpoint?
Here are the stats…
The $1.76 billion per year investment in Heart Disease Research has returned:
38% reduction in deaths from heart disease (2003 – 2013)
30 to 40% reduction in hospitalizations resulting from heart failure, heart attack and stroke (1999 – 2011)
83% reduction in hospitalization rates for people suffering from unstable angina, a leading symptom of coronary heart disease. (1999 – 2011)
The $7.94 billion invested yearly into Cancer Research has returned:
20% reduction in cancer rates over the past 20 years
This reduction translates to 1.3 million lives saved
Survival rates for nearly all types of cancer are climbing
The $325 million invested annually into Stroke Research has returned:
a 35.8% reduction in annual deaths from stroke (2000 – 2010)
a 50% decrease in the incidence of stroke in a Johns Hopkins study from 1987 to 2011.
Now what about the $1.38 billion per year (2008 – 2012) that is being allocated to Drug Addiction Research has returned a:
10.33% increase in deaths from prescription drug abuse
35% increase in deaths by illicit drug abuse
8.1% increase in deaths by opioid pain relievers
30.2% increase in deaths from benzodiazepine
95% increase in deaths caused by heroin
The numbers are staggering! Clearly money invested in the research and treatment of diseases yields a positive return, so why isn’t the money being thrown at addiction research providing the same results?
Maybe, just maybe, addiction isn’t a disease.
If you are a visual learner like me, you’ll appreciate the well laid out, researched infographic produced by Saint Jude Retreats. (see below)
What’s the ‘Business of Recovery’?
With all this money being spent within the treatment industry – remember to a tune of $35 billion according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – we have to wonder, why we don’t have more scientific-based evidence supporting the efficacy of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or similarly designed 12 step programs.
Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addresses the key concerns head on when he states:
12 Step programs are very popular, but if you’re looking for figures and randomized trials and scientifically rigorous studies of how they work and for how many people they work ‒ you will not find those studies. You will find anecdotal evidence ‒ for people who it did work [for] ‒ but unfortunately we don’t have the scientific basis to say how many of all those people who tried a 12 Step program ‒ how many of those failed.
The film is definitely an eye opener and puts our status quo beliefs about treatment in question. Not sure? Finding this a bit incredulous? Fair enough. Do you own due diligence and see what you come up with.
Defining is THE problem: Labeling of Addictions and the Pokémon Go Connection
Throughout this process of researching addictions, I find that much of the misinformation appears to stem from the definition itself. The labeling of substance abuse and/or addiction as a disease is quite absurd when you look at any other behavior in place of the substance or habit being defined as ‘the abuse’.
As an example, let’s look at the well-accepted definition of addiction (or substance dependence) and compare it to the global phenomenon that’s taking millions by storm — that is Pokémon Go.
First, let’s look at how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) defines addiction or substance abuse as a disease:
The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control the use of the substance.
A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.
Recurrent use of the substance resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
Continued use of the substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.
Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use of the substance.
Recurrent use of the substance in situations where it is physically hazardous.
Use of the substance is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance (as specified in the DSM-5 for each substance).
The substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Now let’s take this defined criteria and insert Pokeman Go as the behavior or action in question:
Pokemon Go is often played in large amounts of time or over a longer period than was intended.
There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control playing of Pokémon Go.
A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to download Pokémon Go, play Pokémon Go, or recover from its effects.
Craving, or a strong desire or urge to play Pokémon Go.
The recurrent playing of Pokémon Go resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
The continued playing of Pokémon Go despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the playing the game.
Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of playing Pokemon Go.
The recurrent playing of Pokémon Go in situations where it is physically hazardous, such as driving a car, or while operating machinery.
Playing of Pokémon Go is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by Pokeman Go, such as dreaming of Pokémon characters.
Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
A need for markedly increased amounts of playing Pokeman Go to achieve balls and hunt characters for desired effect or achievement.
A markedly diminished effect with the continued playing of Pokémon Go, hence the game begins to get less fun after playing it for 2 weeks straight.
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance (as specified in the DSM- 5 for each substance)…..Whatever the hell that means…just another lame catch-all.
Pokemon Go (or a closely related game) is played to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms from lack of playing Pokemon Go.
This is just one example of how you can literally put any behavior to fit the definition and label anything as a disease. And there lies a big problem with labeling any chosen behaviors as diseases and taking the control away from the person.
A Non-Treatment Approach to Dealing with Substance Abuse and Addiction
Common knowledge among the North American culture is that if we suffer from an addiction, we have to ‘join’ the treatment industry and subject ourselves to a great deal of misinformation which is largely unproven.
While there exist several nontraditional treatment options, the only truly non-treatment based option is that of the Saint Jude Retreats, which help people overcome an unwanted habit or unwanted behavior. Or, even better, they go about helping those dealing with substance issues by helping them see how they can improve their lives and in turn leave the unwanted baggage behind them.
In writing this article, I had the opportunity to interview Ryan Schwantes, president of Baldwin Research Institute (the parent company of Saint Jude Retreats). Over fifteen years ago Ryan committed his life to help others realize there are alternative methods to achieving new habits, establishing lifestyle habits that are geared to building lives on happiness first. He believes no one should allow themselves to give up on their dreams and everyone has the power within themselves to build the life they want and absolutely no one has the right to tell them they can’t or won’t be successful and happy!
Below is Ryan’s recounting of a conversation he shared long ago which forever affected the trajectory of his life’s path.
Gerald Brown (Jer), one of the [Saint Jude Retreats] Co-Founders, once told me “Ryan, nothing is wrong with you, and you’re going to be fine”.
As simple as that sounds, it was so powerful because up to that point I had learned I was diseased and I was pretty much doomed for the rest of my life. All my dreams and goals were out the window because I was forever going to be dealing with my disease of addiction.
I have always been a person with extreme pride, self-determination, strong-willed and motivated individual with strong principles, and well-grounded moral values. I always had an overabundance of energy and I was able to overcome adversity in my life by mentally and physically working through pretty much anything that came my way. I guess I considered myself a pretty tough nut to crack but I have to say I was holding on by a shred at that point to not succumb to the nonsense.
I was not a person that was easily intimidated, but I was literally scared shitless that I wasn’t going to be able to beat this disease. When Jer told me that I was going to be fine and I had nothing wrong with me, I immediately thought… I knew it… I knew I wasn’t nuts and now here was this wise Yoda type guy confirming what I was thinking in my head for the past several years. It was literally like I was injected with all the old drive, determination, and energy I once had, and the fire within me began to explode again!
Ever since then I haven’t looked back and have strived to achieve every goal I set out to carry out and I vowed to never let anyone or anything tell me I can’t do something or tell me to believe or think a certain way because I was “supposed” to. Never again!
And I have vowed to do everything I can to help others see that despite what they have been told, and what they are expected to believe, they aren’t doomed and they aren’t sick and diseased. I want them to know there’s nothing wrong with them and they’re going to be fine.
I shared a similar experience as Ryan.
My wife Christie was my Jer. I shared that moment when I made a personal choice to change a habit that was not in alignment with who I wanted to be. Sometimes the simplest choice is the right choice, and all it takes is one person to believe in you, as Christie and Jer believed in us.
I recognize the treatments of addiction and the industry of recovery are anything but perfect. Many of our accepted norms are based on antiquated teachings and beliefs. Many want to quote ‘evidence-based science’ as the gold standard of proof. But there comes a point when we have to question what evidence is based on beliefs and what evidence is based on fact.
The fact is that if you or anyone you know want to change a self-defeating habit that isn’t serving you, such as a compulsion to drink or use other substances, there exist options outside of the disease treatment system. And the solution lies in non-treatment!
You can change anything you choose to change, and sometimes it just takes a conversation to target your specific challenges, needs, concerns, hopes, goals, and dreams. Help you remember what it is you want most from your life.
For what it is worth, if you are reading this article and something in you is driving you to seek a change, I want you to know I believe in you. There’s nothing wrong with you and you’re going to be fine.
The funny thing about Spina Bifida is that it’s pretty much a lottery system.
Not a lottery you’re necessarily clamoring to win (unless you want the primo parking spot that comes with it). Even then, you have to really want that spot because you just never know where on the spine the damage will strike – a millimeter up or down and you’re in for a very different life. I know we want to have control over our lives, and believe that if we work hard enough and prepare then there won’t be any surprises – sorry, that’s not life. What we can try to do is learn about how we react to what life throws at us and decide how we can alter our reaction or harness it. In the age-old easier-said-than-done logic, we start to realize that anything life throws at us requires us to decide: can I (ultimately) turn this into an opportunity or will I be defeated by it? This realization has set the stage for my life, not the Spina Bifida (it’s just the messenger).
What is (and what is not) Spina bifida?
Now I won’t get into the science of Spina Bifida, mostly because Science was never my strong suit, but for now all you need to know is that Spina Bifida is a condition you have from birth (well, actually before that, when you’re all warm and cozy in the womb). I don’t know life any differently. You can try to tell me that the grass is greener on the other side, but I’ll never know if you’re just pulling my leg (seriously, #paralysisproblems). Some see me as naïve in thinking that if I were to miraculously start walking tomorrow, I wouldn’t see it as any real contribution to my life. It wouldn't somehow make me a better person, would it? Of course, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’d be pissed if I miraculously started walking (I wouldn’t have to be at crotch level all the time). However, for now, I’ve decided that my life is best spent investing my energy in the things that: I’m passionate about; that make me stronger; and don’t have me dying simply as “the girl in the wheelchair.”
So instead of practicing stairs, how have I tried to make the most of what life has to offer? Well, I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve risen through the ranks of Shotokan Karate and earned my 2nd degree black belt (more on that later); in honor of my grandmother (who lived with MS), I did 50km of a 75km charity bike ride using my hand-bike (if I learned anything from that race it is that training beforehand is key, and to make sure your bike isn’t too small before the race). I’ve been a TEDx speaker and hope to do it again and again and again because I love being with a group of people excited to learn from each other. I’m starting my Masters of Social Work degree in the fall; my passion for helping kids keep their resilient nature while venturing through health challenges is what I feel, in my soul, is part of what I was meant to do in this life. Oh, and did I forget to mention that I, along with my dream team, “Three Men & A Tough Little Mudder” did our very first Tough Mudder Half in Whistler this year? To the doctor who told my parents that I’d probably never be able to sit up on my own, can you say, “My bad! I’ve learned something for next time, though!”
Never let others determine your future – and here's why…
But in fairness to that doctor, this could have very easily not been my life. I was told once that those born with a condition or who sustain a traumatic injury very often fall into two categories: a) they’ve been told “No” so many times that nothing makes more sense than to develop the drive to not let anything stop them and go after their most ambitious dreams; or, b) they live resigned to a life of “this is the way it is and will always be.” Now, I will say that as someone who lives my life using a wheelchair, one of my biggest pet peeves is that people automatically assume they know the ins and outs of “wheelchair life”, rarely appreciating how monumentally different the reason someone might be using a chair can be. So when I say that there are “two” categories people very often fall into, I’m by no means saying that there aren’t really a hundred. I’m also not saying that if you fall into one group versus the other that you won’t eventually find yourself in the other – this is life and where there is life, there is opportunity to grow and change! Hell, even I’ve criss-crossed from one group to the other so many times during my life.
In some cases, people are born with an unwavering optimism, believing that they’re about to find opportunity amidst all the adversity, even when everyone keeps telling them it’s impossible. There are some other very lucky people (myself included) who may not have been born believing that the Sun will always come out tomorrow (I do live in Vancouver, after all – rain is more of a guarantee), however, I am surrounded by people who: don’t give me false hope, give me the space to create my dreams and then help me figure out how to help me get there – even if it’s never been done before (especially then). They’re the ones I turn to when I feel like my life is over and I’ve finally met a challenge I can’t overcome. They take the “faith reigns” for me until my stubbornness and spirit are reignited, and I come back better than ever.
Putting the Karate-chop to Spina Bifida
When I trained in Karate, I had world champions teaching me and none of us knew what Karate with Spina Bifida looked like, so we kind of created it. Did that mean I did what I could, and then got to sit out for the things that it didn’t look like I could do? You obviously haven’t met my mentors. No, what I heard more than, “Jen, take a seat until the next drill” was, “OK, now let’s adapt this one.” Another favorite was when I was going for my pre-test for my 1st degree black belt (a few weeks after abdominal AND brain surgery), and I made the mistake of saying to the instructor, “I can’t do this.” I’ll never forget what he told me next, he said, “Never say you can’t do something, just say that you haven’t learned how, yet.” Oy! And how right he was!
Because of the people I surrounded myself with (and continue to), I have been harder on myself than any one of them because I’ve been taught that: I can always do better, there’s more to learn, and there are more ways to create opportunities to be the best version of myself. These people have always wanted the best for me, and we forget that it’s not selfish to want to be the best version of ourselves, too. So, lo and behold, I have become my toughest critic. When we finished Tough Mudder, the team was riding high on adrenaline (and endorphins), knowing that we had just completed one of the toughest physical challenges out there even with the surprise obstacle – me.
The only real obstacle in life is ourselves
How was I feeling? Numb. Disappointed in myself. Pissed off that I didn’t feel like I’d been given a fair shot at showing anybody my true strength and what I’d worked so hard to be ready for. I wasn’t expecting to do it without breaking a sweat; I was ready to be down in the mud, or holding onto something for dear life, thinking I can’t do (whatever I was doing) any longer, and then reminding myself how far I’ve come and that quitting ain’t no option. I have never been scared of hard work.
Leading up to game-day, I watched so much footage of Tough Mudder events. I studied the obstacles, put my thinking cap on, and come game-day, realized pretty quickly that the obstacles were really the glass of water you get at the restaurant, before your appetizer, before your main course. The terrain, my friends, was worse than I could have ever imagined and probably made up 95% of getting through the day. Between the gravel, the jagged rock and the tree stumps, I was lucky if I could get any traction to wheel myself before hitting another rock or my wheels digging into something – almost ejecting myself off the mountain. Hence, most pictures that you see of me and my team that day, the rope we tied to the chair for the guys to pull me with is always there somewhere.
Time does heal all wounds, especially wounded egos
Luckily time does heal all wounds, even wounded egos. I’m beginning to let myself see the bigger picture: I was proud of my team and their unwavering spirit and ingenuity for getting me through so much of that course. I’ll admit it, I get emotional thinking about all the people who told me it made their day being able to help me overcome this mammoth challenge. It’s true, being able to help someone in any way they need that support in achieving a dream is unlike any other feeling. In fact, Adam made it clear that, “When you go on to speak to millions, you best speak confidently about this weekend” (this was the ending of a much-needed tough love speech about the kinds of ways a person can give in life and getting over mountains).
As time goes on, I am getting inspired by my experience, because whether it takes off by itself or if I have to pitch it to anyone who will listen – there needs to be alternative paths for the Tough Mudder course that are preferably paved (but beggars can’t be choosers), or at least less gravelly. Why? Because, guess what, I wasn’t the first person in a wheelchair to try my ego at Tough Mudder and I won’t be the last. By doing this, Tough Mudder ends up empowering a (probably) shocking new demographic of people with health challenges that Tough Mudder wasn’t anticipating. Making little changes could give these people (me included) the opportunity to push past our limits where we feel our energy is best used, and still know that we traveled way outside those comfort zones of ours.
Of course I love the phenomenal, and infamous Mudder community where no Mudder gets left behind, I just hadn’t planned on needing to be pulled all the way through (and probably neither did my team) because I couldn’t wheel on the terrain. D’oh! Are these changes likely to happen…we’ll see. If not, some awesome people need to get together and come up with an adapted course of their own – because people with “disabilities” have a right to bite off more than they can chew and put themselves through hell to prove they’re tough (if they want to) too. I do it on a daily basis. So, we need to harness some ingenuity, creativity, problem-solvers, people who are looking for a challenge and able to communicate how they want to be challenged, and a lot of perseverance!
Why is something like this so important, at least to me? Well, I don’t know about you or what you’ve been through, but I’ve been through a lot in my life, and even when things seem to have plateaued (that’s a good thing for me), I know something’s lurking. But living a life in fear isn’t for me. Waiting for something bad to happen: another setback, another surgery, another bout of depression or anxiety don’t make for good excuses anymore to sit on the sidelines. Between the storms of my life, I like to do things that make me feel alive. I want to set goals that test me – mind, body and spirit, so I’m better able to face that pesky adversity (when it does rear its ugly head) and recover faster. Basically I want to reignite that childhood ability to be more resilient than there are challenges to face. I want to remember that there’s always a way to get to where I need to go, I just have to pop-a-wheelie over the boundaries society has created, telling me the “right” and “wrong” way to achieve my dreams.
Anyone want to join me to figure out how to live our best lives?
From the moment Jenna was diagnosed with Spina Bifida and not expected to be able to sit up independently, she has beaten the odds. With the help of her family, friends, Karate champions and mentors, Jenna has set her sights on her most ambitious dreams (never afraid of a little hard work and shedding any sweat, blood and tears). Jenna is passionate about athletics, having earned her 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and just completed (with her team) her first Tough Mudder Half – and the chair hasn’t stopped her. In the fall Jenna will be starting her Masters in Social Work with the goal of working in pediatric Healthcare to help kids support their resilient spirit in the face of adversity.
This statement never resonated with me. Whether I thought it, wrote it down, or said it aloud, I never truly believed it.
To me, the term ‘addict’ was framed by a system that’s the first tenet was that I was ‘powerless’ against my disease.
I was never diagnosed officially of having a disease called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘drug addiction’ but based on my general understanding and framework, I presumed that is exactly what I was. After all, I did what many people do. I looked up the self-diagnostic questionnaires and answered a series of questions. I had a lot of yeses – in fact so many yeses that it was clear, I guess I had a disease.
The Problem with saying “I’m an addict and it’s not my fault”
Continuing down my path of treatment, I attended a number of meetings. As much as I wanted to take it all for face value, I couldn’t. To concede to some external force, and point blame on personal situations, circumstances, and anything but myself seemed counter-intuitive. Implying I had no power of choice or free-will didn’t sit well. At no point during the days when I chose various drugs and alcohol to numb myself, did anyone force me to partake in those behaviors? I did it at my volition — and I did it often. I chose freely to misuse substances and to blame anyone or anything other than me seemed crazy.
Did the Bottle Choose Me or Did I Choose the Bottle?
Before you jump to conclusions or try to guess the “why” behind my actions, let me share a few things with you. I was never a compulsive drinker; I didn’t drink every day; I wasn’t a “bad drunk” or for that matter even a “good drunk”, but what I was most of all was unhappy.
Christie often asks me, “Are you being the type of man you would want to marry your daughters one day?”
My decisions and actions didn’t reflect the type of man I wanted to be. No one person wakes up one day and says today I’m going to be a drunk. Alcohol wasn’t the culprit – it had no power over me. I chose to drink as a way to escape, making my decisions freely and without coercion. Drinking alcohol, like many other decisions I made in my life at that time further reinforced, and added to, my unhappiness.
And based on the responses from last month’s survey, a number of people agree that personal choice and free will overshadow being “powerless” and being a “victim of alcohol and drugs”. Moreover, they reject the idea that people who use heavily are in perpetual need of treatment and rehabilitation.
However, before I dive into the responses from the survey, I know it would be helpful to put some context around those surveyed. Many of the people who happen upon my platform, or took the time to complete the survey, have a genuine interest in personally improving their health and well-being. At one time or another, they happened upon one of my social media shares, links to an article, an interview or the like – of which, every piece of content I create, my aim is to either educate, motivate or inspire people to improving their quality of life. The people surveyed are very much people in the mindset of valuing their health and fitness, and as such, they make daily decisions to follow through on actions that reinforce those values.
Of all those surveyed, 95% were either substance users themselves or knew someone who has struggled with addiction. I had a feeling this would be the case based on the feedback I had received from a video I had shared on Facebook a couple of months ago (I’ve included it again below). I’ve partnered with St. Jude’s Retreats for this exact reason – we share a lot of the same views and their message, philosophies, and history speak volumes to me and my readers.
Last week I alluded to an emotional article I've been working on. This is my story of how I chose my life over a bottle. It wasn't because I had to, but because I wanted to. Not an easy decision, but the hard ones rarely are. I've spoken about this openly on a few podcast interviews and speeches, as well hinted at it in my book – but this is how the day played out back in January 2010. #AddictionFreeLife – full article published at: http://daim.co/LifeFreeOfAddiction
If treatment has failed you or your loved one, would you be interested in learning about a different approach that is non-disease based?
An overwhelming 77% of respondents are seeking an alternative to the disease concept. Admittedly, seeing this big of a majority response made me feel less alone in my feeling of uncertainty.
The uncertainty that my idea of addiction might be completely wrong and that my initial push-back on what many consider the things as they are for treatment might actually be the only correct course of action. Bottom line, myself and 77% of the respondents are open to the concept, and actively searching for an alternative to the disease model of addiction.
If treatment has failed you/loved one, would you be interested in learning about a different approach that is not a 12-step based program?
The responses to this question echoed my personal journey I’ve found myself traveling the past 6 years. Over 70% want an alternative option that is not set in a 12-step construct. To be completely honest, I had no idea there was so much research supporting that success rates were greater with treatments other than the 12-step systems – including Shock Aversion Therapy and Psychedelic Medication – whoa!
But what I knew for sure was that something inside of me said that 12-step programs weren’t for me and that there must be another way. And by the looks of survey responses to question 4, many within the fitness community feel the same.
Question 5: ‘If you or a loved one struggle with addiction but haven’t sought help, why haven’t you sought help?’
Question 5 hits close to home for me. All of the options provided are the reasons why I chose to not seek help or treatment. 83% of the respondents chose at least one of the following (but many chose more than one):
I don’t want to let my past dictate my future
I don’t want a record of being treated
Because I refuse to be labeled as weak, broken or diseased
Because I refuse to go to 12-step meetings for the rest of my life
Because you don’t think treatment works
Because treatment seems contrary to my values of self-motivation and self-determination
Of course, not all respondents agreed that each and every one of these reasons prevented them from seeking treatment, but a majority said that at least one of them did. And without even knowing it, the greatest rejected many of the beliefs associated with traditional 12-step programs and other treatment options.
However, the responses collected from question 5 validated my conviction that I am NOT powerless and that I ALWAYS have a personal choice when it comes to any substance usage.
Question 6 asked, “what set of attributes do you feel are most important in overcoming addiction?”
This question requested that the respondent select all that apply to their lives. 85% felt that self-responsibility is crucial, followed by 56% selecting support meetings and groups, followed up with 51% choosing the pursuit of happiness.
Interesting to note that based on the total number of responses there was a very large cross-section of people who selected all 3 of these choices. What makes this interesting is that it is believed that both of these options are ‘mutually exclusive factors’. Mark Scheeren, Co-Founder and Chairman of St. Jude Retreats addresses this in detail in their review of the survey responses. Check out the full article entitled, “Is living a life free of addiction a choice? Why the answer matters to the fitness community”.
The gist of it is that ‘self-responsibility’ implies power, independence, and accountability – there’s no weakness when we are accountable. People in my community, at the end of the day, choose to either move their bodies with purpose or not. It’s their choice and not dependent on the support of a group (aka our tribe). At the end of the day it’s our own choice – our free will – if we opt to pursue personal lifestyle changes like improving our fitness or not. A tribe of like-minded, supportive people is great, but it is never the sole reason people succeed at reaching personal health, fitness, or lifestyle goal.
I have to agree with Mark’s observation about addicts and alcoholics – that when I ventured out to meetings, it was implied that for me to successfully treat my addiction, I would NEED the support of the groups. Again, this made me feel powerless, which for those that know me and know me well, this is NOT me.
Regardless of how we perceive the role of support groups and meetings to quell our addictions, it’s apparent that self-responsibility, the pursuit of happiness, and one’s free will is paramount to people wanting to overcome addiction.
Question 7 asked for a personal opinion, in response to, “What do you feel classified someone as an addict or alcoholic as opposed to someone who drinks reasonably?”
The subjective nature of this question was brought home by the subjective nature of the answers respondents gave. They were as varied as humans ourselves. There’s no single definition of an addict or alcoholic, as they’re not diseases themselves that can be studied, defined, or cataloged. The act of either drinking excessive alcohol or other substances are in themselves actions of choices – and for the majority come down to the individual’s choice to do so.
And I guess that’s the crux of this question – to each their own, they are correct – but only in as far as they come to define someone as an “addict” or “alcoholic”. It’s a matter of semantics, and unfortunately, we can’t define or pinpoint an entire group of people like either of these labels because, for each person, their internal motivations and driving factors are completely different. They abuse substances based on choosing to do so, not because they are forced to do so.
I admit, I struggled with this concept for a long, long time. I was trying to fit into a mold of what I thought an alcoholic was. My personal definition was based on a belief that I had a disease and was going to have to deal with that fact for the rest of my life. But was that it? Was there no other option? Seriously?! I couldn’t attach the label to myself. I wouldn’t accept the notion that I had the inability to change my habits, or lacked choice in living my life the way I wanted. An ‘alcoholic’ I was not, and if that was my place, I needed to seek solutions that looked at my behaviors — in particular the situations both internally and externally that influenced the choices and actions I wanted to change.
… and then there was question 8…
“In your opinion, what do you think is the motivating factor as to why someone drinks or uses drugs?”
After more than two decades in the health and fitness industry, I have to admit I’m still trying to figure out what motivates people to do the things they do. When we posed the question, it allowed for a lot of subjectivity and personalization. Just like trying to define what makes someone an addict or substance abuser, the responses were as varied as grains of sand on a beach – no two are exactly alike. What motivates one person, could completely leave the next person feeling unmotivated, so we're left thinking that yes, you are right and so are you.
However, there’s one recurring notion among the open-ended answers to question 8. Respondents often attached the act of over drinking or drug usage with a want to end sensations of ‘sadness’, ‘depression’, emotional and physical ‘pain’ as well as dealing with the ‘anxiety’ caused by ‘big life problems’. It is perceived that substance abuse is a way to bring people closer to sensations of happiness when in turn, it actually numbs the negative sensations for all but an instance, and in its absence, one seems to feel better about their current situations.
Alcohol, drugs, and the like don’t inherently fix problems nor do they create happiness. But respondents, like me back in 2010, seek to find happiness and solace for negative feelings in our choice to consume or partake in substance abuse. These choices, and then our actions are what lead us further away from attaining what we actually want most – to feel good about ourselves and a sense of joy along with happiness in life.
Do you agree with this notion? Think back to what motivates you to make certain decisions in your life. I would wager that many of your decisions, as seemingly small as some may seem, are all internally driven with a hope that they take you one step closer to happiness. Whether it be a big life goal, a family vacation, or like many of the respondents wanting to achieve a greater level of health and fitness, each decision we make and action we take is typically driven by a hope that we obtain what we seek.
And this is where question 9 came in…
“Are you familiar with the Positive Drive Principle (PDP)? This principle is the basis for all internal human motivations (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happy at any given moment in time.”
More than half the respondents were not familiar with ‘PDP’. Even though this iteration of a concept known by many as the “pursuit of happiness” is prevalent in every aspect of our lives. For example, those who are part of my tribe are very much focused on improving their quality of life through daily exercise, meditation, and personal development. The personal commitment to invest 30 minutes a day is to create greater happiness and feelings of joy in one’s life.
When I first connected with Saint Jude Retreats and their methodologies, I knew this was it. Even though I didn’t have the vernacular, semantics, or understanding to articulate what it was that I did back in 2010 to overcome my ill habits of alcohol and drug abuse. The Freedom Model’s unique attributes just made sense of my personal experience – free will, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness (PDP) all played a role in my story. Based on the respondent’s answers to question 9, it would seem that the PDP makes intrinsic sense to everyone who learns about it.
So where do we go now?
This survey was very effective at showing that we have some serious misunderstandings when it comes to ‘addiction’. Either you believe you have full autonomy to live your life your way, with the power to choose how you’ll spend your days, or you believe you are powerless against a disease sheathed in uncertainties. I think one thing is for sure, for many within the health and fitness cultures, owning our decisions is a must. Believing that we have full control over the foods we eat, the movements we do, and the way we think or feel, that is what it means to live.
Our recurring behaviors, or automated choices and how we act, can be influenced and overridden by our free-will and power of self. We have the ability within each of us to choose the path we walk in life – but for some, a daily reminder in the form of a question needs to be constantly asked…
Every once in a while you come across a book that affects you so profoundly that all you want to do is share it with everyone you know (and everyone you will ever meet). Paulo Coelho's “The Alchemist” was that book for me.
When I first read it back in my early 20's, I was blown away with its eloquent prose and simple narrative. The story-line flows much like a piece of poetry.
“Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.” – Amazon.com
I loved this book so much that I gave it to my wife to be on our first official date together… yes, it is that great of a book.
Do yourself a solid and pick up a copy of this timeless masterpiece – and if that doesn't happen, at least enjoy some of the following quotes…
40 of the Greatest and Most Inspiring “Alchemist” Quotes by Paulo Coelho
When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.
Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.
No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.
This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there's no need at all to understand what's happening, because everything happens within you.
We are travelers on a cosmic journey,stardust,swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.
Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.
If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.
When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.
Why do we have to listen to our hearts? the boy asked. “Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.”
It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than of anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, it's easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it's in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one's dreams would have no meaning.
If you start by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work towards getting it.
Don't think about what you've left behind, The alchemist said to the boy as they began to ride across the sands of the desert. “If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.”
When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
There is only one way to learn. It's through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.
It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.
At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie.
People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don't deserve them, or that they'll be unable to achieve them.
I'm alive. When I'm eating that's all I think about. If I'm on the march, I just concentrate on marching. If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day as any to die. If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man. Life is the moment we are living now.
After 20 years in the fitness industry, I've had my fair share of people sharing with me that they ‘lack motivation‘.
When it comes to setting health, fitness or lifestyle goals, lack of education/knowledge, limited time, and ultimately, the un-belief in one-self, are all working against those de-motivated many. So what does one do about it?
For starters, it's understanding what is ‘motivation' on an objective level.
the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something : the act or process of motivating someone
the condition of being eager to act or work : the condition of being motivated
a force or influence that causes someone to do something
If you search the definitions littered across the inter-web, you'll find lots of interpretations, but at the base level ‘Motivation' is generally believed to be something – either internally or externally – driving us to action.
But no matter what, it still boils down to a personal choice. To do something or not do something. And sometimes, it just helps to have our brain filled with positive messages, fueling our inspiration and internal belief in ourselves, which lights that fire of awesomeness.
Below are just a few of my favorites….
8 Awesomely Inspiring and Motivating Videos to get Your Day Started
“It’s a very unique feeling – flying through the air.”That’s how Leanna Carriere describes her favorite athletic event, Pole vault.
It is all about pioneering, having been introduced as an Olympic event for women in 2000. Leanna excels, jumping the same heights as younger men. She follows her dreams to motivate and inspire others. She wants to show you can carry out things if you work hard, which is why she’s focused on decathlon.
Generally, women only do heptathlon. Leanna Carriere wants to change that. She pushed past an injury that side lined her pole-vault dreams for three years, with her first decathlon win in Vermont last year. She knows she might be too old by the time women can compete in Canada, but she perseveres. She hopes women and girls won’t feel discouraged from participating in a variety of events.
Perspiration Inspiration: Canadian Pole Vaulter Clears The Bar For Equality
Leanna’s life has been about surpassing barriers, on the field and personally. Beyond her injury, she’s battled ADHD and came back from a dissolved marriage, rebuilding her life from the ground up. She was recently named a Woman Of Vision by Global Edmonton. She took some time to speak with me about her story.
Q: Why decathlon?
I enjoy all the events. The women’s heptathlon doesn’t include pole-vault. For me, the decathlon is an event I where I can use all my abilities and still pole-vault.
Q: Why do you work so hard?
I know one day it will all pay off. I know what I want. I want to compete for Canada in the Olympics. It was instilled in me to get your goals you have to train as hard as you can. I want to represent Canada the best way I can, working hard.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about athletics?
I like to see how I can push my body. It’s amazing what the human body can do. For the most part, people have yet to tap into their full potential. It’s neat to see the changes and adaptations the body can make.
Q: What was it like not pole –vaulting after your injury?
I practiced new events and learned new skills. I missed the thrill of pole vaulting but it made me a better athlete with a good base.
Q: How did personal challenges impact your athletic performance?
I had to rebuild a couple of times, each time asking “How can I build my life so I can become a better athlete? How can I situate myself so I can excel?” Instability is hard and it’s hard to do this on your own. Sports helped me stay on track for school, and stay focused, investing my high energy in a positive area.
Q: How do you stay motivated?
I go back to my goals. My coaches hold me accountable. I never want to let people down. I pay for my coaches, training, gym fees and I want to make the most of it. I have motivational things on my fridge, like what I need to do to get to the Olympics.
Q: What advice would you have for someone just becoming active?
Stay with it. Going to the gym is hard without a goal. Be passionate and excited about your goal, whether it’s to lose 10 pounds or enter a 5k race. There has to be meaning to showing up. Goals can change.
Growing up, we had body image issues in our family, including obesity and eating disorders. Lifting weights and feeling fit gives an endorphin rush: you feel strong and confident. When my mom works out, there’s a change in her attitude; it provides confidence. With training, your body will feel better because you are sweating, eating better, and seeing the outcome of your hard work.
A Gold Medal Attitude will Carry You Far in Life
Leanna Carriere is an inspirational athlete who moves for a purpose. She has dreams not just for herself, but for future female athletes.
How can movement help you achieve your dreams? Can you get out there and help someone else achieve theirs?