A Conversation With An Addict: Denial in the Lion's Den

To be honest, I've had this post in my "draft queue" for quite some time. I've hesitated posting it because, well, it doesn't have a happy ending. As far as I know, anyway. Of course, not all stories have happy endings, and the outcome of a story does not determine its worthiness, or the worthiness of the people it involves. So, here I share the story of a woman, an addict. Albeit it a brief encounter.

And, there's always something to learn; something to gather and think about as we look at our own lives. 

A Conversation

"What is the first thing you are going to do when you are released?"  I asked her. 

"Get high," she replied without hesitation.

We were in the library of the County Detention Center as I was inviting a handful of women to participate in "Your Story / Your Song," a class I conduct there. In this class, I work one-on-one with a detainee for 6-8 weeks as they process their story through writing. Since she would be released the next week, we had already determined she was not a good candidate for the class. Still, I involved her in the conversation.

I was taken off-guard by her response. Most drug users when asked this question - especially when incarcerated - usually respond with safe, textbook answers such as "look for a job," "find a place to live," "call mom," etc. 

"I'm gonna head to the needle exchange, get a clean needle and shoot up," she said confidently.

"That's really the first thing you're going to do?" I asked. "You're going to go back to what brought you here in the first place?" 

She nodded and continued. "I like the lifestyle. I'm willing to sit my time to have it. Jail isn't that bad. It's stress-free. What messes you up is going to the probation officer and having to piss in a cup. If you completely execute your conviction you can get rid of the parole officer and you'll stop the revolving door. I've executed my conviction and will be off probation."

"When did you first begin using drugs?" I asked while furiously writing in my notebook. 

"I've been doing drugs since I was 14, but I didn't get arrested until I was 21. Sitting 2 years isn't too much of a price to pay. It's been a break. I can breathe now."

"What do you do for a living?" I had a good idea of what her response might be, but I asked anyway.

"If I don't want to work I don't have to work. I can make $600 in a matter of hours instead of a 40 hour work week,"

I knew how that kind of money was made, so I shifted gears so she wouldn't incriminate herself.

"Is it the high that's attractive or the money?" I asked since other addicts have told me the addiction to power, money, and influence is often greater than the addiction to the drugs themselves.

"Both," she quickly responded.

"Would you advocate for the legalization of drugs?" This question was a matter of personal curiosity.

"Uhhhh...no. Some people can't handle drugs. A person shouldn't do drugs if they have to steal to get them."

"If you could, would you live sober?"

"No, I don't want to be sober. I don't think drug use is a disease. I think it's a choice. Drug use becomes a disease if you use drugs to cope. You gotta find some other way to cope. I have an anxiety problem, like bad, but I don't use drugs to cope. You should do drugs only for recreation."

"Would it be fair to say you are a functioning addict?"

"Yes."

I asked which drugs she used and among the list was heroin.

"Are you afraid of an overdose?" I asked.

"I only do heroin with someone else and only if we have Narcan."  (Narcan is an opiate antidote - it stops the effects of an overdose.)

Denial in the Lion's Den

In the midst of this conversation, I had to resist the urge to yell out, "How can you not see that you are rationalizing your addiction?!?! How can you deny that your life is completely out of control?" 

But, I had to remind myself to listen. To hear what she was saying, and not saying. I wasn't going to be able to get to the heart of her story - to hear the impetus for her drug use or uncover the pain at the heart of her actions. 

More than likely, she will continue on this same path in order to avoid the reality of deep, hidden pain in her life. That's because the first reaction to loss, pain or grief is denial. As such, the first step in healing and recovery is acceptance.

This woman will never be able to live into recovery until she accepts the real and painful reality of her addiction. Her denial will keep her in the lion's den, and in this den, the lion's may eventually consume her. 

How to Take That First Step

I don't know what it will take for this woman to see her addiction as the powerful, destructive force that it is, but she desperately needs to do just that.

If I could, I would have her start with self-examination. This is the crux of my writing program at the detention center and its through the writing process that detainees face themselves and their past. It's painful and difficult, but so worth it. 

Second, I would recommend she spend time discovering who she is through the Enneagram, a powerful personality assessment. Through this process, I have discovered blind spots in my life and have been able to begin the process of healing and recovery from past mistakes. You can find a free assessment HERE.

Then, I would suggest she surround herself with healthy people. There is nothing worse than for an addict than to return to the same people and the same habits as before. That sort of environment will allow her to continue to deny her problems. 

Ultimately, the work of recovery begins with one step and then another and another. It's up to her to decide her future just as it is up to us to decide our future, and how we will react to it. 

What About You?

I invite you to stop and think of your own story. Do you see any behaviors in your life that could be a sign of a deeper problem?  Do you have any habits or patterns that you find yourself doing in order to avoid pain (over-eating, binge television, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, hyper-controlling, etc)? Is there anything you need to let go of? If so, what's holding you back?

These are tough questions, but I encourage you to ask them. Throw off those burdens that are tying you down and get the heck out of that lion's den.

I hold out hope that the woman with whom I spoke has gotten out of her den, or that, at least, the mouths of those lions are shut until she does.