Thursday, August 4, 2011

My New Column in Witches & Pagans #23

Those who read this blog may have noticed that by and large I am a rather private person.  I am much more comfortable discussing my ideas than my feelings, and tend to be reticent about the details of my daily life. And so my latest "Rite Behavior" column in Witches and Pagans was a particular challenge for me: it speaks at some length and in uncomfortable detail about my ongoing struggles with substance abuse.

I went public with this for a few reasons.  One is because addiction thrives on shame and secrecy. It entangles its victims - substance abusers and innocent bystanders alike - in a web of lies and half-truths.  It isolates addicts from their friends, their families and ultimately from themselves.  Admitting to yourself and to others that your use is out of control is the first step toward breaking out of that web: until you acknowledge the damage which has been done, you will have little chance of repairing it.

Another is that I believe the current models of substance abuse treatment - more precisely, the almost exclusive use of the 12-Step/Abstinence-based and punitive/law enforcement models - are seriously flawed and based largely on our Puritan distrust of all things pleasurable.  In the name of fighting addiction we throw doctors in prison for prescribing pain medication to suffering patients: thanks largely to drug offenses 55% of African-American men in Chicago - and similarly high percentages in many other American cities - are convicted felons.  I acknowledge that substance abuse is a problem, and that I suffer from that problem: I recognize that we need to do something about it.  But I also see that our current efforts are not working, and that alternate approaches are desperately needed.  By talking about my experience and encouraging others to share theirs I hope we might save some addicts who might otherwise be lost, myself included.

I'm not interested in playing the Redeemed Sinner ala Robert Downey, Jr. and various other celebrity rehab graduates.  But neither am I interested in playing the Entertaining Party Animal ala Charlie Sheen or graduating to Tragic Drug Victim ala Amy Winehouse.  Since that article was written I've done a reasonably good to mediocre job of staying clean: there have been a couple of slip-ups but nothing that spiraled out of control.  And recent events in my personal life (more on that later) have kept me occupied enough to resist the worst temptations. Right now there is enough good stuff going on in my life to help me steer clear of the bad, but I also know how quickly things can change when dealing with addiction.  I hope to come out of this struggle as one comes out of any successful Ordeal: with hard-acquired wisdom and as few scars as possible.