I had seen the TED talk and video by Johann Hari espousing that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety it is connection. My sex worker friend and I discussed the over simplicity of this video and its valiant attempt at a reframing of an old paradigm. Half of it works for me. But, my friend J whom I have known to be in a long term relationship with a partner who died of a heroin overdose and who still has occasional use and a brand new relationship seems to defy the new norm this video maker wants us to believe. Hari is a staunch opponent of the war on drugs and this video is one that hopes to support its final obliteration in the Western minds with talks and viral animations on social media. My friend J currently does outreach to risky user communities who would be the addicts in the first isolated rat park model. "I appreciate where the video maker is coming from but such a complex issue can never be over simplified. Also it is important to recognize the rat park is a outdated study that does not include the system of of oppressions that humans face." For those of us that work or have worked closely, intimately with users and addicts we know that there is a lot more that solves or transitions chaotic or destructive use for someone.
This video doesn't speak to my experience, but maybe you? I kicked my marijuana addiction, but I still don't have my connection/inclusion needs managed...maybe I do. It's getting better here in Japan, AND once I get to Cali, I pick it right back up along with the connections that I miss, but with a NEWFOUND and successful bond with the substance knowing I can stop for any number of weeks, months etc...Weed for me came/comes with connections...its not simple, its deep deep in the crevices of the no love zone, dare you travel down there?
Hari's animated video touches briefly on trauma and its pull towards addiction, but Gabor Mate focuses more on it in his talks and theories. I appreciate his approach as well, as he has also done medical work on the most at risk area of Vancouver for most of his career. Mate quotes Eckhart Tolle saying,"all addictions begin in pain, and END in pain." and I again have to say, that wasn't true for me. My dependence began as a love bonding, continued as a love replacement and then ended with triumph and surprise. I started using marijuana daily with a partner as many people start using harder substances in relationship. Its all a fun party til you can't turn the music down when you want to right? While my daily use with that boyfriend began as a fun time, I realized how wonderful of a painkiller it was when we I used it to sooth me during our breakup. I can still describe it as "a mother's nipple when I am crawling in the darkness crying like an infant." And once I had started using weed as a coping mechanism, I seemed to never be able to stop for nearly 20 years. From the age of 22 until 39 I probably smoked every day minus great efforts to abstain for 2.5 months 1 or 2 years in a row. The typical quitting streak was 2-3 weeks. I fully felt addicted because I could NOT STOP despite my greatest efforts. I had great connection with weed. I started my career in sex worker activism when Robyn Few got me higher than a kite in a roomful of prostitution activist stoners. With the enthusiasm of MaryJane AND Robyn Few together in a smoky room we planned the beginnings of Sex Workers Outreach Project on a national level and organized Desiree Alliance in its origin years. So then, why was I not able to quit? I had a boyfriend most recently 2 years ago who tried his hardest to shame and compel me into quitting. That was the worst. So here, I am threatened with losing this new relationship over cheating on our agreement that I wouldn't smoke unless I was nauseous and felt like I needed it medically when I had a stomach infection. But the teen rebel in me HATES any exterior control so she will always cheat despite the consequences. Interventions for someone else's good do not work unless the person is on board with seeing her usage as a problem. I remember 3 of my housemates were trying to get me to cut down smoking on my bong everyday. I managed to do it for them for about 3 weeks as well. And when I confessed that I had given up one of them said,"oh it wasn't for us that you were doing it, it was for YOU." HA HA. I did end up getting kicked out of that house for other reasons but it was quite the unideal disconnected human tragedy that would drive someone deeper into addictive behaviors not away from them. Some humans can be so stupid about their caring techniques. The connection of AA works as a community replacer for many people to finally "get clean," engage in mentoring relationships and have an endless global community that will support them dropping in without an appointment at ANY TIME OF THE DAY. That IS the opposite of addiction for them for sure. And to them addiction is a medical disease. The AA model would probably not work for me either. I can be a lone wolf probably due to my trauma history. "why do people use?" Gabor Mate says,"because they have deep emotional problems that they don't have the means to resolve on their own." And he also acknowledges that with right support, addicts need to learn to BE WITH THEIR PAIN not try to escape it. Perhaps, it wasn't until I defied the boundaries of possible and moved to Japan that I was also able to simultaneously defy my other impossibility which was abstain from using cannabis for months. I consider my addiction issues resolved even though I still use the substance. J does as well, even after going through a detox program saying that was "kicking was the worst experience. one of the worst of my life. i couldn't do it again..."
I remember studying Lisa Najavits "Seeking Safety" group therapy model as a possible model to adapt for a sex worker support group I wanted to start to support myself. This group therapy model was meant to support the "co-occuring disorder" of PTSD mental illness and drug use as a coping mechanism during trauma recovery. The problem was the Najavits group model didn't seem to understand sex work outside of a risky behavior or crime and we sex worker activists begged to differ. But, in our defiance we often covered up our wounds with more substance and more sex work, AND many of us transformed our sex work addictions into sex work ACTIVIST ADDICTIONS. The glory of the fight, the media attention, the sexy community that came out of the woodwork to join you...it all seemed like the best thing to do with your time and money. Until we discovered that we couldn't escape our trauma that way. It only multiplied in a roomful of hurt people, who often went through their current coping mechanisms of hurting the community that they were supposed to be so happy to have found. I knew that I was coping with marijuana for several reasons and soothing myself from post traumatic stress disorder triggers was definitely one of the main reasons I never saw myself ever becoming sober, especially during the escort years where sexual violence and more trauma was an all too often occurring tragic continuum that I lacked the ability to deal with.
Mate states that "all addictions originate in childhood trauma." and since I earlier gave the visual of sucking on a bong feeling like the equivalent to sucking on a mother's nipple when screaming in the darkness, I'm sure I can agree that there is a strong childhood, if not infantile wound that I am attending to. A wound that I can't even put into talk therapy rooms because it likely occurred before my brain could even form words. Gabor Mate also talks about ancestral trauma. He had grandparents who were survivors of the Holocaust in Hungary, during this time all Jewish babies were meant to have incessant crying "problems." I have been hearing we hold ancestral wounds in our bodies for 5 or more generations. Finding connections when the substance connection is no longer enough. It is the courage to dig into the wound with the bravery of self growth instead of the usual escape. The CONNECTION that I lacked was the strength to connect to my pain, explore it, excavate it, overcome it, heal...When did the pain of rejection that I so needed to medicate begin? I am still discovering the truth of these imprints, with and without the aid of natural and synthentic substances.