Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 14: Help is Closer Than You Think

It is a whole lot easier to get substances that will addict you than it is to get into treatment for addiction. In many localities, there are drug dealers at every corner, but to get to a clinic, you have to take two buses. Intake coordinators will make you wait in a room with old magazines and ask you million questions; but bartenders will serve you right away and leave you alone if you don’t want to talk. Insurance companies will seek to deny you coverage, but you can buy as many packs of cigarettes as you want on your credit card. You can get narcotics from every doctor, but it’s tough to find one who prescribes Suboxone (AKA: Buprenorphine), a medication that can assist you in getting off narcotics. There’s even an act of Congress that limits your access.

Suffice it to say that it’s a lot easier to get substances that will addict you, than it is to get into treatment.

However, that’s not the same as saying that help is far away.

Practically every church basement hosts an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. If your town is large enough, there will be one every day of the week. They don’t cost anything, but they will pass the hat to buy coffee. There are no forms, no appointments, no one to call for pre-approval, no side effects. You don’t have to take time off from your job. You don’t have to give them your whole name. You don’t have to speak. You don’t even have to stop using. You just have to have the desire to stop. They can’t make it any easier than that.

But it’s still not easy to go to AA or NA. I’ve found there are two big barriers that get in the way.

The first is that you will have to deal with people. There will be people there who are either not serious enough about recovery or too serious. There will be people there to pick up women and women there to get picked up. There will be judgmental ones and understanding ones. If you speak, they will answer you with simplistic slogans and facile quips. Some will smell. Many will smoke. They all will remind you of the worst moment of your life and forbid you from forgetting it.

They are much the same as the people you will find in a bar or a drug house. The people who meet in the church basement are little different than the ones who meet upstairs, in the church, although they don’t dress up and are less sanctimonious.

The second barrier that people have to attending AA or NA is the insistence those organizations have in using a higher power. The Higher Power is mentioned everywhere. You can’t even get past the second step without them bringing it up.

Step One is, We admitted we were powerless over [fill in the blank] – that our lives had become unmanageable.

The bars and drug houses are filled with people who admit they are powerless over their addictions. They may forget sometimes, but they know it. Having this knowledge is not enough. Hitting bottom is not enough. There has to be some hope.The hope is supposed to come in the form of Step Two.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

It’s that second step that stops many people. They have too much baggage associated with the Higher Power.

Religious institutions have, over the centuries, done a pretty good job of marginalizing the very people that populate most self help meetings. For that matter, addicts have done a pretty good job at doing the things that piss church people off. Furthermore, the idea of God, for many addicts, never matured. Their idea of God is often a child’s idea of God, like with the beard and thunderbolts, smiting people from up in Heaven, and all that; or the adolescent idea of God, concerned about what group you belong in, who’s in and who’s out. There are all kinds of problems and hangups that hold people up in the second step.

If you have trouble with the Higher Power, let me introduce you to something you may be able to wrap your head around.

Every addict knows he or she is divided into two parts. There is the addicted part that sets you up, talks you into using, chooses associates from among those who use, chases away those who don’t, scores the dope, shoots the needle, heaps the guilt, and refuses the help.

Then there’s the other part. The part that wants to stop, that refuses to use, sometimes, that makes healthy connections, apologizes for the hundredth time to family, hates the dope, loathes the needle, knows he can do better than guilt, and looks for help.

Most addicts think the first part, the addicted part, is more real. They identify with the first part. That’s the self, they say. But the second part, the healthy part, is real, too; although it may be, as yet, unrealized. There are two parts to you, although you might only know the first.

Which of the two parts would be the higher?

The healthy part, I thought so. There’s your Higher Power.

If you cannot connect with the idea of the Higher Power many people have, or with your old idea of the Higher Power, connect with the healthy side of yourself as your Higher Power. Get to know it, listen to it, confess to it, rely on it, let it guide you.

Help is closer than you thought.

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