Crystal meth addiction and the Miracle of Letting Go

This is a guest post by Cathy Taughinbaugh of Treatment Talk.org.

I am a parent of an addict. I would say looking back, that I was naive and in denial about the drug use in my home. The last two years of high school for my daughter were challenging. One day of her senior year, I found what looked like drugs in her back pack. We were divorced, but I showed them to her father who decided to take them to the police station to find out what they were. When we were told the drugs were crystal meth, we were both shocked and frightened. Two nephews of my daughter’s dad had become addicted to crystal meth. One is now serving a long term sentence in a California prison and the other was killed, so as you can imagine he was concerned about this drug use in particular. We came together, sat our daughter down and she told us she didn’t use drugs, but was carrying them for a friend. She said she knew that it was wrong to be doing that for someone else, burst into tears, and yes, we believed her. Looking back I realize how much in denial we really were.

She went away to college in Colorado. We sent her off, and she went away with the best of intentions. Her grades that freshman year were abysmal. She was on probation her first semester, flunked out the second semester and then went to summer school at the local junior college. She managed to get herself back in for the fall of her sophomore year. Things did not improve, and her grades went from bad to worse. She decided to quit school for the next semester and work. Her dad and I needed to let go of the college dream because we finally realized she was wasting our money, and wasting her life. She did find a part time job at a local pet store, but it seemed her hours were getting less and less. For some reason she had trouble getting to work, and finally could not keep her job. By June we were emotionally exhausted. We agreed to one more month’s rent. We sent it, but both of us felt, that this was the last bit of help we could give her. Yet, I still wasn’t clear what the problem was.

The idea of having my 19 year old daughter living on the streets, was terrorizing. I went back in late June to see what I could do and to find out more. In addition, to not having a job or any obvious means of support, to my surprise, she had bought a Rottweiler puppy, named Bella. We decided one day during my visit to take the dog on a walk in the hills on a hot 80+ degree day. She had on a long sleeve t-shirt which surprised me for such a hot day and during the walk, I made several comments about how hot she must be.

Finally, walking behind her, it became clear to me that she was deliberately covering her arms. I began to panic. I went up to her, touched her arm, and said, “You should at least pull your sleeves up.” She sharply pulled her arm away and I knew.  I was really numb for quite awhile as we continued down the hill, I didn’t know what to say, and prayed that this was some kind of mistake.  Finally, I confronted her in the parking lot. She would not show me her arms, and we both just burst into tears. I began naming off drugs. Of course starting with heroin, but when I mentioned crystal meth, she nodded. I could not believe my daughter who had been a girl scout, and a member of the high school water polo team among other things, was shooting up crystal meth.

I told her I was not going to leave her in Colorado, and she said the only way she would come home was if we brought her dog, Bella. So we did. Luckily, for all of us, she was willing to get into drug treatment.  She went to an outdoor wilderness program in Utah for five weeks and then on to Safe Harbor Residential Drug Treatment Center for Women in Costa Mesa for three months. She lived for about six months in a Safe Harbor Sober Living home. Her dad found a loving home for her dog. Bella.

We have been very lucky with our daughter, because she finally did decide to make some good choices. Her recovery has not been perfect, but I have been forever grateful that she did not have the dramatic relapses that so many addicts and  parents have had to go through.

After six years, she continues to do well, earning her college degree in southern California in June of 2009, and now works at a job in her field that she enjoys. She has moved on with her life, but what she has learned, in treatment is still close to her heart. She is indeed a changed person, and would not be the person she is today, had addiction not entered her life.

What I have learned is this. Addiction comes into your life for a reason. I was most likely living in a fog until drug addiction entered my life, and it was the wake up call I needed to pay attention, look at my life choices and seek inner peace and serenity. There is no finish line for addiction, not for the addict nor for the addict’s parents. We both continue on, the addict hopefully managing their disease and their parents hoping that their child manages their disease.

The greatest gift I have learned from this whole experience is that addiction does not discriminate as well as the importance of letting go. Addiction can enter any family, regardless of their race, economic situation or upbringing. Letting go does not mean I lose interest in my child or their struggles. Letting go means I love and respect my child, but I let them follow their path and find their own way to recovery if that is their choice. I will offer them resources if I am able, but I will let go of trying to control their disease.

For most of us parents, that is the hardest lesson, that lesson of letting go. We want to fix our children’s problems and make everything better. It breaks our hearts, and goes against what the word “parent” stands for. It is however necessary, not only when our child is an addict, but when any of our children reach adulthood and are ready to spread their wings. We need to let go and let our children fly alone.

Compulsive choices in addiction?

Is addiction an issue of bad choices or is it a case of biological, compulsive, necessity?

If you know anything about me and my views, you know that I think little of anyone who tries to separate these. I see and talk to people all the time who are stuck in compulsive behavioral patterns but with some education and good helping of supportive tools they can begin to change these patterns and return to normal life.

But then there are those who just don’t seem to ever get better.

The frustration and shame that come along with compulsive, addictive, behavior can be greatBe it lack of motivation, readiness, mental health issues, or a simple case of not having found a good enough reason to stop, these addiction clients can be the most frustrating and the most rewarding to work with. Any victory, no matter how small, with a difficult patient can put a big smile on my face. I love nothing more than to have someone tell me that they’re sending me a very “tough” or “resistant” client only to discover that when they’re with me, neither of these traits is really representative of their personality.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of perception, right?

Life is about choices, and compulsive or addictive behavior is certainly included in that equation. But that doesn’t mean that all choices were created equal. Indeed, all the evidence points towards the conclusion that choices are differently easy or difficult depending on a person’s experience, biology, and environment. In so many animal studies (called conditioned place preference experiments) researchers have shown that exposure to an environment in which drugs are given makes an animal much more likely to spend time there. We’re talking about 3 to 4 exposures at most and animals find it hard to leave – imagine what 3 to 4 years of that kind of exposure can. Self-administration studies (the kind where animals press levers and buttons for drugs) have revealed that animals can go through some pretty lengthy, complicated procedures to get their drugs and that their experience makes them continue pressing for a long time after the drugs have been removed from the equation. If a rat can learn to press one button, wait some time before pressing another, and finally poke his nose in a whole to get a hit, you can bet that people can do the same without needing to resort to explanations about unhealthy family environments. Family environments matter, as do friends, neighborhoods, and cultures – along with neuroscience they all create the picture we end up calling addiction.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no doubt that experience with drugs can lead to reduced self-control over activity that has been linked with drugs. Add triggers and cravings to the mix and the question of some compulsivity in addiction seems moot to me. Still, there is no doubt that compulsive or impulsive behavior can be helped when you’re not approaching the client as if they are somehow flawed but that doesn’t mean they weren’t compulsive in the first place.

Trying to make the picture simpler is like trying to draw a Picasso without being able to sketch a simple bowl of fruit – it might fool those who don’t know much but it’s far from true cubism.

Releasing the motivation bottleneck – Helping addicts by making recovery easier

My friend Patrick as SpiritualRiver reminded me of an issue that I think is somewhat obvious to many drug addiction researchers but may not be to others.

The way I see it, there is a specific reason behind much of the research into medications, or other interventions, that will help drug addicts in their transition to recovery:

If we can figure out a way to reduce the extreme hold that drugs have over addicts, we may just make it possible for a much larger proportion of them to get their life back and succeed in addiction treatment.

Long term drug use causes some serious alterations in the neurological functioning, and therefore the behavior, of substance abusers. As it stands, it requires a great deal of motivation, support, and perseverance to overcome a serious drug habit.

Still, if we can somehow make it easier, either by intervening earlier, or by somehow speeding up the brain’s recovery, or by creating the kind of functioning needed for the person to be able to make deliberate, informed decisions, we could just even the playing field a little. Right now, there are some medications out there that do just that, and as far as i’m concerned, regardless of what people say about substituting one addiction for another (which they do for methadone and buprenorphine), if we can get addiction back on the road to a functioning, contributing, life – that’s recovery too. Harm reduction is just that, a way to make people’s lives easier even if they can’t, or aren’t ready, to completely give up drugs. I for one don’t understand why so many people are insisting that it’s all or nothing. In case you haven’t figured it out, that’s not how life normally works, in recovery or anywhere else.

And by the way, that’s definitely not the only way to intervene – medication like modafinil and other pharmacotherapies that help addicts make better, less impulsive choices, also work; add to that bupropion (an antidepressant and a nicotine addiction medication that has a low abuse potential), as well naltrexone (good for opiate overdose but also for alcoholism treatment) and you begin to see that this area of treatment is getting better at providing solutions that are meant to supplement, not replace, traditional treatment modalities.

The end goal is to help the addict and as I’ve said before, I think we should use all our tools.

“Addicted” – Recovered and Helping: The reality (tv) of addiction treatment.

With the success of shows like A&E’s Intervention and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, America has shown an almost insatiable appetite for television programs that deal with addiction. Whether this reflects the breadth and depth of the addiction problem in this country or a national appetite for tragedy and schadenfreude is open for debate, but regardless, TLC has now thrown its own hat into the ring with a new series, Addicted, that follows a trained family interventionist who is, herself, a recovering addict. Though the line between education and exploitation in such shows remains a debatable matter of personal opinion, it calls to our attention a crucial element in modern addiction treatment: the unique position of the recovering addict to make a positive difference in the lives of those still caught in the grip of dependency.

Hey, it’s what got me starting this website over three years ago.

Addicted on TLC – Addiction treatment reality

Kristina from the TLC show AddictedKristina Wandzilak, the main character of the TLC “Addicted” show, is a professional interventionist specializing in family-style interventions, targeted towards not only the addicts themselves but the families for whom having an addict as a family member has destabilized their lives and sense of control. The central philosophy of family-style intervention revolves around working not only with the addict but with the entire family to restore that feeling of control and healthy boundaries, after which, the theory goes, recovery of the chemically dependent individual can follow. Wandzilak’s faith in this style of addiction treatment is hard-earned; as a cocaine and methamphetamine addict, she cites her own mother’s ability to establish a firm boundary and “walk away” as the impetus for her to finally get clean.

Wanzilak’s story is a sadly common one. Falling in love with alcohol from her first drink at the age of 13, addicted to cocaine and methamphetamine by age 15, and in and out of treatment by 18, Kristina was clearly on the fast path to an early grave. Returning home after another escape from rehab, she was turned away at the door by her mother, a firm line she would later credit as the first step to her recovery. Though the next three years of her life would involve a continued spiral of cocaine and methamphetamine addiction, prostitution, and robbery, it was allegedly at a moment of complete rock bottom that her mother’s strength and grace in turning her away served as the inspiration for her to finally take control of her own life. After seeking her own addiction treatment, Kristina has now been sober since September 4, 1993 and calls this the greatest accomplishment of her life. In her words, she feels that if she helps families to embody the strength that her mother had in dealing with her, the addicts will be forced to “run into themselves” and thus find sobriety soon thereafter.

A note here – I’ve talked about the difference between positive reinforcement and punishment before, so I won’t go into it at length here, but I think it’s important to keep in mind the fine line between helping someone by keeping consistent boundaries and hurting them by refusing to help. With this show just starting, I really hope that this line is kep in mind and that the producers, and Kristina, don’t use it for ratings rather than helping those in need.

Where would addiction treatment be without recovered addicts?

The question stands- does Kristina Wanzilak’s or any other addict’s past with addiction make them more qualified to help those now suffering through the same issues? Many people feel that this is the case, including qualified specialists like Dr. Drew Pinsky, who takes most of the staff for his VH1 series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew from a group of former addicts. Regulars on Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew include technician Shelly Sprague and counselor (and program director of the Pasadena recovery center) Bob Forrest, both highly trained and qualified addiction specialists whose own experiences as addicts serves as a tool for understanding and gaining the trust of difficult patients, as well as promoting these people as living examples of the possibilities that await even the most seemingly hopeless cases. Sober houses are also overwhelmingly run by recovering addicts who can teach the newly sober a structured lifestyle and tricks to keeping focused on recovery. Our own Adi Jaffe, director of All About Addiction, is a recovering addict himself (check out his story on the Press tab). As we see recovering addicts step up to help those that remain trapped in a life of getting high, we are increasingly made aware of their unique ability to make a difference in lives that many had considered lost. Addicted on TLC is keeping that trend going.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that having personal experience is necessary for becoming an addiction counselor or specialist, though it likely helps keep the motivation level high in a relatively stressful occupation. One thing is certain, seeing these examples of recovered addicts who are helping others is certain to do a lot of good to the addiction stigma I hate so much!

Anonymous No More: Jennie Ketcham and her sex addiction story

As part of our Anonymous No More series, we bring addiction stories of addicts who are in different stages of recovery and are willing to share their take with you without the veil of anonymity. The point is to once and for all humanize addiction, and addicts, and reduce the stigma of addiction as a condition that leaves people hopeless forever. Jennie Ketcham has already publicly shared some of her story with the world, and if her recovery from sex addiction isn’t an example of humanizing and de-stigmatizing the addict, I don’t know what is. From her humble beginnings, through her porn career, to her role on Dr. Drew’s show “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew,” Jennie has been leaving her mark on this world for years. I know her story will leave a mark on you.

Jennie Ketcham – Sex Addiction is a slippery disease

Like in alcoholism or drug addiction, the sex addict must hit rock bottom before any change can be made. The biggest problem with this particular addiction is the intrinsically shame-based nature of the disease, with core issues making that first step into recovery the biggest and most difficult step one could ever take. To say, “I am a sex addict,” is to admit total and utter defeat in an arena that is most private and sacred.

My name is Jennie Ketcham, and I am a sex addict. My bottom line behavior, behavior I absolutely cannot participate in if I wish to lead a healthy and happy life, is compulsive masturbation, porn, sex with strangers, sex outside my committed relationship, selling sex for money, and sexualizing people, places and things when I feel uncomfortable. For most people, these behaviors are already unacceptable. For a sex addict however, it’s regular Tuesday night. I am 27 years old, my sexual sobriety date is April 6th, 2009, and I ended up in the program of recovery by mistake, but it was the best mistake I ever made. And believe me, I’ve made plenty.

Up to April 6th, 2009, I was a Porn Star. I’d been in the adult business since 2001, and had worked my way to the upper echelons of porn. By the time I quit, I was managing a webcam studio, directing and producing my own content, and working whenever I wanted. I had heard about Dr. Drew and his new rehab show, “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew,” and thought it would be the perfect publicity stunt for my webcam studio. I figured if I could get national press, the studio would take off and I’d be able to retire a happy woman. This is the superficial line of thinking that led me to rehab. These are the reasons I actually needed to be there.

Jennie the sexually addicted porn star

When I lost my virginity at thirteen, I realized I have something boys want, and decided to use my sexuality as a means of getting what I want. From my first sexual experience to my last pre-recovery, I was detached, emotionless, and cruel: it was a power struggle and I wanted to win. However, it never appeared as such, always the actress, and I played my sexual exploits off as curiosity and apathy. I’d have sex because I was curious. I wouldn’t call them (him/her) again because I didn’t care. When I joined the porn business it felt like the perfect career. I could have sex with as many people as I wanted, and didn’t have to care about any of them. And they wouldn’t care about me. I’ve never been able to accept love, and this is one of my biggest problems.

I’ve been a compulsive cheater since my first boyfriend, have never been able to maintain a monogamous relationship, and never felt any guilt about my extra-curricular activities. The problem isn’t that I lacked a conscience, it’s that I never felt significant enough to make an impact on any one person’s life. When I joined the porn industry I was no longer required to be monogamous, as it was my job to have sex. It became harder and harder to care about anybody I had sex with, and if feelings of love did start, I’d shut the relationship down before I could destroy it with my behavior.

I’ve been a compulsive masturbator since I started performing in hardcore boy/girl scenes. I decided to train myself to orgasm to non-sexual things, and nearing the end of the behavior, found myself masturbating upwards of 6 hours every day I wasn’t working. At the time I thought I was bored. In recovery, I am able to see the underlying issues, and have found a solution that works for me.

Sex Rehab with Jennie Ketcham

In rehab with Dr. Drew, I was prohibited from masturbating, sexualizing, having sex, drinking, drugging, every numbing device I’d become accustomed to using. When the effects of these behaviors wore off, when my oxytocin levels started to even out, when the alcohol and marijuana drained from my system, I was left with uncomfortable feelings I couldn’t identify or process. With the help of trained specialists, I started to understand what was going on behind my compulsive, dangerous behavior, and with the program of recovery I’ve learned how to deal with life. I am powerless over compulsive sexual behavior, and my life had become unmanageable. I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to that power, and every day since has been better than before.

I was celibate for over nine months, trying to get back in touch with the Jennie pre-sex. I attend bi-weekly therapy sessions, and follow every direction given by either therapist or sponsor. I trust in the program of recovery, and have learned how to treat myself like the precious young woman I am. I have become a woman of grace and integrity, I have dreams that aren’t pornographic, and my first healthy committed relationship with a man I love. I have a relationship with my family, something that had fallen off in addiction, and am someone who does what she says she will do. There isn’t a single moment that goes by that I don’t worry about falling back into my destructive cycle, but now I have the tools necessary to live a healthy and productive life.

When I walked into rehab wanting publicity for my company, the joke was on me. I had accidentally walked into the first day of the rest of my life, and one minute in recovery is worth a thousand days in addiction. I am blessed through and through, and I take it one day at a time.

A final word on sex addiction recovery from Adi

You’ll notice that Jennie’s bottom-line behaviors are very far from the often stigmatized view of the sex-addict as a rapist, or pedophile. While there’s little doubt that there are sex addicts that fall into those categories, the vast majority of addict engage in activity that might, for others, be relatively benign but that has become compulsive in their own lives. My issues with sex addiction revolved around seeking sexual partners outside my marriage and migrated from my bedroom to online chat sites after I got caught cheating. What’s also very clear when reading about the recovery experienced by Jennie is that with the proper guidance, treatment, and time, addicts can go on to become fully functional in ways that many out there believe are nearly impossible. As Jennie mentioned in her reference to Oxytocin levels, a huge aspect of addiction recovery is letting the body reset, or at least attempt to re-establish, its  functioning to pre-addictive-behavior levels in the brain and elsewhere.

Jennie Ketcham used to live a life that left her unattached and cold, though for her, it didn’t seem like much was wrong until she saw the other side thanks to her stint on “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Most other addict’s aren’t very likely to end up on a reality show that specifically addresses their problem (though A&E’s intervention may help some of them), but the knowledge that others with similar problems have recovered and are living full productive lives that would have been unthinkable should give hope to every struggling addict. It’s what works in group therapy everywhere and what gets some people into treatment in the first place. By living her recovery without anonymity, Jennie is showing endless other addicts that life with addiction is possible. That’s what addiction stories do – they give hope.

Is anonymity the final shame frontier in addiction?

I’m a drug addict and a sex addict, and as far as I’m concerned, staying anonymous let’s me remain buried in shame, and a double life, that keeps me always one step ahead of those close to me. Did I say too much? Did I give away my secrets? None of those  questions matter when everyone knows everything there is to know about you. For a disease couched in anxiety, obsessions, and compulsive behavior, there’s very little that can be more triggering.

The difficulty of confessing addiction

Obviously I’m not naive to the consequences of confessing to others, and I’ve had a few very uncomfortable conversations that ended in people losing my number or superiors telling me they didn’t need to know. When it comes to the former, it’s their choice, and it might be a wise one, but having those who stay close to me know my truths keeps me safe by making me accountable and protects others from being hurt. And I can hurt with the best of them. Maybe that’s why when it comes to physician treated addicted physicians, there are no secrets, no anonymity, the family and employers are made part of the process. Some notable addiction providers (like Journey Healing Centers and others) have programs that explicitly involve the family in the treatment process as well. Getting the secrets out works to break away from the shame.

We’re only as sick as our secrets, even together

On an organizational level, I understand the need for anonymity to avoid having any specific member represent the group. But that logic only holds when everyone is told to remain anonymous. Otherwise, the entire group represents itself, which is, if nothing else, truthful. If one person slips, relapses, or goes into a homicidal rampage, it only makes the rest of us look bad if no one knows that millions others are “the rest of us.”

Over and over I hear people talk about the secret of their addiction and the lies they have to tell to cover up their shameful acts. Unfortunately, that only contributes to the stigma of addicts and makes it all the more difficult  to get some perspective on the actual problem: We do things we don’t want to over and over regardless of how much they hurt us or those around us

If you’ve read anything on this site, you know that I believe in many factors that contribute to addiction, including biology, environment, experience, and their interactions. Still, when it comes down to it, the misunderstanding of addiction is often our number one problem. And anonymity does nothing to reduce that misunderstanding.

How we can make a difference

Media portrayals only exacerbate the problem as they show us stories of addicted celebrities who are struggling but then leave the story behind before any recovery occurs. That way we only get to see the carnage but have to look pretty hard to see anything more.

But we can change all this with a small, courageous, action. We can let those around us know that we’re addicts, that we’re doing our best to stop our compulsive behavior and that we want them to hold us accountable. If we slip, we can get back up because we don’t compound the shame of a relapse with lies we tell, and those around us know that even a relapse can be overcome because they’ve seen those examples over and over in all the other “confessed” addicts around.

It’s time to leave the addiction “closet” and start living. We may not be able to change who we are easily, but we can change the way we go about living and make it easier on ourselves and on others. By breaking our anonymity, we can help assuage our own shame and let everyone know that addiction is everywhere and that it can be successfully overcome.

Just a thought…

A million ways to treat an addict

When I was still attending my addiction counseling classes at UCLA, we often discussed the many different tools now available when treating drug abuse (CBT, 12 step, medications, rapid detox, etc.). Still, most of the class members focused on how many of these don’t work with everyone and how some have actually resulted in problems for certain patients. I think this is a mistake.

Like a physician treating any other chronic disease, I think that practitioners in the field of addiction need to come to terms with reality: Chronic conditions (and I don’t mean smoking good weed) are difficult to treat. Still, cancer treatment works by trying the best possible method, then the next, and then the next, until all options have been exhausted. In the addiction world, most therapists and counselors still stick to their guns with the method they believe work best.

Unlike with roses, an addict is not an addict, is not an addict… Different methods will work for different people. It isn’t hard to believe this when you consider the fact that while many addicts recover within outpatient substance abuse treatment settings, others need an intensive residential program, and some recover spontaneously with no real intervention.

It’s time to start focusing on results in this field and leave the moral dogma behind. If there’s a tool that can help, we need to put it into action. It’s that simple.