Despite having ‘so much going for me’, I am lucky to be alive. Now I live each day to tell my story and work with others who suffer as I did and who want to get well.
Personal experience tells me that addiction is misunderstood by society in subtle but vital ways. When I say I work in the field, people’s thoughts turn immediately to drugs and alcohol – to what I consider to be two manifestations of addiction rather than the condition itself.
Perhaps we as treatment professionals should re-examine our treatment focus and methods, as in my experience it is not only possible to get completely well from addiction, I would also claim that it is possible to prevent it.
That prevention starts at home. For too long we have invested time, resources and energy into the fire-fighting end of this condition alone, prioritising the decriminalisation debate. But what about prevention: teaching the tools of recovery to children such as education, self-regulation, personal responsibility and emotional intelligence.
You do not ‘air drop’ into chronic addiction, you travel there through what often appears to be normal, if stressed or avoidant, behaviours until suddenly you ‘find yourself’ behaving in ways you never imagined you would. Thus, hidden in plain view, addiction can pollute individual perspective, destroy families and run rampant through the very fabric of our society before it appears as one of the manifestations. There are high risk factors in any individual, too, that are well known in the addiction-treatment industry but which don’t yet seem to have reached the wider medical community where early intervention is most often possible.
Too often in assessment for treatment, I discover a long history of mental illness – sometimes spanning decades – of an anxiety disorder, depression, repeated disturbed behaviour, that within a matter of months, or possibly a year, has been successfully, and sustainably, treated by an addiction programme. I feel frustrated by the system that serves this patient with cul-de-sac answers that too often leave a person dependent on medication.
The denial round this condition crucially blinds those suffering from the onset of addiction and those around them from the opportunities of early intervention. This needs challenging by being able to spot it – and treat – it in its early stages. This is where the ‘Core Characteristics’ comes in.
My approach is aimed at recognising addiction early enough, often before it begins to parade as drug and alcohol abuse. This approach seeks to assess high risk factors, and identify certain behaviours which might appear explicable and ‘normal’ but can provide early warning signs of addiction that warrant more serious attention. The approach is based on the belief that addiction is about how a person feels about and therefore behaves towards themselves and towards others. It’s about relationship.
Of course you can become addicted to an addictive substance, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Addiction comes in people not in packages. To treat it, we need to focus in the right place.
Part of my expertise is in my striving as an adult to establish a solid foundation of recovery in long-term respectful relationships with others. I am now an addiction therapist with a Masters degree in addiction psychology and counselling and experience in clinical practice spanning over 20 years around addiction and relationships. Certified by the Law Society to provide Continuing Professional Development (CPDs), and with well-established links to the independent schools sector where I present to pupils, parents and provide teacher training, I am dedicated to education and early intervention.
I am mum to three wonderful children who bring meaning to my life, and have been faithfully married for 20 years to my beloved James who is a nightmare to live with, and he feels the same about me – that much we have in common!
In truth I have been very lucky: in 1990, rehab did not hold the same cachet as it can today but somehow I found myself there when I was only 23 years old. Cocaine had almost killed me, and my love addiction had broken me so that I no longer wanted to live. The next 10 years or so were a constant battle between strict adherence to the programme of abstinence and rebellion as I instinctively felt that my obsession for abstinence was the same ‘sickness’ as my obsession to use. I now know that throughout this time I was carving the basis for a successful treatment and prevention programme for the social malignance that is addiction as well as a strong foundation for the life that I cherish today. A life of recovery where I no longer experience loneliness nor despair, where I am respectfully myself, where I am free.
The day I entered recovery, my life changed forever.