It saddens me to see Kevin misusing Vicodin. Yes, I am now in season 2. What a slippery slope prescription painkillers have become for so many people. But not everyone. Not even most people. In his groundbreaking article, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think,” Johann Hari writes that despite what is widely believed, addiction is not about will power or moral failing like the conservatives think, nor is it a disease like the liberals think.
it is all about bonding. Hari quotes Professor Peter Cohen who argues that “human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find—the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”
This rings true to my experience, and is also what I learned from a course called Restarting written by Life Model leaders Ed Khouri, an addiction specialist, and Jim Wilder, PhD. That is why some people who take narcotics as painkillers for medical reasons do not become addicts while others do. Some have joyful community. People they love with whom they have formed a deep attachment. They are not in attachment pain. They do not need to turn to drugs for a source of solace. They have enough resilience to not get sucked in. It’s not a matter of willpower, it’s a matter of joyful attachments.
Do you have enough joy in your life to resist the pull of powerful drugs? At one point I wondered if I did. Fifteen years ago, I hurt my hip and was prescribed oxycodone. It was my first experience with powerful painkillers and I within minutes of my first dose I could not believe how euphoric I felt. Not only was I not in pain, all my worries and woes seemed to fly away. It was a glorious 24 hours until my second dose begin to wear off and I realized I had not picked up my children from school.
They were 5 miles away at a small Christian school. What is especially crazy is that the thought that they needed to be picked up had gone through my mind many times, but because I was in such a state of no-worries-be-happy I simply dismissed the thought that I needed to get them as being unimportant.
Imagine my shame when I realize that I had not gotten them. How would I explain it to the rules-oriented faculty?
Fortunately I was only about 20 minutes late and I managed to get there before anyone in authority noticed. But my kids noticed. They were used to being one of the first to be fetched. “What happened to you? Where were you?” they groused.
Here was the turning point, the pivot point for me. I had not behaved responsibly or taken care of the people I loved (thank God it was not more egregious) while under the influence of a painkiller. This caused me to feel valid shame. And by this I’m not talking about the kind of shame that makes you feel like not only have you done something bad but you are bad – – I’m talking about the kind of shame that we all experience that helps us adjust our behavior so that the people around us want to be with us. Like learning to not pick your nose in public. Or lowering our intensity and backing off a bit when we are overwhelming people or not pressing so hard for what we want. The small shame that we experience that socializes all of us to behave in ways that are life-giving to those around us.
Toxic shame is another issue which I will address another time.
All this to say, in that moment of shame when my kids were whining at me, and realized I had let them down, there was a great temptation to take one more pill so that I didn’t have to feel the shame. Therein lies the slippery slope.
Instead I went home and flushed all the pills down the toilet, which of course I now know is not something we are supposed to do because it’s adding all kinds of chemicals to the water system. (My pharmacy has a container where you can bring medications you’re not going to use. So don’t flush them down the toilet, like I did).
Back to my story I needed to make those pills vanished so I wouldn’t be tempted to take them again so down they went.
Sadly Kevin has not only taken the entire bottle but has gotten more refills then he probably should have and has now done with many addicts do: He has found another doctor who is willing to prescribe for him.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again. It is incredibly easy to go from one Urgent Care place to another getting more painkillers. I was in an ER with a dear friend when I realized that that was precisely what she was doing. I darted out after the doctor to say that I was pretty sure she was misusing prescriptions painkillers. The doctor changed the prescription to one pill and sent her home to see her regular doctor.
I knew Kevin was on the slippery slope when he lied to Sophie about who he was talking to on the phone. He told her he was talking to Kate but in truth he had just left a message for his doctor asking for another refill. Being a medical professional Sophie would have known that he was in trouble and probably could have helped him then. Before it got worse.
But that’s not how addicts act. They lie. They steal. They reach the point where getting the drug is more important than the people they love.
It’s a huge tragedy and it’s happening all around us.
Kudos to Don Fogelman for tackling such a difficult topic and showing it so realistically. Soon Kevin is not only lying to Sophie about small things, such as who he was talking to on the phone, but he’s letting her down in big ways by not showing up to her charity event when she’s in the middle of introducing him because he’s drunk. We later see him with yet another bottle of prescription meds and he’s chasing them down with beer, in great pain because he did not rest up and take care of his knee after surgery.
It’s easy to judge Kevin, to analyze what he did wrong. But if the root of addiction is attachment pain—and I believe it is—then Kevin has got to deal with the root. When you are in attachment pain the only thing that will help is the one you love. Kevin has not processed his grief over the loss of his father. He has a huge attachment pain hole that is just waiting for him to slide into it.
I can only imagine that the idea of processing the loss of his father would seem completely overwhelming, too daunting to face.
It’s not surprising since we live in a land were very few process their grief and get to the root of their attachment pain. They just keep choking it down. There are few guides, few road maps, and fellow travelers. We don’t know where to begin. I’ve had people tell me that they’re afraid they will lose their mind or never stop crying if they begin to look at their grief.
What about you? Are you ready to begin the journey? Most of us have an absolute mountains of suppressed grief.
For Kevin it may go all the way back to having lost his triplet brother at birth and be compounded by the loss of this father at a vulnerable age. Only Kevin knows what hurts and what he believes that drives the pain. When we don’t grieve our losses they simply accumulate. I see it as a train. The locomotive, or current loss, may be pulling the train down the track but the cars being pulled represent all the past losses we never faced. That train has a lot of momentum. It takes a lot of energy.
If this blog resonates with you, what should you do? You might want to consider a grief therapist. Or if you have safe people in your life, people with whom you experience a lot of joy– because you’re going to need that joy to give you strength to begin to look at the pain—people with whom it is okay to be weak and vulnerable–you might want to form a group and begin working through my most recent workbook: Facing Life’s Losses. Slowly. At your own pace, being careful to take very good care of yourself while you’re doing this hard work. Pausing as you to get therapy or prayer ministry.
Although not everyone is comfortable with Jesus he is an amazing fellow traveler who has actually seen all your losses and felt your pain. I pray that God would teach each one of us to grieve well. As a nation we are carrying a staggering load of unprocessed grief that most of us don’t even know is there. As we surrender our sorrow to Jesus and let him lift off the trauma we find ourselves amazingly resilient. Lighter. We find our capacity for being able to regulate emotional intensity increases, as well our ability to see our fellow travelers with compassion.
I am praying for you dear readers and believing God has good things for you.