The opiate rainbow and the pot of gold

I haven’t been blogging since last spring, and even then it was pretty sketchy for a couple of months. Why the melt-down? For one thing, I was on drugs. Uh-huh, it’s true. And I was in pain and fairly miserable. So today’s post is about my own drug use, not anyone else’s. No theories to postulate, no models to spin, nothing very abstract at all. Just a field report: what it was like for an old veteran like me to get back on opiates…then off again.

Since moving to the Netherlands nine years ago, this was my third — yes third — spinal surgery. You wouldn’t know it. I’m limber, I can do anything from a 2-hour Tai Chi class to a half-day of zip-lining. But my spine has this uncool tendency to grow too much bone, called stenosis. The bone squeezes my nerves, and then I get pain. For example, leg pain. Sciatica.

The MRI confirmed what my nerves were telling me (about my bones). Not enough room in this town for both of us. So a surgery was planned and I asked my doc for some oxycodone — lots of it — or an equivalent. I’m not fond of pain.

I don’t for a moment think that people who need opiates for bodily pain are more decent, correct, or upstanding than people who need them for psychological pain. (I’ve needed them for both in my life.) It’s a false dichotomy passed down through generations of puritans. Suffering is suffering, and opioids are nature’s first-line defense. (That’s why your nervous system manufactures buckets of them.) But we’d be foolish to overlook the addictive properties of any drug that makes us feel better — and that part is psychological. In the case of opioids it’s physiological too. (See my debate with Maia Szalavitz in the comment section, last post.) Hence the notorious feedback effect: what you take to reduce your suffering leads to more suffering. Super bad planning!

Anyway, there I was, feeling no pain — or at least less pain — in both departments. So a couple of weeks after my operation I was faced with the inevitable quandary: did I still need these drugs to control the physical pain…or was I really just starting to crave their psychological embrace, that caress of warmth, as I have in the past?

This is obviously an important question when it comes to treating former addicts with opiate painkillers. The statistics are clear: those with previous drug problems are far more likely to get addicted to opiates prescribed for pain than those with no such history (who rarely do get addicted). That does NOT mean that opiate painkillers should be withheld from former drug users when they need them. What it means is that patients and doctors need to communicate honestly, in depth, and tread carefully, when patients find themselves in that grey zone — often not really knowing whether they’re asking for a refill to deal with physical pain or to deal with the profusion of psychological issues that former addicts contend with.

Well, I said I wasn’t going to get all abstract and theoretical. I really just wanted to tell you about my own experience and what it taught me. Doctors in the Netherlands don’t see themselves as judge, jury, priest, rabbi, cop and shrink all at once. They’re not being driven by guidelines shaped by profit and reinforced by fears of being disciplined or sued. So…decisions about what to take and how long to take it are shared between doctor and patient. As they should be.

That meant it was largely up to me. Two weeks after the surgery, with my pain considerably reduced, I had to admit that I liked the feeling the drugs provided. Yet it was no longer the grand euphoria itself that I (and almost everyone else I know) tend to get from oxycodone the first few days. That part was getting boring. No, this felt like addiction. Like I don’t want to stop, I’m afraid of being without it, how many do I have left? Will the doctor refill my script when I ask? Would I have to beg?

When that feeling came creeping in, I knew I was approaching a fork in the road. The pain is still there, but it’s not that bad anymore. I could quit now, or quit a month from now. Either way, I’ll have to do some tapering — more if I wait a month. I still need them, “legitimately,” for pain…but I don’t really need them.

Yet the bigger issue (for me as a former addict) was that I was starting to ruminate about the drugs. This was occupying too much of my thoughts. It was anxiety provoking. It was a stupid-ass waste of time. I started ruminating about the rumination, and then I ruminated about that, and…you get the point.

One night I lay in bed for literally three hours trying to decide whether to quit right now or wait for a few more weeks. I mean, why rush it? I still had over 30 tablets. Enough for several days of being pretty high (did I say “high”? I meant pain-free of course) and if I was going to get a refill, I’d better call my doc tomorrow since a holiday was coming up. Better not forget, except that…

Finally there was nothing to do but take the package to the bathroom, grit my teeth, tear each tablet from its bubble wrap (an ancient form of torture still used in Europe) and plunk it in the toilet. One after another. I left myself seven for what I expected to be a mild withdrawal. (It was.) And I went back to bed.

What I didn’t expect, the bonus card I’ve held out to people in addiction — clients, friends, strangers met online — was that I felt fabulous. Just lying there in bed. That’s the only point I wanted to make. This was the thing we call “empowerment” — this was choice, this was a treaty between my “addict self” (yes, he lives on) and the rest of me. This is what I generally hold out for other people with addiction problems. This was me taking care of me.

What I learned from this brief return to the Promised Land was really quite simple: Empowerment and self-care (self-compassion) come together with a thunderclap when you quit. On your own — even if it takes some effort. Because it’s time. Because you want to.

That’s the pot of gold.

53 thoughts on “The opiate rainbow and the pot of gold

  1. suzanne August 27, 2019 at 6:21 am #

    Thanks so much for this, it truly made my day.

    • Esher Dyson September 8, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

      long-term thinking… in the short term, it can be so hard. But in the long term…..aaah! It feels so good.

      Thank you for sharing all the nuances and complications and struggles of a short=term decision to honor the long term.

      And take care of that spine!

      • Marc September 13, 2019 at 9:38 am #

        Nice to see you here, Esther. The spine is great, thanks. And as for long-term thinking…I’ve always been somewhat impulsive. So my best shot at “futuring” is to feel the present moment as extending onward, on and on and on, rather than to imagine a different state called “the future.” Not quite the same thing. And fascinating…that we can be “here and now” and still be on this long slow slide moving forward in time.

  2. Annette August 27, 2019 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks, Marc. A really insightful post – about the psychological needing of it, what I call the obliteration. Hope your back is almost back to normal now?

    I occasionally try having a small beer after 4 years sober. A little anticipation before I grab the beer, and chill it, then drink it with my evening meal. It’s so not worth it – the nightmare that night: bloody awful, then the dull ache next day. Noo, I’m weaned, and definitely don’t want to go back there. An ex-drinker. Not recovering: ex.

    It’s good to do it without beating ourselves up, isn’t it? That’s where self-compassion is so utterly wise….

    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 5:44 am #

      HI Annette. Agreed on all counts. Beer is not often prescribed to reduce physical pain, so you should be undisturbed in your sensible decision to leave it be.

      My back and leg pain are completely healed right now, thanks for asking. We’ll see what’s next in Pandora’s box…

  3. Eliza August 27, 2019 at 8:35 am #

    Dear Marc,

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts.

    Yes, I absolutely agree with you. It’s about the decision. Do we want to stay with the habitual way of thinking and acting, regardless of the type of addiction, or put the effort into taking care of ourselves, responsibility for ourselves, commitment and conscious self-management.

    Addiction to alcohol, drugs, work, every way of dysfunctional habit of thinking or acting, rumination, excessive staying in the head area, are ways to move away from ourselves our feelings, emotions, desires, needs, giving actions the right directions, instead of dryfting, taking responsibility for yourself, be in a good relationship with yourself with our own nature and potential.

    Self-consciousness is a truth, a powerful force, giving the ability to decide whether we want to stay in harmony with ourselves, consciously managing ourselves and taking care of ourselves, having an effective impact on our lives and our well-being or stay out of ourselves.

    For those who are aware of themselves, of the mental and behavior tricks they use to run away from themselves, who have done their work in the field of regulating their emotions, staying in a state of detachment is like condemnation to stay in a a obvious fake, self-deception.

    Marc, I wish you a lot of health, strength, taking care of yourself with love and tenderness.



    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 5:49 am #

      Beautifully stated, Eliza. Yes, self-awareness is a powerful force, maybe even a gift. But it is also a double-edged sword, since it allows no blind defense from the river of moods that pass through us. To accept those moods and flow with them…that seems to be a trick that takes a lifetime to learn well.

      • Eliza September 15, 2019 at 5:16 am #

        Dear Marc, yes, I agree with you.

        I think self-awereness it is more way of thinking, being, than a gift. It requires work and discipline, getting rid of the eyeglasses distorting the real perception, feeling, seeing yourself and others. It requires a decision do we want to stay on a mental trip or in a real, current life with the stream of emotions. If we choose the second one it is important to have tools for self-management with ability to emotional self-regulation.

        • Marc September 16, 2019 at 7:13 am #

          I totally agree, Eliza. It does take work and commitment…and acceptance of reality as it is (Note that ACT includes two of these descriptors).

          The choice you describe or course reminds me of The Matrix: do we take the red capsule or the blue one? Very different trips.

          • Eliza September 16, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

            Yes, indeed Marc.

            The blue pill freezes emotions, feelings, perception. The red one is thawing them.

            The first one causes superficial, shallow and automatic way of moving through life. The second one gives the opportunity for multidimensional beeing, presence, however it requires self-steering ability.

            It gives the possibility to ACT, as you wrote, with Acceptance, Commitment and in a Targeted manner ( I let myself complete it in this way).

  4. Lisa K. August 27, 2019 at 10:22 am #

    Marc, just sending love and thanks for your honesty–the honesty with yourself, not just with us, that let you pay attention to the preoccupying nature of the preoccupation and acknowledge the wasted energy involved in ruminating on ruminating about the preoccupation. Your post so evocatively and entertainingly described that anxious tug-of-war between instant gratification and a deeper one requiring more exertion. I still do that kind of battle with other behaviors less patently suicidal than substance misuse but nevertheless self-destructive: eating large portions of ice cream late at night when I don’t feel comfortable in my own body; not exercising because I just don’t fucking feel like enduring the discomfort of physical exertion; not making calls I committed to make because I would rather not endure the discomfort of my own social anxiety and/or surrender my safe and comfortable solitude…. Then I make the call, or go to yoga, or commit to eating more healthily, and afterwards I say: Why was I wrestling with myself for so long about doing something that makes me feel genuinely good when I do it? I envy people for whom an awareness of what would be self-caring, translates fairly quickly into action. Actually no, I hate people who can do that. Sometimes. Like my husband for example.

    Anyways, I am so glad honesty and self-care prevailed for you. xo

  5. Marc August 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm #

    Hi Lisa, So nice to hear from you. It’s true, there are some people, many in fact, who move from the sense of what’s the thing to do directly to doing it. The world must feel like a different place…to these whom we admire/envy/aspire to become. It must feel like rolling off a log…or maybe the logs just seem a lot smaller, something you can step over.

    Thanks for sharing your present struggles. And thank your lucky stars that they’re relatively tame these days.

  6. Janet August 27, 2019 at 2:25 pm #


    You’ve done it again!!! What an uplifting and important experience and thank you for writing about this and including us all in this process. When you can feel your own voice, have a conversation with yourself, empower and trust yourself….
    I can hear the Thunderclaps, too, all the way here in California. Peace… Janet

    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 5:51 am #

      Thank you, Janet. I’m glad you can hear it out there. It is a breathtaking moment…still a surprise when it comes up suddenly, even when you’ve taken pains to invite it.

  7. Sam McCullough August 27, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    Hey Marc,
    A very inspiring, personal article. Glad to see you are over your operation and keeping well.

    Keep up the great work!


  8. Terry John McGrath August 27, 2019 at 6:21 pm #

    as a side thought – one of the major inequities in this world and a side effect of the war on drugs has been that the majority of the third world has little or no access to opiate analgesics which are predominately concentrated in rich western countries. As a nurse i cannot imagine people having to undergo all manner of surgical procedures or suffer from painful medical conditions without the ‘luxury’ of being able to take a pain killer. as a second thought i also as a ‘recovered’ person wondered if i could tolerate a beer again without the prophesy freely thrown about that i would then relapse into my old ways. i tend to think i could but is it worth the risk. i have undergone surgical procedures and been given strong opiate analgesics without me ending up addicted again and there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that those with prior addiction can do this, but as one writer said, whats the point in having a beer when all one might feel is dull afterward. The context for me is different now, i am mature and my values have changed but ultimately i am not prepared to pay the cost of loosing what i i gained over many years now for the sake of a few hours of altered perception. it just ain’t worth it. i was once told i should tell my dentist and everyone else i’m an alcoholic so they don’t sneak alcohol into me and for years i avoided Christmas cake. there are so many unproved assumptions thrown about the world of addiction most of which allude to the fact i am considered too week to withstand the power of the drug – for mine that’s rubbish, i have choice and i choose not to exercise it for something i now do not feel is worth the effort or the pain

    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 5:57 am #

      Hi Terry. See Annette’s comment above. A similar speculation. I have little doubt that you and Annette could have your one beer and move on. As you say, so many unproved assumptions. And many of them, often from AA, make little or no sense to me. I can’t imagine why anyone would think that a one-time drinker could not tolerate opiates without dropping into hell, or vice versa. But that’s the mythology.

      Talking about choice, as we are doing here, seems the best antidote to the silly myths that continue to shackle so many people.

      • Terry John McGrath September 1, 2019 at 6:48 pm #

        the ‘rule’;once addicted to something thence addicted to everything; is literally impossible anyway given that the vast majority of ‘addictions’ are to behaviors not to chemicals and those behavior include almost anything we can think of included basic human functions such as eating, sex and working – it would literally mean that to be ‘sober’ and ‘abstinent’ one should stay at home and do nothing forever more.I also believe that the maturation one attains through self development means self control is possible in anything through considered choices as you say

        • Marc September 3, 2019 at 3:18 am #

          Terry, I love the logic of your argument, and I love how it challenges the foundational assumptions that have ruled the addiction world far too long. I am going to try to use this argument….I have talks to give in Norway tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll be challenged about the way I see addiction and my stance that it is ridiculous to see the ultimate goal as being “clean” in some global sense.

          Thanks for this gem of sense, both logical and delightfully provocative.

          • Terry John McGrath September 3, 2019 at 6:21 pm #

            i’m a little bit chuffed about your reply Mark, thanks. Like you though its sticking one’s neck out to suggest the status quo around drug use is illogical but the sooner more of us say so the sooner things might change – my main issue is that all is seen as addiction when the vast majority of drug use and any ‘addictive’ behavioral activity is managed, controlled and basically harmless (and in fact helpful to humans in many ways) yet all who use drugs are called addicts and should be ‘treated’ – are we going to forcibly treat the sugar epidemic currently sweeping the planet and making many people obese at great cost – should we send them to jail, deny them the rights of others and ostracize and belittle them until the hide in a secret would inhabited by crims selling illicit sugar ………….habits are normal human behavior no matter what it is to and yes there will always be 5% people doing anything will do so obsessively and need help but sooner or later we have to realize like Hari has that this is not an individual problem, this is a world problem of disconnection and not a moral issue. Sobriety like perfection is an illusion and ignores the hypocrisy that is seen in a world addicted to anxiety and the pseudo security provided by money and power. Good luck in Norway.

            • Marc September 6, 2019 at 6:12 am #

              Maybe I don’t understand what “chuffed” means. I agree with you completely in these and previous comments. Why are you “chuffed”?

              • Carlton September 6, 2019 at 7:49 am #

                Chuffed means “Pleased” in Australia,

                (heard friends from Australia use it)

                • Marc September 6, 2019 at 8:18 am #

                  It apparently means the opposite as well:

                  “pleased, happy,” c.1860, British dialect, from obsolete chuff “swollen with fat” (1520s). A second British dialectal chuff has an opposite meaning, “displeased, gruff” (1832), from chuff “rude fellow,” or, as Johnson has it, “a coarse, fat-headed, blunt clown” (mid-15c.), of unknown origin. Related: Chuffed.

                  So….maybe another word would work better.

                  • Terry John McGrath September 8, 2019 at 6:25 pm #

                    thanx Cralton – i meant it in the positive way Mark – i was pleased someone of your statute might think of using something i said in some talk in a foreign country – i am a person of past low self esteem who needs the odd validation to encourage me – thanx again – i have no other knowledge of ‘chuffed’ meaning anything but pleased and happy – and yes its a word commonly used by those in Australia of my generation

                    • Marc September 13, 2019 at 9:31 am #

                      Culture counts for a lot. I tried to use tobogganing as a metaphor for addiction — sliding down that hill with a capacity to guide a bit, this way and that, but not steer — in two talks. One in the UK where the word didn’t exist, and one here in the Netherlands where hills don’t exist.

  9. Lew Gervais August 28, 2019 at 6:19 am #

    Marc, as a recovered heroin addict I feel your pain. Two years ago I exchanged both my worn out knee joints for bionic ones…best decision I made in decades. Speaking of decades it has been four-plus decades since I laid down the needle. Like you, I wondered if I might end up on that slippery slope but I didn’t allow myself to worry about it. I was given 60 pain pills after each of my knee surgeries and I think I only used about 30 of them for each surgery. A week after both surgeries I stopped taking one every six hours (as prescribed) and only took one before my torture sessions, (physical therapy) and occasionally one at night to make sure the pain doesn’t keep me from falling asleep. In the past 35 years, I have had at least 7 or 8 different surgeries some the result of a motorcycle wreck, and others for more minor issues, and never once did my “addict self” try to convince me to crush and snort, shoot or in any other way abuse the medicine the doctors put in my hands. That is why I consider myself “recovered” and not recovering. That doesn’t mean I can’t relapse…I know better than to make that statement but one thing I don’t do is worry about it. My memories of going through withdrawals 46 years ago from my heroin addiction will hopefully forever keep me from traveling down that road again. I can vividly remember those days of being sick as my body tormented me for the bad decisions I made back then. Reading your account after your surgery was a good reminder of how far we both came.

    • matt August 28, 2019 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks Lew
      You make a very good point here. You are recovered. The addiction is something that happened. And you wouldn’t allow yourself to fall back into it anymore than you’d try to get in another motorcycle accident. We learned something

    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 5:58 am #

      What a great demonstration of the power of will over addiction. Stories like yours are priceless.

      • Terry John McGrath September 8, 2019 at 6:26 pm #

        maybe you need a ‘like’ button Mark – Lew’s account is not uncommon and shows the ‘manageability’ many addicts possess

  10. Eric Nada August 29, 2019 at 11:11 am #

    Marc, man am I glad to see you back blogging. I’m glad you took the time to share this episode of your life. As you know, most discussions surrounding addiction/recovery tend to follow a particular story arc that would include an overdramatic intensity in describing the occasional warranted use of opioid pan medication. And as a ex-heroin addict, I honor the potential dangers of reintroducing these substances back into a physiological and psychological systems that had adapted to them so readily back in the day. But I like the nuanced description that you give here of your experience. Although I haven’t had to use opioids in the 25 years since I last put a needle in my arm, if needed, I’m sure I could. My emotional foundation is so different than it was decades ago, it doesn’t rest on a sense of desperation and disconnectedness. I like to think that this is part of what would make the difference for me now and that I, too, could make healthy decisions about medications even if there is an aspect of them that still appealed to me. Pot of gold, indeed.

    • Marc September 1, 2019 at 6:04 am #

      Hi Eric. Yes, back to blogging, at least for now. If you look through the comments here, you’ll see that every single one of them, from one-time drinkers or druggers, tells the same tale as I’ve told here and you also endorse. We have all grown, found new ways to experience ourselves and our needs, and let go of the fear of falling over that cliff edge…We defy the warning that is so entrenched in the 12-step tradition, not through carelessness or denial but through growth and strength.

      I hope all is well with you!

      • Eric Nada September 1, 2019 at 12:06 pm #

        Marc, Things are very well for me, thanks. As is so often the case in life, it seems as though the “truth” to this discussion lies within the belief system about addiction harbored by the individual believing it. If one believes, as I do, that the emotional foundation that underlies one’s addiction problems can be healed, then the rules for recovery evolve around this capacity for growth. If they are fixed, then they don’t. This is the key principle that I strive to emphasize in my attempts to broaden the current understanding of addiction and recovery.

        • Eric Nada September 1, 2019 at 3:45 pm #

          (An amendment to my previous comment: I’m not suggesting that belief systems or conditioning are the only, or even primary, component to the mechanics of non-binary abstinence, just that it is one important piece of the puzzle).

          • Marc September 3, 2019 at 3:23 am #

            Very important! Beliefs are fundamental….they underlie every moment of our cognitive-emotional processing. I wouldn’t soften your message here. It is powerful and it is right.

        • Marc September 3, 2019 at 3:21 am #

          Eric, that is such a cool way of putting it. So simple and yet so comprehensive. I see it as a sort of overriding law of how to understand addiction and recovery.

          If we ever devise a “ten commandments” (no, not twelve) of a new and complete model of addiction, this will definitely be one of them!

          • Eric Nada September 9, 2019 at 11:49 am #

            (Well then maybe we should devise them)

            • Carlton September 10, 2019 at 9:38 am #

              Eric, here are 2 for consideration:

              … If you find certain beliefs help, believe them.

              ….If you question a belief, explore answers to your question.

              • Eric Nada September 10, 2019 at 9:48 am #

                Nice, Carlton. My only comment is that it may be a false belief that something is helpful. When there is belief, there is often a tendency to see its validity where it may not exist. So I think that we need to scrutinize our beliefs first.

                • Carlton September 10, 2019 at 10:23 am #

                  Eric, I see your point, so perhaps these should be addressed to people that have realized they have a problem with an addiction, rather than being universal statements.

                  These came to mind because a person once said at a meeting;

                  “I am so glad that it is a disease, because now I know why a good good person like me, does such a bad bad thing. I can be kind to myself now”

                  A large percentage of people will always feel and believe this way, and going forward, any laws of a new understanding of Addiction will need to accommodate beliefs and feelings of this nature.

                  This belief is certainly not what I and many other readers here may believe but the 2 statements also apply, I think? 🙂

                • Marc September 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm #

                  I’m siding with Eric on this one. Beliefs can be destructive as often as constructive. In fact, I might rewrite your maxim, Carlton: If you find certain beliefs help, then question them intensely. Test them. Racism and sexism are based on untested beliefs. So is the disease concept of addiction in my opinion. Perhaps, if we want to go even farther, so is addiction: I believe that taking this stuff will make me feel better.

                  Beliefs can make things easier because they replace context and complexity with black and white thinking. This can help, but usually only temporarily….Believing (rather than thinking) can narrow one’s perspective and limit growth.

                  Am I being too harsh? Perhaps, Carlton, you can ask whether people need to believe something badly enough to make it worthwhile to stop thinking and just go on believing. In some cases, maybe that’s worth it.

                  • Carlton September 12, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

                    Marc, Eric, offering a new set of thoughts for people coming to grips with an addiction is a great Idea.

                    I posted those just to toss something out, but taking Marc’s last post into the mix, how about something like this;

                    “…Feel free to question your current beliefs about addiction”.

  11. Carlton September 3, 2019 at 3:33 pm #

    Marc, your account may help pave the road for other helpful accounts by ex-addicts that have run across the addiction again in some form.

    Although cautionary stories are important, accounts like yours can offer inspiration to others, particularly those who do not feel that believing addiction is a disease is helpful for them.

    Personally, I have ingested alcohol, both accidentally and deliberately, since regaining my freedom about 15 years ago, and feel it may be helpful to share now.

    The first two times were accidental, and very anxiety-provoking, but personally, they allowed me to ask and answer this question:

    “Your are growing older, and naturally becoming less-strong and less-capable in all capacities, yet recovery programs stress strength and control. As an ex-addict, what will you do as time goes on and these abilities naturally diminish?”

    I was relieved and encouraged that the 2 accidental ingestions of alcohol did not trigger a new state of addiction.

    In fact, the feelings from those 2 mild incidences of inebriation were quite different from when I was an active addict.

    Rather than feeling euphoric with feelings of relief, I had feelings of limitation and confinement.

    It felt like my freedom was being taken away from me, whereas when I was an addict, if felt like freedom was being offered by inebriation.

    Marc, your line here reminded me of that;

    “Yet it was no longer the grand euphoria itself that I (and almost everyone else I know) tend to get from oxycodone the first few days.

    Then the sentence:

    “That part was getting boring.”

    You said “getting boring”, which is somewhat similar to what I meant here.

    There are other important aspects to my “ex-addict” story, but I don’t want to fill up the Blog 🙂

    But stories like this can be as helpful for people seeking freedom from an addiction as cautionary stories can be, and can shed new light on what addiction and even what recovery

    Although the caution and wariness that a Sword of Damocles generates can be helpful for many, there are different experiences some ex-addicts could share that may help many others.

    • Marc September 6, 2019 at 8:12 am #

      Hi Carlton, I strongly agree that cautionary stories have used up too much of the dialogical ecosystem. They are everywhere. And stories like mine and yours serve a critical function by balancing the books. Actually they do more than that. Cautionary tales often have a patronizing, punitive or authoritarian tone: you’d better not ever do what I”m telling you not to do, or you’re going to be in real trouble. How many adults can actually take that message in and make good use of it? Relatively few, I’d say. And being scared out of a behaviour leaves all kinds of twisted logic in its wake, making it easier to fall back in when people feel like they’ve lost their footing.

      The only thing I wonder about your comment is: why do you think that getting older is equivalent to getting weaker and less capable? Granted I can’t run as fast as I could or throw a ball as far. But I think my story, your story, and the vast majority of stories shared by former addicts on this site indicate that getting older often brings with it a greater capacity to focus, make choices, decide what we want for our lives, and find intelligent ways of maintaining those intentions. Sometimes that’s called wisdom. Remember, according to legend: older = wiser.

      • Carlton September 6, 2019 at 9:09 am #

        Marc, yes, Personal Wisdom is an ongoing collection of “realizations” that occur throughout ones life.

        Some of these realizations can actually make “Strength and Control” no longer needed to be relied on for many, regarding an addiction.

        Perhaps we are saying the same thing in a way?

        (BTW- great term, “twisted logic” I hope to use is in the second part of my post here this weekend)

      • Carlton September 6, 2019 at 10:04 am #

        Marc, also, the term “Maintaining Sobriety” implies constant Strength and Control.

        This may hold true for a large percentage of addicts, but for me, experience and wisdom said; “I can’t keep the spinning plate on the stick until death”.

        It seemed a “twisted logic” to me, There must be other “some freedom from addiction” besides endless resistance.

        This is Blog is a place this topic can be shared and discussed 🙂

  12. hollie harris September 5, 2019 at 6:11 pm #

    what advice would you give a recovering drug(heroin, methamphetamines) who is going to college for a bachelors degree in science psychology in addictions?

    • Marc September 6, 2019 at 5:04 am #

      Read some of our posts and comments, read my second book, and come back with a more specific question, and then maybe my readers or I will be able to offer suggestions.

  13. Jeff Skinner September 6, 2019 at 11:33 am #

    Maybe the difference between your recent handling of prescription pain killers opiates and the behavior of your much younger addict self is that you have become much wiser. Mostly people are embarrassed to be described as wise but the dictionary definition is simply

    “having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment”

    Wisdom is something accrued (by some people) over decades. So it’s valid to look at some peoples’ compulsive behavior and think “They’ll have it more in hand in 30 years if they live that long.” Not an argument against trying to provide insight and support to people in the throes of trying to manage their addiction, but nothing we can do or say is nearly as powerful as thirty or forty years of flailing about trying to survive and make sense of things.

  14. Gary September 9, 2019 at 12:49 pm #

    Hi Marc…I’m repeating myself, however, long before I had a “drinking problem” I developed a “Thinking Problem” about drinking and/or other drug use. It’s the “Thought” of how “I” might feel, “for me” that is even more powerful than using the drug which tends to lead me to trouble. It’s a psychological preoccupation of this instant-magic that gets stuck in my head. It was Jiddu Krishnamurti who wrote and spoke about how “Psychological Disorders begins with the Self. One tends to get “conned” by their thinking and “fused” to the idea thus leading to great confusion, discomfort, rationalization and perhaps disappointment.

    However, looking at it, without the judgment of it sincerely helps in making the right choice. It’s not always easy to look without some kind of judgment, however, when we do it reveals the truth just in the looking.

    Thanks for your post, your reflection also helps with my reflection!~

    • Marc September 13, 2019 at 9:25 am #

      Krishnamurti was right about thinking tying your head up in knots. But after reading a few of his books, I found that his thinking was also grounds for endless rumination. Yet his wisdom came out loud and clear regardless.

  15. Alex September 10, 2019 at 9:23 pm #

    This story resonated with me for two reasons:

    One, it is exactly like what my aunt went through about 20 years ago. She had knee surgery, and unfortunately became addicted to opioid pain killers. She hasn’t been the same person since. She has a myriad of health issues, and is virtually untreatable. She went from being an executive at a top travel company here in Montreal to a recluse who barely sees her family and lives in a tiny apartment by herself where she can be left alone with her pills and unfortunately a whole lot of regret and sadness.

    I read about this stuff a lot as I volunteer for a non-profit drug and alcohol rehab centre (Sobriety Home –, and I’ve even gotten her in the door where I volunteer but nothing sticks. She doesn’t want to do it and has a list a mile long why she can’t go to rehab and how it would ruin her life. I hate to admit that I laughed a bit at this as her life has gradually (and at times drastically) vanished before our family’s eyes due to her addiction.

    Her doctor even cut her off so she found a new one, when that one cut her off she found a new one.

    What the heck am I supposed to do? The counsellors here are insistant that she needs to be admitted for treatment, but she won’t do it. Any advice? She’s like a second mom to me and since I’ve been old enough to vaguely understand her problem, I’ve tried helping her but with no luck. Please tell me there’s some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

    • Marc September 11, 2019 at 12:31 pm #

      This is a very sad tale, Alex. I don’t think there’s much left for you to try. I might ask her, or ask yourself, can her life be satisfying without addiction? Perhaps not. You should try to accept the possibility that she really does need to be addicted to feel some peace. For some people, that’s just the way it is….and I wouldn’t want to judge them based on some normative moral code. There’s nothing intrinsically evil about addiction. It’s just that it so often makes people miserable.

      If she really wants to stop, get her to see a really good psychotherapist, like me for example 🙂

  16. joe November 24, 2019 at 9:58 pm #

    Ive never participated in blogs of any kind but found tgis one from simply Googling “what does it mean when you feel empty or not normal being under the influence of something”. I feel bored if I’m not on anything, pain medications in general. Without going too far in my history, I’m an addict and have used for over 25 years and am at the point where I feel almost empty or very uncomfortable not being under the influence of “something”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.