I’ve hardly met anyone whom this terrible opioid epidemic has not touched in some way. We know this from the tremendous response that continues to pour in from all corners of the world and from every walk of life since my last two Monday Morning Stretch blogs. We have already been recommended for two state dental meetings and have scheduled several interviews in the last two weeks. The need is great, both for answers and for hope.
Following our story two weeks ago, I promised to discuss the two things that Austin described as turning points in his recovery from which I believe we can all learn. The first, which I wrote about last week, was a courageous conversation I had with him a few years ago for which I sought some highly effective coaching. The second was a moment, mostly discovered with his drug counselor, which Austin describes as the mind-shift of hope.
He was clean and doing fairly well. But, as many addicts can attest, there is a constant voice from within that plays with their mind and their will. Luckily, he shared with his counselor that the longer he remained clean and sober, the more the memories surfaced along with the realization of what he had done to himself, the people he loved, friends, and indeed sometimes total strangers. This caused massive amounts of guilt, regret, low self-esteem, and shame, and all made him want to use again. When his counselor asked why he thought he hadn’t relapsed and used, Austin replied, “because I don’t want to go back to who and what I was.” What he had been (in his mind anyway) was a lying, stealing, conniving, reckless, hurtful, abusive, ugly excuse for a human being. He had also been sick, suicidal, and admitted to the hospital with a near overdose twice. He told the counselor the only thing keeping him from using again was the fear of more shame, less to live for, horrific withdrawals (which seemed to be far worse every time he tried to get clean) … and outright death.
After a long moment, his counselor thoughtfully replied, “What if you decided to stay clean because of what you would gain rather than what you would avoid? What if you focused on what you could live for instead of what you could die from?”
For Austin, it was a light-bulb moment. He felt the shift deep in his inner being. It was the beginning of the longest period of sobriety he’s had since the entire ordeal began. It was the beginning of tying his hard work to the benefit rather than the cost… to the positive upside instead of the negative downside.
It is a lesson we can all learn from: Doing hard work we care about to avoid some serious or negative consequence can be effective but it is different than doing hard work because of the positive results we could achieve. Studies show we are more likely to continue to exercise, eat well, choose healthy habits, resist destructive behaviors, finish a project we’ve procrastinated, or pick ourselves up after a failure if we focus on the positive outcomes we could receive rather than the negatives one we would avoid.
It’s simply a flip-side of the same coin but for Austin it made the difference and still does to this very day. He told me recently that when the desire to use again reoccurs, and he remembers the shameful reasons he doesn’t want to give in… he plays the game of switching the mental movie to the pleasure he feels as his parents continue to breathe easier and express pride in him, as his friends continue to reconnect, as he excels at work, and as his body continues to feel healthier and more alive. He imagines the home he will own, the job he will love, and the family he will have in his future. He told me that the image of my face as I hold my first grandchild is a picture worth staying clean for… worth living for.
This week, what for you is worth living for versus running from? What are the images you can keep at the forefront of your mind that are grand enough and beautiful enough to keep you doing the hard work you need to do to realize them?
PS: In advance of our upcoming podcasts and presentations, I’ve done some research on the current stats and resources surrounding the opiate crisis in our country. The results have literally blown my mind:
- 200 people die every day of an opioid overdose… one person every 11 minutes. Last year in 2017, 72,000 people died of a drug overdose. 50,000 of those were from opioids. (CDC) In 2016, the total was over 42,000 people. (US Department of Health and Human Services) This makes the current drug epidemic more deadly than gun violence, automobile accidents, or AIDS… none of which have ever killed as many people in a single year.
- Since 2000, opioid overdose deaths have increased by more than 200%. (CDC)
- Nearly 80% of heroin addicts started their abuse by using prescribed opioid painkillers. (National Institute for Drug Use)
- 96% of people 12 years or older who misuse opioids obtained them from a family member or friend from previously prescribed but unused medications. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- The opioid epidemic has had an economic cost in US of $504 billion dollars. (US Department of Health and Human Services)
There is some good news to report. Since 2013, the nation has seen a 22% decrease in the number of opioids prescribed by doctors and surgeons. But even still, just six months ago, as I left an out-patient surgery, I was handed a prescription of thirty Oxycodone pills without one question about my pain-management preferences or past prescription history, or one word of caution or education about the dangers of these drugs, or any directions about the necessity or methods to properly dispose of the 29.5 unused pills that still reside in my medicine cabinet six months later. As a communication coach primarily in the healthcare industry, Austin and I would like to change that protocol and communication skillset within today’s healthcare teams.
If you know anyone who might be interested in our presentation, an interview, or an article, please spread the word by sending us an email to info@LionSpeak.net. Our working title is: The Monster in the Mirror: Why You Should Care About the Opioid Crisis and What Everyone Can Do to Help. We’d love to know what you think and hear any ideas or suggestions you might have.