Over the last several weeks, I have watched Brittany Maynard's interviews as well as read articles about her daily struggles with terminal brain cancer. The 29 year old was given 6 months to live after being diagnosed. She decided she wanted to die her way instead of having the cancer take her on it's terms. So, on November 1st, 2014 in her Oregon home, she ended her own life with her loved ones by her side. Regardless of what any of us believe about the controversial debate over the right to die movement, Brittany's choice to leave this world her way and on her terms left me to pause and wonder:
Can each of us choose what we want to let "die" in our lives?
As a clinician, I am passionate about helping people with trauma and addictions (to sex, love, relationships, food, work, money, and substances) learn how to let their addiction and traumatic past "die", so that they are able to re-birth that part of themselves that they have forgotten.
Addicts have a tendency to want to cling to their addiction, finding an illusive comfort in the suffering it has caused them. Their brain has literally been re-wired to feel as though the drama and chaos is normal, when indeed it is not. Family and loved ones look at them as though they are crazy for doing and saying things that are out of their character.
Sadly, the life they have given their addiction is indeed like a cancer; it eats away at a person's value system, moral compass, relationships, finances, work; everything. Addicts and family members begin to feel powerless, helpless, and out of control, unsure if there will ever be a "cure". They think "No one will ever be able to stop this monster from eating away at our family."
To this I say,
YES! YOU CAN.
You and your loved ones can absolutely learn healthy ways to let this disease (dis-ease) and discomfort "die", while learning the tools (mental chemotherapy) to rebirth WHO YOU TRULY ARE.
I realize that this is easier said than done, especially because folks with addictions are dealing with a brain disease. For instance, process disorders (food, sex, money, work) produce chemical stimulation that is already in the brain (i.e., sex creates over 100% dopamine in the brain), while substances are ingested to create a high that alters the brain's normal functioning (meth creates 1000% dopamine in the brain; cigarettes create over 100%).
However, with the following tools, you and your loved ones can re-birth a new experience, a new opportunity to heal what this "cancer" has taken. These tools include:
Education, On-Going Support, Practice, and Perseverance
Education: You and your loved one need to know the what, how and why of the addiction, meaning you need to understand what it is, how it formed, and why, along with what specific tools are needed so that this disease doesn't come back. It is crucial that the addict and their loved ones get treatment so that the system can heal; the system often becomes sick trying to manage the addict and their disease.
On-Going Support: Weekly individual and group therapy are crucial for learning new ways of coping. Having a safe place to share your experience with someone who understands is key. Only telling people you know and trust is important since some people do not understand and might judge you and your loved one in your struggle.
Practice: You and your loved ones must practice the new skills and tools you are learning in therapy. This is the ONLY way that your brain will rewire. If you want to be a great baseball player or skier, you can't take one lesson then think you will be a pro. You must practice new ways of coping so that your brain will go towards that skill instead of back to it's old ways.
Perseverance: Recovery from anything is HARD. Some days you may want to give up. Learning new ways of thinking and behaving can feel daunting. DON'T GIVE UP! The death of your addiction guarantees you a REBIRTH of the life you deserve; a new life! When you are struggling, reach out to those that understand and can guide you back to recovery thinking.
Brittany Maynard indeed created a new perspective on the right to die debate, by choosing to die on her terms. Some may not agree with this, but what I am left with regarding her choice is a metaphor for dying related to addiction and recovery: Can you let your addiction "die" so that you can live the life you deserve?
You are rebirthing and so worth it!
LOOK! New Men's Sexual Recovery Group: Facing I with Jenny Jo Tuttle, LCSW, CSAT-C, Expert on treating multiple addictions including intimacy disorders! WHEN? Next Tuesday, November, 11, from 6-7:30 p.m. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have 7 seats available. The Facing The Shadow Workbook can be purchased at our office for $30. We look forward to offering you support and recovery!