Category Archives: Prescription drug addiction

Chasing the scream review Johann Hari – REVIEW

Chasing the scream is an insightful and thought provoking book on the origin and continuation of the drug war. This is a topic long over-due for discussion. Whilst we are pouring more and more resources into ending the ‘drug’ war’ has anyone stopped to ask if we are even winning? Is there an end in sight?

Ironically the drug war was born on the back on the failure of alcohol prohibition in the 1930’s. Once alcohol was made legal again several government departments realized they were out of business. Ignoring the entire medical and scientific establishment of the time, a small federal department was determined to outlaw all drugs in order to justify its existence. How it did this is illuminating and reveals the precarious foundations our drug war stands on. The push to make drugs, particularly marijuana, illegal occurred at the same time that the white establishment were getting nervous about the black population in the USA. ‘Chasing the scream’ makes it clear that by making marijuana illegal it would give the federal government and police a new mechanism to control and suppress the rights of it’s black citizens. This was the initial intent of outlawing marijuana.

The books real power is in exploring the effects of the drug laws on individuals. The sheer misery and pointlessness of drug prohibition is brought home through powerful interviews that Hari conducts with its victims. Particularly shocking is the system in Arizona that basically tortures and humiliates anyone found in possession of illegal drugs. Prisoners are kept in an open air ‘tent prison’ akin to a Concentration Camp. Hari looks closely at these prisoners and finds that the majority have severe and prolonged mental health problems, grew up in care homes, suffered severe abuse and trauma and used drugs as the only method available to them to numb their suffering.
How America treats it’s incarcerated citizens has never made me more grateful for the European Court of Human Rights, which at least legislates that prisoners should be treated with humanity and dignity.
But in America when you have committed a ‘crime’ all of your rights as a human being are terminated. The book details the cruelty of a broken system that abuses and tortures already broken people.
I am pro-marijuana legalization (strictly regulated) but after reading this book I am more favorable to decriminalization of all drugs. There are two sections that really convinced me of this. One where Hari examines the rise of drug cartels in Mexico and the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal.
It’s always amazing to me how American media completely ignores what is happening on its doorstep. The only solution offered to the growing and alarming rise of extreme drug-related crime in Mexico is to build a really big wall. Drug cartels rule and dominate Mexico through fear and terror. There are simply no limits to the atrocities the cartels will commit in order to protect their multi-billion dollar business. Examine the situation in Mexico and it will become clear who is winning the drug war.
Hari then examines the complete opposite in Portugal. By the 1980’s Portugal had one of the worst heroin problems in the world. The government responded according to the drug war rulebook; crimination, crackdowns and punishment. They were surprised to see the problem get worse. A task force looked at it from a different angle and saw that the majority of drug users didn’t have a problem, used for pleasure and didn’t go on to become addicts. They decided that this group needed safety advice and could be left alone. It wasn’t worth the police time to persecute them. In 2001 they then decided to treat problem drug use as a health problem rather than a criminal one. By decriminalizing drug use they put all of the resources they saved into education and treatment. What is crucial to understand about this policy is they didn’t just decriminalize all drugs and let people get on with it; they created an alternative system that focused on prevention, education and treatment. They could do this because of the resources they saved in criminalizing people. The policy goes even further, it helps addicts re-build their lives and become functioning members of society again. The government offers hefty tax breaks to anyone who employs a recovering addict for more than a year. Imagine that? In America once you have a drug conviction it’s almost impossible to get a job, a college loan, and housing. What avenues are left for an addict, but crime, under these conditions?

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at

As thought provoking, as this book is it does have some major flaws. I was pleased that Hari focuses on feelings and emotions of addicts as one of the primary motivators of addiction. Particularly a lack of belonging or connection as exemplified by Dr. Gabor Mate’s work. However he completely ignores the abundant research that also demonstrates that genetics also plays a huge part. Further exploration of addiction that as a primary, chronic and progressive mid-brain illness would have given the book more substance. Equally, there is some naivety in believing that legalizing all drugs and putting the money into prevention and treatment will solve the problem. Our global drug problem is complex. I do however support the theory that what we are currently doing is not working and I think ‘Chasing the Scream’ is a good start to an important discussion.
Throughout my career I have always been asked about what I think about drug legislation and I’ve always replied it’s not a question of if, but when. We are beginning to see that in the US, with several states now legalizing marijuana growth and use. The results of these experiments I think will spur on further legislation and decimalization of drugs. However it’s important we follow the ‘Washington’ model rather than the Colorado model of legalization. The Colorado model was based on legalizing Marijuana because it is less dangerous than alcohol. Where as in Washington state, the push to change the laws around marijuana use were driven by the recognition that the laws themselves caused more harm, and took resources away from prosecuting people who caused real harm to society. They recognized that Marijuana is not a ‘safe drug’ and shouldn’t be presented as such and it is for this very reason that is should be made legal and then be regulated. Just like Portugal the campaign focused on then re-directing the resources saved on marijuana prosecution and the tax revenue it brought in from legal sales to education, prevention and treatment. This is a pathway to marijuana legalization I can support.

I also wish Hari had explored the prescription drug epidemic in America and the role of pharmaceutical companies in creating the problem. He points out that the addiction problem caused by over prescription of opiates really starts when users legal supply is cut off and they are forced to transfer to cheaper heroin on the black market. However he doesn’t go into how pharmaceutical companies helped cause this problem in the first place.
Overall I found this a fascinating book and would recommend it to anyone who despairs of our current system that is inherently racist and targets the poor, mentally ill and damaged members of our society. What is clear is we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing to address the epidemic of addiction in our culture.
As Hari puts it:

“Prohibition, doesn’t stop the problem, it simply piles another series of disasters onto the already-existing disaster of drug use. In this argument we are all anti-drug. The only difference is between prohibitionists who believe the tragedy of drug use can be dealt with by more jail cells in California and more military jeeps on the streets of Juarez, and the reformers who believe the tragedy of drug use can be dealt by moving those funds to educate kids and treat addicts.”

This really sums up how I feel. I am anti-drugs; I am anti anyone taking drugs. The risk of harm is too great. But I am also anti how we are addressing the problem currently. We just can’t keep criminalizing drug users when the resources could be used instead to help them instead.

Recovery Rocks – Wendy Blanchard

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Wendy Blanchard for her recovery show the Rx diaries on Intention Radio. Wendy is in recovery for her addiction to prescribed medication

Wendy Blanchard © Kathie Austin Photography, LLC

Wendy Blanchard © Kathie Austin Photography, LLC

Her passion is to get out on the front lines and speak to others who suffer from addiction, and mental illness to support them in their recovery. She has a great desire to talk to families, loved ones, and communities of the folks who are suffering in silence with these diseases. Wendy believes we need to have an ongoing dialogue about addiction, and mental illness so that those who turn away from us in ignorance will begin to understand that addiction is a real brain disease, which also has a mental illness component. She desperately wants to be a part of the solution, and begin to stamp out the stigma, and shame attached to addicts and those with mental illness.

You can listen to my interview with Wendy on Thursday, June 12 at 8pm ET, 5pm PT, and 2pm HT.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

Between 2010 and 2013 I went through a separation from the love of my life, which ultimately wound up in divorce in Jan., 2014. I had become paranoid, and delusional, and truly believed that my husband, and others were trying to kill me, and shared this information with my loved ones, and many in our community. Of course, only after I went into treatment, and began to heal, and do the work on myself, did I realize that all of the things that I truly believed in my fragile, and very ill mind, were exactly that, IN MY MIND ONLY. I nearly ruined my husband’s life, and his business that he built from the ground up in 1979. I still live with this guilt every day. I also decided, in my addiction, and mental illness, to walk away from my home of 25 years, my children, friends, family, and community. When I finally ran out of money, self respect, a place to stay, and realized that I was going to die, I asked for help. After 40 years of addiction to prescription pain killers, and about 20 years of addiction to tranquilizers, I went into treatment on April 3, 2013. When I emerged from treatment, (I went to detox in NY, and then two treatment centers in California) on May 20, 2013, I found that I was all alone. My family, friends, and community had turned away from me, and I had no home to go back to. I had become so delusional, and paranoid from the pills, and mental illness, and didn’t realize all that I was voluntarily giving up, and all of the people I had alienated. Over time, I began to realize the total destruction that I have caused in my life, and in the lives of so many others. It has been truly heart wrenching for me to accept. When I returned back to my hometown in N.Y. from my California treatment stay, I lived in a motel for two months before finding a new home away from the town, and the people that I love so much. I had alienated everyone from my life, with the exception of my three children, and my grand-daughter. It is an ongoing process for me to attempt to rebuild my life, and all of my relationships. Some days it seems too challenging to even consider, but I have so much strength, and faith, hope, and love, that I know I will continue to get through “one day at a time,” and that eventually, in God’s time, I will be reunited in an even healthier, and stronger bond with my loved ones.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

I was a hot mess. I remember feeling like a rag doll. I couldn’t stand up on my own, because I was so weak, and malnourished. I had also been suffering from anorexia, and bulimia, and I felt dazed and confused. I felt like I had bugs crawling all over my back, and I had excruciating pain in every inch of my body for which I was given Tylenol which did nothing to ease my pain. I constantly felt nauseous, and extremely fidgety, and unsettled. I could not sleep, eat, or even think clearly, and remember still believing that I was not safe with the folks at the treatment center. I was still somewhat “disconnected” from reality, and trusted nobody. I was so weak that I was finally taken to the ER where I was given an IV for dehydration, which didn’t seem to do much, and I currently still suffer from dehydration if I don’t drink a certain amount of water daily. The treatment facility had a very structured schedule, and every morning when the house monitor called out for us to wake up, I could barely move a muscle to get up to brush my teeth, and I usually didn’t. I was zapped of all of my energy. Most of the time, I stayed at the house with the house manager while everyone else went to the “program” that was a part of the treatment plan. I was forced to go a couple of times, and all I could manage to do was to lay on the couch in the dark in the room where others who weren’t feeling well rested. I was desperate to go home, but quickly realized that I had no home to go back to. I was 3,000 miles away from the home, people, and community that I loved, but no longer resided in. Except for the treatment center, I was homeless, and extremely terrified of everyone, and everything.

In addition, when I entered treatment, they took away my cell phone, my wallet, and my iPod, and as anyone who knows me, music is my passion, and a lifeline for me. I eventually earned back the privileges of having my personal items returned to me. Those first thirty days were a harsh wake up call for me, and when I truly learned the meaning of humility, and being humble.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Since I have been in recovery for the last 13 1/2 months I have had so many awesome opportunities come my way, and have met so many awesome people who have become very dear friends. Many of my relationships that I cherished were broken by my addiction, and mental illness, but have been mended, and are healthier than they were during my active illness.
The best thing that has happened for me is that I have had the time, for the first time in my life, to find out who I am as an individual, and what a very strong woman I am. I have found so much inner peace, and I am so proud of the woman I have become. I have had the time to learn so much about life, what I like, what my passions are, and to spend quality time with myself. I have been living a “clean and green lifestyle” through proper nutrition, and practicing a holistic healthy lifestyle that revolves around a whole healthy practice…body, mind, soul. I no longer have to hide anything, or keep secrets. It is a beautiful, and peaceful feeling to be able to be an open book, and so raw, and honest.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I would encourage myself, (and anyone who suffers with addiction and/or mental illness) to ask for help, and not to be ashamed, or feel guilty because I was suffering with a real brain disease. I was very ill, and I was not coherent, or lucid enough to realize that at the time. I would say be gentle with yourself, and practice self care, and be humble enough to admit you cannot get through this disease alone. Of course, you have to be able to realize that you need help to be able to ask for help.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I have learned that I know how to be patient, and have learned about earning the things that are meaningful in my life, like the precious relationships with my children, my grand-daughter, family, and friends. I used to take everyone for granted. I have also realized that I have to give those that I hurt in my addiction the space, and time that they need to heal, and to forgive. Most importantly, I have learned how to take care of myself, and be patient, loving, and kind to myself. I have been learning about the mental illness that I had been suffering with for most of my life due to severe trauma as a child, and that it was not my fault. I have forgiven everyone in my life, and I am still in the process of learning how to forgive myself.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I have been so blessed to begin two businesses, The Rx Diaries, and Blissfully Gl-Airy Free. The Rx Diaries is my greatest passion as it is my platform to be able to talk about my own “Recovery, Rebirth, and Release,” from prescription drug addiction, and mental illness of forty years. I also offer information, and resources on addiction, and mental illness. The Rx Diaries is a website that has now grown to my own radio show on on Thursday nights, 8pm ET, and 5pm PT. I get the chance to talk about addiction, and mental illness, and to interview others who are in recovery as I attempt to help raise awareness on the drug epidemic in this country. I am meeting so many important people who are also spreading the message of this disease, who have been so generous in their time, and helping me to prepare for this new chosen path in my life. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to make a difference by using my voice, and my experience from my own inspirational journey! I have proudly become a part of the new wave of recovery with others like myself who are eager to talk about addiction, and recovery to help others still struggling in silence with these diseases. We want to empower, and educate the public on addiction and mental illness so that we can eliminate the shame, and the guilt that is attached, and most importantly to help provide the proper and necessary prevention, and treatment for these diseases.
Blissfully Gl-Airy Free is a website that I created to share the Gluten and Dairy free recipes that I create as part of my whole healthy lifestyle. I also share information and resources on living a “clean and green lifestyle, one day at a time.”

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
“Keep it simple.”
“Sobreity is a journey, not a destination”
“One day at a time.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
“Recovery Rocks” because I can finally see, hear, feel, smell, and touch everything so clearly now. I have had a “rebirth” and truly understand the meaning of my beautiful, and precious life, and about life in general. I can finally appreciate all of the blessings that I have been given, and I am able to “Pay it forward” with a clear, and open mind, heart, and soul. I continue to learn, and to grow with every day that passes, and I am so excited to see the beauty, and blessings that each day will bring. It is a miracle, and by the grace of God that I am alive, and I want to use this second chance that I have been given to make a difference in as many lives as I can. It is time for major changes in treating addiction, and mental illness, and I am so proud to be a part of this new recovery movement.


Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

When we look back over our drinking careers some of us are often surprised to discover that we weren’t simply alcoholics.
We believed the ‘problem’ was just alcohol and if we stop drinking, then everything else will be fine.
Unfortunately, if you are an alcoholic that’s unlikely to be the case.
Because alcohol isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom of the problem.
The actual problem is the ‘hole in the soul,’ the emptiness inside of the alcoholic that is so uncomfortable, they seek out booze to ease the discomfort of being in their own skins.
This is the real problem and unless treated, that core emotional pain inside of us, will always demand something to numb it.
To achieve successful sobriety, we have to address the core emotional and spiritual issues, otherwise our brains will seek out other substances or behaviors to numb the pain.

The reason for this is the part of the brain that’s called the ‘pleasure center.’ It is stimulated by pleasurable activities such as eating, sex or gambling as well as by drugs and alcohol. The chemical responsible for this is dopamine. When we use substances we increase the release of dopamine into this area.
Very simply, we know what makes us feels good and when we know what that is; we just want to do more of it.
This chemical reward reinforces these behaviors.

If we just stop using our drug of choice, our brains will look for another substance (or behavior) that make us feel the same way.
Permanent abstinence from mood and mind altering substances is the only way to change this brain chemistry. To maintain this permanent abstinence, we have to come up with a new way of living and dealing with the world; otherwise we will eventually seek the same solution for our problems.
If we are not doing the work necessary to maintain our abstinence, then we are at risk of relapse. Because addiction is sneaky, sometimes we won’t pick up our drug of choice but will pick up another substance instead. Because we had a problem with alcohol, we try and fool ourselves into thinking we didn’t have a problem with marijuana or Xanax, so can safely use these instead.

The concept of cross-addiction is simply this;
If we deprive our addictive nature of its chosen drug, then it will, for a time, settle for a substitute. This substitute doesn’t have to be another substance. It can be a behavior or set of behaviors (e.g., gambling, exercise, shopping, sex etc.).
This is because bizarrely addiction and alcoholism are not about wanting to use drugs or alcohol. It is about numbing pain of the burning hole within us.
If the engine that drives addiction isn’t stopped, then the addict has no choice, than to find something to take the pain of their existence away.

Sometimes people recognize they have a real problem with alcohol and manage to stop drinking. Figuring they’ve cracked the problem, they decided that a little pot smoking would be a good way to relax at the weekends. A little pot turns into a couple of lines of cocaine, which turns into a binge, which brings them back to where they started.

The most important thing to remember, is that addiction and alcoholism don’t stop when the substances are taken away.
The monster still needs feeding and anything will do.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Recovery takes work, focus and dedication. Just like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, full recovery from these diseases takes a lifetime of daily measures, to ensure the disease stays manageable or in remission.
A diabetic can’t just stop managing their diet or injecting insulin, and an addict can’t just stop maintaining their emotional wellbeing.
This sounds like hard work, but really isn’t.
We have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid and learn what it’s like to brush our teeth, wash our face and have a bath. It’s hard work when we are little, but we learn and then these things become second nature. We do these things because it prevents tooth decay and other illnesses, we also feel better physically, in fact we would feel awful if we went about our day without doing any of these things! Daily emotional and spiritual work is exactly the same, just little daily habits that ensure our inner world is ok.
A small price to pay to ensure that we live in the light, rather than the darkness of addiction.

Am I an alcoholic?

Am I an alcoholic?

That’s a very good question.

Are you?

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti /

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti /

In all honesty, there is no straightforward answer to that and whichever ‘expert’ or professional you speak to will give you a totally different, if not conflicting answer. This is because there is no scientific way of measuring this, it really is an opinion. Alcoholics Anonymous for instance, will let you make up your own mind. No one diagnoses you. Doctors and other addiction professionals have other ways of concluding an individual may be an alcoholic or not. Alcohol dependency will usually indicate you are.

It is, in my opinion, fairly easy to diagnose. What follows is a description of the traits of an alcoholic. If they fit you, then you may have to come to the conclusion that you are an alcoholic.

Firstly, and I can’t emphasis this enough, ordinary people do not think about their drinking.
It rents no space in their heads.


This means if you have spent some time looking for solutions for why you drink the way you do and have ended up reading this page.
Then the answer may be yes.
Because it’s renting space in your head.

You have a problem.

Alcoholics know they have a problem.

They know something is most definitely wrong.

It’s a nagging feeling that won’t go away.

They are vaguely aware that they drink too much but have loads of excuses and reasons for why that is.

So, by the sheer fact you are reading this, you know there’s a problem right?

We’ll go further.

Alcoholism has nothing to do with alcohol.

No, really.

Are you surprised?

Alcoholism is about the way you think.

Let me explain.

Alcoholism is a state of mind, a way of thinking and being, that is so uncomfortable and unpleasant it is expressed in how they drink.

Which isn’t normal. Because alongside this state of mind is a physical allergy that means when alcohol enters the body of an alcoholic they respond differently to other people. You lose the power of control over alcohol; something else takes over and they find it extremely hard to regulate or stop drinking when they start.

The mind and body work against any intentions or ‘will power’ you may have had of not wanting to drink.
Any alcoholic can stop drinking or using for a while, or for a good enough reason, its staying stopped that’s the problem.
When an alcohol isn’t drinking alcohol to manage their internal state they will invariably be using other kinds of unhealthy behaviours to manage their emotional life.
Look closely and you’ll see how.

An alcoholic is so uncomfortable in their own skin that they will always return to alcohol to ease the discomfort in their own minds (and souls). Once they start drinking the physical allergy kicks in and they find that they nearly always drink or use far more that they intended.

The common misconception is that it’s how much you drink or use and how often that makes someone an alcoholic.

Not so!

Certainly, in most cases alcoholics drink far more than is acceptable and on a more frequent basis than ordinary people, that’s for sure. However, you can be an alcoholic and drink infrequently; it doesn’t necessarily have to be everyday.
What differentiates a binge drinker or heavy drinker from an alcoholic is how that person thinks. It’s exactly the same with addiction.

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

We have created a culture that has normalised abnormal drinking – we call it binge drinking, and everyone seems to do it. We have also moved the goal posts with drug use, ‘but everyone does it, I know all the dangers’ is the bulls**t lie that addicts will tell themselves in order to justify what they are doing. If you normalise something it becomes acceptable. We surround ourselves with people who are just like us, who then reflect back to us who we are. We look for justification for our behavior.

Of course not everyone who binge drinks will go on to become an alcoholic.
Many will naturally regulate their drinking as they mature, or the circumstances of their lives change and they find they have no desire to drink at abnormal levels anymore. Others, despite becoming older or their lives changing, will still, whenever they have the opportunity, drink far beyond what is reasonable and to the point that it impacts all areas of their life.

What is reasonable?
The recommended weekly allowances for an adult male are 21 units a week (UK measurement), spread over the week and not all in one night. For a woman it is 14 units. A 250ml glass of wine is the equivalent of 3 units. If you drink consistently over this amount you can expect to have some kind of mental health, physical health, emotional, financial, and social consequences.
Most people are surprised at how low this is. Because so many people are drinking way beyond acceptable levels, we have normalised the abnormal.

And the biggest excuse that most people give for drinking way more than is good for them?

Everyone else is doing it, so it must be ok.


An alcoholic will find it easy to hide amongst binge drinkers because they drink the same way. What makes them different is what’s going on inside of them.

Pay attention, we are really coming to the crux of the problem now; this is the most accurate description of an alcoholic or I can give you:

An alcoholic just feels different than everyone else. It’s like they were born different; some people have described it as looking at the world through a glass screen, watching everyone else get on with life in a way that they just can’t seem to. It feels like being born without the instruction manual for life, and whatever you seem to do it never works out in a way that seems to satisfy or fulfil you.

Alcoholics always have a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness, and they are always looking for something to fix that feeling. Alcoholics tend to believe that if they get the right partner, job, house, or car it will bring them the feeling of satisfaction and happiness they crave.

They are always looking for something outside of themselves to make them complete.

And what happens?

Temporarily, these outside changes fix that hole inside of them. Everything seems like its going to be okay, but it’s always just temporary. It escapes them again, it’s like sand running through their fingers, they can never seem to hold on to it. Just when they are almost there, when they feel like they finally have the thing that will make them happy, they lose it and they revert back to their old feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness.
In addition to living life in this unsatisfactory way, alcoholics also experience a lot of fear.
A disproportional amount of fear.

Fear is probably the defining characteristic of alcoholics.

It’s fear of everything and nothing; it’s always with them. It’s hard to put into words but fear is a daily companion to an alcoholic.

An alcoholic will very rarely be able to tell anyone close to them about the ‘fear’.

They are scared of what people might think of them.
They are frightened of not being good enough, of being found out, of people not liking them, of failing. An alcoholic will do whatever they can to hide this fear to the outside world, and they even find it hard admitting it to themselves. They are so used to living with this fear that they can’t remember what it’s like to be without it.

So you can see that when you feel this way on a consistent basis, it becomes so uncomfortable that you will do anything to change it. Alcohol can achieve that. In the short term it removes that sense of discomfort and uncomfortableness and for a short while you feel like everything is okay. You feel happy and unafraid, like you fit in with the people around them; the glass screen separating you from the rest of the world has been removed.

For a while at least.

It was only artificially and temporarily induced, courtesy of alcohol, and you are back to being the way they always were, still searching for whatever it is that will make you feel better (feel complete).

You can see then, that alcoholism is an internal problem rather than an external one. That the problem arises from how you think and how you feel, and that drinking is only a symptom.

You may argue that other people who don’t drink also feel that way and you’d be right. They will be expressing their internal dissatisfaction in other ways, other behaviors, alcoholics and addicts pick substances because they are accessible, widely used and very, very effective.

Pay attention, though – look around. Notice how other people express their internal dissatisfaction through unhealthy relationships, overspending, gambling, sex, moving, food, shopping, rampant consumerism etc. All that behavior is just a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Feelings motivate all behavior.

By reading this far, then chances are that you have read something you have identified with, that intrigues you.
If you can recognise the traits or alcoholism, if you can identify your problem, then you can get help much earlier. The truth is, that this condition this way of being and thinking won’t go away just because you want it to. My experience of working with alcoholics and addicts is that you can’t think your way out of it and you certainly can’t do it alone.

It comes down to this: how much longer are you prepared to accept living this way?

You may have read this and thought,
‘Yeah, I identify with some of that, but it’s really not that bad.’


Are you really prepared to accept that in your life?

Are you really prepared to accept less than you deserve?

Do you want to look back on your life and see that you settled for 70% or 50% of what you were capable of?

Are you prepared to live through one more day feeling the way you do, when now you know there’s a way out?

Now may be the time to get really honest with yourself.

So, are you an alcoholic?
Yes, or No?

September is Recovery Month!

National Recovery Month

Did you know that September is Recovery month?
This years theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Together on Pathways to Wellness.
The purpose of Recovery Month is promote the benefits of prevention and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

For years addiction and mental health have been in the closet, sufferers have been too embarrassed to talk about their problems openly, for fear of being judged or labelled.
But the fact is in 2011 20.6 million people 12 or older were classified with substance abuse or dependence. What’s worse is 19.3 million of them needed treatment and didn’t get it.

I think the tide is finally turning, this problem is so prolific and effects so many people that the recovery community has decided not to stay silent anymore. More and more people are speaking out publicly about their struggles with addiction and mental health. The more this happens, the more people can see that they are not alone, more people will get help, less people will suffer.
When I launched the ‘Recovery Rocks’ interviews I though I would really struggle to get people to use their real name and a photo.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have met so many people who are publicly declaring they are addicts and alcoholics in recovery. It’s so inspiring.

I remember years ago concealing the truth about my past to people around me, it was just too much hard work. I thought I would be judged and that people would think I was ‘unstable.’

Alcoholism is part of who I am, in many ways it made me who I am. As awful as that struggle was, overcoming that struggle has given me what I have today and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
And besides I stopped caring what people think of me. I mean really, I don’t care what you think about my past or what I did, or that I’m completely open about being a recovered alcoholic. I don’t care if that shocks you.
I just don’t care, because what matters is what I think of myself.
And I really like myself today.

So please do what you can this month to spread the word that recovery from addiction and alcoholism is not only possible, but addicts and alcoholics can go on to have happy, successful, fulfilling lives.

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Someone is suffering in despair, desperation and loneliness RIGHT NOW, and they really, really need to know they can get better.

SAMHSA National Helpline

Book Review: ‘Guts the Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster’ by Kristen Johnston

A while ago someone pressed a copy of ‘Guts’ into my hands, with the admonishment that I ‘had to read this immediately.’
So I promptly put it on my shelf and forgot about it.
Having recently had a baby, the only books I was interested in were; ‘How the f**k do I get this kid to sleep’ variety.

But after meeting the author on Twitter (where else) I decided to pick it up.
You’ll know Kristen Johnston from her hit shows ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ and ‘The Exes.’ British readers will remember her as ‘Ivana Humpalot’ in the Austin Powers movies and for a hysterical cameo in ‘Sex and the City.’

Me reading 'GUTS.' Ask KJo about the finger.

Me reading ‘GUTS.’ Ask KJo about the finger.

As this book is written by a comic actress you would rightly expect it to be very funny. It is a funny book, however I actually found the jokes to be a distraction in the first few pages.
I felt like Kristen Johnston was giving the reader the version of herself she thought they expected, and she didn’t want to let them down.
I wondered if this is how Johnston is when you first meet her in person. That she uses humor as her armor, creating an illusion of openness and intimacy, which actually deflected you from seeing who she really was or what was really going on.

If you are looking for a ‘celebrity memoir,’ with funny anecdotes about famous people, you are going to be disappointed.
Johnston barely touches on her upbringing, rise to fame or acclaimed career as an actress. They are mentioned in passing; instead the book is an invitation into the soul of an addict as they battle their fear and denial.

There were two parts of the book in particular that made me shudder with recognition.
The first is where she describes witnessing her brothers bullying.
With no means of voicing her feelings, she violently lashes out at one of his tormentors.
Describing this as one of her many ‘ill advised decisions.’ I felt it was actually a truthful reaction to extraordinary pain. She had no other way to express how she felt except violence.
Her feelings were demanding a release.
This type of irrational, compulsive behavior is ‘normal’ in someone who has learnt to protect their inner world, by building a wall around themselves.
It should therefor come as no surprise, that this little girl grew up to become addicted to ‘pain pills’ as an adult. It was inevitable that she was going to have to find a way, to numb the pain of feelings she could never dare express.

The second incident that touched me, is when the first crack in her wall first begins to show. Johnston has been admitted to a hospital in England for life saving surgery, when her intestines literally burst from all the drugs she had been taking. Because she is in so much pain and can barely move, she has to ask a nurse to help her wash her hair.
As an adult, she realizes this is the first time she has ever asked anyone for help.
By this point in the book, her loneliness and isolation are palpable, and the simple act, of another human being tenderly washing her, is almost heart breaking.
It’s clear that Johnston has never let anyone in and the sheer thought of it terrifies her.

The reason this book should be compelling reading for any addict or alcoholic, is just how much Johnston reveals of the inner life of an addict.
She rightfully claims to being completely unoriginal in her feelings and behavior, her experience of addiction is just like anyone else’s.
Addicts will do anything to prevent anyone seeing who they really are, they will fight tooth and nail to defend the wall they have built around themselves. Johnston is certainly no different.

Like many addicts Johnston paints a picture of determined self-reliance.
Believing she can just power through anything with her grit and determination. Unwilling and unable to face up to her reality, I believe it was no coincidence that her body finally forces her to see what her mind refuses to.
Thousands of miles away from home, friends and family; unable to work, she could do nothing but stare at the ceiling and contemplate how things have ended up this way.
Too weak to fight and with no distractions, the wall she had built around herself slowly begins to crack.

“I suppose I was also grieving for the loss of the unfeeling, jokey, impenetrable me.”

Inevitably when that wall cracks; grief, loss and loneliness flood in. Johnston shares all of this with the reader. Then, for someone who has determinedly hidden her true self from the world, she begins to discover who she really is, for the very first time. Vulnerable, scared and very lost she begins the journey back to herself.
The miracle of recovery is, that despite everything we have believed about ourselves, who we really are is glorious. We don’t need to hide or be alone anymore because who we really are is just fine. This book convinces you that if Kristen Johnston can discover this, then so can you.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

Because of her stature, Johnston has often been referred to as ‘Amazonian.’ The description fits her not because of her height, but because she is a warrior.
Guts is the account of a lone warrior battling to stay in denial before finally waging the courageous battle of sobriety.
It is a privileged glimpse into her inner world and I hope very much that this warrior has finally found her tribe.

Recovery Rocks – Cathryn Kemp

C.KempAuthorColour2 I’m really excited about this weeks interview. There is still so much to understand about addiction, particularly about addiction to prescribed drugs. There is still the misconception that your not an addict if the doctor has been prescribing your drugs. But prescription addiction is just like any other addiction…

Cathryn Kemp never needed a drug dealer because all her drugs came from her doctor. After a life-threatening illness in 2004 left Cathryn severe pain and on a morphine drip. Cathryn was discharged with a repeat prescription for fentanyl lozenges – a powerful opiate painkiller 100 times stronger than heroin.

Two years’ later Cathryn was taking almost 10 times the maximum dosage daily – all on prescription from her doctor. By the time she entered rehab she was told she had less than three months left to live.

A former journalist Cathryn is the author of Painkiller Addict: From Wreckage To Redemption which is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, which is launched in the US in July 2013.
Cathryn wrote her extraordinarily candid memoir in the hope of helping others who may be suffering long-term acute and chronic illness, those in the grip of active addiction or those whose loved-ones are.

Three years into recovery, Cathryn lives a grateful life by the sea in the UK. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends and writing.
I’m posting this interview early, because Cathryn is about to give birth to her first child and I wanted to give her chance to see it before the wonderful journey of motherhood begins for her.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
The moment I truly realised to the pit of my soul that I had nowhere left to go in my addiction, nowhere to hide, was one night at the end of 2009 when I sat writing a note to my boyfriend and parents telling them how much I loved them and that I was sorry.
The reason I wrote this note was because I knew I was overdosing so heavily by taking almost 60 prescribed fentanyl lozenges a day that I knew I may die in my sleep.
I carefully placed the letter under my pillow in case I was found by my mother in the morning. I went to sleep that night not knowing if I would wake up or not. It wasn’t the thought of my own death which frightened me, but the awful truth of a loved-one finding my body, alone in my bed, the next morning. A lonely addict’s death.
A family wrenched apart by anguish.
It was as I finished writing, the tears were pouring down my face and I was sucking yet another lozenge, that I realised I hated the drug with all my heart. Yet I knew I couldn’t stop taking it.

That was the moment when I knew it was over – and more than that, I wanted it to be over. It was the point at which I gave up my fight to come off them and gave up my fight with my GP to stay on them. Shortly afterwards my GP cut me off and I booked into a rehab. Without that defining rock bottom I may still have been out there today, if I’d been lucky enough to survive this far.

2) What was your ‘moment of truth’ or ‘clarity’ that prompted you to get sober/clean?’
I had several moment of clarity, the most powerful being the evening I saw myself writing my ‘suicide’ note to leave under my pillow in case I died overnight of a huge fentanyl overdose.

There had been other moments such as the day that my stepson wondered into my bedroom and saw me sucking one of my lozenges. I always tried to take them in a room away from other people. The guilt and shame of taking them was always hovering close-by even though I still couldn’t admit to myself I was truly addicted. This young, innocent boy came into the room and asked what I was doing.
I told him I was just taking my medicine and he looked at me with his head on one side then just as quickly lost interest and wandered off into another part of the house.

In that moment I saw myself through his eyes. I was an ill, frail, haggard-looking woman lying on her sick bed sucking through a pile of six lozenges, one after the other. I realised I was as far from his sweet, healthy innocence as a person could be. I saw myself as I was – and it was an ugly sight.

Shortly afterwards my GP called me into his surgery and told me he was cutting me off. I could’ve turned to heroin or street drugs. I could’ve sold my house and bought my drugs rather than rely on wheedling and demanding prescriptions from my doctor but I knew the game was up. I simply could not go on another day in the hell of getting my drugs, using my drugs then having to get more of them to be able to function.
I was done.
It wasn’t a spiritual or emotional moment. It was the feeling that my world had ended, had crashed down taking all of me with it, and I finally let it.
I gave up and gave in. I booked rehab and went into recovery.

3) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Let’s be honest. Getting sober or clean is hard.
It’s unbelievably tough and there is no-thing and no-body to take away the challenges of every single minute of the journey.
But let me be absolutely clear on this – every craving, sweating, shaking, confusing, emotional, frightening or volatile moment of early recovery is better than a single second of using.
That is a promise.

Breaking out of the prison of addiction is tough going on every level; physically you may be beset by cravings or withdrawals, emotionally you may find all the fear and anger you have buried for years suddenly rises to the surface in powerful and overwhelming ways, mentally you may feel confused and disorientated and spiritually you may grasp the extend of the emptiness inside your soul which was the gap you poured the alcohol, drugs, sex, food or gambling into in a vain attempt to fill it.

But as with any rebirth, and with the right help from support services and/or family, the birthing pains ease as time passes, as your confidence slowly starts to increase, as the waves of withdrawals subside and as the ‘real’ you starts to slowly unfold.

There is no other way of getting well and finding out who you are. There is literally no other path to take. The startling and obvious truth of the matter is that unless you take the hard road, unless you give yourself up to recovery then you will die of your addiction. It is as simple and as brutal as that.
For me, the first 30 days were a rollercoaster ride of turbulent emotions and horrendous withdrawal symptoms like sweating, shaking and hallucinations.
I took all the support offered and somehow got through.

There was no blinding flash of light or super-charged miracle. It was literally a case of slogging through the madness and illness with the blind faith that somehow it would get better. Slowly, slowly the physical symptoms abated while the mental confusion took over. I suddenly realised I didn’t really know who I was. I didn’t know what I truly liked, what I didn’t like and how I should be. I still feel, more than three years into recovery, that I am learning about myself – and even more importantly, accepting parts of myself I tried so hard to run from during my years of using.

I learnt that I didn’t know how to live, I didn’t know how to feel and I didn’t know how to manage my feelings. Again, I’m still learning. Some things were as obvious as how often should I change my sheets? I really didn’t know what was ‘normal’. These days I strive for normal – whatever that may be. After years of chronic rebellion and escaping into my addiction to prescription painkillers, the grace of not sticking out, of doing things right, of being ok has been the most miraculous part of my journey.

4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Getting clean is the biggest miracle of my journey. My rehab thought I’d never do it as I was on such high levels of fentanyl, my GP and my family thought I’d have to compromise and stabilize on a minimum daily allowance of lozenges because of my horrendous pain levels. But I knew I had to break free and rehab was my one and only chance.

Three years later and I have written a book about my experiences called Painkiller Addict: From Wreckage To Redemption which is published by Piatkus Books and launches in the US in July 2013. I am immensely proud and grateful to be able to share my story in the hope it helps others going through the same hell I was. I have received messages saying that my book and my story have prompted readers or loved-ones to find recovery and that is a gift worth more than gold.

As I write this, I am also 81/2 months pregnant with my first baby. An experience I could never have predicted as I was too ill, addicted and frail to carry a child and was told categorically by my surgeons in hospital that I would never be able to have one, if I survived at all. My recovery has given me my child, the love of my family and friends and a chance to start anew, to rediscover who I really am and what I really want. It’s given me everything.

5) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I would never want to go back in time, even in theory. When I was using I wouldn’t have listened to myself – or anyone else. I was utterly focused on getting and using my prescriptions, nothing else mattered; not myself, not my family, nothing.

6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

Learning about myself is an ongoing, sometimes painful, sometimes frustrating and inspiring path.
The main thing I have learnt is to accept who I actually am ie I’m pretty bossy, a total organization freak and I am terrible at self-caring, rather than trying to make myself be who I want to be.
In my using I hid from myself and the world. I’d always wanted to be someone else, didn’t matter who it was, I’d pick the nearest person and emulate them, trying to mould myself into someone more relaxed, fun or attention-seeking.

Learning to like myself for my quirks and foibles is a challenge but it’s about coming home in so many ways. Now I know I love my solitude, I love reading and thinking, I’m naturally an introvert but I know I have a path to tread in public talking about addiction and so I am learning to do that with integrity and with respect for my own values.

It’s something that needs working on everyday as new situations and experiences arise. “Know thyself” is my goal and my mantra now so I can live with dignity and integrity.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Life on life’s terms – reminding me daily that I have to work at my life, I have to be accountable for my reactions to events around me and that life is out of my control and thank god it is!

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Because it’s about living, for the first time.
Truly, properly, living.
There is no alternative to recovery. As addicts or alcoholics there is no other happy future; only pain, misery and possibly death without it.
Recovery then brings you to yourself – for some of us it’s the first time we’ve ever had the chance to get to know ourselves. It is the only way to live with self-respect and with truth. It isn’t always easy, life carries on and throws things at us in recovery as well as in our using days. People die, friendships end, relationships falter and money runs out – these things happen regardless of how well we are and so recovery is about learning to live in the real world and not in a fantasy of our own invention.

Recovery is about learning not to hide, to become our own person and that can mean hard choices being made. It is the only way though. The only true and real path and we are all brave enough to undertake it.

Recovery Rocks in so many ways and beyond most of our wildest dreams. I have seen so many people blossom into the person they are meant to be, and I hope I’m doing that as well.

Do drugs and alcohol make you more creative?

My son's first art work (20 months).

My son’s first art work (20 months).

Another interesting article in The Guardian about addiction and creativity.
Alex Preston a writer, discusses how Prozac inhibited his ability to write. He asked around and found that other writers experienced similar problems.
I have always thought the question of addiction and creativity to be an interesting one. It certainly seems to be an occupational hazard amongst musicians, artists and writers.
I have heard the argument that some people believe that drugs and alcohol have enhanced their ability to be creative. I personally don’t buy that.
I think there are plenty of examples of artists who have gone on to greater success once they were clean and sober.
The other question you could ask is whether artists are more predisposed to mental health conditions like depression? Do they initially use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate? Again, there is a long list of artist’s battling mental health demons.

I believe there is a reason for that. In Brain Rules for Babies* John Medina explores how babies brain’s develop and lays out the scientific research that shows you how to raise a smart and happy child. The most interesting part of this, is research indicates the two most important things you can teach a child are:
Impulse control &

A book every parent should read.

A book every parent should read.

As a scientist he was staggered at how important the development of empathy was for a happy and healthy life. It is, in fact key.
Scientific research then goes on to show that one of the best ways to develop empathy is through music. Researchers have shown that kids who learn any instrument before the age of 7 for at least 10 years had measurably more empathy than their peers.
Could this also be a predisposition to addiction or abuse of alcohol and drugs? After all, one of the purposes of abusing drugs and alcohol is to numb feelings.
Do musicians just over empathise?
Do artists just feel too much?
Those who get it right produce work that enriches our souls and brings pleasure to many people whilst also living their own happy lives. Those who get it wrong can still bring pleasure to many but at a devastating personal cost.

What do you think? Do you think drugs and alcohol have enhanced your ability to creative or have they stiffled it?
Is the art worth the pain?

*As a therapist I developed a ton of theories about why kids turned out the way they do. I believed a lot of it was down to parenting. My theory was that the most important thing you can teach a child is how to master their emotional life and everything follows from there. Brain Rules for Babies completely supports this theory. It is our internal world that is the most important to define and understand.