Some Assembly Required: Dan Mager Chooses Addictionism

Addictionism is a wonderful religion.  You can have a blast taking drugs your whole life, and then when you’re old, you discover Addictionism (that is, you were actually a Drug Addict all along) and then you attend the Addictionist Church (AA) where you can hang out with others of the faith and laugh about the old times.  While you can’t take drugs any more (or at least until your next relapse), you can do fun things like meditate and teach it to the middle age women who are bored with their lives and wander in to see what all the fuss is about.  You can be their guru.  Sometimes young people come in too, between or during relapses, and this is a good opportunity to demonstrate your ‘serenity’.  They will certainly want what you have, even if they don’t realize it immediately, and even if it takes many years.  And it just might.  Here is one man’s story.

Dan Mager was a life-long drug addict but also a well respected social worker in charge of several addiction treatment programs throughout his career.   But then in midlife he started having chronic pain, and became addicted to opioids.  “The vicious circle of chronic pain and addiction to the narcotic medications prescribed for it progressively hijacked my priorities.  My chronic pain gave me medical sanction to dive into my real dope of choice, as the serpent of my addiction awoke full force and began to devour me.” (l. 252) Unfortunately he believed his professional experience made him immune to addiction, and this denial kept him from seeking help.  He couldn’t imagine life without drugs.

The addiction got really bad:

The lies, manipulations, and deceptions that I perpetrated as the ferocity of my addiction grew progressively eroded my wife’s ability to trust me. 1439  I would break down and commit to changing and to being a better person, to being the person she deserved me to be. And for periods of time I could pull it together. But it never lasted. 1439  I evaded my wife out of fear that she would be able to tell how loaded I was. 1521  The aftermath of using only created more emotional pain, driving me to use even more. 1288

The addiction forced him to lie, something with which he had some previous experience as a child:

I lied like a rug, though sometimes it was blended with degrees of denial and a child’s magical thinking that if I didn’t admit to it, the reality would just go away.  I shaded the truth and told half-lies or lies of omission, and sometimes I was straight up dishonest.  I lied to make myself look better.  At times I lied for reasons outside of my conscious awareness.  I became so used to lying that I lied even when it would have been just as easy to tell the truth.  625 I broke or just ignored most of the rules my parents tried to establish.  524

But of course the addiction itself was not a lie.  He truly was a life-long drug addict, and here is a brief history:

I started drinking towards the end of sixth grade.  By seventh grade I was smoking pot.  In eighth grade I became acquainted with pills, notably barbiturates.  During my childhood it wasn’t unusual for my mother to spend hours at a time in bed grappling with her own chronic pain. 495  I was introduced to the wonderful world of opioids, by my mother.  I came down with a skull-imploding headache.  My mother decided to give me half a Percodan.  My pain dissolved and I was submerged in a luscious, warm, radiant nirvana.  I marveled at how delicious it felt.  It felt like how I always wanted to feel.  764  When I got to high school, I made a conscious decision to try “everything” in terms of mind- and mood-altering substances. 805  As my father put it during one of my blood-shot mornings after another night of debauchery, “Moderation Dan, look it up!” I stole hundreds of pills from my mother. 833  Free-base coke produces an instantaneous and massive high like the most ground-shaking orgasm multiplied by an exponent. 989  I was shooting heroin daily during much of 1981-82. 1328  I snorted heroin and cocaine a small handful of times before forsaking them altogether in the late 1980s.  The road from junkie to graduate student was circuitous and full of impediments, beginning with an arrest for the criminal sale of a controlled substance in January of 1983. My habits were expensive and I funded them through illicit manufacture and sales. 1019  If there was anything remotely positive that came out of my bust, it was that I had to change the course of my life; it was not an option not to. 1039  But I continued to drink and smoke pot. 1080  No one ever expects to become addicted to drugs. Nobody ever plans to become an addict. 1085

[See: The Little Psychopath Could: How the Addiction Myth creates new Drug Addicts]

Although he was addicted to all those drugs for all those years, he doesn’t want you think that it was a living hell: “I had plenty of days using that were light years better than my ‘worst day clean.’ I had many ecstatic drug-fueled experiences. I had a massive amount of fun.” 4396

Eventually of course, things got bad:

In the fall of 1998, I started to have severe sciatic nerve pain. 1175  Part of me knew way too well that this had the potential to be disastrous and that going down this road was a really fucking bad idea. My prescriptions escalated from Vicodin to Percocet to Oxycodone and Fentanyl.  1196  I took my opioids in response to physical pain, but I also took them when I felt anxious, irritable, sad, frustrated, angry, fearful, depressed, stressed, etc. 1278  Drug taking becomes equated with survival. The need to use assumes the highest priority, becoming so strong that it suffocates all other needs. 1237  I was helpless and hopeless in the face of its demands for care and feeding, as if it were a hijacker that assumed control of the airplane and I was the fucking flight attendant. 1702 Addicts in active addiction continue to chase the sublime intensity of the high, the buzz, the rush they experienced early in their using careers.  It is that perfect moment, resplendent as the recollections of one’s first true love.  It is the addict’s solemn dedicated mission to recapture that pure, unspoiled essence.  I knew that delicious euphoria was still there — somewhere — it fucking had to be!  1722 My involvement in SMART was merely another strategy to avoid taking responsibility for my addiction. 2052

He had to take pills because his life depended on it.  He thought he was going to die.  He couldn’t imagine chronic pain without opioids.  He dreaded the detox.  He was stuffing his emotions.  He was ashamed of his deceit.  He was chasing his first high.  It doesn’t matter why.  He just did, repeatedly and compulsively, and that’s no lie: “Research has been very clear that drug use effectively carjacks the brain’s reward system.”  1248  (This is actually an unproven hypothesis.  But it seems plausible if his subjective experience of addiction is accurate.)

When his scripts ran out before the end of the month, he would go into detox, for which he self-medicated with sleeping pills.  Sometimes he would call his mother:  “I beseeched her to send me whatever pain medication she could spare.  I played the pain card, half-asking/half-pleading.” 1562

Finally he recognizes that he has a problem, and goes to rehab:  “And yet, to my absolute astonishment, I experienced none of the usual withdrawal symptoms and no acute discomfort!” 1982

Amazingly, despite his expertise in addiction, he didn’t know that modern detox is usually reported as a comfortable experience.  What was he so afraid of?  And despite his experience in addiction treatment, including leading several therapy groups during his career, he was very unfamiliar with the 12 Steps, had attended only one such meeting in his life (for a class), and actually protested attending them at first.  But they convinced him to give it a try, and this is what he discovered:

The extraordinary and genuine warmth of the welcome I received during my first 12 Step meetings was striking. It reflected a depth of unconditional acceptance that I had never experienced on a group level. 2073  I experienced a strange sense of liberation. I was so fucking tired of fighting a war I had waged for three-quarters of my life. 2197  The extraordinary acceptance I experienced in my 12 Step program was immediate and reflected a degree of unconditional positive regard that blew me away. 2431 From the time I first started attending meetings in my 12 Step program, I felt at home. 2451 What I found was that the 12 Steps provide a structure with principles and tools to learn and practice how to live a whole, healthy, and healed life. 2461  While there is no such thing as a perfect support system, my particular 12 Step program may come as close to it as is humanly possible. 2562

The god of his mother

The religion of Addictionism was far more welcoming than the strict God of his father, which rejected him as it had other prominent Addictionist half-bloods like Nic Sheff and Dr. Adi Jaffe.  (Despite the promise of redemption, Christianity was not an option for them.)  They had dropped out of Sunday school before being taught the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness.”  The Ninth Step is far more useful: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible.”  You can eventually apologize for all the nasty things you did, with the explanation that it was caused by the addiction — which is now cured.  (However: No one is immune to the possibility of relapse.  4321)

Addictionism also has a matrilinear descent.  He describes this experience as a teenager of receiving the Good Word:

My maternal grandmother gave me a laminated wallet-sized card, saying “I want you to have this.” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….” The very first time I read those words they had immediate heft and resonance, as well as an inchoate soothing effect.

It took 30 years, but eventually he ‘got it’.  And it changed his life.  For example, he describes this experience with his daughters: “Every time I painted with them I quickly devolved into an impatient, intolerant asshole. They would make minor messes here and there. And internally, it drove me crazy. 2697 I would apologize to my daughters, time after time. It got old for all of us.” 2717 Despite the copious amounts of pot and alcohol, he just couldn’t relax.  But after starting recovery, he addressed his character defects.  For example, he discovered that he could contain his frustration when his daughter used the wrong pan to fry a pancake in (during a weekend visit to his new apartment in Las Vegas).  “We’ve exchanged the need to be right for greater contentment and serenity.” 2770

But as many people discover when they become Addictionists, some of their previous relationships threaten their sobriety, and it becomes time to move on:  “After I got into recovery, I was away from home and my family much more than I had ever been — getting to meetings early and staying afterwards to absorb as much of whatever I could learn from them as possible. Yet this created much more conflict and stress at home.” 2313

His marriage, which had survived other ‘momentous challenges’ 1431 was not meant to last.  They got divorced.

But like I said, this is a great opportunity to teach yoga and meditation to the women who come through the doors:

The heart of my habits of recovery from both addiction and chronic pain is an extensive daily morning practice that combines spiritual reading, meditation, nondenominational prayer, self-hypnosis, Egoscue stretching, and chi kung exercises. 3014 And when I do miss a day, I can feel the difference. 3024 Through daily repetition, this multimodal recovery practice deepens the conscious and unconscious memory tracks that guide me further in the direction of health, healing, and wholeness. 3034 Mindfulness practice helps develop the skill of observing urges to avoid or suppress emotional and physical pain and ride these urges out, rather than act on them reflexively and unconsciously, often by using. 3119 Nurturing conscious moment-to-moment awareness and developing the skills of mindfulness and meditation are among the cornerstones of a well-rounded skill-set that promotes long-term recovery. 3139
Those who struggle with addiction routinely report a sense of spiritual emptiness.  4101  In my experience — both professional and personal — anyone willing to allocate just 25 – 50 percent of the time, attention, and energy to recovery that he or she previously spent chasing his or her active addiction will have excellent opportunities to be successful. 4311

This will no doubt be a great consolation to all the young drug addicts and alcoholics out there who are looking for more in their life than just a massive amount of fun.  Dan Mager is here to teach us all about spirituality in the Church of Addictionism.  Drop in, feel the warmth and love, and see how serene and healthy your life can be.  The best part is, you’re now officially a Drug Addict.  ‘Mindfulness’ takes a long time to develop and relapse is expected, so you can still do drugs whenever you feel the ‘cravings’, to which you are learning to become increasingly powerless.  Don’t worry this can go on for 30 years!

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