it’s got nothing to do with a better rat cage

nugget

So a friend posted this, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. 

I read it, a few times, and while it is not completely without merit and makes some valid points, it is an oversimplification of a complex disease, and ultimately draws conclusions and makes generalizations from limited data.

I completely agree that the way we treat addicts, that the ‘war on drugs’ only contributes to the problem.  Criminalization and incarceration simply do not work. I do not agree that simply by making a better rat cage we can prevent or treat drug addiction.

The “Rat Cage” experiment was this. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. The conclusion was that once exposed to the drug the rat became addicted and then ultimately died from the addiction. There are different versions of this test, another, perhaps more relevant, experiment involved direct stimulation of the rat’s pleasure center in the brain when the rat pressed a bar. Here the rat would neglect  activities such as eating or drinking to press the bar, and ultimately died.

soa_007_big

Addiction is caused by a combination of several things that basically can be divided into three categories, drug use, stress, and genetics. It is a combination of these three things that will  cause addiction. This is why some people can use without becoming addicted (no genetics, and/or little stress), and why some become addicted with only a small amount of use (strong genetic component, high stress).

Addiction happens when the combination of these factors trigger a reaction in the brain that causes a shift in neurotransmitter activity.

Don’t believe me? Watch This  

Back to the article. They made a nicer rat cage, with rat balls, rat toys, other rats and the rats in there didn’t want the drugs anymore. Interesting right? Then they correlated this with Vietnam soldiers who used heroin and came home and didn’t need it anymore. In other words they left the lonely rat cage for the nicer one and the need for drugs went away. The point the author keeps coming back to is that drugs don’t hijack the brain and cause addiction, that disconnection does, and here is where I have the problem.  Addiction changes the brains neurochemistry, addiction in the form of alcohol, drugs, or behaviours such as gambling, food, or sex. It is when this shift happens addiction occurs.

The danger of articles like this is that the implication is that if only you had a better rat cage your loved one would not have become addicted. If there had been connection, beauty, and nice rat toys addiction would not have happened. That is the family’s fault that addiction happened, if only they had done a better job. If only. 

If only. Words that have echoed through my head for the last five years. If only I had done more, done things better. If only I had done this or that, or not done this or that. If only breaks your heart. Articles like this make me angry, because my son had a fantastic fucking rat cage, and he still became an addict. He had support, he had early, early intervention (in grade school through high school), he had mentors, social peer groups, doctors, a family that loved and supported him, and he still became an addict.

And yes, we did make him leave our home, I let my own son live on the streets and in homeless shelters, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving him. I wrote about that here and here and here and here and so many more times.

The rat cage, the sad empty one that makes the rats want the drugs, that’s not an addict’s home life, that’s an addicts thinking.

The rat cage is their thinking.

There is no easy fix for someone’s thinking. It’s hard, heartbreaking work, and sometimes to be able to do this work, you have to get to a very bad place so you are motivated enough to want to change. I know this because I have done the work, I have been to that dark cold place inside me and I have crawled out of it.

We need to stop blaming the victim, blaming the family, they have been through a hell that you cannot imagine, and to say that addiction happened because of a lonely rat cage is unacceptable, short sighted and heartless.

And yes, I am angry. I’m angry that there are people who care more about how this makes them look than about helping people who need it.  That people who should  be a foundation of support, are defensive and outraged that I would even have this conversation. That people would rather be angry with me than examine why I keep talking about this.

Micheal Lee comes as close to showing what this has been like for me as a person in long term recovery, and what is like to love someone suffering from addiction. He does it in 2 minutes. I have been talking for years and it still seems like no one really hears me.

one more, if you want to see a simple, but very clear representation of addiction

cataclysmic cosmic approaching catatonic

1186330_10201885990572703_1488416210_nThe best laid plans

careful what you wish for
things couldn’t get any worse
you can’t please all of the people all of the time
or even some of the time
sometimes none of the time
sometimes not even yourself
so what’s up with this stupid pleasing thing?

and this you must always remember
never forget
no good deed will ever (ever) go unpunished

friends don’t let friends … what?
and what is it that friends let friends do?
should do?
let do, don’t do, should do, will do – with who?
will this be on the final exam?

planning.
planning is over rated
spontaneity, on the other hand
(there will always be another hand to keep you on your toes)
spontaneity can bite you so hard on your ass it bleeds
(ass biting on the other hand can be under rated)

and as a rule try to express yourself
clearly.
succinctly.
distinctly. vividly. quickly. blissfully. skillfully.
but not sillily. lyrically. and never timidly or fitfully.

and another thing
scratch that last thought
and skip the conversation – its over rated
and can lead to planning
and we all know where that can get you

and sometimes even well placed
“humorous loving support”
can mean fuck all
yes, yes heartbreakingly sad, but true
these times may call for biting sarcasm
and excessive speed

and when you plan
(plan – a four letter word)
to run away
when that escape opportunity opens up
you should Get the Fuck Out of Dodge
do not pause.
do not think.
do not pass go. just
LEAVE

and when you miss that chance
or the chance misses you
or the fates intervene
or whatthefuckever
what do you do?
rant-wallowinwords-tantrum
try-to-find-the-message-in-all?

What if there is no fuckin message?
What if you’re really stuck in dodge?

so what?

So WHAT?

so what if you’ve simply fallen into a
Cataclysmic Cosmic approaching Catatonic
Cluster Fuck
and THAT’S where you were always
meant to be?

So what…

hate

Image I think it’s safe to say that Hate was there all along. Hate lurked just under the surface of his skin, in the line of his jaw when he pressed his lips together in that certain way, and also lightly resided in his dry cracked fingertips when they were clenched. I’d lived with Hate before and should have noticed sooner that he was back. I should have been cognizant to the pauses in speech those pressed lips caused. But I was in love.

When you first meet Hate it can be difficult to recognize him. He’ll put on his best clothes when you are introduced. He can be very charming, and is quite skilled at impersonating his twin brother Love. He’ll tell you everything you want to hear. He’ll tell you his love for you is boundless – this part is true, the feelings are boundless, but not in the way you think. His feelings dwell in darkness underground where he keeps Rage and Jealousy sitting quietly, and impatiently in small cages until he needs to let them out. He’ll draw you in so very sweetly. He’ll make you feel special and when you do open up and tell him your secrets he will tuck each of them in little pockets and then stay up all night sharpening them into weapons to use later.

Like I said, small things, like the line of his jaw, will give him away, but you have to know to look for it, and often by the time you see them it’s often too late. Occasionally when he’s feeling lazy, Hate will let slip his beautiful mask. I should have know better, I had seen that line in his jaw, and twice, when his mask slipped I saw the darkness flicker past his eyes. I know how this goes, I still occasionally run my fingers over the scars he left last time we met. I have the souvenirs he gave me in a scrapbook I keep in my bedside table. Still, we only see what we want to see, and even if Hate had ripped off his mask in those early, enchanting times I would have looked away, pretended I didn’t notice, the way you don’t notice a stain on someone’s shirt, or some spinach between their teeth. I would have been far too polite to question any glimpses in those early days. Hate seemed to know all the right things to whisper in my ears, he knew just how to hold the back of my head when he kissed me, and when he told me how beautiful I was, I believed him. Part of me knew all along of course, my lizard brain could see through masks and knew it was Hate right away. I ignored the scratches deep inside me, at least when they were still faint. I went along purposely not hearing them to be honest, and I listened to Hate’s soliloquies instead.

The very first time I met Hate he was on a motorcycle and took me for rides to gain my trust. I was a child and didn’t know any better. This time Hate played guitar for me. How I wish I’d never listened to him play.

Eventually, and when he has enough sharpened secrets in his pockets, Hate will grow tired of pretense, and will – sometimes quite suddenly – rip off his mask. Then you can see the black metal teeth in his wide grinning jaw, the cold black eyes that twinkle when his mouth hinges open in a wide and shiny grin. Now the lizard brain is screaming in that high pitched way a rabbit screams when it is being torn apart by an eagle talons. The screams and the sight of those teeth make your flesh flush red on the outside and freeze on the inside. This is where you realize it had been Hate all along, that he had been sharpening your secrets and fattening you up for months, and that now it was time for Hate to sink his metal teeth into the soft parts of your flesh and tear strips of it away. To rip and tear into your flesh even as you frantically try to get away, as you try to assuage him with calm kind words. Again, and again and again he will sink his teeth in and rip apart the most secret and precious parts of you. He has let Rage and Jealousy out of their little cages and they run gleefully in circles around you poking you with your secrets, laughing as they use your own fears to pierce your skin.

When you manage to finally get some distance you try to push the jagged edges of your flesh together in hopes that no one will see your deep shame, your ugliness, your utter stupidity. So, you wear baggy clothes and pack the wounds with the bits and pieces of you that still work. It’s messy, and it’s painful and you feel ashamed that you didn’t heed the scratching, the line of his jaw, the press of his lips when you still had a chance to escape. Slowly flesh heals and only a very practiced eye will see the scars. The pain will fade to numbness and one day you will be able to listen to the Moonlight Sonata without tears running silently down your face. One day.