So, the next morning didn’t start well. As I should have realized, Ludmila gets up early and it didn’t take her long to come into the living room to discover me sleeping on the white couch. As I have said before, I don’t understand Polish, but I heard “glupi kot” and “czarny diabel” over and over. She tried to swat me off the couch but I beat her to it. I raced to the kitchen and considered my options. There was no one in there to let me out. I ran down to the theater room where I figured I would be safe. Before long I heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner removing traces of my essence from her precious white sofa. After a little exploring I came back upstairs when I heard sounds of other people stirring. I went back into the kitchen where Richard and Richie were getting coffee and something to eat. Richard went to a cupboard and removed something that looked like a plastic cup wrapped in a plastic bag.
“Let’s go,” he said. He and Richie headed for the bathroom. While they were in there Bianca came into the kitchen and started to fix herself some tea. She looked up as Richard and Richie came back into the kitchen.
“All negative,” said Richard. Richie had nothing to say about it. They sat down to some breakfast. I went down to the laundry room to relieve myself and have a snack of kibble. As I was approaching the laundry room Natasha came out, hissed at me, and raced back to her bedroom.
“Whatever,” I thought. No personality whatsoever.
After a while breakfast was over and everybody went back to their respective bedrooms to shower and get dressed. When I came back into the living room Richard had gotten his phone out to make a call.
“Hello, Mike?” he said. “It’s Richard Donkle.” He paused. “Yes, Donk, yes. Listen, I’ve got your cat here. He came over last night and it was too cold to let him back out. Can I bring him back in a little while?” He paused. “No no, it’s no trouble,” he said. “I want to talk to you about something anyway. Richie is coming with me.” He paused again. “No, no, don’t worry. I have four-wheel-drive. The roads will be no problem.” Another pause. “How about 20 minutes?” He waited for another moment to listen. “No really it’s no problem. I’ll see you soon.”
Before long Richie came back into the kitchen as he was putting on his winter coat, hat, and gloves. Richard was likewise getting dressed to go out. Next thing I knew Richie had picked me up and we were going out to the garage. Now, I have very little experience riding in cars, and none of it good. Most of it has to do with going to the Extreme Vet. I don’t react well to the experience, and have been known to get carsick. Richie got into the passenger side on the front seat and had a good grip on the back of my neck which somehow calmed me a little bit. The whole ride couldn’t have taken 5 minutes. Soon, we were back outside with Richard ringing at the front doorbell. Mike let us in and Richie put me down on the floor. I immediately sat down to groom myself, letting everyone know that nothing had bothered me at all.
“Come in, come in,” said Mike. “Let me take your coats.” He took their coats and they took off their shoes. “Let’s go into the kitchen and have some coffee,” said Mike.
“Thank you,” said Richard. “That would be delightful.”
They went on to the kitchen and I did not follow them. I wanted to be alone for a few minutes. So I sniffed around and checked things out around the house. Nothing out of order. After some kibble and a drink of water I headed back to the kitchen. Mike must have just asked Richie how Hallie was doing since she got back from treatment.
“She’s doing fine as far as I know,” said Richie “we have not had that much contact. She stays busy with her aftercare activities, work, and school.”
“Her parents are keeping a tight rein,” said Richard. “I talk to her mother fairly often because she is on the homeowners association board. I think she is doing well, though.”
“How about you, Richie?” Mike asked. “How are things going with you? Did you ever go and see Doctor Kingsley?”
“I’m good. I met with her a few times and she told me I could come back if I wanted to. So far I don’t really see the need for it,” Richie replied. “I don’t know if I’m smart, lucky, or just chicken, but I never had any interest in doing drugs. I admit I smoked a little pot but it made me paranoid. So I just leave it alone. I don’t like drinking either. Besides, dad drug tests me frequently.”
“You are fortunate,” said Mike. “A lot of parents have their heads in the sand. And if you start using drugs at your age there’s a good chance that you’ll fail to accomplish the goals that you might have otherwise set for yourself in life. That is, if you survive at all. You know, I think it was 2009 that the number of accidental overdose deaths first exceeded the number of motor vehicle accident deaths in our country. And it has gotten worse every year since.”
“Unbelievable,” said Richard. “I guess I’m lucky too. Nobody in my family took that much of an interest in drinking or drugs. I will have a beer once in a while or a glass of good wine with a nice meal.”
“Some people are susceptible to a powerful sense of euphoria when they use drugs or alcohol,” said Mike. “For them it is extremely reinforcing, and they tend to do it again and again. Before long physical and psychological dependency kick in. It leads to compulsive use and loss of control. People think that they have drugs and alcohol, but in reality, drugs and alcohol have them.”
“I understand there is a high relapse rate after treatment,” said Richard. “I wonder why that is?”
“Addiction is an illness,” said Mike. “It is as if the disease has a life of its own. Because of the effects on the pleasure center of the brain, the underlying craving for the sensation provided by the drug or alcohol remains for a long time for most people. Often, people just experience a sense of malaise or discontent, and don’t recognize that they are craving. If they don’t know how to identify the sensation and resist it, they will resume drug and alcohol use.”
“So just being educated about the disease isn’t sufficient?” asked Richard. “You would think that after what people have gone through in terms of their negative consequences they would never try it again.”
“You would only think that if you had never had the experience of euphoria provided by drugs and alcohol,” said Mike. “At the same time that the disease develops, denial develops to conceal it from the involved person. Denial is an ego defense mechanism which prevents people from seeing negative realities about themselves. Denial, rationalization, and other ego defense mechanisms are part of the structure of the normal human personality.”
“I’ve been learning about that in my psychology class,” said Richie. “It’s like the story of the Fox and the grapes that he couldn’t reach. He walked away muttering that they’re probably sour anyway.”
“Exactly,” said Mike. “The fox rationalized that the grapes were sour to deal with his disappointment. Addicts have 2 layers of denial when it comes to their disease. The first layer is ‘what drug problem? I don’t have a drug problem.’ If that breaks down and they acknowledge they have a problem with drugs or alcohol the next layer of denial is that they think they can handle it on their own.”
“Just say no,” said Richard.
“Yes,” Mike replied. “If someone is allergic to strawberries, they never eat them again. That’s because while they might like the strawberries, there’s no more than a reasonable amount of pleasure that they received from the taste of the strawberries, and the adverse consequences, usually breaking out in hives, is not something they want to re-experience. So is relatively easy to just say no. But with addiction it’s another story. It’s as though the disease, having a life of its own, uses your brain to get you to feed it. Everything that’s alive needs food to survive. The disease grows stronger on denial, rationalization, and continuation of old behavior patterns, including of course, continuing to drink and use. On the other hand, recovery can also have a life of its own. It gets stronger as people abstain, associate with non-using peers, become more educated about their disease, and acquire coping skills to deal with their insecurities and frustrations. Treatment involves teaching people about their disease and how to starve it; and about their recovery and how to feed it.”
“Do people get to the point where they no longer have to worry about relapsing?” Richie asked.
“Not entirely,” Mike replied. “Addiction is a chronic illness. It never is entirely gone. But people can learn how to live with it by engaging in a daily pattern of healthy behaviors. One of these behaviors is reminding themselves on a daily basis that they still have this disease. Once an alcoholic or addict, always an alcoholic or addict.”
“Didn’t you tell me that you were once an alcoholic?” asked Richard.
“I’m still an alcoholic,” Mike replied. “But I haven’t had a drink in a long time. I’m confident that as long as I keep doing what I’ve been doing to maintain my recovery, I will continue to be abstinent.”
“Don’t you ever want to take a drink?” asked Richard.
“Not really,” replied Mike. “I think people quit drinking initially because they have become so miserable from the consequences of their alcoholism. But it’s not possible to remember pain with the intensity that it is experienced in real time. If I had to rely on remembering how miserable I was I would be at serious risk of drinking again. Speaking for myself, and I think this is true of most other people in recovery, we stay sober because we enjoy and value the new life that we have found for ourselves. I would never voluntarily give up the quality of enjoyment that I experience out of my life for any reason. I feel good physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have my family, friends, a profession where I can help people, and a relationship with God that I never thought I would ever achieve. As long as I maintain myself, using the tools that I have been given, I feel safe.”
“How long did it take you to lose your desire for a drink?” inquired Richard.
“For me it was not long at all,” Mike answered. “It was just a matter of weeks. Different people have different experiences along those lines. A good example would be the 2 co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson was relieved from his obsession to drink from the very first day. Doctor Bob Smith craved a drink for 2 1/2 years before the obsession left him. Not that a person can’t think about drinking once in a while. You have to think about it every time you go out to eat. You are put in a position of having to say no when the server asks what you would like to drink with your meal. Every time you turn on the television to watch a ballgame you see beautiful young people appearing to have a wonderful time swilling beer. The temptation is everywhere. But the thought leaves as quickly as it comes and there’s no real desire in my experience ever to take a drink. And I can’t stress how unnatural that is for an alcoholic to never want to drink. We really have found an effective answer for how to live successfully with this disease. It’s not a cure, but functionally it really is, executed one day at a time.”
“Interesting,” said Richard. “I must admit, it’s hard to understand for a person who has never been there. Say, do you recall that I said that I’d like to talk to you sometime about what we could do as a neighborhood or a homeowners organization to help our community in the midst of this opioid epidemic?”
“Yes,” said Mike. “I have been thinking about that.”
“Any ideas?” asked Richard.
“A couple,” said Mike. “We could start posting informative articles on our HOA website. I would be happy to be a contributor. We might offer our clubhouse as a location for support groups. I know there is a neighborhood out in Paulding County where they have AA meetings at the clubhouse.”
“Would that be open to anybody or just for as the residents of the neighborhood?” asked Richard. “I could foresee a lot of problems with people like that coming into our neighborhood and I’m not sure that we would want that.”
“That would be for the homeowners association to decide,” said Mike. “But if it was up to me, I would open it up to anyone who wants to come. I would worry more about the people are already here who are still drinking heavily and using drugs than the people who are coming here for purposes of staying clean and sober. But it certainly wouldn’t work if we become a gated community as I think you have suggested.”
“I must admit that that suggestion has not been well received by the homeowners association,” Richard replied. “I’ll give it some thought and talk to some of the board members. It’s an interesting idea.”
By now I was thoroughly bored. No one was paying any attention to me or to the fact that I could use a treat about now. Time for a nap. I didn’t even hear Richard and Richie leave.