Punishment Surely Works

I knew the minute I saw the “Inmate has been discharged” on the prison message system that we were in deep do-do. Or More do-do…..

As I posted in this blog, I knew that 47 days in jail with 21 of them in solitary confinement, hadn’t brought my son to a place of clarity about treatment or a forward motion on fixing his life. I also realized that getting out on a Saturday afternoon without a home or car or even a job; was not going to be in his best interest. But to a jail with 100’s of inmates, one less to deal with, probably sounded good to them.

I mean I can understand the courts not knowing what to do with him but after 2 years of delays due to covid; to let him out thinking he was somehow cured and suddenly responsibly, is ridiculous.

What I didn’t anticipate, is that he would spend almost a month in Vegas with ‘professional gamblers” yet scavenging around for a room and food too.

So, now, after a few weeks of my horrible dreams of mafia leaving him in the desert, with a surprising(?) new addiction of gambling; here I am- no solution in sight and only envisioning more problems for him.

Meanwhile, I do still agree with Gabor Mate, that the “correctional” system doesn’t correct anything:

This is a great interview by ‘The Clearing Maia Szalavitz” that I may have shared before. The transcript is pretty long, so if you don’t have time to read it here are my favorite takeaways:

"We've been using punishment to try to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment."

"Treatment that is punitive, shaming, and humiliating is not good for addiction … All those tactics are aimed at making you hit bottom and experiencing consequences and all this stuff like this, because clearly the problem is that you just haven't suffered enough yet.

If you're willing to persist despite negative consequences to get your drugs and you lose your house and your car and your friends and everything else like that, why is another punishment going to help?
It is not."


I know my son is suffering. I also know what his coping skills for ANY EMOTION are. Yesterday when I tried to talk to him about his friend being buried, he deflected to: “The good news is, ****( the ICU guy) was given 3 days to live, and he’s s driving around in a truck today”.

“Yes, yes son that’s amazing”.

I’m tired.

Dr Gabor Mate

 "All Addictions are attempts to regulate internal emotional state"            

Rob Waters January 10, 2019

Dr. Gabor Maté, a well-known addiction specialist and author, spent 12 years working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood with a large concentration of hardcore drug users. The agency where he worked operates residential hotels for people with addictions, a detox center and a pioneering injection facility, where drug users are permitted to shoot up and can get clean needles, medical care and counseling.

Born to a Jewish family in Budapest at the time of the Nazi occupation, he and his parents migrated to Canada, where he earned his medical degree at the University of British Columbia. Maté, whose personal experience informs his work, is known for tracing substance abuse problems to trauma that often starts in childhood and spans generations.

His work has been acclaimed, but a Psychology Today columnist suggested that his theories are reductionist and unsupported by data — a contention Maté disputes.

Amid the severe opioid epidemic in the U.S., Maté recently visited Sacramento, where he conducted workshops with addiction specialists and families affected by addiction. California Healthline contributor Rob Waters caught up with him there. The following interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: A big part of your book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” is about how you came to see that childhood trauma and pain lie at the root of addiction. Tell me about your insights.

Downtown Eastside is North America’s most concentrated area of drug use. In 12 years, I worked with hundreds of female patients, and every one had been sexually abused as a child. Men were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, suffered neglect, were in foster care.

Thirty percent of people there are native Indians, what we call First Nations people. For generations, the government abducted their children and sent them to residential schools. Parents were barred from seeing kids. Kids were physically and sexually abused by teachers and priests. Tens of thousands died. Because of multigenerational trauma, native communities have high rates of sexual abuse, violence, addiction and suicide. It’s the most addicted population in Canada.

All addictions — alcohol or drugs, sex addiction or internet addiction, gambling or shopping — are attempts to regulate our internal emotional states because we’re not comfortable, and the discomfort originates in childhood. For me, there’s no distinction except in degree between one addiction and another: same brain circuits, same emotional dynamics, same pain and same behaviors of furtiveness, denial and lying.

Q: You were born into a Jewish family in Budapest during the Holocaust. How did that affect your life?

I was born in 1944, and two months later the Germans came in. Hungary then had the only population of Jews in Eastern Europe that hadn’t been annihilated. Now it was our turn. My mother had a stressed pregnancy. My father’s away in forced labor; she doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive. When I’m 5 months of age, my maternal grandparents are sent to Auschwitz and gassed to death. My mother is 24, terrified and depressed. In October, they start killing Jews in Budapest, taking them to the Danube and shooting them.

When I’m 11 months, she gives me to a total stranger. She said: “Please take this baby out of here because I can’t keep him alive.” I didn’t see her for six weeks. In a child’s mind, that’s abandonment. I got the template for addiction: a lot of emotional pain, which I suppressed.

Q: You write about your own addictions being a workaholic and binge shopper of classical music, once spending $8,000 in a week on CDs.

I was not addicted to substances but I might as well have been. I couldn’t stop myself. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. It doesn’t matter which addiction you’re looking at; it’s the same dynamics.

Q: Last year in the U.S., an estimated 72,000 people died of drug overdoses, most from opioids. The U.S. penalizes drug use harshly and has the largest prison population in the world 2.3 million people, almost 1 percent of the adult population. Meanwhile, 90 percent of people with substance use disorders in the U.S. are not getting treatment. What’s your take on this approach?

The more pain you cause people, the more you shame and isolate them, the worse they’ll feel about themselves. The more suffering you impose, the more you strengthen their need to escape. If you wanted to design a system to maintain drug use and enhance the profits of the illegal drug trade, I would design the system you have.

Q: Let’s talk about the science. How does trauma in the early years of life affect brain development and predisposition to addiction?

Studies show that early stress affects both the nerve cells in the brain and the immune systems of mice and humans and makes them more susceptible to cocaine as adults. If you look at brain circuits implicated in impulse regulation or stress regulation or emotional self-regulation, all are impaired in addicts.

Q: Why do you think the opioid epidemic exploded in the way it has in recent years?

On top of the childhood trauma and the profound social and economic dislocation so many people experience, most physicians are completely uninformed about trauma and don’t understand how to address chronic pain or treat addiction. Hence they have a propensity to prescribe opiates all too quickly without looking at root causes or alternatives. Most people introduced to opiates in recent years started on medical prescriptions. When these are stopped, they turn to illicit substances. All this is greatly exacerbated by pharmaceutical companies’ well-documented drive to induce doctors to prescribe.

Q: Critics like psychologist and addiction specialist Stanton Peele say you’re proposing a reductionist vision in which abuse history and biochemical changes to the brain inevitably lead to substance abuse.

Peele totally misconstrues my argument. Nobody’s saying that every traumatized person becomes addicted. I’m saying that every addicted person was traumatized. There are other outcomes of trauma including cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness — addiction is only one of them.

Q: You write with compassion about the people you worked with. But you also write about them as broken people who rarely seem to recover. What good are you doing?

If somebody had cancer and pain and you couldn’t cure the cancer, what would you do? Would you say, “I’m not going to help you any more”? Or would you try to ameliorate their suffering? The essence of harm reduction is you reduce the harm. You don’t impose abstinence. If they choose that at some point, I provide whatever support they need.

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Chris Herren/Brene Brown/ Larry Murrell & Gabor Mate

A collection of significant videos that touched me deeply at different parts of this journey of discovery into my sons addiction.

This guy resonates soo well with me because he reminds me of my son…… This is how it’s done if they ever say they don’t see a way “back”. One step at a time.


This guy might seem extreme, but wouldn’t you want the inner child of your addicted loved one to KNOW they are loved?

Panic Mc-tacks

I pulled into my usual spot- the McDonald’s Drive through-line. I ordered my daily soda and pulled forward. As I searched for my wallet, I realized it wasn’t in its usual place because I had re-organized my car & work bags in anticipation of my daughter borrowing my car for a few weeks.

I desperately looked for some loose change to pay for my dollar soda. I found 35¢. I looked up. There were 2 cars ahead of me towards the pay window. Panic ensued. Should I pull out of line? Would they take 35¢ since I’m a “regular?” Of course, they wouldn’t.

Such a first-world problem, I know.

But it made me realize how we take for granted the simple privileges of having money, a car. All the things we NEED to function daily and get shizz done.

So when we get frustrated with our people with substance use disorder, for not paying a fine or not returning an important call; we have to almost look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

As one treatment center states:

"When drugs and alcohol come first, the rest of your needs can begin to fall away, and you can find yourself neglecting your basic needs for food, shelter, and relationships. For example, some will allow themselves to be homeless to ensure they can continue using drugs or alcohol".-abtrs

When we find ourselves becoming so incensed at the behavior of someone else who doesn’t value the things we do; it can be maddening. However, if we can see the effect these drugs have on their priorities, it’s easier to understand.

I learned this early on when I was preparing for my son’s return from his first rehab. I knew he would probably be staying with me at least a few days while finding a job etc. I hurriedly readied up a room ‘manly style’ & when I presented it to him with explanations that the bed wasn’t very comfy etc, he said, “Mom, do you think I care where I sleep?” I took it then as he was just grateful to be back and “cured” & the bed was a minor thing compared to the wonderful life he had to look forward to. But looking back- he meant “I don’t care where or how I sleep as long as my mental & physical obsession is satisfied each day.” He lasted 9 days before those cravings took over.

His brain was not healed in the least. Turns out that 6 weeks of subpar rehab isn’t enough & although he wanted to fix things; without his usual coping skills, he was left with a confused hijacked brain telling him to retreat & not be responsible.

A couple of months after that, when he was in full-on active addiction, I drug him- literally- into finish his bankruptcy proceedings that we had started while in rehab. Outside the office, he was in such withdrawals that he was sweating and cold and thrashing around in my back seat. I told him it would only take a minute & I practically pulled him out of the back seat.

He only had on one shoe.

Afterward it was laughable, but at the time, I was physically and mentally exhausted. And so was he. Who knew trying to keep from getting sick was so exhausting.

My experience at McDonald’s is just one of many times when I am grateful that I can pull out my wallet and drive my car and snuggle into my soft bed at night. My son doesn’t even have a bank account anymore. It’s heartbreaking that someone can fall so low but even worse, is the shame and desperation which this leads to. I won’t even go into the finagling that a simple task takes when one doesn’t have a mailing address, bank account, or even a car.

When my son still had these conveniences but was spiraling fast; he carried around his faded visa card that had a big crack in it. Of course, it finally broke and he still didn’t get it replaced until the account was finally stopped for continual negative balance. He would joke that all the fast food people knew him by his broken card. This gives a little insight into the chaos that swirled inside his head which surprisingly, the drugs fixed.

We just can’t quite understand it, but we all operate from this Internal state that I spoke a lot about in this blog.

As I study more of Gabor Mate’s work, the connection between the internal state of ADD and addiction becomes clear. Here’s one of his videos about pain and emotions.

My son, like all of us- just wants the loud buzzing in our heads to turn to a soft roar.

Addiction wants to take that buzzing & fill it with every insecurity possible.

It preaches freedom but guarantees slavery.

It whispers love but guarantees hate.

It splashes waves of euphoria onto a moving screen but keeps moving the screen away from you.

Addiction wants to take everything.

It wants panic.

It wants life. Any life. It wants bright, strong, committed, loyal, funny, driven, happy people.

It gloats and giggles when it leaves them in the dust like a used piece of bubble gum.

Addiction survives on hate, & stigma & shame.

It revels in families fighting & falling apart. It rejoices in little kids precious tears.
It pretends to wipe them away with empty promises. But like an evil stepmother in a fairy tale, it vanishes the child to its own attic of shame, self doubt, & abandonment.

Addiction despises wands. Wands of love.
Wands of prayer. Wands that fairy Godmothers hold dear. It hates the alchemist that can turn pain into power, coal into diamonds, & dull metal into Gold.

Be the wand it hates.

Be the love.

Be the fairy Godmother.

Be the carriage.

Be the prince.

Be anything that will hinder its evil path.

Contravene its power.

Hinder its lies.

Be anything that proves to your loved one that you are A CHOSEN one.

One who is chosen to not play a part in this evil scheme.

Be the one who stops the clock just before midnight- & help them believe there is still a glass slipper to be found.-©Samantha Waters
And so your loved one never has to look for their lost shoe again......

Triggers- a Wet Match is Useless

They say addicts in recovery have triggers.

Well, us Moms in not-quite- recovery have triggers too.

Like waking up. Wondering if your child did.

Eating breakfast. Wondering if your prodigal son did.

Seeing the work trucks on the road. Why isn’t he there? Wait is that him? No, every worker looks like him. Dirty, hot, but doing something with PURPOSE….

Seeing houses. Everywhere. Men in garages. Doing normal things…

What I wouldn’t give to see my son mowing a lawn again. I think back. Have I ever seen him mowing a lawn? Why didn’t I go tell him how wonderful it was to see him mowing a lawn? He would have looked at me with that half-smile and said “Okaaaaaayy Mom, you’re crazeeeee”.

If I had to say one thing I miss the most about my ‘old’ son is his humor. So yes, humor is a trigger. Certain sarcasm. An ironic situation. A joke he would like.

Seeing A Dad in a restaurant with his kids. TRIGGER! I want to walk up and tell him to relish every moment. To enjoy their little faces, their laughter. Because in a year he might not be with them. He will look shocked.

“Why wouldn’t I be with them?”

“You might become addicted and lose everything”.

He would laugh and say “That’s ridiculous!, I can control my alcohol.

“Will you just take this test to make sure?” As I show him The questionnaire. ” I just would hate for you to lose three years of those precious kids lives, plus your marriage and house and your entire business that you spent 10 years building”.

“Lady, you are CRAZY!”

Why Yes, yes I am.

What is behind these triggers- is pain. Whats behind the pain? Fear. Fear of the loss of what we once knew and loved. Because we now know that LOSS causes PAIN and we FEAR that pain may not leave. It doesn’t seem to be leaving because we keep seeing more and more triggers. The cycle continues.

What Gabor is saying is to deal with those triggers. Not by avoiding them. Not by giving them the power. (ammunition). The trigger is worthless without the ammunition. WE have the power to load the ammunition. If we DEAL with the pain by changing our views and getting stronger in hope, then we can knock the ammunition to the ground where its useless.

A match is useless wet.

Figure out how to wet your match.

As for me, I’m going to start using the act of visualization. Actually SEEING my son mowing the lawn. SEEING him working a good job instead of hustling and scavenging. Yup, I’m going to live in fairyland which is the basis of THE SECRET, ABRAHAM HICKS & hundreds of other motivational themes starting clear back with Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

I found this deep in a drawer- going to reread it. Won’t you join me?

Pain- Unexpressed

Photo by author

Unresolved pain or trauma isn’t an “excuse” for addiction. It’s an attempt to understand the WHY’s.

Why did they start?

Why can’t they just quit?

What can I do to support them without enabling?

There is no one size fits all answers but I’m convinced that if we can have some compassion with that they are getting out of the addiction; we can better help them recover. (Because if negative consequences cured addiction, there would be no addicts).

This very short video by CMC Foundation for Change, explains how families can help by just acknowledging, not treating or diagnosing the pain.

From Lorelie Rozzano’s Facebook Post:

“Is Pain Feeding Your Addiction?

Gabor Maté asks, “Not why the addiction, but why the pain?”
Let’s face it, we all experience emotional pain. Life doesn’t always go as planned. But for the most part, we dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up, and carry on. In the process, we learn that pain is our teacher. It tells us when changes are needed. From pain emerges growth, and from growth, wisdom.

Pain can be a beautiful thing.

But not everyone will learn from it. Addicted individuals don’t cope well with pain due to disordered brain chemistry. Instead of feeling their pain, they react to it. People who abuse substances don’t acknowledge pain through healthy communication. Instead, they act out through unhealthy behavioral styles such as avoidance or silent treatment, or on the opposite spectrum, yelling, swearing, slamming doors, punching holes in walls, and throwing things. They may become verbally abusive, and some even physically abusive.

If you hang out with someone struggling with addiction long enough, you will observe that their problems and feelings seem more prominent than the rest of us. You’ve experienced uncomfortable emotions, too, but you don’t react the way your addicted loved one does.

So why do people struggling with addiction have such a difficult time with emotional pain?

One theory is that addiction is genetic. Although it can skip a generation, it runs in families the same way blue eyes do. This is why it’s called an ‘environmental’ (meaning home) illness. When you grow up in an addicted home, you learn to walk on eggshells and stuff your feelings (expressing feelings in addicted families can create division and hostility). Keeping the peace means avoiding confrontation, resulting in emotional immaturity. Although your physical body ages, you feel like a child on the inside and may struggle with feelings of inferiority. When you lack self-worth, you don’t ask for what you want or need. Instead, you suffer in silence or resentment. To compensate, you look to people/places and things to bridge the gap. The first time you get high or rescue someone who does, you fall in love with the feeling. No more pain. No more anxiety. No more inferiority. Getting high and enabling are Band-Aids for emotional distress. Although they numb the sting temporarily, they create deeper wounds. So the cycle begins. Pain, numb, pain, numb… soon, your disordered brain is looking for things to feel pain over, to reward its pleasure circuit. It tricks you by telling you there’s hurt where there is none.

When you’re predisposed to addiction, avoiding emotions can cost you your life, as addiction distorts emotional pain into a lethal brew of self-pity, blame, and resentment. This triplicate is a deadly combo, allowing the addicted person to feel justified in using.

When I went to treatment, I learned addiction used my pain against me. It fed on my emotional pain, twisted it, corrupted it, exaggerated it, and made me gravely ill.

Long before entering treatment, I needed help but couldn’t ask for it. I thought people who admitted their problems were weak. But I was wrong. People who find the courage to acknowledge and overcome challenges are warriors! It turns out real courage isn’t the lack of fear, but facing your fear and doing it anyway.

When you struggle with addiction, your mind will tell you it’s too hard to get clean and sober. Here’s the hard part, and it’s a BIG one. You can’t trust what you think. When your best thinking is destroying you, it’s time to accept help.

But there is GREAT news!!!

Addiction is treatable! You can get well!

Substance use disorder isn’t really about drugs and alcohol. It’s the absence of self. This void is described as a hole in your soul, and you can’t love others when you’re empty inside. Therapy peels back the painful layers and heals that void through connection, honesty, and hard work. To love oneself is the beginning of lifelong recovery.

If you’re contemplating rehab, know this. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make for yourself and your family. Reach out for help and find out what 23 million North Americans have already discovered… We do recover!”

Lorelie Rozzano

Addiction is NOT a CRIME

Upsplash-Markus Spiske

You heard me correctly. It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, so I understand if it sounds completely foreign, especially if you haven’t seen addiction’s anti-linear path up close.

After all, many crimes announced on the news, are followed with the unspoken tone of: ‘Oh and by the way’; “He {also} was found with 5 gms of heroin/meth/ marijuana” or however drugs are weighed/measured.

Let’s not be mistaken; these ARE two separate ‘facts’- albeit, preliminary.

Yes, addiction CAN lead to crimes. No one can deny that. Just as eating recklessly CAN lead to unfortunate costly events such as a heart attack.

“ʏᴇs, ʙᴜᴛ”, ʏᴏᴜ ᴍɪɢʜᴛ ᴘʟᴇᴀᴅ; “ʜᴇᴀʀᴛ ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs ᴅᴏɴ’ᴛ ʜᴜʀᴛ ᴀɴʏᴏɴᴇ ᴇʟsᴇ”.

As a nurse, I beg to differ. I’ve worked in Emergency Rooms where many ambulances brought in heart attacks thereby using 100’s of resources and costing the industry 320 billion a year.

Personally it can cost a person 750,000 to 1 million.to have your own heart attack!

Besides the resources and monetary costs of heart disease; there’s also the human aspect of taking care of the obese. (Obesity being one of the main causes of heart disease and diabetes.)

As a nurse on skilled care units for many years, I’ve assisted in the hour to hour re-positioning of overweight patients recovering from heart surgeries or diabetes-related hospitalizations. Providing basic needs to an incapacitated person, takes exponentially more effort for heavier and less healthy patients. Yes, that’s what those services are there for, but isn’t that true for the mentally ill & addicted members of society also? Don’t we also have a duty to provide medical (and mental) care to those people regardless of how they arrived in that condition?

Yes, prison provides a roof over their heads and some food, but if this how we treat other diseases that lead to unforeseen events?

Now before I get carried away the behavior of all humans and what consequences their actions of their free will cause; let’s explore Pierre Tristam’s article is the basic premise for this post.

In describing the court calendars and jail dockets full of non- violent crimes, he states that 7 million people in prisons and jail, on probation or parole.

We’re not going to arrest our way out of the crisis.”

He states that treatment works better when cut off from all these legal threats and penalties. Yet drug court remains the crown jewel of the judicial system’s narcotized scales because like the proud dweller in a squalid tenement, with the comparison being: he can always point to the homeless hordes below” as “proof” of how great the drug court program is.

I completely agree, but I must admit I don’t have a lot of hands on experience with it. I can just compare it to a heart attack patient being monitored on every single food he put in his body after his unfortunate event with his health and punished for going into an ice cream shop- per say. This sounds ridiculous but drug court or the alternative - four cement walls just to be absolutely certain you don’t go in.

Early on in this unwelcome thrust into the dark world of addiction; my son started racking up the court charges for possession. I lived and breathed the county court calendar for over a year until I realized that I was caring more than he was. I couldn’t maneuver through his court cases begging him to get there on time, while he was “out there” being homeless and struggling for even the basic necessities.

Of course, in his mind drugs were the only basic necessity.

Nicole Labors describes that obsession in her book Addictoholic Deconstructed.

She states that because of the pleasure centers in the brain:

“The addict can’t derive ANY pleasure from ANYTHING else, so they spend every waking minute of every single day seeking out ways to achieve that pleasure.”

So here we are, 6 months later. My son still hasn’t been sentenced. (That I know of). He has warrants out on him and is running scared; horrified of going to prison, yet still stuck in the ravaged cycle of active deep addiction. He has nothing. The company he spent 10 years building, is all gone. Cars, beautiful home, wife, and 2 precious kids — gone. He lives couch to couch doing what odd jobs he can to scrounge some money here and there. He has so much shame and disappointment in himself that he doesn’t see a way to fix everything, let alone anything.

My boy, the hero and go-to guy of the family, now rejected and dejected, not only from family, but soon to be from society too. He will be isolated to an 8 x 10 jail cell as punishment for feeding his cravings. Cravings that all of us have, but some of us were able to control them better. Cravings that every human being partakes of -just for a moment to feel ok.

Since drug addiction is considered a crime in and of itself (for possession) in this country; a human being whose brain becomes hijacked and is caught with it, can get the most severe isolation: Exiled, like the ancient Roman practice, to four cement walls to “think about his crime and what he should have done differently”.

Am I making excuses for his behavior? No. Do I think he had different choices that could of been made? Yes. But I also know that my son is in deep pain. The son I know and love has the biggest, most generous heart and is mortified at what the last few years have brought to our family.

So just like I would never shame my patient for being overweight and causing herself all her extra health problems; I know that shaming my son into recovery isn’t the solution.

My hope is that our jail systems will soon follow the data and see that punishing and banning non- violent offenders into isolation will only further the revolving door that we now have.

Robin Zabeigalski writes this in The Tempest:

“Alcoholics and addicts are not criminals, they are sick people who need treatment. We shouldn’t be focused on locking them up, we should be focused on changing our healthcare system so they can get the help they need. And we should be working on our own understanding of addiction so we can approach addicts with compassion instead of judgement. Doing this will change the state of addiction in this country and prevent thousands of deaths”.

As Gabor mate states in his Video about addiction and the correctional system:

“In my opinion, the correctional system does very little correcting”.[ for the addicted.]

Even though I’m biased, I tend to agree. I will admit, my bias- ness comes from a place of fear. My son has warned me of the gang mentality in prison. I didn’t believe him until I saw the net flix documentary, Big brother. The scene of the reporter standing by the back of the pick- up truck, talking to the “boy” with his cousins confirmed my sons stories.

But, it hardly matters since I have zero control over the outcome. I never have really. But that doesn’t stop this mom from having hope every day that my strong “beautiful boy” will be back soon.

My article on medium