I am cleaning my office. Stacks of paper, piles of books, new book shelves – there is not enough room. So I am compelled to throw something away. This ritual is not done arbitrarily – I have to look at everything and rethink the value. I came across an old news clipping. It has no value to anyone but me. The headline on page A8 is “Dead body found in woods.” It is the culmination of a sad story of alcoholism.
I’ll call him Bill for this minor memorial on his life. The news paper reports:
‘A man was found dead Friday morning in a wooded area behind a grocery store in midtown…Bill…address…, age 59, had been dead for at least five hours before the discovery, but determining a precise time of death will be difficult because of the summer heat…While Bill had a listed address, he frequently would leave for long periods of time… Police initially believed he was homeless based on witness accounts and signs that people had been loitering and drinking alcohol in the area where he was found… He was last seen at 7:30 last evening sitting on a curb in the grocery parking lot…A local contractor found the body. He said he often finds beer cans in the area and regularly checks the woods for homeless encampments, in which case he would call the police….Detectives didn’t locate any defensive wounds or recent injuries on the man but he did have some old injuries that obviously had not been taken care of… No autopsy is planned.”
I feel the sadness again. I knew Bill. He and I used to sit and laugh and talk about literature and history and poetry and theology. Bill was one of the most well read men that I ever knew. He was mostly self taught – but his depth of knowledge and wisdom were unparalleled. So if he was so smart – what was he doing sitting on a curb with a plastic bottle of CAV (Cheap ass vodka.)
Bill was sick. Bill had a chronic disease identified by the American Medical Association as Alcoholism. It is a disease, they say, because it is chronic, progressive, incurable, and sometimes fatal. It has identifiable symptoms and identifiable treatments. By every definition of disease – alcoholism qualifies.
Bill was 59 years old and had been to treatment centers for his disease four or five times. The medical ‘professionals’ at the treatment centers dismiss the failure of treatment by simply saying, “Well, I guess he wasn’t ready to quit.”
The sadness of Bill’s death again raises my level of anger with the incompetence of failed treatment facilities that do not look at their processes. They have a 10% success rate – if FedEx delivered one out of ten packages successfully they would not stay in business. If the mortality rate at the local Cardiac Care Unit in the local Hospital was nine out of ten – no one would go there for heart treatment.
Heart Disease, Diabetes, Alcoholism – all chronic, progressive, incurable, and sometimes fatal. All identifiable. All treatable. If a person had a heart attack on the curb at the grocery store, people would offer CPR and an ambulance would be called. Bill suffered an attack of his illness and people just said, ‘Oh well, another homeless person, how sad.”
I am as sad about the state of humanity in America as I am about Bill’s death. My sadness turns to anger when I think of the incompetence and shallow attitude of mental health professionals. There is a real enigma in the treatment process – the professionals claim they are treating a disease – but when they fail they excuse the failure as being the responsibility of the patient. How many times have we heard treatment professionals say, “I guess he was not ready?”
My father had a heart attack twenty years ago. He was in the acute care hospital for a week, then participated in an outpatient program to learn new life skills to better manage his illness. What is the difference between this sort of treatment and the treatment for addiction? There are three fundamental differences.
Heart patients are met with love and kindness – obvious care for the life of the patient. Most heart patients require life style changes to manage their heart disease. Things like a more healthy diet, regular exercise, and no tobacco. Addicts receive a different regimen – a regimen based on flawed mythology about the disease of addiction.
Mythology of Addiction:
- All addicts have an addictive personality. Research has shown that when the drug is removed addicts return to the same diversity of personalities as the general population.
- Denial is robust in addicts. Research has shown that denial is no more robust in addicts than in the general population.
- Confrontation is an effective counseling style. Research has shown that harsh confrontation is not effective, and can actually deter recovery.
Dead bodies are found in communities across this great nation. People of no consequence for they have not been productive members of society – they have succumbed to the devastating affliction known as addiction – and they were treated with harsh behavior by the professional health care community.
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