Friday, August 26, 2011

Our Heroes

Observed annually each September, “Recovery Month” sponsored by the US Department of Health & Human Services, promotes the societal benefits of treatment for substance use and mental disorders, celebrates people in recovery, lauds the contributions of treatment providers, and promotes the message that recovery in all its forms is possible.

What better time to recognize the success of LCL’s founding members whose commitment to sobriety, perseverance in recovery, generous sharing with their peers of experience, strength & hope, time energy & resources proved time and again that new life awaited the recovering alcoholic. As lives were healed, families salvaged, careers restored, and self-respect regained, our early recovering members, like those entering recovery today, became a source of inspiration and hope to others.

The challenges of recovery faced by our senior membership, however, were somewhat different from those of today. Extensive research conducted over the last 30 years has dispelled much of the ignorance about addiction and alcoholism that gave rise to social stigma and moral judgments. But in those days, discussions of the topic and the afflicted were conducted in hushed tones, or with angry indignation and condemnation. The alcoholic, already disempowered by his disease, was further disabled by disgrace and shame and by consequent deepening isolation. In view of the attitudes of the day, their recovery is all the more courageous and heroic.

Thankfully, things have changed. In the last few days the headlines proclaim that addiction, far from representing the moral issue of yesterday, is a “chronic brain disorder,” with observable and measureable physiological and neurochemical mechanisms that differ from those not afflicted. While this might make the disease a target for high-stakes pharmaceutical interventions, and perhaps a re-categorization by insurance companies, it also, we hope, supports the growing body of evidence that the alcoholic is not to be judged and condemned but medically treated and supported with compassion. Ideally, this information will enable physicians, who are often not comfortable raising the subject of alcohol and illicit drug use with their patients, to now more comfortably make such screening a routine part of their physical exams. And we can hope that its treatment, including relapse prevention, will be viewed like other chronic conditions, such as heart disease, as a long-term endeavor.

‘”The behavioral problem [associated with addiction] is a result of brain dysfunction,” agrees Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which estimates that 23 million Americans need treatment for substance abuse but only about 2 million get that help. She adds that doctors and families alike need to know that the frustration of relapse is common for a chronic disease. This expanded understanding of addictive behavior, including alcoholism, does not alter the diagnostic criteria. Symptoms remain the same, and typically boil down to behaviors that are repeated despite the harmful consequences to health, occupation, family, finances, social connections, or legal status. And the affected individuals still have to do the challenging work of recovery, i.e., change their behavior, an effort best made using appropriate treatment resources and recovery supports.

Many recovering alcoholics will hasten to say that alcoholism defined as a “chronic brain disorder” is not new information to them. They learned about their disease and what they had to do to manage it from the Big Book, from meetings and their peers in AA, from the self-discovery made possible by their work with their sponsors and therapists and 12 Steps, and from the perspective afforded by their own lives transformed from bondage to freedom. How could anyone have anything but deep respect for those who have confronted their disease, met the difficult challenge of behavioral change, addressed old wounds to self and others, and who keep moving forward, one day at a time - ever mindful of where they have been, of those who have helped them on their journey and those now in need of their support. Is a more complete life possible? LCL is proud of its members, and still considers it a privilege and priority to support and serve those in recovery, and those seeking recovery.

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