Nobody ever says, “when I grow up, I want to be a drug addict.”
My name is Jory and I am addict; an accidental addict, yet still an addict indeed. In fact, I just graduated from 41 days of inpatient rehab on March 4th of this year. This was the fourth rehab I have been to and the second program I did not “escape” from and actually completed. It was extremely difficult, but also an experience that I will always treasure.
I felt God so many times in this 41-day journey. I suffered in the dark many times, but Jesus was holding my hand the entire time I believe. I learned so many character lessons about humility, having the courage to be my truest and greatest self, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, honesty and the list goes on.
I also learned a lot about people and how to actually share my honest feelings and work problems out by talking face to face. I also learned that the real world is filled with many people who will be two-faced, gossipers and back-stabbers. I tend to run from folks like this, but this time I could not run. Running meant running back to constant health issues combined with the disease of addiction.
I learned a lot about how addiction actually alters one’s brain and it does seem that I am genetically prone to addiction (as well as mental illness) based off my family history.
Breaking the Shame Cycle
Addicts don’t keep relapsing because they want to get high in many cases; but rather, addicts keep relapsing because our brains have been altered to such a drastic degree that we actually take substances to feel somewhat normal.
Over time, addiction is much less about trying to achieve positive experiences and much more about trying to avoid overwhelming negative emotions, physical breakdown and social consequences.
The truth is that addiction is a disease that breaks down the brain, the body, our emotions and our spirits. In fact, it crushes our spirits because it compels us with intense force to do whatever is required to survive and sometimes this means compromising our own moral codes. This leads to a fragmented soul, as the brain continues to crave one’s substance of choice, while the heart feels immense guilt for what it must go along with to keep the brain and body functioning as typically as possible.
This is why addicts not only struggle with their disease on a daily basis; but also, immense soul-crushing shame.
This emotion of shame is so painful that those suffering with it chronically often convert it into anger to survive emotionally, because anger is a less painful emotion than the unnatural feeling of shame (which is basically self-hatred at its roots). The anger and self-hatred can be inward or outward; but no doubt, anger is a much easier emotion for one to handle daily than shame is.
This chronic shame is also the reason that addicts tend to blame those around them on the outside when we become angry; because on the inside, the self-blame and regret has become just too much to carry on our own anymore and that same shame keeps us from being able to ask for help in healthy ways. So many times we lash out like a wild animal trapped in a tiny cage, because this is exactly how we feel.
And so, the “numbing cycle” continues and the only way to stop it is to discontinue the numbing agents and feel all of the anger, shame and whatever pain one has been trying to numb and avoid for years. This. Is. Excruciating.
To understand addiction’s power to influence an addict’s brain, think back to “caveman times” in which a caveman had not ate for days and suddenly he comes in contact with an animal. His brain would have been in total “survival mode” and his instinct would have been to kill and eat this animal no matter what it takes. But just because the addicts “animalistic brain,” which is addicted to dopamine highs (something addicts are generally low on anyways; often causing severe and chronic depression, mood swings, physical pain and anxiety), controls too much of our lives, we still have our intelligence and creativity.
It seems evident that addicts are often of high intelligence and/or creative geniuses, which is why we see so many artists and inventors struggle with this disease (which often starts as an attempt to self-medicate underlying, undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses). Unfortunately, we addicts have a sickness that gets in our own way and often takes us out of this world way too young
I lost my best guy friend, Brandon Hester, who died of a heroin overdose last year. Brandon loved God and was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Even though Brandon and I were about the same age, he challenged my thinking and taught me so much about defending the Christian faith (apologetics), evangelism, theology and philosophy.
We bonded over our similar passions and my work today has certainly been influenced by him as we spent hours upon hours discussing and debating theology throughout Bible college and on the phone after we graduated and moved apart.
Brandon and I met at Christ for the Nations Bible Institute and then we both transferred to Southwestern Assemblies of God University (both near Dallas, TX). Brandon was so gifted in apologetics that he interned, researched and wrote for the famous Christian author, Josh McDowell in his early twenties.
Brandon had recovered for about a year before he relapsed and died. The heroin he picked up after being clean for a while was laced with fentanyl (which is thought to be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine).
Addiction & Faith Leaders
When these things happen, people wonder what in the world compelled such a young brilliant minister to make such a decision to pick up again; but we don’t have to wonder because we know the answer: the disease of addiction.
Addiction is a relentless, progressive, chronic, incurable sickness and it does not discriminate against spiritual people or faith leaders.
Brandon loved Jesus with his full heart and sought to defend the Cross on a daily basis. He was proud of his faith and enjoyable to talk to due to his high intelligence and contagious passion; and yet, he was also a drug addict.
Brandon is not alone; and although I am anxious about releasing such personal information, I sense a personal duty to tell both his story and mine for the rest of my life in hopes of informing families, saving lives and putting a stop to the opioid epidemic and addiction in general.
In my last rehab, the community came together and lit candles for every person we knew who passed away from this disease. I lit my candle for Brandon. While the abundance of candles burned for our lost loved ones and the tears flowed, one counselor shared on how he lost his brother to this illness and that he did not understand it; “but some must die so others can live,” he said.
When he said that, something in my spirit clicked and I thought about Brandon’s sacrificial and selfless personality, combined with his passion for the atonement of Jesus Christ. Of course Brandon would lay down his life if it meant I and others could live. Of course he would. His death was not meaningless.
Brandon did not die in vain (and neither did any other human being who has died of the disease of addition) if we who are suffering & surviving with this illness find the courage to tell our stories and the stories of those we have lost to a world that often misunderstands addiction as “criminal” when it should be treated as a serious terminal disease (such as cancer or diabetes) that can be brought into remission with treatment; but without treatment, is fatal.
A Snippet of My Story
I have struggled with addiction for the past 13 years, except my “drug dealers” were doctors and pharmacists for the most part. It all started with chronic headaches and migraines, which began when I was 13-years-old. This condition was severely painful and in my case was likely caused from neurological (chemical) and hormonal imbalances that were seriously misunderstood by doctors back then (and still today in many cases).
In fact, western medicine still does not have a cure for this neurological disease of Migraine; impacting many Americans (especially women), but they have gotten much better at understanding how to effectively treat the disabling symptoms that chronic headaches and migraines bring.
Due to paralyzing physical pain along with terrible anxiety, agitation, depression, nausea, sight and sound disturbances (all that accompany migraine), I missed out on many special events and everyday events beginning at 13-years-old.
During this age bracket, my addictive brain began to manifest more intensely; even though I had no access, knowledge or desire for mind-altering substances. I did not party at all in high school. I was the leader of the “church girls,” passionate about God and dedicated to my calling as a minister. But since I was often in physical, mental and emotional pain due to chronic migraine symptoms, I sought relief in things like boyfriends, food (especially sugary foods), and over-the-counter pain meds (especially Ibuprofen) found in my parent’s cabinets.
My folks had no idea how much Ibuprofen I was taking and since I was not yet taking mind-altering-drugs or drinking alcohol, and did not know much about addictive tendencies at that time, my folks did not see any of this coming and neither did I.
In retrospective, I see the signs. When I was two-years-old I climbed to the top of a refrigerator so that I could swallow an entire bottle of yummy-tasting vitamins. Thankfully they did not have iron in them so I was not harmed. My mother tells me that I did smell like a vitamin for a week.
When I was 17-years-old, my friends and I got the bright idea of buying caffeine-energy pills. While everyone else took a few, I was “careful” to take at least 10. My heart began beating so fast that I had to call my mother to come get me. She had to sleep with me all night long with her hand on my heart to make sure I did not have a heart attack in my bed that night.
Throughout college I continued to suffer with chronic headaches and migraines, which often forced me to lay in a dark quiet room in severe pain, while my friends went out and had a good time. While they would go explore the city of Dallas where I went to undergrad, I would lay down alone in darkness praying that I would sleep the pain away.
This lack of control over my own body (especially my head) and life, along with doctor’s and pharmaceutical companies intentionally and aggressively pushing pain meds on Americans in pain a little over a decade ago, put me in the perfect position to become dependent (and then addicted) to prescribed opioids.
It was the devil’s “open door” to walk right into “my house” and begin working overtime to kill, steal and destroy me; and yet, I am still alive today and recovered enough to write this blog post with confidence, self-love/forgiveness, and genuine hope for the future.
“If there’s a silver lining to the emptiness, here it is: the unfillable is what brings people together; I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness and my emptiness.”
~Glennon Doyle Melton