A big frustration in the work that we do is that drug use is so normalized in our culture. Many people don’t see it as a component of their lifestyle they should report to their health care professional, whether it’s because on the weekend they are with friends doing the same thing or they haven’t had any troubles yet. They are in denial. “Everybody else is doing it…It’s prevalent in our community…Movie stars do it…It can’t be that bad…It couldn’t be a contributing factor to what I’m going through.” People don’t realize that drugs of abuse go to the same part of the brain where mental illness occurs. That’s a big issue for us in the treatment field.
When mental illness occurs, what are some of the areas of “higher power” that can help restore a person’s sanity? What are some of the cultural components of that? The mind is an interface to a transcendent component of self, that spiritual part that inhabits the vessel of the body. We’re on this journey. The mind has a particularly important role to play in making that journey spiritually fulfilling for the individual. A lot of the yearning that the human aspect of the mind has is going to be in the area crucially impacted by drug and alcohol use. Also, it can be difficult to treat mental illness if the addiction is hidden. One of our colleagues in the Addiction world, Chana (pronounced “Hana,” like the road to Hana, Hawaii) Carro is a licensed independent Substance Abuse Counselor, with over 24 years’ experience. She says, “The oxygen of addiction is deception. Addiction is a deception by the person regarding their own well-being. It’s a deception regarding their families and regarding people who are trying to help.” Not only do addicts think it’s not important to their mental illness diagnosis, but they have a stake in not discussing and not even letting themselves know how bad the situation is or is becoming. In order to create a dwelling place for God, you have to have a “sound mind.” Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are all part of practicing a more virtuous life.
Patients who are mentally ill, but who are not involved with drugs and alcohol, demonstrate less rebelliousness, less aggressiveness. They may not see reality in a clear and healthy way, but they are reporting what’s accurate and true for them. As Chana explains, “Once addiction or drug use is in the mix, the person himself doesn’t know what is true, not because the chemistry of their brain is altered as in schizophrenia or in an active episode of bipolar disorder, but they don’t even know what’s real in their brain. Without being able to bring a sound mind to the art and science of living a spiritually sound life, it’s really a complicated process. When people are encouraged to tease out of their co-occurring disorders the part that they can have control over, which is to get into recovery from the drugs and alcohol, then you have a much less complicated picture in terms of trying to treat the mental illness.” Medications can be very helpful in achieving a level of stability that permits them to go forward in their lives, to find a spiritual path that is meaningful or nurturing. At that point, their mental illness may be more qualitatively controlled than when there is active addiction in the mix.
Vernon and Louise Barksdale