Ploppy the Rabbit’s Walnut Addiction



There was a young rabbit who became pregnant. She wanted to have her baby, but knew that if she raised him, his life would be in danger. She wanted him to have a good life, the life she never had or could. So she had her baby and he was a beautiful, white rabbit, but she left him by a tree for someone else to raise, so he would be safe.

A family of crows found the baby rabbit and took him in to raise him and to take care of him. They named him Ploppy. He was very little but began to grow. Ploppy wondered why he didn’t look like his family so one day he asked “Why don’t I look like any of you?” The mother crow replied “We are not your real family. We found you by a tree and took you in.” Ploppy asked “So then you aren’t my real mom and dad isn’t my real dad?” The mother crow nodded. It was crushing for Ploppy. He was very young and didn’t understand. “Why did my mom give me away? Where is she? Why didn’t she want me?” he asked. The mother crow replied “We don’t know. We don’t know anything about her. Now stop all these stupid questions” Ploppy sadly thought to himself “What does love really mean? My parents say they love me, but they say they love the tree house we live in too, so really I’m not loved any more than a house. And what if they gave me away the way my mother did?”


As Ploppy grew he had a vivid imagination. He did all of the crow things that the crows insisted that he do, but he really wanted to do rabbit things. He wanted to hop and run and play. But the crows demanded that he act like a crow in every way and severely disciplined him if he did not act like a crow. His father crow was always either ridiculing him, criticizing him or dismissing him, waiving him away with a brush of his wing. Every morning Ploppy’s father would whip him with a stick to start the day, for no reason. It was the only attention Ploppy got from his father so Ploppy started to look forward to the whippings. His mother crow would be happy one minute, angry the next, sad the minute after that and she was always critical of everything he did. He didn’t like any of the things that the crows did and he didn’t even like the crow food that he had to eat. The crows would never include him in their talks, but would just brush him off and tell him to go somewhere and do something while they were talking. But when they had parties, they would bring him out and make him do humiliating things like some funny pet, there for everyone’s amusement.

He would always get through the day by pretending that he was someone else, somewhere else or both. Or he would imagine what his real mother was like and where she was. He never had much chance to explore his imagination because he always had to do boring crow chores, go to boring crow events and only do the things that the crows wanted to do.

But he wanted to be a crow so badly. He was afraid if he didn’t become a crow, they would give him away like his mother did. He tried so hard to be a crow, but he never could because he was a rabbit. He was very frustrated, very sad and very ashamed that we wasn’t like the crows. Ploppy kept trying to fly like the crows did because he wanted to feel accepted by them but as hard as he tried to fly, he never could.


One day while the crows were eating, he was determined to fly, and he wanted to show the crows that he could fly. They would be so proud of him. So he got a huge running start, came running towards them, and jumped high up into the air, flapping his little paws all the way through the air. He jumped higher and farther than he ever had jumped in his life, but he didn’t fly and just plopped to the ground in front of them tumbling head over heels with a thud. The crows just laughed at him and went about their eating. Ploppy said defensively “Didn’t you see how far I jumped?! That was farther than I have ever jumped before! Farther than any of YOU could jump!!”

But the father crow just shook his head in disgust “You should not be wasting time on such foolishness. Jumping is just immaturity and silliness. You need to work hard and become a crow so you can be a success when you are older.” He puffed out his chest and snorted “Let me show you what I can do and what YOU should be able to do.” So the father crow took off into the air, flew in all kinds of loops and aerial acrobatics, came down to the ground proudly and said “That is what you  COULD do if you weren’t fooling around and applied yourself. By the time I was your age, I was flying on all kinds of duties for my family, like an adult, and earning my keep. Now go get back to work so that you can become a successful crow. I don’t want to raise an underachiever” he said dismissively and swatted Ploppy away with his wing. Ploppy was humiliated, ashamed and angry all at the same time.


Ploppy noticed that the crows liked to eat walnuts. It seemed to make them all happy. Whenever they ate walnuts, they seemed to laugh and relax. If they were in a bad mood, after they ate walnuts, they would become in a good mood. They would have parties all the time and everyone would be eating walnuts, laughing and having a good time. He just knew that walnuts = FUN! He wanted to eat walnuts too, but the crows told him that only adults could eat walnuts. He felt left out.


Ploppy went to school and there were lots of other animals to play with. There were cats and gophers and chipmunks. There were even some other rabbits, but none of them were white like he was. He felt different because he didn’t have his real family and also because he wasn’t the same color as everybody else. He wanted to be liked and accepted by everyone so he wouldn’t feel alone, but because he felt different that made him want to isolate himself even more. He still was always imagining that he was somewhere else or something else. He would get punished by the teachers because he was daydreaming and not doing his work. He would act out and do naughty things out of his frustration. The teachers would tell his parents. He would come home and they would yell at him and hit him more with the stick.

Ploppy was very unhappy. He was frustrated and ashamed of himself and he was sad and angry, all at the same time. He was a rabbit raised by crows and he was white so he wasn’t like anybody else. He hated feeling alone but yet because he felt different he wanted to isolate himself. Deep inside he also felt deserted and very afraid because his mother had given him away. He was sure that the crows were going to give him away too. “Why wouldn’t they?” he thought to himself. “I’m just a dumb, stupid, rotten little white rabbit.” The sorrow over all of his past failures of trying to be a crow and the feeling of isolation and abandonment continued to gnaw into him.


A couple of years passed by when Ploppy’s mother crow got sick and died. Now he felt even more alone because both of his mothers had left him. Ploppy’s father crow was sad, but he watched his father crow eat walnuts and they seemed to make him feel better. He always heard his friends talking about how they would steal walnuts from their parents and have all this fun. So he would sneak walnuts out of the house and go out with his friends, eat the walnuts and get into all kinds of trouble.


When Ploppy became an adult and was able to eat walnuts whenever he wanted to, he began to eat them every day. They made him feel good. They soothed all the pains of the past and took away the feelings of failure, shame, isolation and abandonment. He had fun when he ate walnuts. If he was having a bad day, he could make it ok and if he was having a good day, he could make it better. He didn’t feel alone when ate walnuts. He would go to wild walnut parties all the time and have a blast, just like the crows always did. When he was around others who were eating walnuts for fun too, he felt accepted and he could escape from the problems or boredom of life. And walnuts were EVERYWHERE. Everyone he knew was always talking about using walnuts all the time. But when he ate a lot of walnuts, he would feel terrible the next day. He would have horrible anxiety, feel guilty, and physically sick which made him want walnuts even more to make that all go away. After awhile he desperately wanted more walnuts, as if he would die if he didn’t get more.


As years went by, his walnut use became worse and worse. So did his shame and isolation from his past, and that shame and isolation tripled because of his walnut use. He knew he had a problem with walnuts and that he couldn’t, or really didn’t WANT to, stop eating them.  He still wanted to be a crow, but now he had so many failures that he felt like he could never be a crow. They were all he had but how long would it be before he was abandoned by them too? The only thing that made everything seem to go away was to keep eating walnuts.

He had fallen into a pit. He wanted to get out of that pit almost as much as he wanted to stay in it. Because there was comfort there, a sweet escape from all of the pain, shame and anxiety that he felt. But the more walnuts he ate, the more he was isolating himself from everyone else, making him feel even more alone. So he had to eat even more walnuts just to get through the day. He was always either using walnuts or thinking about using walnuts. This all became a vicious downward spiral. He felt like everyone had given up on him, but really he had just given up on himself. They had all just pushed him away but he had also pushed everyone away.

Unfortunately, he went on to eat walnuts even more. Several times, he ended up in an animal hospital from eating too many walnuts and one day he even almost died.  At the hospital, they just wheeled him into a hallway and he had to sit there on a table, drowning in anxiety and isolation and trembling with fear. Those that worked there just walked by and looked at him with a combination of pity and disgust. He never felt lower.


They told him to go get help from a wise owl they knew about so he did. He found the owl and told the owl his whole story from childhood on. After he finished his story, the owl said ” You aren’t just addicted to walnuts, you are addicted to ESCAPE. You’ve conditioned yourself to using walnuts to escape reality and escape your problems which is like pouring gasoline on yourself to escape a fire. You have become completely conditioned to always taking something to alter your mood and your reality. You will need help to do these things, you CANNOT do it alone.  After that, I want you to go and find out who you are. After that, come back and see me. Ploppy said he would do this.


So Ploppy got the help that he needed for his walnut use. He found that there were many others who had this problem and they got together all the time. It was a relief and a comfort to know that he was not alone. These others knew and understood what he was going through, without judging him, because they too were either going through it or had been through it. They all encouraged and supported each other because they all had the same problem with addiction. It was like a FAMILY!  He felt accepted and safe with them and they talked about walnut addiction all the time and helped him prevent relapse. The only time he didn’t feel bad about himself and his life was when he was when he was meeting with these new friends, talking about his walnut addiction and hearing them talk about their walnut addiction. He was dependent on these meetings but it was better than being addicted to walnuts.


But when he came back from his journey, Ploppy still felt empty, except for when he was meeting with his recovery friends. He didn’t like himself and he couldn’t see any new future. So he went back to see the owl. He told the owl all about his journey and about his walnut addiction recovery and his new friends. He told the owl how his new friends told him he was permanently diseased and that all his problems were basically his own making because of his own selfishness and self-centeredness. Ploppy told the owl how they told to him to go make amends to the people that caused him all his harm in his childhood.  He told the owl that they showed him that he’s full of defects and shortcomings and flaws.

Ploppy said to the owl “But now I just feel like nothing has changed. I stopped using walnuts but nothing has changed around me – it’s all just the same old problems and now I can’t even escape with walnuts. All I have is my new recovery friends and meetings, but now I hate myself more than ever. So why isn’t anything different now? They said ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’ but I’ve stopped using walnuts and not only has nothing changed, I feel worse about myself than ever before.  I still can’t fly. I still can’t be a crow. They all can fly and when they call, people stop take notice, watch and respect them. But nobody respects or listens to rabbits. I’m just a defective, diseased failure.

The owl replied “You went out on your journey and you found out WHAT you are. But I told you to go find out WHOOOOOO you are,” the owl hooted.  “First of all, I think there has been a misunderstanding. Yes, you must own your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions and the bad things you did when you were addicted to walnuts. However, your problems in life began with, and your walnut addiction started with, the trauma you suffered as a child and the bad things that happened to you in childhood. That trauma was what caused you to become selfish and self-centered in the first place, as a coping mechanism to deal with that. So that selfishness and self-centeredness, in combination with your other events from childhood, is what caused you to become drawn to walnut addiction. It is misleading, incorrect and unhealthy to blame yourself for everything and say that all your problems are your own fault. I do NOT mean make excuses for eating walnuts.  Making excuses for your past only means making excuses for your future. But understand and accept what you are, what got you to this point and stop judging and condemning yourself. You are not ‘diseased’. You have a mental disorder. You MUST forgive yourself and get yourself unstuck from this shame-based hook that you’ve stuck yourself on. That is a key to your recovery” said the owl.

He continued “Second of all, it is good to always be working on self-improvement. We can all always become better and we should always try to do that. However that does not mean everything about you that isn’t perfect is a ‘character defect, flaw or shortcoming’ and that if you don’t correct all these ‘defects’, you are a failure. All it means is that you are just seeking to improve on what is already very good to begin with. The only things that could be considered ‘defects, flaws and shortcomings’ are those behaviors that you were engaged in that contributed to your self-destructive addiction to walnuts and those should be corrected and changed.”

He added ” You mentioned wanting to be a crow. Why do you want to be a crow so much? Does anybody feel comforted by crows? Does anyone ever want to cuddle with a crow when they feel sad? But everyone looks at rabbits as comforting. Rabbits are warm and soft and make people feel better when they are having a bad day.  You, in particular, are a white rabbit, which are creative and imaginative, insightful, inspiring and convincing, decisive, determined and passionate. These are the personality traits of white rabbits that you were born with. You should be focusing your attention and working on increasing and improving these wonderful, positive aspects of your personality.  Some of the less positive aspects of personality traits of white rabbits is that they are also overly sensitive, extremely private, perfectionistic, always need to have a cause and can burn out easily. Nobody in the world is perfect and everybody has negative aspects of their personality. Those are just parts of your personality that you need to be aware of so you can adjust your behavior when you need to. But I would never refer to everything about you that isn’t perfect as a ‘defect or flaw’. That is just not a good, positive way for anybody to view themselves.” said the owl.  “Then there were all the childhood experiences you had and adult situations you’ve been in that you told me about. Those personality traits, combined with all of your individual experiences as a child and adult, make you WHO you are – a unique, one-of-a-kind individual. There has never been anyone like you and there never will be. It’s not possible. Everyone can say the same thing about themselves. Everyone is who they are now because of that same combination.” said the owl.

He went on “As for ‘making amends’ with people you have harmed. Have you forgiven yourself? Have you ‘made amends’ with yourself? You certainly harmed yourself during your walnut addiction didn’t you? Before you even think about making amends to anybody else, you should be forgiving yourself and making amends with yourself. Use the understanding of why you are who you are to forgive yourself and throw away any guilt and shame you have. Second, forgive anyone else who has harmed you, or at least accept who and what they are, even if they were a cause of your walnut abuse. Use that same understanding of yourself to understand those people who harmed you and throw away any resentments you have. You are not excusing any harm that’s been done to you or making excuses for any harm you’ve done – there is a difference between forgiveness and excuses. You are simply accepting and approving of yourself and just accepting of why others are who they are. Throwing away your guilt and resentments gives you freedom to be kind and compassionate to YOURSELF, but also to anyone else. Kindness and compassion come from wisdom but resentment and guilt just drains your brain and tears you apart.”

He finished ” Remember freedom is not being able to do whatever you want – freedom is the absence of ego, resentment or guilt. But there is a big difference between ego and pride. You can and should be proud of yourself that you have fought through all of the things you’ve been through and proud of what you’ve accomplished in your recovery from walnut addiction. But do not evaluate yourself or anyone else by comparing yourself to other people. Who they are is going to be completely different from who you are so it makes no sense to compare yourself to anyone else because you are uselessly comparing apples to oranges. For those same reasons, do not bother yourself in the least with what anybody else thinks of you. The only opinion of you that matters is YOUR opinion of you.” said the owl.

He added “You should not just be sitting around and only talking about past walnut use and current struggles with walnut use or even triumphs over walnut use. In the past all you did was think about and talking about using walnuts, but now all you’re doing is thinking about and talking about NOT using walnuts. But you’re still constantly thinking about and talking about walnuts. Life is NOT just what happens in between meetings with your friends and working on your recovery from walnut addiction. Of course if you are struggling you want to talk about it and get support from your friends. But live your life, enjoy it, forget about the walnuts and stop talking about them and thinking about them all the time! Why don’t you and your friends just talk about things like how wonderful life is and how pleasant in the present life is when things don’t just fly by in the fog of a buzz.”

The owl concluded “I want you to stop talking to yourself in a judgmental and critical way all the time. Instead I want you to always talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend who needs encouragement. Then here is a summary of things I want you to work on right away –

Number One – Do not worry about what other people think of you – the only opinion of you that matters is your opinion of you.

Number Two – Do not live in the past or keep reliving the past nor always be worrying about the future – always be present, here and now

Number Three – Don’t fear change – life would be boring without change

Number Four – Do not put yourself down and don’t always judge and criticize yourself – instead always encourage yourself

Number Five – Stop overthinking everything and don’t have all-or-nothing thinking. Simplify your thoughts and take things as they come”

Finally the owl said “As far as the statement ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’, a better way to say that might be ‘nothing changes if YOU don’t change.’ Nothing will be different if you just keep looking at it the same way.  You can’t just keep doing the same things over and over but expect different results. You’ve used walnuts for so long that you can’t even see all the things in life that are enjoyable – all the things that you can touch, taste, smell, see and hear. All you experience is all your life will ever be, so you want to experience as many good new people, places and things as you can. Live life and love life!”

With that the owl smiled and said “So my friend, accept and forgive your past, but don’t accept your future. It is NOT a given! You cannot change your past, but you can change your future. Learn to live and enjoy your life and everything there is to enjoy about life in the present, all about today. Use all of your understanding to seek out and help those who feel like you used to feel – frightened and alone and needing help.”


After his talk with the owl and what the owl taught him, Ploppy learned to celebrate each daily victory over walnut use by applauding himself and to keep pressing on. Endurance was developing his strength of character and character was strengthening his hope! He learned to only live for today, in the present. He decided that what happened yesterday was useless except to learn from and there was no point in worrying about tomorrow – he let tomorrow worry about itself. He prepared for tomorrow, but found that worrying about it did nothing. Ploppy planned for tomorrow and he still had hopes and dreams, but he was no longer devastated or filled with anxiety when something happened in life that changed those things.  He found that it was better to be willing to change his plans, his hopes and his dreams as things in life change and not to have all-or-nothing thinking anymore.

Ploppy now began to like himself. He felt better about himself than he ever had. He thought about what the owl said about how the crows may be respected, but they were not warm or insightful or comforting. But EVERYONE loves rabbits! And there were tons of rabbits out there, and a few white ones too so he didn’t have to feel  alone. But also that there was only ONE Ploppy. He started to be proud to be a white rabbit and proud of HIMSELF for fighting through all of the difficulties that he had fought through in his life.


Then Ploppy set out on a journey to find out about his real family and their story.  He discovered who his real mother and father were. He found out he had half sisters and got to meet them! They weren’t white like he was, but at least they were rabbits too! They told him all about their mother and their childhoods. He learned that his mother had come home one day with his sisters when they were very young and found that their father had died from walnut abuse. They told him how they had to move in with their grandfather who had a horrible addiction to walnuts and became violent and abusive when he ate them. They told him how his mother was sad and lonely and began to eat walnuts herself to cope with all of this and how she had a brief affair with his father and became pregnant with Ploppy. They told him how she didn’t want him raised in such a terrible place without a father, with an abusive walnut-addicted grandfather and how she went to huge lengths and great expense to find a perfect tree to leave him by so he would be raised by someone who would take better care of him. He found out that his real mother had not abandoned him at all, but that she was a WONDERFUL mother who loved him dearly and made a huge, painful sacrifice to give him up so that he would have a chance to live a different life.


With his new discovery of what a marvelous mother he had and the huge sacrifice she had made to help him, he thought about how the owl told him to help others who might be frightened, alone and needing help. So he began to help others who had addiction to walnuts or other things and who had past trauma that was hurting them on the inside. He discovered how good it feels to help other people. He remembered how cool it used to feel to jump when he was a little rabbit. But now he wasn’t just jumping, he was leaping. Even higher than crows could fly.

Copyright © 2018 by Chip Schaller
All rights reserved.

Fight, Flight, Drown


Imagine you are walking through the park on a sunny day and you come upon a friendly looking dog sitting there. As your mind fills with warm fuzzies, you reach down to pet the dog, but it bares it’s teeth and snaps at you. Your warmth and kindness is immediately replaced by fear and anger. Even resentment. But upon closer examination, you see that the dog’s foot is caught in one of those steel claw traps and is severely injured. You realize the dog is in pain and afraid. Suddenly, your own anger and resentment is replaced by sympathy and compassion for the dog and it’s situation. People may similarly act out irrationally from fear or pain when a situation creates a “fight or flight” response. But the people around them may be completely unaware of that person’s triggered internal plight.

When faced with a situation that makes us afraid, our minds have to make the decision to stand and confront, or to run to safety. This often creates a war within, because it’s not always clear which is the best path to take. Plus every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, born-with personality traits, and childhood experiences that are unique to each individual person, so each person is going to have their own special response to any given situation when they are confronted with fear or anxiety. There are all kinds of situations that can make a person afraid. It can be an obvious life-threatening fear, or it can be more simple and subtle things like social anxiety, for example. But when someone is afraid, they often act irrationally towards other people.


When someone is in pain, they are also not themselves. Someone who is pain may desire to avoid social situations and would just prefer to be in the comfort of their own homes and beds, if possible. It’s the same thing for mental pain, which can be equally, if not more, miserable. Mental pain can be caused by some traumatic event that just occurred in their life, or it can be caused by the trauma of events from childhood that are perpetually carried forward into adulthood. If a person was the victim of childhood abuse, for example, they may act irrationally to situations that arise in adulthood that mirror those events from childhood, because their minds are just following an old neural pathway (mind road) response to that situation. When someone is in a state of mental pain, they may not act rationally to people or situations that triggered that pain.


When confronted with fear or pain, it is not always as simple as just confronting that fear or pain. Because many people are not be able to confront things that cause them fear or pain, so they automatically desire to run to safety. Drugs and alcohol seem to provide a clear, simple solution because they take away the fear and the pain, and they do it very quickly. So it is a natural path to walk on for people unable or unwilling to fight or stand. If a person is afraid, in pain, or both, the drugs and alcohol mask those things and provide temporary relief, but the fear and pain are still there, and come back even stronger when the sedation wears off, requiring more sedation. When drugs and alcohol flow into someone who is already filled with anxiety and anguish, it will overflow and they will begin drowning in their addiction and despair.


I have complex post traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood abuse. As a result of that trauma, fight or flight slowly became a natural response to most situations I was confronted with, exacerbated by a general all-or-nothing mentality spawned by the abuse I suffered. Situations would often happen in adulthood that mimicked those events from childhood, even if it wasn’t apparent to me at the time. So when those adult events would happen, and a fight or flight response was triggered, my insides were in complete turmoil, fear, anxiety and misery, even though I appeared to be in control on the outside. I was able to put on this charade of having the ability to stand and deliver for years and actually had significant success in my career. But I gradually became heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for my true inner inability to stand and confront. I was losing the war going on in my head and began to drown in my addiction and in my own shame, guilt, blame, self-hatred and despair. I wanted help, but I was afraid to lose the drugs and alcohol that I felt were my only safety net. When I first entered therapy and recovery, the first thing a therapist said to me was “It’s alright to be that frightened little boy, but it’s ok you’re safe now”. Those words burst open the dam that was holding everything back in my head and allowed me to reach back to the helping hands that were being extended to me.


Let’s say there is a woman drowning in a lake. People are standing on a dock shouting at her to swim to safety, but she is unable to because she does not know how to swim. There is a coiled up rope sitting on the dock, but rather than throw the rope out to her, the people just yell at her, telling her that when she is ready to stop drowning and swim, she should swim over to the dock so they can hand her the rope and she can pull herself to safety. That’s the imagery when someone says about addicts “When they are ready, they will quit. If they’re not ready, they won’t. And if they die, they did it to themselves.”


A person who is in full blown addiction might be aware that they are drowning, but they feel trapped and their hijacked minds believe everyone has backed them into a corner. The thought of quitting makes them feel in danger, because they feel threatened with the loss of their only escape from the despair they’re carrying around in their heads, plus fear of withdrawal. Their minds are in fight or flight mode. An addict must be offered a lifeline, a rope, so they can pull themselves out, but they need to feel that there is safety at the other end of that rope, not just confrontation, demands and accusation, so they feel compelled to take hold. Addicts can never be “enabled” because that is like pushing the drowning addict’s head under the water. But people can educate themselves on the multitude of ways and solutions for helping an addict recover without “enabling” them. The addict needs to feel safe letting go of the drug of choice that they feel is their “life preserver” and take hold of something they believe will pull them to a safe space. If they’re offered help in a way that does not trigger a fight or flight response, they may be compelled to reach out, take hold of the rope and pull themselves out of the addictions that they are drowning in.





The Escape Road – Is addiction a disease or a choice? Yes it is.


Imagine there is a crowd of onlookers next to a lake where there are people in the water who are drowning. Instead of throwing a rope out to the drowning people to pull them in and save their lives, everybody just stands at the shore of the lake arguing about whether the drowning people fell into the lake or jumped in. Both sides of the disease vs. choice argument contain elements of truth, which fuels the fire of the circular debate which is usually just steeped in dogmatic fallacy. Meanwhile, according to the Center for Disease Control, 72,000 people lost their lives in 2017 to drug overdose (not including deaths from alcohol abuse). So in effect, 72,000 “drowned”, that’s more than most football stadiums hold, while people debated.

Is it a choice? Of course – nobody was born with a bottle of vodka in their hands or a heroin needle in their arms. At some point, in everybody single person’s life, they made a choice to take a risk and do something they know that they should not do. For instance, many took the risk of having unprotected sex when they were in high school, most gambled for the first time, smoked that first cigarette, drank that first beer or shot of whiskey, smoked that first joint, etc. People made a choice to take a risk. For most, the choice to take that risk did not result in a life shattering series of events going forward. But for the millions of us, whether we fell into substance abuse, were pushed into substance abuse, or gladly jumped into substance abuse, we continued to make the choice to use those substances, even after it posed an imminent and immediate threat to our life and threatened to destroy the lives of our families. So technically yes, we made a conscious choice.

Is it a disease? The policy of the American Medical Association under the “disease theory”, for both psychiatric and medical sections of their policies, states “The AMA endorses the proposition that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice.” But arguments have been made that those classifications were made for economic reasons, in particular third party reimbursement (insurance) for the treatment of addiction and alcoholism. There have also been recent studies that challenge the classification of addiction or alcoholism as a disease. But right now, almost all major health organizations classify addiction/alcoholism as a disease. So technically yes, it is a disease, or at minimum an “illness”.

So both sides of the disease/choice debate can claim legitimate support for their positions. Nobody willingly chose to become an addict or an alcoholic, but by the same token nobody contracted addiction because an addict sneezed on them. In reality, it is technically both a “disease” and a choice, or at least a choice that leads to or becomes a disease or an illness (or whatever it may be called), so the debate rages on. However it is much more easily and simply defined than just a disease or a choice, because it may be both and it may be neither.

Most people don’t like the feeling of loss of control created by heavy alcohol or drug use, or the sickness that follows, so they rarely ever return to that place. But for the rest of us millions of people, the euphoria generated by alcohol or drugs created a neural pathway (a mind road) to a euphoric escape from pains of life – “The Escape Road”. We became drawn back to The Escape Road like moths to a light. There are a variety of opinions and another hornet’s nest of debate under the root cause behind the predisposition for addiction – genetic vs. environment, nature vs. nurture, inherited vs. acquired, or just an accident. Whatever the cause, for those of us who have abused substances, we found the feeling of euphoria and the relief of The Escape Road something that was almost impossible to resist. Drugs and alcohol provided a magic carpet ride away from mental pain, physical pain, even spiritual pain. It temporarily soothed the misery of bonafide mental illnesses like PTSD from childhood or adulthood trauma, Bipolar Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorders and others. So once we had a taste of that relief and the euphoria of walking on The Escape Road, we found ourselves returning until it became a habit, then a physical/mental dependency, and ultimately an addiction.

Once The Escape Road was heavily paved and we became mired in full blown addiction, the shame of our addiction, and the guilt of those activities, got added to the heavy mental illness baggage many of were carrying around before we became addicted in the first place. So we became even more thoroughly entrenched in traveling on The Escape Road to obtain relief. While we may have wanted to step off, we knew that doing so would result in, not only the loss of our escape hatch, but the return of the weight of the pain we were trying to obtain relief from, and we were also faced with the paralyzing anxiety and crushing misery of withdrawal. In the case of drugs like alcohol, suddenly withdrawing from it can be life-threatening. Our minds are intuitively aware of this, so a fight or flight response was triggered when confronted by withdrawal. Because our addiction backed us into a corner, our hijacked minds imagined that our lives were threatened by withdrawal, and we were faced with the loss of our only escape route, we were willing to do whatever it took to stay on The Escape Road, including lying, cheating, stealing, hurting ourselves, hurting others, risking our lives, even risking other people’s lives. When all of these things are taken into consideration, when someone is in full blown addiction, the decision to continue using may not even be a choice (arguably), but rather a survival-type auto response.

Now none of this is intended to provide a justification for substance abuse nor is it intended to provide some rationalization to the millions of people who lost friends, family, and people they loved, to addiction or alcoholism. Those people, who suffered loss, are filled with deep intense sadness, burning anger, smoldering resentment, agonizing frustration, and a host of other horrible emotions. Which is completely understandable and tragically heart-breaking. But maybe a modicum of understanding in how and why this often happens might help take a baby step towards placating some of these emotions and provide at least a little peace.

When a person is drowning in the lake of addiction to drugs or alcohol, they cannot be “enabled” because enabling them is like pushing their heads under the water. But those people who are drowning need to have a rope thrown to them so they can be helped to make the decision to pull themselves out of the water. People need education on what can be done to help those who are struggling with addiction make that choice, and to help them without enabling them. Once people have been helped to make the choice to recover, there are a variety of different recovery programs and recovery paths that they can follow. There are some arguments and studies on whether abstinence-based recovery is the best approach or not. However, for people who have had major issues with addiction to alcohol for example, returning to it under a controlled drinking or moderation environment could be potentially catastrophic. Because, if they are on the path of moderation, which they would argue is not traveling directly on The Escape Road, they are in effect walking along on the shoulder of that road. Major hardships, or a serious of smaller hardships, that often happen simultaneously, are common to everybody. It is not a question of if, but a question of when. When those hardships happen, The Escape Road would be right at their feet (since they are already walking on the shoulder), so then returning to chemical dependency full physical/mental addiction would be an all-too-easy natural progression, and would only take one small push.

The mind will never completely forget the feeling of euphoric escape through drugs or alcohol, so The Escape Road and the knowledge of that escape hatch is always going to be there. It will always be possible to consciously or subconsciously get drawn back to it, so a person who has been addicted to substances is never completely “cured”. From that standpoint, a person who has been addicted could be considered permanently “diseased”,  as is a common reference in 12 step programs. There is a recovery catchphrase in those programs that says “once an addict, always an addict”. Because the mind will never forget The Escape Road and the feeling of that euphoric escape, from that view, that catchphrase is not at all inaccurate (albeit perhaps stigmatizing). I knew someone who had been sober and abstinent for 25 years, regularly worked a recovery program, was happy with her life working as a nurse, and was in a state of overall well being. One winter morning, her car was covered with snow from the night before,  she couldn’t find her keys, was late for work, her car wouldn’t start, she was yelled at by her boss, had a bad day besides, and ended up stopping at the liquor store on the way home without even thinking about it. Three days later she was in detox and almost died. The Escape Road is never forgotten.

If we are helped to make the decision to withdraw from our drug of choice and obtain sobriety, our minds will still never ever forget the feeling of The Escape Road. Fear is one of the worst motivators there is for anything, so fear of drugs/alcohol, or fear of relapse or returning to The Escape Road, may not be the best approach, just by itself. But even fear can still keep people off of that road. A much better approach is using reputable recovery programs and/or group support, individual therapy, learned coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s difficulties, safe medication for people suffering from mental illnesses who have a substance abuse history, and physical/mental activities that release things like endorphins and natural dopamine. Any of these positive things can establish brand new neural pathways, or healthy new highways that the mind can travel on, which allow it to permanently steer clear of The Escape Road. Once we are on the road of recovery (or recovered), and traveling on these new neural pathways, we are able to always ‘make the choice to avoid the disease’, permanently stay off The Escape Road, and remain cured on the healthy new highways we have paved.

Please Help Me


“Please help me” were the most important three words I ever spoke and those words were the key to my recovery from drugs and alcohol. That 3 word mantra took down all the protection barriers I had put around myself that prevented me from allowing people in but also stopped me from getting out, and the key that unlocked all the doors.


Flirting With Disaster


In some cases, the addiction/alcoholism journey started with binge partying that became habitual and ultimately led to physical and mental addiction and chemical dependence. For many (if not most), the substance abuse was spawned by the need to feed the escape from the reality of pain from deep wounds caused by some past trauma. In any case, we couldn’t wait to ride that magic carpet away from reality every day. Social anxiety disappeared, we went from low self-esteem to superhero, boredom evaporated and life became a giant party, or at least an adventure that was happily tolerable. Right up until that giant balloon of substance abuse exploded and burst our lives and everything in them into flames. The spiral staircase that spun downward into the bottomless hell of addiction all started with the irresistible temptation to escape reality through the artificial euphoria created by drinking, swallowing, smoking or snorting something.


During my life of addiction, I had conditioned myself to always being able to disconnect from life through the use of substances. If I was having a bad day, I could make it better and if I was having a good day I could make it great. There was always that escape hatch for me to crawl through when I didn’t want to deal with life anymore. When the general anxiety became too much or spiked because of something bad life through at me, boredom took hold, or depression got a grip on me, or anytime the road got rough in any way, I could always jump back onto that train that took me away from it all. Eventually and predictably, my substance abuse and chemical dependence elevator that was going up, flew through the top floor and ended with me in a coma and not expected to survive. Then that train I was riding derailed and left everything in tatters.


The concept of  substituting a different drug for the drug of choice in my life is something I just cannot wrap my mind around – where I have to justify and rationalize it in my mind by saying that “Well, at least I’m not using my original drug of choice anymore.” Haven’t I still just created a new life of illusion, just on a different path? What happens when life throws a new major hardship onto that new path? Do I seriously think I’m not going to start abusing that new drug? What if that new drug isn’t enough to numb me through this new hardship? I’m still on a road paved by the conditioning of chemical dependence that would eventually circle back to my original drug of choice.


The same thing goes for me attempting to just use reduction and moderation of my drug of choice, rationalizing that under the delusion that if I reduced my overall usage, or set amount limits on a given night and stick to that, I have it all under control. Using the previous example – things might go just fine right up until the point where life puts some major hardship my way, or a compilation of many smaller but significant problems all at the exact same time. Am I naïve enough to think I won’t return to abusing my drug of choice to escape these problems? I’ll be swallowed up into that pit of addiction faster than I can drop a glass. And let’s say I choose the path of moderation, and I feel I have all my addictions conquered and under control now – If I really have them under control and I think I’m no longer dependent on drugs or alcohol, then why do I feel like I can’t live a happy life without them? I have yet to hear any coherent answers to that question.

Whichever of these tempting paths I think I might lead me to happiness and contentment, wouldn’t I still just be returning to that same mentality of substance use, as a solution to my problems, being a staple of my life? Wouldn’t I just be reverting back to that same old conditioning of being able to escape reality by drinking swallowing, smoking or snorting ‘euphoria drugs’? Aren’t I still just keeping myself in the prison of chemical dependence to those types of drugs? Both paths would eventually lead me right back into that dark pit.


Everybody’s recovery path is their own business and none of mine, so I’m not criticizing anybody else’s path at all, because I have no right to do so and it’s not my place. I’m only stating my own case for my own path. I’m totally in favor of short term Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT). This isn’t the 1930’s where they strap you to a bed for 30 days until you “dry out”. I also 100% support long term treatment, under dual diagnosis for mental illnesses, using medications for those illnesses deemed safe by the professional medical community for people with substance abuse history.

Wherever I refer to “chemical dependence” and “euphoria drugs”, I’m specifically talking about all substances, whether legal, illegal or prescription, that are considered by the professional medical community highly addictive and particularly dangerous for people with a substance abuse history, because they create an artificial feeling of sedative euphoria and/or alter reality. For my own personal recovery, because I’ve had substance abuse issues, abstinence from all these types of substances is the only logical path for me.

Conquering life’s problems with a clear unaltered head creates quality character, which strengthens my hope and self-esteem. To be able to look life in the eye and say, “give me your best shot”. As opposed to turning tail and running back to the pretend sanctuary of substance use at the first sign of trouble. No – if I flirt with disaster long enough, I’ll eventually return to that bottomless hell of addiction. Thanks, but no thanks. I love my life and I love life, free from the chains of substance abuse and out of that prison of chemical dependence.


End The Stigma


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 72,000 people died last year from drug overdose and another estimated 88,000 deaths from alcohol consumption. That’s 160,000 people EVERY YEAR, way more than the largest football stadium could hold – that’s over 400 people EVERY DAY, or over 18 people EVERY HOUR and that number is growing. In fact by the time you’ve finished reading this post another person already died.

Changing the method and manner that addiction/alcoholism is being treated seems to gain little traction and the treatment industry just continues to follow an old textbook, dogmatic paradigm, that obviously is falling way short. Then the inane, senseless debate rages on as to whether it’s a disease or not. Plus the view of the general public seems to be, unless it affects them personally, they couldn’t care less – those weak-willed fools chose their poison so let them rot and die from it. Even within the recovery community of those who have personally gone through addiction or alcoholism, it seems once people have a couple years of sobriety under their belts, empathy and desire to help other people recover seems to wear off and replaced by a general “to each his own” apathy. But that’s because it often seems like there is only so much you can do and what else is to be expected when it feels like the world has cast us all aside and shunned as outcasts who just wanted to take the easy way and escape reality.

Only people who have personally gone through the despair of addiction or alcoholism and the hell of withdrawing understand the courage, resolve and strength it took to recover from it. Change can be sparked by rejecting the stigma that forces us to cloak ourselves in the shadows of anonymity. Where else in history has that happened – where a group of people had a stigma stamped on their foreheads, forcing them to congregate with other people who were given that same stigma? Let that one sink in. It’s easy for those labels to stick to us like toxic barnacles, because we’re usually already trying to set down the guilt and shame baggage of our past. Plus, in a world where privacy is paramount, we often feel compelled to either slink around in secrecy or avoid the recovery world altogether, and just be accepted back into the herd. But if we all start to break free from the stigma and boldly wear our recovery courage as a badge of honor, as a collective, loud voice, more people may take notice, start to listen and real change has a chance to happen in the treatment industry and recovery world.

Over 400 people every single day – 18 people every hour – no longer with us, who will never get a chance to experience life, love or friendship. Then there’s all of the people who loved them and will never get to see them again on this earth. If I’m going to ever feel seriously guilty again about anything in this life, it would be if I sat on my hands and did nothing. We all know the despair of addiction, the hell of withdrawal and how horribly difficult it was to obtain sobriety. We can give help and hope to anybody who is struggling with addiction and we can encourage everybody in recovery by boldly showing that addiction and alcoholism is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact recovering from it is a major accomplishment to be extremely proud of.  We can be just as courageous in ending the stigma as we were in becoming sober in the first place. Because we can all be extremely grateful that we’re still here and that we didn’t end up a statistic on a CDC chart.