I recently attended a social event with a group of chiropractors in Florida. It was the typical social outing with hors d’oeuvre, dancing, and of course, alcohol. Most everyone in the group knows of my background with marijuana and of my book, The Secret Addiction; Overcoming Your Marijuana Dependency. As with most people who understand the disease of addiction, I was approached by a fellow colleague, David, who started the conversation about his own personal experience with alcohol.
David has been sober for four years. Although David never drank alcohol in the mornings before work, he certainly couldn’t wait until the last patient left so that he could drive to his local corner store to purchase his nightly buffet of beer. As we know with many drug addicts, David had an elaborate routine to hide the magnitude of his problem. He would purchase two 6-packs of beer so that he could drink one before he reached home. Obviously, David’s irrational thinking led him to believe his addiction would not be as apparent if he walked through the door with only six beers every night instead of twelve. He also explained how he knew of every place he had liquor stored in his house and how much was left in each bottle. Like most drug addicts, David kept a very close watch on his inventory.
After a very negative report from his doctor about his liver, and the increasing threat by his wife to leave, David made the decision to quit after twenty years of alcoholism. People who understand addictions know that this is an incredible feat, and that it says a lot about the strength and resolve of the person who is able to accomplish it.
As the conversation continued, I asked David how he handled situations like the social event we were attending. I was curious as to how he could maintain his composure in a room filled with people drinking alcohol, such as this one. The obvious smell of alcohol projecting from the breath of each person he spoke to must have been a reminder of his past. I would never recommend any of the marijuana addicts that I work with to take a leisurely stroll down the streets of Amsterdam where the smell of marijuana could easily trigger a relapse. But, this type of scenario is much more likely to happen with the widespread use of alcohol than it is with most other drugs. It certainly makes it that much more difficult for the alcoholic.
David explained to me that even after four years, he struggles with his thoughts. This is obviously no surprise to those who are familiar with this process. In fact, he used a word that I believe perfectly articulates the feelings he experiences. He said that about once per month, as he drives past his local corner store where he used to purchase his nightly supply, he still has to “white-knuckle it” as he fights against the urge to pull into the parking lot. When he said this, I immediately had an overwhelming realization of how incredible of a human being I had standing in front of me. Over the last four years, David has had many opportunities to pull into that parking lot, but he has instead made the decision to continue driving by, “white-knuckles” included.
However, David did say something that I believe can be a dire mistake when the thoughts of temptation arise in the addict. He said he tries
to ignore the thoughts when they arrive. We have all heard the saying
“you can run, but you can’t hide.” This certainly applies to those nagging thoughts that most recovering addicts experience from time to time.
You can only run so long before you are forced to come face-to-face with the decision to use, or not to use. Instead, it may be easier for the addict to acknowledge the thought when it first arrives, and when it is at its weakest. Continuing to ignore the thoughts will only give it more power over you in time. It will essentially come down to a battle between the logical part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, and the emotional part, the limbic system.
It has been speculated that the limbic system operates 7X faster than the prefrontal cortex. Simply put, the beer, pill, or pipe may already be in your mouth way before your prefrontal cortex even knows what happened. Whether the estimation of 7X faster is exact or not, it is certainly true that the limbic system operates on a much speedier scale than the logical part of our brains. Given that most all addictions reside somewhere within the limbic system, this can be a real problem.
Many of the people I work with try to disregard any thoughts about marijuana. They feel that by avoiding or running from these thoughts, they will magically disappear. That usually isn’t the case with any drug of abuse. I personally experienced this with my many attempts at quitting marijuana. I had experiences where I felt like I wanted to pull my hair out, and others that were relatively easy. The easier times came toward the end when I finally realized not to live in fear when the thoughts came knocking at my door, but rather take action.
The emotional attachment we have to our drug of choice is part of the problem. This is totally normal. Most people will continue to have an unhealthy attachment to the drug when quitting. It was when I quit ignoring, and then ultimately acknowledged the random thoughts I was having about marijuana that quitting for good became a reality. I am not saying that by doing this quitting became easy. It is never easy and will remain one of the biggest challenges of anyone’s life. But, simply running from the thoughts increases the likelihood that you will eventually get caught.
Let me explain. Thoughts about the drug are very natural when people are trying to quit, especially in the beginning stages. How can it not be? It has been a huge and, more than likely, the most important part of their life for quite some time. However, most people make the mistake of ignoring the thoughts as they happen. The fact is they really aren’t that bad at first, because most people are still riding on the emotional resolve to quit. But then comes the next thought…and then the next…and so on.
At the beginning, one little thought by itself isn’t enough to convince most people to start smoking or using a drug again. However, after ignoring hundreds of these thoughts, they begin to accumulate causing the addict to begin to fight or struggle with them. Once the fighting begins, so much energy is placed into the thoughts that they come more rapidly, eventually smothering the addict that by the time they realize it, there is a bong or a beer magically attached to their mouth.
But, what if we didn’t ignore or fight with these thoughts, and instead took the time to analyze them when they appear? What if we took action on the first appearance of the thought? Taking the time to recognize the lie behind what your “other-self” is attempting to convince you to do, and doing so in a timely manner, will provide you with a better chance at defeating this cascade of defeating thoughts.
Sometimes it is as simple enough as recognizing the thought, analyzing where it is coming from and the lie behind it. This may be all it takes to be able to discard the thought when it arrives. I also recommend staying as emotionally unattached while analyzing these thoughts. I teach marijuana addicts to examine the thoughts as the
“non-smoker,” and not the “pot-smoker.” They are two different people. The same applies with any addictive substance.
However, there are times when the addict will need to bring more tools to the game when these thoughts begin to surface. Remember, if we simply rely on those two parts of the brain to battle it out, we know which one typically wins. One method that is extremely important is to have a support group, or sponsor, as the additional voice. Too many times, especially with cannabis addicts, there is a maverick attitude of tackling this problem on their own. This is a huge mistake. Never allow pride to get in the way of your success with anything in life.
Another method to assist you during this time is having the ability to clearly recall your “reasons for quitting.” Our reasons for quitting are always valid, but we have a tendency to forget them when we begin to get uncomfortable with our decision. To help with this, I would create a card that has all of your reasons for quitting and carry that with you. When the thoughts arrive, review the card to help remind you of your “why.”
The point about all of this is to make sure the thoughts and cravings you experience do not overtake you. Either way, whether you struggle or not, the thoughts eventually begin to dissipate. But little techniques, such as these, make it more comfortable and can increase your success of winning.
Dr. Tony DeRamus is the author of “The Secret Addiction; Overcoming Your Marijuana Dependency” and is the President of SMA International, LLC, a company devoted to addressing the rampant abuse of marijuana worldwide through various mediums such as books, internet, and seminars. He also owns and operates one of the largest chiropractic clinics in North America. Dr. DeRamus has devoted his life to helping others achieve personal success in both life, and their health and well-being.