Juggling Hand Grenades
I recently spent a week in Pembrokshire, West Wales, in a cottage that was accessed by a two-mile dirt track and had no electricity or phone service.
The inhabitants consisted of myself, an assistant who was breaking a rather long and heavy dependency upon Marijuana use, and a very good friend who had been distant for many years (fifteen or so) and who had in that time developed a serious crack-cocaine and Heroin habit.
An NLP colleague asked me before the off, “I take it you’ve juggled live hand grenades before then?’
My answer, “No, I guess I’ll have to learn the hard way”.
It would seem that where drugs are concerned, ‘the hard way’ is often seen as the only way. Hence my requirement for a cottage that was as far from distractions as possible.
I imagined screaming, puking, shaking and finger-nails being dragged down the walls.
The experience really could not have been any further from that image.
My client with the crack addiction, we’ll call him ‘R’, was in his own words, “shi**ing himself” about going cold turkey in a place where there was certainly no chance of getting his hands on more gear.
If you put the term ‘Cold Turkey’ into Google, you’ll find a number of Boxing-day recipes and also a description of the term as: ‘an expression describing the actions of a person who gives up a habit or addiction all at once — that is, rather than gradually easing the process through reduction or by using replacement medication’.
With the level of contempt that I harbour for Psychiatric drugs, this was precisely what I had in mind.
Initially, R and my assistant, both went through a set of withdrawal symptoms that seem typical of long-term drug use. They lost track of their thoughts, they suffered hot and cold sweats, mood swings and irritability.
Should I just let them sit and go through these states in ‘proper’ cold turkey fashion?
No way, I’d prefer that they suffered an even more traumatic class of experience.
So I took them rock climbing!
This is a great video on YouTube of John Grinder talking about how to deal with alcoholism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5qvyIHUk4I
John suggests that rather than forcing the addicted person to actually give up their particular stimulant, they should in fact be allowed to carry on taking it until they find another form of activity that fullfills the same positive intention of the Unconscious.
Let me elaborate a little.
Our unconscious mind is superb at many things, such as keeping you alive and well. What it does not seem to be able to do (without help) is decipher the difference in whether behavior is positive and desired, or negative and undesired. If the over riding role of the Unconscious is to keep us (itself) safe (after all, we’re talking about the most advanced neurological system that we know of, and which has so far enabled us to become the most dominant species on Earth) then it will do that in whatever way is made most readily available.
It will take the shortest line to a tree when a tiger is coming.
What does that have to do with addiction? Imagine that you have experienced some kind of trauma in your life. It may be as far back as bullying at school or more recently being in a job that you hate, not that you’ll ever the know the real cause of your need, because it’s improbable that there could be just one cause.
Either of these experiences sets up a day-to-day stress response in the body that, in effect, is telling your system that you are under some form of attack.
Now you drink a glass of wine or smoke a spliff and … there is a numbing or distancing from the stress response that is registered by your unconscious as a perfectly viable way of coping with the unwanted experiences.
This becomes the shortest line to the tree. The problem is, such direct lines also come with their own set of problems.
What then is the solution? It’s a simple one (not to be mistaken with easy) that involves finding more desirable and resourceful activities that have a similar effect on the unconscious as the drinking or drugs (or shopping or sex or whatever the coping mechanism is).
In my own life, I’m more than aware of my need to be regularly stimulated to high levels. Put me in an office with emails and paper work for a whole day and I feel like I’m going crazy. Or I’m guessing that I would feel that way if you could ever keep me there long enough to find out.
Drugs and Alcohol have an undesirable effect on me. So what do I do? I climb, I train in the gym, and I work in a profession that allows me to get out on the streets (or Welsh coast) and come up with odd, sometimes crazy solutions to a consistently new set of clients and their problems. Neither my clients nor their issues are ever the same twice. This is my dream work. If however, I undertook work that I hated, then I can see very easily how the traits that benefit my lifestyle could end up taking me towards less desirable alternatives.
So, instead of sitting inside attempting to NOT feel bored, I do activities that are meaningful to me and keep me wide eyed until I’m eyes shut.
So it was with R and co (except in their cases they assumed that I wanted them to not take any drugs (I never even mentioned abstinence) for the week and therefore chose to go the aforementioned Cold Turkey route).
Each day I dropped them both into two hundred foot high sea cliffs with only one way out and no assistance from me, accept the odd suggestion that my hands were too cold to hold the rope.
How do you have a drug craving when you’re hanging by your finger tips in a gale force wind, with the guy at the top laughing at you and asking where your craving for crack is right now?
In this context the craving is not gonna happen.
As well as utilizing cliffs in our game, we also dealt with more mundane, everyday activities, like cooking, cleaning and making our beds. These were all new events for two men that had never bothered to do such things in the past.
After a week of constant, resourceful stimulation, both of my charges were not only (at that moment) free of their cravings, they were also looking at how their new experiences were applicable to other areas of their lives.
Best of all, two and a half weeks after our trip to Wales, both of them are still finding more resourceful ways to do what drugs previously did for them.
Are the cravings gone in such a short time? I doubt it.
Do R and my assistant now have direct experiences to validate (consciously and unconsciously) that their need is not for drugs, but in fact for a more active, participative and meaningful life?
So now the responsibility lies with them both to ensure that they create just that.