Happy Healthy YOU

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Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU

(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast! This column is Part 2 in a series on addiction.)

It was one of John Doe’s first “12 step meetings.”

He had been clean and sober for just a day or two. His heart was racing and pounding out of his chest. Nausea was brewing in his stomach. The palms of his hands were drenched in sweat and he sat alone avoiding all eye contact.

An 'oldtimer,' a man that had been in the program for several years, sat down beside him and brought him a half-filled cup of coffee. The oldtimer must have seen John Doe’s shaking and trembling hands and knew that a full cup would be more than he could handle.

The older gentleman introduced himself and asked John Doe how he was doing. He replied with his name and an exclamation, “I hate people.” The oldtimer had no reaction other than “I used to too.”

John Doe (real name changed for anonymity) had felt crippling anxiety since he child. In fact, as long as he could remember. His childhood was filled with trauma and dysfunction. He experienced and witnessed physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse which was frequent and commonplace. As a young boy his grades began to slip and his focus in the school room was absent. He was held back a grade, sent to the principal’s office often, and sent to counseling to figure what was wrong with the boy with diminished concentration and a flaring emotional temper.

The 'elephant in the room' was never acknowledged.

By age 10 he was smoking cigarettes, by 12 drinking beer and by 13 years old, smoking pot. He continued to experience abuse of all sorts from his mother, his step-father and others. The home he lived in was violent and alcoholic. He was taught to be seen not heard and that feelings were scary and bad.

His teen years were spent trying to avoid and squish the reality of life by getting high every day. His sober thoughts led him to extreme anxiety that was unbearable. The thoughts of interacting with people high let alone sober, terrified him. By his mid-teens, he quit attending school and he would do anything to avoid reality. His acquaintances were much older than him because young teens his age were in school, playing sports and chasing girls. John Doe was chasing his demons.

He became a daily drug user to cope with life. His hunger for the high was never satisfied or suppressed, but rather grew more voracious with time. Life became consumed around when and where the next high would come from. Even while drinking and drugging he would hide drugs of various kinds, to ensure he had some the next day. If he wasn’t high he was thinking about it, stealing money to buy or planning ahead to get more, as the thought of not having any drugs was terrifying to him.

His increasingly violent temperament led him to weekend fights at the bar and recurrent overnight stays in jail.

“One time I saw a buddy of mine at the liquor store. His face was bruised and beaten. I asked him what the heck happened to him. He looked at me with disgust and told me go to hell. Apparently I had beaten him up the night before and didn’t have one memory of it.”

In his early 20s, the dysfunction of his disease had a death grip. Drugs and drinking preceded all relationships and came at all costs. While high and trying to out-chase the police in a stolen car, he crashed. His neck was broken and at one point he had no vital signs lying at the side of the road. He was resuscitated, taken to hospital and was in a neck brace for several weeks.

“By the Grace of God to my understanding, I was saved more than once. I had more to learn. I had a purpose to live and it was not my time.”

John Doe finally got help through detox, AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and cognitive therapy.

“I remember after my first meeting, feeling hope but telling God, that this better work or I am out of here.”

John Doe had many thoughts about ending his life.

“I was so angry towards life and the life that was mine that I just wanted to kill myself or the people that had hurt me.”

But John Doe desired a different life, so he went to a 12 step program meeting every day for 90 days. He admitted his powerlessness over addiction, had a desire to quit using, and made the changes he needed in his life.

“I was fortunate enough to hit a bottom early in my life. Many don’t. They go on for years living with this disease, sick, hurting and watching the relationships in their life crumble, one after another.”

After many years of taking honest inventory of his life, seeking healing through various treatment programs, investing in forgiving of others and himself, he now celebrates a couple decades of being clean and sober.

'John' lives a healthier and happier life now, strong in a spiritual practice while continuing to peel and heal the layers of his past. He practices giving back to those still suffering from this disease by offering his strengths, hopes and experiences.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse states many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, denial and mental health issues, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was founded in 1953. NA describes addiction as a progressive disease with no known cure, which affects every area of an addict's life and all the relationships around them. It alters all aspects of the individual: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

NA suggests the disease of addiction can be arrested, and recovery is possible through the NA twelve-step program based on spiritual principles. The steps never mention drugs or drug use, rather they refer only to addiction, to indicate that addicts have a disease of which drug use is only one symptom. As of May 2014 there were more than 63,000 NA meetings in 132 countries.

Through scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever, and we also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs, heal the underlying disease and lead productive lives.

For more information online, see these resources:,, and

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