What Goes Around Comes Around

Everyone knows what the phrase “what goes around comes around” means. It usually involves that arrogant manager or that disloyal friend and our gratification when they finally get what’s coming to them. While we don’t often have the pleasure of seeing it come around, we know in our heart, sooner or later, it does.

I adjusted that phrase when I heard some good news and applied it to how an old idea can come around again in a good way. Maybe that’s the case of Michael Botticelli, recently named but not yet approved by Congress as Director of National Drug Control Policy.

He doesn’t want to be called a drug czar because that harkens back to the decades old War on Drugs and Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No program. That didn’t work, he says, and should be declared over. But he points out, we as a country cannot continue to crowd our jails and prisons with low level drug offenders; their lives are ruined with heavy convictions that make it near impossible for them to get a job, rent an apartment or even vote in the future.

Maybe the combination of over-crowded, expensive prisons and the fact that heroin abuse has reached epidemic proportions, invading all stratospheres of society will make us finally consider another approach. In the long run money spent on treatment and in helping offenders take a new path in life would be more cost effective. At the risk of being labeled a soft hearted liberal I agree with Botticelli and am reminded of my past working in the addiction field.

The recent 60 Minutes segment on Botticelli transported me back to 1983 when I worked in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The small hospital housed an AODA (alcohol and other drug addiction) inpatient program using the 12 step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. That was the good old days when drug and alcohol use was considered a disease. At least, the recovering community called it a disease though this concept was denigrated by the general public. Most recently, this has fallen by the wayside as we’ve ramped up the punishment of drug offenders. Substance abusers are now seen only as criminals. And yes, they’ve broken laws but there is much more to the story.

I also say the good old days because back then the treatment community was such a closed network. In order to become an AODA counselor all that was necessary was to have gone through treatment (30 days inpatient) and to be recovering and working a program. I had done neither but fell into the job when my limited hospital social work duties left me time to be helpful in the treatment program. But I was surrounded by suspicion because I didn’t stand up and say I was an alcoholic or an addict and I was the only staff with a college degree.

Daily, I co-facilitated group therapy, beginning with each group member introducing and labeling themselves. Hi. My name is Mary and I’m an alcoholic. Naming it was a necessary way to beat denial. One day, someone asked why I didn’t follow suit. I explained my non-recovering status and then lightened it up with a joke: Hi I’m Karin. I’m a paranoid schizophrenic with narcissist tendencies. We all laughed, I was accepted and we got back to business.

Staff always had lunch together and one day the Medical Director joined us. During our shop talk he said he thought everyone should be abstaining from something. This was the basis of AA, he said. I knew he was speaking specifically to me. I was young and cocky back then and jokingly said I was abstaining from being rich. My comment was not appreciated.

This MD was of the school that believed once you stop drinking all the other problems are fixed too. I’m from the school of co-morbidity, the simultaneous presence of two conditions in the same person. That’s addiction joined with the mental health and just plain difficult life issues that originally led a person to find comfort in drugs and alcohol. For true recovery, it all needs to be addressed.

I’d become friends with one of the counselors who seemed to have some loyalty concerns. She almost guiltily told me I was her first and only non-recovering friend. She also felt she was betraying someone or something by considering any treatment other than AA meetings. But from our many hours of case consultation following group therapy she began to see the connection between addiction and mental health. And also the complexity of changing every aspect of life in recovery.

I came away from that long ago experience with a good understanding of addiction and a respect for the Twelve Step philosophy. Addiction is a chronic illness and needs to be treated as such and that’s hard in our cure oriented world. So, it was with relief I heard the news from Botticelli, backed up by scientific studies that prove how drugs affect the brain. The science supports that addiction needs to be treated not as a criminal matter but as the public health issue that it is.

This is currently close to me since I have a friend whose child is struggling with addiction. After being in and out of jail, my friend’s young adult child has been given the choice of jail time or intensive treatment. This makes me hopeful. Perhaps Botticelli, in AA himself for over twenty years, can return us to sensible and effective results. But will taxpayers and legislators support money spent on long term benefits over short term solutions?

Two weeks later, 60 Minutes read their viewer’s responses to the program. Comments ranged from simplistic to negative. Maybe what goes around hasn’t really come around after all. It’s one thing to have these innovative ideas but quite another to carry them through with our contentious legislature and a doubtful public. I wish Mr. Botticelli my very best. He’s going to need it!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diana Schramer
    Dec 22, 2015 @ 10:04:29

    Thank you, Karin, for this informative, thoughtful, and wise post. I, too, applaud Michael Botticelli’s work and pray for his success. I’m well acquainted with the struggles and suffering of those afflicted with this wretched disease of addiction as well as the struggles and suffering of those who love them.



  2. Anonymous
    Dec 22, 2015 @ 17:42:41

    Very thoughtful writing as always, Karin!



  3. kathywicht@wi.rr.com
    Dec 23, 2015 @ 11:55:20

    Very WELL written. You are a pro! —- A Milli



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