If you are a Lucky Charms aficionado, what would it take to convince you to switch to Captain Crunch? Not just tomorrow morning but every day this week?
Think you can get by without your favorite sugary cereal? Think you could live with Captain Crunch after years of Lucky Charms? Then how ’bout tomorrow morning when you stagger downstairs looking forward to your quotidian mocha cappuccino…
… and you’re told that your breakfast beverage is now going to be Chamomile tea. Chamomile tea every morning. No more coffee.
For the rest of your life.
Could you give up caffeine? What about red meat? Could you give it up? What if I told you that red meat was bad for you? What if I told you that if you ate one more Big Mac that you would have a myocardial infarction and drop dead on the street right then and there? Could you become a vegetarian? Could you become convinced that factory farming is cruelty personified? Could you live out your days with “LT” sandwiches; no more bacon? Ever?
Let’s up the ante again: Could you give up your political affiliation? If you’re a democrat, could you become a Republican? If you favor the elephant, could you vote for the donkey? Not just vote, but B-E-L-I-E-V-E in the other side? Could you switch from Fox News to MSNBC? Could you change from MSNBC to Fox News?
Imagine that you were brought up as a devout Catholic and that as an adult, you frequently attend mass. You believe in the Bible, go to confession, would not think of marrying outside your religion. What would it take for you to change to the Protestant Church, to convert to Judaism, to become a Muslim?
One more raise: if you are a heterosexual man attracted to women, could you even imagine being attracted to men instead? If you are a homosexual man, could you imagine yourself with a preference for women? Can you imagine making the switch voluntarily? What would it take to “convince” you to change your sexual orientation? Would it even be possible?
If you were addicted to cocaine, could you give it up? If you were an IV drug abuser, could you kick the habit? If you were taking a handful of oxycontin every day, could you stop?
If you were a pot smoker, could you envision your life without marijuana? Consider the following statements from Traci, a 16 year-old girl: “I am not going to argue with closed minded, ignorant people on how marijuana is not a drug,” she begins a letter to her step-father who has asked her to stop smoking pot. “Marijuana is the most therapeutic herb known to mankind, a gift from God. Marijuana is mentioned in the Bible.” She continues to drive her point home: “I believe it is wrong to illegalize (sic) a harmless plant.” Lastly, she addresses an academic issue: “Marijuana calms me down and helps me study.”
Her step-father disagrees with her on each and every point. However, he doesn’t argue that marijuana is addictive; that marijuana may be laced with PCP, horse tranquilizers or opiates; or that marijuana is now 20% THC. Nor does he mention Traci’s school refusal, school failure, defiance, or her unwillingness to do any chores around the house. Instead, he makes her the following proposal: Stop smoking pot and you can have $250,000, (the cost of four years at a private college.) Keep smoking pot and you’ll go to wilderness therapy. He does point out that there are no showers in the woods. No bathrooms either.
In all the examples above–breakfast cereal, morning beverage, diet, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation–you are unlikely to come up against too much opposition. People don’t change who they are, their prefernces. And why should they? “I yam what I yam” Popeye asserts. It doesn’t matter if I eat Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch. But drug addicts do have to change. In order to have a shot at leading productive, fulfilling healthy lives, they need to get clean and stay clean.
Traci has smoked marijuana each and every day for the past 52 weeks. How is it possible for her to give up a fundamental part of her existence? How can she get beyond the oppositionality and the arguing that come with incessant pot use? (Those of you who suggest that if her parents just let her smoke pot, everything will be fine, go to the back of the class.)
Traci needs treatment–long range, thorough, thoughtful treatment. Thirty day treatment? No. Until managed care, there was no such thing. There are those in the rehab community who argue that one month rehab is a product of insurance reimbursement rather than a proper standard of care. Traci needs a year. She needs to wake up 365 different times feeling happy, sad, depressed, bored, nervous, introspective, and every other feeling there is. She needs to know that she can get through the day differently. She needs to know that she can get through the day sober.
I would write more about this great kid, how well she’s doing in treatment, what a good relationship she now has with her step-father, and what a great job she’s doing in school.
Except that it’s time for my Lucky Charms and mocha cappuccino.
I’ll be interested to hear what you think about how people can internalize the transformative power of positive change.