I’ll cover a spectrum of drug experiences over the coming months, but I’d like to start with one that accounts for at least half of all the drug-related emails I receive: the problem of young kids being addicted to Vicoden and other pain-relievers.
I’ve received a lot of what can really be described as “cries for help” from kids who are trapped in a situation where they are addicted to Vicoden or a similar pain-reliever, they feel that they can’t talk to their parents or teachers about it, and they feel that they can’t beat the drug. One of those kids – I’m going to call him “Bobby”, because that’s not his name – contacted me, then worked through an email exchange with me, and finally kicked the habit and got clean.
To make this more personal for any kid out there reading this – or any friend, teacher or parent who is reading it and thinks that someone they know should read it – I’m going to work through some of the stuff that Bobby and I said and wrote. What you’ll read here is the same advice that Bobby used to get himself clean, and maybe it will help you (or someone you know), too.
Three quick things to state from the outset:
First, I’m not a doctor or any other kind of medical practitioner. Any advice I give is based on my own experience of being addicted to drugs, and of now being clean and drug-free for 19 years. It is always better to seek the help of a medical professional, and I don’t want anyone who reads this to think that any advice I give is in any way a substitute for genuine medical knowledge given to you by a certified, medical professional. So, it’s advice – just that – and it should always be seen as a small step toward the real thing, which is professional medical advice.
Second, we’re dealing with addiction to Vicoden here. This advice should in no way be seen as a criticism of Vicoden, or pain-relievers generally. I’ve been through a lot of pain: I’ve been stabbed several times, blown up and hit with shrapnel, burned by motorcycle exhaust pipes after laying the bike down at 90 miles an hour, thrown off a moving train, tortured by prison guards on two continents, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Suffice it to say that I know a little something about pain. The fact that drugs like Vicoden and other pain-relievers exist is a huge help to those people suffering from period severe pain. There are many people who would suffer terribly if drugs like Vicoden weren’t available. So, I’m not talking against Vicoden or any other pain-relievers. I’m only dealing here with the problem that occurs when people take un-prescribed or not-prescribed amounts of Vicoden, and develop a drug addiction based around the drug.
Third, I’m going to deal now, in this first essay on drugs and addiction, with the specific case of a young person, living in a family situation, who is attending a school, who is addicted to pain-relievers, who wants to beat the habit, and who is feeling desperately unable to beat the habit. This is a specific set of factors, and the advice I might give to someone who is experiencing a different set of factors – someone who has no family, say, or who is living on the street and not going to school, or who is addicted to another type of drug such as heroin or marijuana – might be quite different. This is not one-size-fits-all advice: it is intended for those kids in that set of factors I mentioned. Other advice will follow, in the coming months, for kids and adults who are in different circumstances. Okay? Let’s go …
Here is the list of factors that Bobby told me about – a list that is quite common in the emails I receive from kids in these circumstances:
1) I don’t deserve help. I got myself into this mess. I’m a fuck-up. I don’t deserve help.
2) I’m a failure. Everybody else is cool, but I’m addicted, so I’m a failure.
3) I worry about what my parents will think of me if they know.
4) It will kill my parents if I tell them about this.
5) May parents re too hard on me, expecting me to be perfect.
6) I’m not strong enough to beat this habit.
7) I’ve tried cold turkey, and it didn’t work. So, I’m a failure.
8) Rehab is not an option, because it costs too much, and because my parents will have to be involved.
9) I don’t know of any real alternative to cold turkey or rehab.
10) I’m completely alone with this problem.
THAT WAS BOBBY’S LIST. HERE’S MY ADVICE
1) EVERYBODY deserves help. There is NOBODY who doesn't deserve help. So, get that thought out of your mind. I’ve spent 10 years of my life in some of the toughest prisons in the world. I’ve been in two wars, lived in a slum, worked in a mafia street gang, and I’ve known people from every walk of life: from the most educated to the least, from the richest to those who have nothing, from the powerful to the powerless, from kings and movie stars to gang-bangers and cops. And believe me, when I tell you that there is nobody who doesn’t deserve help. We are one, interconnected human family. What hurts one of us hurts us all. What heals one of us heals us all. When you get healed and well, you’ll be helping to heal the whole human race. So, that’s the bottom line, and just one reason why there’s nobody who doesn’t deserve help.
2) You're NOT a failure. Anybody can get dependent on drugs. The list of people who have had dependencies on drugs includes nuclear physicists, doctors and surgeons, politicians, attorneys - including Attorneys General - cops, teachers, priests, movie stars, beauty queens - just about everybody on the planet. This can - and does - happen to anyone. It happens to rich and poor, high and mighty, simple and innocent Dependence is NOT a sign of failure.
Recognizing the problem - AS YOU DO - and wanting to do something about it is a sign of SUCCESS, not failure. Step back for a minute and look at the Big Picture. There are millions of people who are harming themselves and others in ways that are far more serious than the harm you’re dealing with at the moment. The business people – good family people and good citizens – who sell drugs like cigarettes, alcohol and certain kinds of pharmaceuticals are doing far more harm than you are. A lot of them – let’s take the executives of cigarette companies as a starter – cannot or will not admit that they are a part of the problem, and that they are doing harm to themselves and others. Those people are failures. You have taken Step One, which is the Big One, and you are already a success.
3) Caring about what your parents think is a sign of love and compassion: once again, that's a sign of SUCCESS, not failure. Caring about what your parents think is a sign that the connection to them hasn’t been lost, and that’s a sign of success, too. Caring about what your parents think is coming from your heart, and your heart never lies to you. Your eyes can lie, and your mind can lie, as also your body. But your heart – what you feel – can never lie to you because it doesn’t have the language for it. Caring about your parents is the voice of a fundamental truth, coming from your heart, and you should be proud of that truth, and cherish it: it’s a sign that you’re healthy, deep inside, no matter how sick you’ve become with the drug habit.
4) You can't and won't "kill" people just by telling them that you're taking drugs. We say these things: "Oh, God, it will KILL my parents if they know ..." but the reality is that they won't die, and they'll go on living just as they did before. You can hurt your parents with the truth, but you'll never kill them with it, and you'll never kill their love for you. You'll always hurt them much more by NOT telling them about a problem that can cost you your life. Which do you think would be more likely to "Kill" your parents: the fact of coming clean and telling them about your problem and asking for their help, or the fact of discovering that their beloved son died of a Vicoden overdose? Hello? You won't kill your parents by telling them the truth. The simple fact is, they might be mad as hell at first, okay, but in the long run they will KNOW that what you did by trusting them with this truth is actually a gift. The gift of trust is one of the most precious gifts we can ever give someone, and your parents will KNOW that.
As a general rule of life, it's always better to come clean with your parents - even if it brings down some fire on your head - than to keep secrets from them. That's part of becoming, and being, an adult. You have to stop being a scared child, afraid of what your parents will do or say, and start being a young adult. And even though you're still young, you obviously have enough maturity to think hard about what you're doing, and the consequences for all those around you. A child hides things from his parents. An adult tells the truth, and faces the consequences.
No matter how much your parents shout at you, fight with you, criticize you, and cry about what you're doing, they're still your parents, and they love you. Deep down, they love you. These are the people who cleaned your diapers, and nursed you in their arms when you were teething, and went without sleep and held your hand when you had a fever as a little kid. Deep down, they love you, and sooner or later you have to trust that love, and come clean with them.
5) It may be that you need a kind of intervention with your parents. Is there a friend of the family that they know and admire - maybe a church leader in their faith, or a business colleague who is especially close to your Dad, a teacher whom you trust, or an uncle or aunt that they listen to and respect? If your parents are placing very high expectations on you – expecting you to be perfect – maybe you need someone like that with you when you come clean with them, because you need to make it clear that while you accept personal responsibility for your habit, at least a small part of the problem is the pressure they’re putting you under.
For example, if your parents only ever accept an “A” Grade in your classes, and are unhappy with a B or a B-, you need someone to help you make them understand that there are thousands of parents out there who'd be thrilled that their son or daughter got a B- on a report card. To react with anger and ground you for a B- (or to put any other kind of too-high expectation on the shoulders of a kid) is simply too hard, and puts too much pressure on any kid, in any family. If you have an adult with you when you talk this through with your parents, they will have to understand that this pressure they're putting on you is a part of the problem. This is not a one-way street, with "perfect" parents on one side and a "bad" kid on the other. Parents have to face up to the responsibility they share when a kid goes down the wrong road. While it's your job to take most of the load when you mess up, it's their job, as loving parents, to ask themselves honestly where they failed you.
None of this will be easy to explain to them by yourself. That's why you need someone with you when you talk to them, if they’re the kind of parents who are putting too much pressure on you with unreal expectations of a perfect kid. You need to talk to this other person first, come clean about the situation, and then ask the person to come with you when you face your responsibilities, and bring the problem to your parents. Then, when you do this with the other person beside you, it should be in a neutral environment - somewhere other than the family home. Every therapist would tell you that you have to discuss this with your parents in a place where all their usual reactions - shouting, fighting, getting upset - can't happen. You're being honest with them, but you need them to give you the space and respect to talk openly with them. They need to understand that it takes guts, real guts, to talk to them in this way, and they need to respect you for that – not attack you for it. For all of that, you need a trusted adult with you, and you need a neutral space, if you’re in a situation where the pressure from your parents to be a perfect kid is simply too great.
When you talk to your parents about this, you need to make them understand that this is a question of life and death. A grade score of A+ or B-, for example, is nothing much, in the great scheme of things, even though it might seem like a big thing to your parents. What they need to understand now is that you're dealing with life and death every day. People die from taking too much Vicoden. People get fatal liver damage from taking too much Vicoden. We're not talking grade scores any more: we're talking a dead child, versus a healthy, happy child. Your parents need to understand that your life is in their hands. If they attack you, when you come clean with them, they can push you over the edge into even worse drug abuse. If they support you - while still getting mad and freaking out a bit - and if they work with you, you can kick this thing in no time. There's no stronger unit in the world than a family that sticks together. That's why the family has survived for hundreds of thousands of years: it's the strongest force of love in the world. If they harness that love, and support you, and become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem, you'll kick this thing easily.
6) ANYBODY, and EVERYBODY can get off drugs. I did it, and I was a total drug pig. If I can do it, then please believe me, anybody can do it, because I was very, very addicted, and I’m not a particularly strong person. I was addicted to heroin for years, on and off, and used up to 2 grams of pure, white heroin every day. That’s enough of the drug to kill a horse – maybe a team of horses. I was the worst kind of junkie – I robbed banks, broke a hundred laws, lived in rags on the street, lost half of my body weight, and broke the connection to every friend and family member I had. But I reached a Turning Point, and I found the strength to quit. Now, it’s 19 years since I took a cigarette, or a drug of any kind, or a drink of alcohol. And I never, ever think about drugs or alcohol. The habit has gone from my life, as if it was never there in the first place. And if I can do that, then you can do it.
7) Turkey is the hardest and probably the least effective way to stop a habit. Even when people get through cold turkey, it's usually such a traumatic experience that they lapse into drug use again fairly quickly - which leads to even more disappointment and an even deeper sense of being a failure - WHICH YOU'RE NOT. So, turkey isn't usually the best way to go.
8) REHAB IS AN OPTION. Don't count rehab out. If your family can afford it, you should try it. Think about it: your parents would much rather have a child in rehab that a child in jail. They would much rather have a child in rehab that a child addicted to drugs. Don't let the thought that your family will see you as a failure stop you from getting well. YOU'RE HEALTH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW. Keep telling yourself that, and remind yourself of it, every hour of every day. Write it in large letters on your notice board, and leave notes for yourself: MY HEALTH IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW. Do that until you put your health at the very top of your mental and physical list. Addiction is a sickness, a medical condition, like diabetes. Some kinds of diabetes are contributed to by the lifestyle of the person who contracts it. But we don't throw those people out, or call them failures. We realize that this can happen to anyone, that it is a medical condition, and that the person needs help and treatment. Addiction is exactly the same. It's a medical condition, and absolutely NOT a sign of failure. The first, best advice that I can give to anyone who is taking drugs is this: SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE AND TREATMENT AS SOON AS YOU CAN.
You write that Rehab is not an option, because you can't face the thought of your parents seeing you as a failure. Listen to me: if you don't talk to your parents about this, and you go on to do something crazy, or to get really sick with liver failure, or even to die (which can happen with Vicoden addiction), your parents will see themselves as failures. They'll suffer terribly, for the rest of their lives. I know this, from my own experience, and from the greater pain that I caused my parents by NOT coming to them for help. That's something I regret every day. And if you don't bring this to your parents, and things get worse, they'll ask themselves how they failed you – what they did, what mistake they made that stopped you from coming to them with your problem. They'll blame themselves. They'll suffer far more than they would ever suffer by learning that their kid is addicted to drugs.
A part of the vicious cycle of addiction is that we can't see the truth: we try to stop those we love from feeling the pain, and we actually make them suffer much more. We tell ourselves that they must not know, when the truth is that they MUST and SHOULD know about your pain and your suffering. You're not helping your parents or protecting them by keeping this silent, and suffering alone: you're hurting them. Believe me: I'm a parent myself. In the long run, parents will always suffer less when you come to them and share your problem, than they will if you suffer alone. Sure they'll be hurt when you tell them. Sure they'll be disappointed that their kid is addicted to a drug. But they'll be much more hurt and disappointed if you don't share this with them, and if you stay on this broken road until something much worse happens. They're your parents. They love you, man. Hell, show them this advice from me. Let them read it, and they’ll know how you anguished and struggled with the fear of disappointing them, and they'll know that you gave them a precious gift by trusting them enough to share this secret with them, and by asking them to help you.
9) Remember: I recommend a good rehab program, if you can find one. But if rehab is absolutely not an option, for some truly valid reason, or if you talk this through with your parents and decide not to do a rehab program, and you absolutely must do this with your parents or alone, then Tapering Off is the best system that I know about, and can the only one I can recommend as working pretty well, most of the time.
This system of Tapering Off applies to a lot of addictions - for example, to cigarettes. Here’s an example of how it works: if you're a pack a day smoker, say, the way to quit is to tell yourself: "I won't have a cigarette before 9 o'clock in the morning. After 9 o'clock, I can have as many as I want. But before 9 o'clock, I'll never smoke a cigarette." After a few weeks of that, you raise the bar to 10 o'clock. You tell yourself: "I won't have a cigarette before 10 o'clock in the morning. After that, I can have as many as I want. But I'll never smoke a cigarette before 10 o'clock in the morning." After a few weeks, whenever you're ready, you raise the bar to 11 o'clock. And so on and so on, until you're only smoking a cigarette after 11 o'clock in the night. After a while of that, I guarantee you, you'll light one up, one night, after 11 PM, and you'll think: "Damn! This tastes like shit! Why the hell am I doing this? I don't need this!" And you'll butt out that cigarette, and it'll be the last one for your life. This system works. You just have to give yourself plenty of time, and stick to your own rules, and only raise the bar when you're ready to do it.
With Vicoden, and other pain-relievers, the tapering off is a little different to that tapering off system for cigarette addiction. With Vicoden, you have to reduce the amount of the drug that you take, gradually, over a fairly long period. You have to face the fact that it will take a fairly long time to beat this drug. In my experience, there's no quick fix. That doesn’t mean that you can’t beat it quickly: fact is, you just might do that. But prepare yourself mentally for a fairly long struggle – but a struggle that will get easier every week, and that you will always win.
So, if you're taking 24 tablets per day, for example, you have to reduce to 22 tablets a day for a week. Then you reduce to 20 tablets a day for a week. Then you reduce to 18 tablets a day for a week. And so on. With this gradual reduction, your body will hardly notice the reduction, and before you know it, you'll be down to 2 tablets a day, and then one tablet a day, and then one tablet every second day, and then one tablet every third day, and then you'll realize that you don't need the drug any more.
You can also cut down faster than that. I’ve given you the easiest and safest way to walk in the direction of a cure, using the Tapering Off method. But you might find that you can actually cut down your tablet dose by, say, four tablets every day, and still not suffer a big withdrawal. If that’s the case, by all means do the Tapering Off in bigger steps.
All in all, remember that Tapering Off involves the three things I mentioned above:
1) It takes time. Don't expect a quick fix. Give yourself time. For example, when you're a bit heavy, and you have a gut, and you want to have a six-pack, and you haven’ done any sit-ups for 5 years, you have to start with doing, say, 10 sit-ups every day. After a week, you can raise that to 12 or 14 sit-ups every day. After another week, you can raise that to 15 or 16 sit-ups every day. Before long, you'll be doing 150 sit-ups every morning, 6 days a week (with one day to rest the abs). BUT EVEN THEN, you'll still have to do the 150 sit-ups every morning, five days a week, for at least a year. Because ... it ... takes ... time.
2) Stick to your own rules, and never break them. Setting your own rules is very important. When I was in prison, for 10 years of my life, I always handled it fairly well – and better than many of the other guys, who were really broken by prison – because I set my own rules. If the rule of the prison was, for example, that you had to be standing by the door of your cell fully dressed and ready at 7 AM, I imposed my own rule that I would be ready at 6 AM. A lot of the other guys were always banging their heads against the system, complaining about the rules and regulations. I always set my own rules – much tougher than the prison rules – and because they were MY RULES, I found it easy to stick to them. No-one else can do the drug reduction for you. Only you can set the rules: and when you do, you have to stick to them.
3) Only raise the bar when you're ready. It makes no sense to make rules for yourself that are just too hard to stick to. The one irreducible fact that I've learned about addiction from my own experience, and from the experiences of hundreds of addicts I've known, is that YOU CAN'T AND WON'T CHANGE UNTIL YOU'RE READY. I've seen men thrown into prison, do cold turkey, start getting fit, build up their bodies and minds again, get damn strong, lift weights, box in the ring every day, and then get out of prison and start taking drugs again from day one. That's because they weren't ready in their minds to stop. Nobody can force you to quit. Even if they throw you into a rubber room for 6 months and there's no trace of addiction in your system at the end of that six months, you'll go straight back to drugs again – no matter how physically healthy you are – if you're not ready to quit. Now, it's obvious from your email that you want to quit. You're ready in your mind. So, the critically important thing is to set yourself realistic targets that you know you can reach. Just like the cigarette example I gave you before: if you tried to cut your smoking by half, in one day, you'd really feel the pressure. If you set a realistic and achievable target, like not smoking before 9 o'clock in the morning, you can always find the strength to stick to a routine like that.
AND STAY HEALTHY, WHILE YOU’RE TAPERING OFF
REMEMBER that Vicoden abuse attacks the liver, as well as other organs. If you're tapering off from Vicoden, make sure that you do what you can to protect your liver. There's plenty of advice on the internet about liver cleansing. Bottom line in this regard is: never drink alcohol while you're tapering off, because it only makes a stronger attack on the liver, and drink plenty of clean, fresh water every day.
AND REMEMBER that when you're tapering off, you need to incorporate other healthy components into your program of recovery. You have to do as much moderate exercise as you can. Walk every day. Eat healthy food: vegetables and cereals, skim milk, lean meat, fruits and fruit juices. You have to see these things as part of your medical treatment. This is a part of your cure, so demand it for yourself. Eat well, sleep in a routine, as much as you can, get exercise and fresh air. These things will all start to kick in when you get down in your tapering off to the point where you're taking very little Vicoden. All that healthy food and exercise will help you to get over the last hurdle, and stop taking the drug altogether. The healthier you are at the end of your tapering off, the easier it will be to take the final step, and quit altogether.
THE MEDICAL FACTS OF ADDICTION
There is a physiological fact, known to every doctor who specializes in drug abuse, related to pain response in drug abusers. When you take the Vicoden, it adds artificial endorphins (also written in some academic texts as "endorphines") into your system. These endorphins occur naturally in the body, produced by the brain, and they are the chemicals that help us to deal with stress, anxiety, and pain; they are a kind of natural morphine. When we flood our bodies with artificial endorphins, like Vicoden, the brain detects them, and tells the endorphin centre to stop producing them. So, the brain stops making natural endorphins. Now, when you try to quit drugs, you suddenly have to face stress, anxiety, and pain - but without any endorphins to help you, because the brain has stopped making them in your body. Without the artificial endorphins (Vicoden) and the natural endorphins, you have no weapons to help you face stress, anxiety, and pain. That's why the first few days of turkey is so severe. After a few days, the brain notices that there are no endorphins in the body, so the brain starts producing them again. After a couple more days, the brain is producing lots of natural endorphins, and you start to handle the stress, anxiety, and pain again. That's the process. It takes a few days, and then your natural endorphins kick in, and you have the natural strength to fight back against stress, anxiety, and pain. So, although it's very painful at first, you KNOW the science of what's going on, and you KNOW (because I just told you) that every day you'll get a little bit stronger, as the natural endorphins start to kick in, and the pain will get a little less.
ATTEND TO ANY OUTSTANDING MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Many times, when people get addicted to pain-relievers such as Vicoden, they started out taking the drug to get some relief from the pain caused by an outstanding condition. The typical causes of such pain-causing problems might be a football injury or some other kind of sports injury, a motorcycle accident or some other kind of accident, or perhaps a repetitive stress injury caused from studying or writing at a computer for long periods.
If that happened to you, and you started taking pain-relievers to address some injury or other medical problem, give that problem a high priority. If you try to break your addiction, and then still have to face the injury or medical problem that started you taking the pain-relievers in the first place, then you’ll have a problem waiting for you when you quit.
So, attend to any outstanding medical problem or injury, and give yourself the best chance that you can. Think holistically: look at the Big Picture of your health and lifestyle and mental well-being, and don’t leave anything hanging that might drag you back onto the broken road.
FRIENDS WHO TAKE THE SAME DRUG HAVE TO BE CUT FOR A WHILE
It’s a simple fact of the addicted life that you’ll never succeed in quitting while you are still in the company of people who can’t or won’t quit. If you’ve reached the Turning Point, and you’re ready and willing to quit, you have to cut yourself off from any friends you had who are still addicted. Some way down the line, when you’re strong and clean, you can re-connect with those friends, and maybe help them. But quitting is a life-jacket that only holds one at a time, and if you don’t break off your connection to those friends, you’ll backslide and drown with them.
10) YOU'RE NOT ALONE. You may think that you're alone with this problem, but it's not true. Believe me, I had exactly the same thought when I was an addict. I thought that the only people who understood me and what was happening to me were other addicts. That's just not true. I know that now. I see the world through clear eyes, and I know that we're not alone.
THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF REALLY GOOD-HEARTED PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO WANT TO HELP YOU. These people don't even know you, but they want to help you because they understand the pain and suffering of addiction.
Some of those people are in Narcotics Anonymous, for example. I personally have a problem with NA and AA, because I don't accept the basic premise that "You are always an alcoholic, or always a junkie". I've been straight for 19 years. I haven't had a cigarette or a drink of alcohol or any kind of drug for 19 straight years. I'm not a junkie. I don't accept the basic NA or AA concept that I am still a junkie. I'm not: I never think about drugs or alcohol - in fact, I can't stand them, and can't stand being around people who are taking drugs or getting drunk.
BUT, I do emphatically accept that AA and NA have helped a lot of people to get straight and to stay straight. For mine, it's not the philosophy of NA or AA that helps people to get straight: it's the people themselves, people who understand the problem and care about you. It's the love. And there's no doubt that NA and AA have a lot of sincere people working within those structures who care very deeply about others who are addicted. I have some close friends, friends I love and respect and admire, who went through NA, got straight, and now help others to get straight and stay straight. It worked for them, and maybe it can work for you.
There are also a lot of doctors and other medical professionals who care deeply about the problems of addiction. If you've had a bad experience with one doctor, or even more than one - hey, we're all human - then keep visiting doctors until you meet the right one: the doctor with love in her or his eyes. There's a lot of them out there. You're not alone. The right doctor can not only help you with the physical and psychological problem of addiction, but can also communicate with your parents, and help them to understand.
So, bottom line:
TAKE HEART. YOU'RE NOT A FAILURE. RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM AND WANTING TO CHANGE IS A CLEAR SIGN OF SUCCESS. YOU CAN DO IT: IF I DID IT, FROM BEING SUCH A MESSED UP JUNKIE THAT I ROBBED BANKS AND ENDED UP IN JAIL FOR 10 YEARS, THEN ANYONE CAN DO IT. YOU CAN DO IT. YOU CAN DO IT.
And it's not all bad: there's a pot of gold at the end of this fractured rainbow of beating drugs. There's a wisdom at the heart of beating an addiction that will stay with you forever. Trust me. When you beat it, you'll know a sense of power that can't come from anything else in this life. You'll use that power to shape your life in new and better directions that wouldn't even have occurred to you if you hadn't had the experience of finding the strength to beat your addiction. You've got so much going for you. Obvious intelligence - something that's clear from your email – good God, you get your head straight and you're gonna have the world in your hands. You'll know a power in your own mind that will give you strength and discipline in a hundred other directions, not even remotely connected to drugs and addiction. And you'll learn to love it: being the straightest person in the room is a huge advantage. Almost everyone I meet has had at least one drink (or other intoxicating substance) in the last 19 years. That usually makes me the straightest guy in the room. And that makes me, generally speaking, the most reliable guy in the room. People know it. They sense it. And they respond to it with trust and love. They know they can rely on me: I’m not going to get drunk and act stupid, they know I’m not going to flake out on drugs and let them down.
And that's waiting for you, when you kick this shit. A good, happy, creative, positive life is waiting for you. And it's yours: it's your right, and it belongs to you, that happier life. All you have to do is walk towards it, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, until you become the light that you forgot you are.
Your habit isn't as bad as you think it is. Of course, you're dependent on the Vicoden tablets. Of course, you have a habit. But there are people with much, much worse habits who've kicked it. I know people who took 200 tablets a day, and they still managed to kick it. You can do it. The pain seems unbearable when you stop taking the drug, I know. I've done cold turkey off heroin 9 times in my life - a few times in really tough prisons, surrounded by guys who were only too happy to make the turkey worse for me. I know the pain. But there's no such thing as too much to bear. You THINK the pain is too much, you THINK the pain is stronger than you are, but the fact is you're much stronger than any pain that anyone or anything can throw at you. You don't know it yet, but the deeper you dig, the more strength you'll find. We are marvelous, miraculous creatures, we human beings, and we don't know how much strength and power we have until we reach down deep and drag it up into the light. You can do it. You're habit isn't that big – and no matter how big or small it is, it can never be bigger than you are. You are always bigger than the drug habit. You can beat it.
Be a young adult, and face up to it all.
Be holistic and consistent across the whole problem and get medical advice and career advice before you break this to your parents.
Be smart and bring an adult in to help you break this to your parents.
Be strong and don't be afraid of the drug habit because it's not as bad as you think, and you have more power than you know, and you are bigger than the habit.
Be the change. You want your parents to love you and respect you and understand you, so that means you have to love, respect, and understand them as well. Sometimes, it's the kid or kids in a family who have to step up to the plate and tell the parents that there are serious problems in the family. It's up to you, now. Remember that you're not hurting your parents - you're helping them. You're not damaging your family, you're trying to save it. You're not a failure when you admit your problem and ask your parents for help, you're a success story. It's the ones who don't face the fire and get the help they need who fail. All the ones who succeed had to walk through the fire first. You have a clear enough picture, on one side, of what your family could be if it was happier and less stressful, and on the other side you have a clear enough picture of what the reality is now, and how far away from that happy picture the reality is. The situation will never change if you keep secrets and suffer alone with this problem. The only chance for the situation to change, and for your family to move closer to that happy picture you want it to be, is if YOU step in and make that cry for help. Who knows: maybe this habit you have, and the struggle your family can make to help you break it, will be the very thing that saves your family. Maybe you'll all look back in a few years time and think; "This was the saving of us."
Be strong. Put a powerful picture in your mind: you’re an adult, maybe you’re thirty years old, you're visiting your parents, you have a good job that you like doing and that seems meaningful and important to you, and you're bringing some gifts to your parents to celebrate their wedding anniversary. In that picture, you can see the love and respect and admiration in your parents' eyes when they look at you. You can see that they feel proud of you, and that they love you with all their hearts. You can see that what they love most about you is that you're a strong, reliable, and loving person. And you can see that they’re happy that you came to them with your problem, all those years ago, that you trusted them to help you, and that as a family you all dealt with it, and beat the habit, and sent you on that positive new direction that saved your life and made you who you are.
Keep that picture in your mind. And know that while you're asking your parents to save you, you're begging them with all the love in your heart to let you save them, and the family you love.
I’m going to stop now. There's a line where my advice can become interference, and I don't want to cross it. I care about you because I've walked in your shoes, and I've seen a lot of friends die over the years – friends who might’ve survived if they'd had some help. But it's your parents who LOVE you. They don't just care about your problem, as I do: they LOVE you. Think about it: they wouldn't be giving you all this criticism and grief if they didn't love you. If they didn't love you, they wouldn't care a damn what grades you get at school. It’s true that their love isn't helping you to deal with the problems you have in your life right now – especially the problem of your habit. But if you give them a chance, and bring them in, and make them part of the team, then their love can and will become a part of the solution, and the central part of the strength that will get you through. They just need to see how much you need them, and how lost their love for you feels right now.
Let your parents read this advice from me when you talk to them for the first time about all this. I think they'll be ready, at the end of that reading, to let their love shine through: the love that will save their child.
Very Last Words: You're right. I do get a lot of these emails from people all over the world who are addicted to some drug or other. And I've written back to them, just as I've written to you today - although this is a long one, I gotta say. And you know what? A lot of those people are straight today. A lot of them. I've got about 100 emails from people who contacted me, and then kicked their habits, and emailed me again after a year or two to tell me that they're straight, and living happy, positive lives. It's not as hard as you think. You can do it, just as they did.
And thanks for contacting me. Thanks for trusting me with your struggle and your pain. You've convinced me to put this response on my website – without your name and email message, of course – so that it might help other people who can't bring themselves to write to me.
Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
My best and strongest wishes,