LWC Podcast Episode #3: How Northern NM’s Historical Trauma Killed My Grandmother and Created the Region’s Heroin Problem

Welcome to the Lamb in wolf’s clothing podcast. My name is Juan Blea; I’m a writer and addiction counselor from Santa Fe, NM. In this episode I will be discussing how the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo killed my great-great grandma and created the conditions from which Northern NM’s heroin problem emerged and what we can do about this historical wrecking machine.

Guadalupe Hidalgo isn’t a person, it’s actually the place in Mexico where the US’s war with Mexico ended with the signing of peace treaty named after that location. Now, while this treaty ended the war, it did so by giving Tx, NM, AZ, and California to the US and allowed the United States to colonize that entire area. But, it wasn’t simply a matter of land, it was also a matter of the people living there who almost overnight, went from being Mexican citizens to territorial assets of the US. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what that was like; however, when I was in grad school, I took a Psychology of the Family class through which I learned about genograms, which are basically a family tree that shows any dysfunction the family members faced. What I saw within my own family was a pattern of depression and alcoholism that reached back for generations.

One of my ancestors really struck me though, and to this day, I still search for the truth about how and why she died, but without much luck. Family legend has it that she hung herself; however, the few documents that I have been able to unearth seem to indicate that my great-great grandfather may have killed her. He spent time, in the months before she died within the state mental hospital for what their records indicate was “exhaustion.” It appears that exhaustion was a precursor to what we know as PTSD and I suspect, strongly, that he had something to do with my great-great grandmother’s death. But in studying her death and the circumstances surrounding her death, I see that the treaty of Guadalupe hidalgo was more to blame than my grandfather because, my grandparents, like many other people in Northern New Mexico lost their land to a US initiated lawsuit and had to move and learn to function in a system that used English, while they all spoke Spanish…

Fast forwarding from those days of early statehood when hundreds of people lost their land to lawsuits and their language to a new system of government and what we’re left with is a whole group of people who had to develop a whole new identity in order to assimilate within the US cultural experience. While many families were able to become Americanized, many were not. Those that could not, seemingly live as though they were in fact traumatized, even though they haven’t really experienced any trauma directly. What’s more, almost every person I’ve worked with who’s addicted to heroin can meet criteria for either PTSD or Generalized Anxiety disorder, or both. And so, from my research into my grandmother’s death and my current work with people addicted to heroin, I am convinced that social and genetic programming in this region has created a community containing “embedded” traumas. This community seeks relief from this embedded trauma through an unconscious drive towards unhealthy behaviors, including heroin abuse. Also, this social and genetic programming has led to generational poverty, which contributes to the region’s struggle with opiate addiction.

And so, I believe with all that I am that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with all its consequential losses of land, language, culture and identity have allowed the perfect storm to emerge:

perfectStorm

In her book, Chiva: A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Epidemic, Chellis Glendinning describes the path heroin took to get to Espanola and so I’ll leave it my listeners to read that book, but the reality is that the Perfect Storm exists in Northern New Mexico and has led to a real problem with Opiate Addiction and we need to first wake up to this reality and then we all need to come together within our greater community to disrupt this perfect storm.

How?

I tend to look through the lens of empowerment to find answers and one concept that I teach over and over again comes from attribution theory and is called locus of control. Simply put, locus of control describes the way a person approaches life. According to attribution theory, people believe either that they make things happen and rely on their own actions (in which case they are internally locused), or they believe that things happen to them and rely on luck or some other external mechanism to get things done (and they are said to be externally locused). Because people lost so much to the treaty of Guadalupe hidalgo, I believe that whole communities became externally locused and passed on limiting beliefs to subsequent generations. Basically, people came to believe that there isn’t anything they can do to affect their lives, as they were just living their lives and lost everything. What’s worse is they developed GAD and/or PTSD and then passed those genes on. And so those limiting beliefs were passed on socially and became genetically entrenched..

So then, the short answer is that we must collectively build a sense of individual capability in our children, students, patients, or clients. It takes time, but there is hope.

Addiction treatment requires an addict to become aware of the situation in which he finds himself. In order to develop that awareness, we should not oppose the symptomatic behaviors within the addiction, but we should in fact seek to understand those behaviors. I recommend a program that includes reflective journaling in order to provide a mechanism through which a person can see his or her situation in his or her own terms and understanding. To do so, a person must name the situation; reflect upon its meaning, and then act to change the situation.

For example, when it comes to addiction, I propose that the addict: (1), first name the limiting situation or thought, then (2) he or she needs to reflect deeply upon its meaning and come up with a plan to eliminate the limiting thought and/or situation; and then (3), the addict must execute the plan step by step. Treatment providers through various modalities can obviously guide this process, but it’s a matter of developing the belief in personal capability. The battle against heroin may seem to be an external war, but in order to win, it has to be fought internally.

Admittedly, it takes time to build that sense of capability — and as an aside, art/music/creative writing are all great avenues of building that sense of capability – but when an entire region has lost its sense of place, then we all must act to rebuild that identity. I’ll continue to research and share ways and means of rebuilding and creating a healthy identity for my community. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and its subsequent and generational psychological occupation of this area will be eliminated some day.

That concludes this episode and I hope you found it valuable. Please do share your thoughts through my blog, jblea1016.com or you can email me at jblea1016@hotmail.com and please don’t forget to check out my award-winning book, 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction.

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We NEED to consider extended-release Naltrexone for treatment opioid dependence

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A study published at the end of 2015 (please see this article summary) showed that opiate addicts benefited more from extended release naltrexone treatment than they previously had with Suboxone. It appears that naltrexone with psychosocial therapy significantly reduced the urge to use opiates when compared with Suboxone treatment. This and other studies (simply google: “extended release naltrexone for treating opiate dependence” for more) have also demonstrated extended release naltrexone’s efficacy in the long-term treatment of opiate dependence.

Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist that does not offer any “buzz” or addiction risks. It minimizes the impact of the effects of opiates and can also be prescribed for alcohol dependence. From my perspective, there are two (2) distinct advantages to naltrexone over Suboxone: 1) Any medical doctor that can prescribe medication can prescribe naltrexone, while Suboxone prescription requires a DEA license; and, 2) there is no risk of diversion with…

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Like it or not, fighting Addiction is everyone’s war

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Among the challenges I face in attempting to educate people is their strict adherence to what they think they know. Popular culture provides certain myths that become adopted as though they’re facts – without little reflection or testing about the basic truth of the myth.

For example, that there could even be a question about addiction and whether or not it’s a disease. TV show like, “Intervention,” present a certain attitude that, if a person could go to rehab and “deal” with his or her addiction, then they could become the healthy person they once were. But this view is crap.

Substance use is measured along a continuum of functioning. Addiction is the end result this continuum and by the time a person has slipped into an addiction, he or she has probably endured significant losses. A person afflicted with Addiction has also endured significant bio-psycho-social changes that more than…

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LWC Podcast Episode #2: How to help someone with an Addiction

Episode 2 is here!  In this episode, I provide my best advice to anyone who wants to help an addict.  I discuss: 1) The 3 most important things to educate yourself about; 2) Talking openly with a loved about his or her relationship with a substance; and, 3) Gathering treatment resources to have available for someone who’s ready for healthy recovery!

Enjoy! and please let me know of any comments/questions/suggestions!

3 things all treatment programs for heroin addiction should have

While there appears to be a heroin epidemic that is causing middle America to lose their minds, the fact is that, while not every heroin user wants to get clean, there is a treatment protocol that will work.  This protocol should address all three (3) layers of a human life: 1) the biological; 2) the pycho-emotional; and, 3) the spiritual.  In addressing all of these layers, there is a higher likelihood of lasting recovery.

1. The Biological Layer

First, because of heron’s deep effect of the body, I really recommend that someone in treatment finds and sticks with a Suboxone-prescribing doctor.  Suboxone is a medicine that is comprised of both buprennorpine, an opiod, and naloxone, a opiod-blocker.  The idea is that buprenorphine stimulates opiod receptors enough such that the naloxone can “knock them down.”  Suboxone should be first administered when the patient is withdrawing and then tapered down over a period of time.  Methadone is another heroin substitute, but there’s no real way to taper from methadone (it is a safer alternative to heroin if administered within the confines of an official clinic).  Therefore, I strongly advise that Suboxone be used to address the physical component of heroin addiction.

2. The Psycho-emotional Layer

Second, I also recommend that a heroin treatment program contains some form of psycho-emotional counseling such as CBT, EMDR, or Seeking Safety.  The reason I recommend psycho-emotional support is that almost every single heroin addict I’ve encountered (and I’ve encountered a lot) has had a history of trauma and would certainly meet criteria for a formal PTSD diagnosis.  Learning to manage the shame and anxiety associated with PTSD is critical in order to heal wounds that the heroin covered.

3. The Spiritual Layer

Lastly in terms of my list, but not in terms of importance, is that all people in recovery, but especially heroin addicts, must find a spirituality that is based upon something sacred.  The way I attempt to develop this spirituality is through discussion and exploration of healthy alues because in my opinion, healthy values will lead to the sacred within a given person’s life.  Heroin addiction reduces the entirety of a person to a single point of value: heroin and it’s imperative that healthy values emerge that can replace the heroin’s value.

Again, there’s no magic bullet that can heal everyone, but, I do recommend that all treatment programs address these three (3) layers in some form or fashion.  Heroin addiction is complex and isn’t a simple matter of not using heroin. Peace, light, and love to everyone.

3 things an opiate addict can do that might help her kick

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A while back, I got a call from a mentor with a GED program about a client of hers who needed help. The client was a seventeen (17) – year-old girl who’s addicted to Oxycodone. Anytime I get these types of calls, I can’t help but need a deep breath; opiates are a common enemy of mine and when the person they’re impacting is still a minor, I can’t help but lose a bit of neutrality. It’s sad to me that someone so young needs help to overcome an addiction to an opiate. Recovery is hard work and when the person who enters recovery is still trying to herself out, it makes the work all that much harder.

The good news, though, is that she recognizes, for whatever reason, that she needs help to kick. To me, it’s a strong indication that the person wants to get clean; if she…

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4 requirements for successful Recovery

Recovery isn’t about flipping a switch or waving a magic wand. There are certain elements that must either be in place or be developed before recovery can happen. As much as we want addicts to just simply stop using whatever substance to which they’re addicted, recovery just doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, someone is recovery requires four (4) things:

  1. A support system that’s educated on the relationship between anxiety and compulsion and how each maintains the addictive cycle. This education should include the pharmacology of the respective substance (or substances) of abuse, as someone addicted to cocaine requires different treatment tools than someone addicted to opiates.
  2. Recognition of the spiritual needs of the person in recovery. This does not mean pushing one religion or another onto someone; really, all it means is that each person should find a way to engage with something bigger than him or her self. All people have different needs and throwing a higher power at an atheist may be iatrogenic.
  3. An understanding of the underlying causes of the Addiction. The underlying cause may be a co-occurring issue such as Depression or General Anxiety Disorder or it can simply be a desire to use the substance. Either way though, finding the root cause is critical to developing and maintaining recovery.
  4. Recognition that recovery begins again, every day. The truth is that recovery begins again every day. Addiction isn’t cured; it’s managed and it’s done so over time. There is no quick fix; plus, relapse may be a part of recovery. Daily focus (or refocus) is a basic component to successful recovery and must be renewed every day.

If we can build these four elements, then someone can recovery from an addiction. If, however, we keep hoping that a genie will spring forth from a magic lamp and grant us some wishes, then recovery probably isn’t going to happen…

There are NO shortcuts for addiction Recovery

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Beware: This message may offend you…

One of the harder aspects of trying to treat addiction and substance abuse is that sometimes people want me to have answers that are somehow easy and/or guaranteed. But, every time I take on a case or follow-up on an existing case, I learn more and more just how much people want someone else upon whom they can either project responsibility or place blame. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not here as a lightning rod to displace the negative emotion that accompanies substance abuse. I’m here, in my opinion, to teach the mechanics of substance abuse and substances, and to also teach tools for coping with those mechanics, once understood. But I can’t teach what someone isn’t willing to learn and to learn, ultimately, means to process and use the information I teach.

I get asked questions, all the time, about things to do…

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Why should you explore the space between your ears?

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So, I’ve begun teaching a writing class (can’t disclose where) that I call: Exploring the space between your ears.  The point of this course is to lead addicts through a series of reflective writing exercises such that they learn to “own” the space between their ears (you know, their thoughts, emotions, etc.)

It’s like this: cave exploring is a generally lightless experience.  It’s probably a bad idea to explore a cave without a flashlight.  What’s an even worse idea is to dive into a cave without an idea of where it leads and how much room there is to navigate and move around.  Yet we tend to live our lives without knowing where the space between our ears leads.  We don’t explore that area enough, and when we do, we usually find things there like self-doubt or fear.  For some, the space between their ears holds unearned shame which then leads to other dark places from which people can’t escape.

Substance dependency further clouds that space between the ears because all it leads to is more substance use.  For those addicted to drugs and alcohol, the space between their ears isn’t theirs, really; substances of abuse hijack that space such that people can’t even explore that area because all they’ll find is a never ending desire for MORE….

That’s where the class comes, in – at least, the hope for this class is that participants learn to both explore that space between their ears in a safe and creative way so that they can wrest the map away from substances’ clutches and create their own map to a healthier place from which something good and strong and beautiful can emerge.

Since no one can know anyone else’s space between their ears and I since want everyone to get to know their own, I’m sharing the exercise through which I led the class.  I asked the participants to answer:

Have you ever done something that you didn’t understand? In looking back at your behavior, why do you think you acted as you did?

(an aside, this exercise comes from my book, “49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction”)

The class found value in looking inside the space between their ears and I think it was a good introduction for them to reflect on their behaviors that they may not have understood when they first acted as they did.  As a matter of fact, their general responses showed real thought and I would even dare to say that they gained some valuable information that they can use along their path towards Recovery.  I offer this same exercise to anyone: Really dig in to the space between your ears, addict or not, I can safely say you can learn about yourself in a very deep and real way.  Good luck and safe travels down the rabbit hole that can be our innermost thoughts….

Heroin addicts are masters of defending their heroin use

We all tend to believe in our own concept of who we are that we almost always find our own arguments about something the most compelling.  I think it’s a fact of human nature, really.  But an addict really thinks his arguments about his drug use are the most correct.  I’ve heard a heroin addict tell me, “I wish people would just let me use heroin and leave me alone about it.  It’s no different than drinking a beer after work.”  The first time I heard that argument, while I was a bit impressed at the reasoning, the facts are that alcohol, however destructive, is legal and distilled in regulated factories.  Heroin, however, is illegal and often cut with all kinds of crap; there’s almost never two identical batches of heroin on the streets.

However, I didn’t argue with him, even though I found my own argument the most compelling. He would have argued about the horrors of alcohol and call everyone who drinks it, “hypocrites” and only found reasons why he was right and I was wrong.  Maybe I’ve learned something or maybe I’m too tired to argue, but I’ve realized that arguing only makes the resistance to changing all the stronger.

It is all counselors’ job to help clients transition from status quo to a healthier state, but that healthier state isn’t the counselor’s to define.  It’s up to all of us to determine what’s in our own healthiest interests.  There’s no one prescription towards health that works for everyone.  I can safely say that those who think they have a singular method for a healthy life are simply promoting their own agenda for their own gain.   A better approach, to me, is to not fight the arguments for using, but rather, help addicts find their own ways that they can have a healthier life and then let them argue for their own health.

We may want the addicts in our life to stop using their substances, but the reality is that the substances present a value and payoff and although we may not understand it, it’s up to every person to find payoffs for NOT using substances that they themselves defend.  If I, or anyone else, tell a heroin addict to stop using heroin, there’s a good chance that all I’ll do is help him build his case for using it.  I honestly believe that we all know what’s truly best for own health, it’s just a matter of finding it and then defending it.  When we finally start down a healthier path, the need to use substances will diminish in time because the payoffs of health are far more valuable than using substances.