Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's the Deal?

Let me start by saying that the purpose of this blog entry is not to make a statement about the legalization of marijuana either “for” or “against” or otherwise make any other kind of political statement. With that disclaimer out of the way, I wanted to introduce a scenario that has been on my mind as a substance abuse counselor in the Northeastern USA. As with most substance abuse counselors, I work with a lot of young people who smoke a lot of weed. In New Jersey, marijuana is still pretty expensive while jobs are currently still pretty scarce especially for young marijuana smokers, therefore many of the more avid pot smokers who I have worked with in treatment have had to resort to selling marijuana to support their own marijuana habit. I am not talking about big-time dealers (although I have worked with some of those too); Rather in this case, I am talking about the type of kid who sells just enough weed to have enough left for himself to smoke a gram or two, or even three each day as a part of his own habit with maybe a little cash left over for other expenses. Right now a gram of marijuana in this area I hear is still about $20 so I am talking about kids with a $20 to $50 dollar-a-day marijuana habit. I realize that not every kid smokes that much however, usually more of the kids that end up in treatment are the more regular “heads” with a bigger commitment to trying to get high on a daily basis than some of the more recreational users; (despite the fact that many of the daily weed smokers still consider themselves recreational users anyway, therefore “recreational” is a subjective term).

Where I am curious about is that once marijuana is fully legalized recreationally in this area, then what will the people who sell marijuana to support their habit end up doing in order to continue to fund their marijuana habit? In other words, if there is no longer a need for “self-employed” marijuana dealers due to the availability of legal marijuana for purchase then what choices do the current dealers have after legalization fully takes place? I imagine that some individuals will be forced to cut down on their personal use of marijuana without having the means to support themselves, while others instead will be moved to get jobs rather than cut down on their smoking. Still others, perhaps will keep up their current rate of marijuana use while instead changing to selling “harder” drugs such as cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens. It is this third scenario which is most concerning because the last thing we need is more hard drugs on the streets.

An additional factor to consider is that some individuals who get involved with dealing soon develop an affinity for the excitement and fast money associated with drug-dealing, sometimes even more so than using. I have had many conversations with drug dealers at all levels about how selling drugs can become an incredibly difficult to quit “addiction” in itself. There can be a “high” often associated with the easy money and sense of power and social status that can come with being “in demand” as a drug dealer that many dealers will openly admit can be quite difficult to let go of. Again, the question is what choices will these individuals make if and when it is no longer feasible for them just to sell pot?

BEFORE COMMENTING on this please understand the following. I am not predicting that any of this will or will not actually happen. I am also not trying to stir up debate, anger or contentions among either pro or anti marijuana legalization supporters; (Believe me I know from experience how strongly people feel about this issue and I respect people’s right to their various differences of opinion). I also realize the fact that there is already a lot to be learned from other regions of this country and this world (Colorado USA, for instance as well as Amsterdam, which has already re-adjusted its own drug laws in recent years.) This is just a “food for thought” type of scenario that has been on my mind in these ever-changing times in which we live for introspection and perhaps some intelligent and open discussion.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halfway There

“Give it everything you got!”

“It’s all or nothing”

“Don’t go anything less than 110%”

These and other similar phrases are well meaning and can be very motivational when the listener is able to make application. We all love stories of how someone left it all on the line and gave it their all in some kind of struggle which ended up with overcoming great odds or some other success story. Going for it full force is awesome if you have what it takes to make it happen. Still, does that mean less enthusiastic, less energetic efforts are a waste of time?

If you look up the phrase “half measure” it is associated with being “inadequate”. That may be the case, as half-hearted efforts can end up in failure because they don’t have the momentum needed for success. In competitive areas like sports, academics and in many careers, if someone doesn’t give it their all, then success is unlikely so half measures are frowned upon. Nevertheless, in many other arenas of life a half-measure can still be a very positive thing for one simple reason: a half-hearted effort is still better than NO EFFORT.

Take for example, exercise. Isn’t it better that someone do a lousy workout than no work out at all? At least, he or she got up and went to the gym which is worthwhile in itself. Another example would be if you asked an oppositional teenager to clean his or her room and he or she responds by doing a subpar job. At least he listened and did some cleaning! These types of efforts are clearly at a minimum a step in the right direction. There is at least something to work with in both scenarios.

The same is true for substance abuse. If someone is willing to “just give it a try” when it comes to addressing their substance use, it is still better than someone who refuses to do anything about it. Do people need to “hit bottom” and does it then need to be viewed as “life or death” in order for positive change to happen? Surely it can be helpful when someone feels desperate for change but it is not a requirement for a successful outcome. In reality, many people come into substance abuse treatment with a “half-hearted” or ambivalent attitude still end up doing extremely well in the long term. By contrast, sometimes the people who come in “gung ho” about recovery in the beginning actually start strong but end up burning out when the “fire” inside them runs out. Whether it is just a half measure or not, when someone finally makes their way into treatment there is always some hope for improvement. Going back to the fire analogy, if there is at least a spark, then the rest of us (counselors, family members, friends, and other helpers) can figuratively blow on and then feed that tiny spark of motivation to help then build up a fire inside for change.

What is important to remember when it comes to substance abuse and other similar areas, is that some change is better than no change. Many of us need to walk before we can run as the saying goes. Therefore, it is so critical that any of us in a role as “helper” remember the importance of being a cheerleader, motivator, supporter, etc. for those who unsure or ambivalent about change that may be just starting with a half-measure. Or if you are a person struggling with something right now, it is worth it make an effort, no matter how limited that may be because it is a step in the right direction. Change has to start somewhere, so whether you are ready to give it your all, or just go half way, if you can just get up and get out the door then there is hope. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Imagine That!

From an early age, as children we learn to use a very powerful facet of our conscious mind, which is our imagination. Having an active imagination is actually one of the most enjoyable parts of childhood because of the way it expands our focus. For example, as children most have imagined things like what it’s like to win the Super Bowl by scoring the game winning touchdown, or what it would be like to invent a Time Machine, or how it would feel to be a princess, a movie star or an astronaut. Interestingly, most children don’t just limit their imagination to the “big” or impressive things. An imaginative young child also takes the time to think about seemingly silly things like “What must it feel like to be a bug or a frog, or a bird, or a fish or an elephant…?”

Then as we get older a combination of experience and maturity can cause us to adjust the focus of and limit the scope of our imagination. For sure, most adults can easily still imagine what it would be like to be famous, or rich, or powerful as we often view those dreams as solutions to our immediate personal anxieties. Who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to win the lottery or inherit someone’s huge fortune and estate? However, if we are not careful, we can allow the adult limitations of our “matured” imagination to cause us to forget to imagine the less prestigious things in life. This can be particularly damaging when it comes to forgetting how others who may be less fortunate, less influential or less experienced than us must think and feel. Some examples:
The parent who no longer imagines what it is like to struggle with the seemingly endless challenges and trials of adolescence 

The wise, healthy, experienced, or educated person with all the answers, who cannot imagine what it is like to be lost, confused, under-educated or learning disabled

The gifted and fortunate individual faced with abundant choices and opportunities who does not take the time to imagine what it’s like to be needy, limited, poor, or otherwise vulnerable or oppressed.

The person blessed with psychological and emotional stability and support who fails to imagine what it must be like to have to struggle daily with chronic mental illness, addiction and social isolation.

We all need to keep our sense of imagination alive and well in order to practice one of the most essential human interpersonal life skills; which is our ability to try to understand others, particularly those who may be struggling, hurting, suffering or those who are just different than us. Simply put, our imagination is still serving us well if we use it daily to practice Empathy