~~Alcoholism or addiction is a disease because it fits the definition of disease. It is progressive and chronic, and left untreated, it will kill.~~ Unknown
I attended a walk for suicide prevention awareness today which was sponsored by a local mental health agency. I was the only community member to attend....and it wasn't even my community. I drove 35 miles to get there. But I'm glad I went. I walked because I have family members who struggle with dark thoughts and I have friends who have lost loved ones to suicide.
On the drive home, I got to thinking about the stigma of mental health. Now if the heart is 'diseased', everyone nods and says "What medication are you on?" If the kidneys are 'diseased', there is dialysis and meds. There is insulin for a diseased pancreas...if the appendix is 'diseased', take it out. All medical stuff and no one doubts.
When the brain is 'diseased', people recoil. They whisper. They say things like 'mental problems' and 'crazy'. Keep in mind, my friends, that the brain is an organ in the body just like the heart and the kidneys and the pancreas. The brain is an organ that misfunctions. That misfunction means that the brain needs to be treated by medical professionals in the same way that the heart needs to be treated and the kidneys need to be treated and the pancreas needs to be treated.
Addiction is a disease of the brain, too. When addiction occurs, the brain no longer functions properly. It is in distress. And when the brain doesn't function properly, things begin to happen to that person. Thoughts become irrational (I will die without a cigarette!), other body parts begin to also misfunction (the blood pressure rises, headaches occur, jitters happen, anxiety appears), and the brain screams "Danger!! Need drug to function!!"
If smoking were only a 'habit', you would get rid of it in 21 days. Habits are formed or broken within 21 days and then within 90 days, new habits become second nature. Habits do not cause you to break down, habits do not cause your blood pressure to rise, and habits don't make you feel like you're going crazy. Do not beat yourself up because you can't 'break this habit'. Understand that you are recovering from a disease. Different, isn't it? You need to give your brain time to heal. You need to understand that your brain is not functioning like a healthy brain should. You need to educate yourself on what you can do to help this journey you are on. A few suggestions:
1. Don't believe everything you think. Again, because your brain is 'diseased', it is not firing those synopses like it should. If you have ever thought things like "I will go crazy without a cigarette" or even "I can't make it through the day without one", your brain is misfunctioning, isn't it? You will not go crazy if you don't smoke. You can make it through the day without one and you certainly won't die if you don't have one. All the rantings of an unhealthy brain.
2. Understand that you have to go through the recovery process. Not around it, not over it. There are no magic cures, no miracle drugs, no easy outs. Accept it, brace yourself, and just get through it one moment at a time. Not every minute is going to be horrible. Not every day will be filled with angst. But there will be times that you may struggle. Refer back to suggestion 1. Don't believe you can't do this.
3. While you are recovering, start new, healthy habits. It will distract you and delight you. Paint, learn yoga, take hikes, train for 5ks, learn to dance, get that college degree, make amends with your neighbors, volunteer, put yourself out there in the world. It's been waiting for you.
4. When elders say things like "It's so much better on the other side of smoking" and "I feel so free", understand that they are talking with HEALTHY brains!! That poor organ has been through the wringer and is now better. Healed, functioning as it should, and making our lives so very much better by it's clear thinking!!! Elders aren't exaggerating or lying.....they are healing.
5. It's hard, so hard, to get through the day with a brain that is diseased. It gets tired, it doesn't know how to fix things, it needs help. And because the brain is the start of all other processes like moving and feeling and understanding and reasoning, when you are in active addiction, you cannot be your best. You just can't. Even when you think you are. You may be functioning fine....but take that cigarette away. When you smoke, you are functioning towards that next cigarette, not towards anything else. That, my friends, is the evils of addiction...even a legal one.
So I went for that walk today for suicide prevention. And tomorrow I may sign up for another mental health gathering. Because we need to break that stigma. Mental health isn't all in your mind....it's also in your brain, which makes it a physical health condition as well. Take good care of your body, please. Even that brain which no one seems to think about.
Sending all of you best wishes for a very healthy brain!!