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ADDICTIONLAND QUESTION: Describe your solution to the problem of addiction (of any kind).

ANSWER: It’s not news that addiction is a disease that affects the body, mind, and spirit but what I’ve noticed is that the public dialogue about addiction is that it rarely addresses the main component addicts have to deal with – which is the voice of addiction. Like a science fiction movie, most addicts live with an internal dialogue. And it doesn’t vary much from addict to addict. When an addict is using drugs, it voices the obsessive thought process. The problem solving discourse centers solely on getting and using drugs: where to get them, when to get them, how to get them, how much money is needed, where the money will come from. It rehearses whatever stories are needed to cover up all the tracks from anyone who could get in the way of making it happen or for whom the truth isn’t possible. It is the voice that assures the addict that everything’s under control. It affirms that they can stop at any time. When someone has a genuine desire to get clean this voice becomes unrelenting. It creates so much distraction and anxiety it’s debilitating. It will reason that rather than quitting, a taper down is a better approach or that eliminating only the problem drug is the best solution. Essentially, all thoughts are aimed at justifying reasons for not stopping or not stopping quite yet. When someone gets clean, the voice continues to try all the old tricks that ever worked to wear the addict down until they give in to the obsession and relapse. It is only by accumulating weeks and months drug and alcohol free that the voice starts to weaken - but it never fully disappears. The benefit of having an ongoing program of recovery is to become comfortable in our own skin. The voice no longer controls our actions.

To an outsider, this description of the inner life of an addict probably comes across like a horror possession film or a case of multiple personality yet addicts understand without question. They understand what is meant by “It’s the voice in your head that says, “What voice”. It’s the voice that says, “This is bullshit. There’s no voice in your head. You aren’t an addict.”

When I work with clients, I help them recognize their own patterns of thinking and how the voice of the disease talks to them so they are able to not let it gain the power to lead them away from recovery choices and toward relapse. It can be as subtle as thinking, “No one understands how tired I am. I have nothing against going to meetings but what is healthier for me tonight is to stay home. I’ll go tomorrow instead.” For someone who has been in recovery for a while, this is a sound proposition but for someone who has just returned home from rehab, this is exactly how relapse begins in almost all cases.

It’s important to be able to recognize the voice of the disease and the various ways it sneaks into your thinking so that you can take positive actions to weaken it. Staying connected to a support group who is also in recovery is key because they will point out that what we are saying, doing, or when our plans will cause harm or are a set-up to using again. One example is a friend with a history of relapse who finally got clean after a ten year run. As he was coming upon his year anniversary, he made plans to go to a small town in Turkey to have what was estimated at 6 months worth of dental surgeries in a three-week period. The logic behind this decision was that it was much cheaper. Mind you, this friend had money to go to any dentist in New York City. To an outsider in recovery, this proposition was insane. Thousands of miles from a support group with access to painkillers is a recipe for disaster. Everyone could see this except him. From his point of view, this trip was completely logical. In the end, because of his track record with relapse and his willingness to trust the opinions of others, he canceled the trip. He has managed to complete most of the work in increments this past year and has taken nothing stronger than Motrin.

How to have inner peace – peace from that voice that always wants to lead you in directions that cause drama, self harm, create turmoil in relationships, that says you don’t need to sleep, that is always looking for ways to bring up feelings of self loathing? I believe clean time weakens it along with 12-step meetings and a program of recovery. It’s also important to eat healthy food, exercise, have playful leisure time, to laugh, get fresh air, meditation, to get quality sleep, and to seek professional help if there is past trauma.  A balanced life is the best defense against relapse.

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Patty Powers is a sober coach and writer. She was featured on the A&E mini series Relapse and can be found in the "expert" section of She writes on Addiction and Fear for the Becoming Fearless section of the Huffington Post.

Patty balances her time between coaching private clients, several book projects, volunteer work and speaking engagements. With Dan Griffin, she is creating a four part public discussion forum on Sex and Recovery which will take place as a town hall meeting on this summer.

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