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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Rona Ambrose and Oxycontin

It's good that the government is taking opioid abuse seriously.  It would be even better if they tried to understand the circumstances around why abuse is so prevalent.

If kids are getting their Oxycontin at home, that means they're probably pulling from their parents 'prescriptions.  So the question is, why are so many parents being prescribed such powerful painkillers?

I spent the better part of two-and-a-half years on Oxycontin, so have some unique insight into the matter.

My experience started with a bout of terrible neck pain that felt like a knife had been slid between my vertebrate.  The pain shot up from the base of my neck to the back of my skull and seared along my shoulders, a cowl of sharp agony that made sleep impossible and everything else difficult.  

At the time, I was a loyal political staffer who put the interests of my Member and community (and then the party) above all else.  I was also managing a staff member who required a great deal of managing.  On the home front, my wife was facing bad post-partum depression after the birth of our first child.  That condition was complicated by hypo-thyroidism.

Without really thinking about it, I was none-the-less bouncing back and forth from one difficult environment to the other, day after day, month after month.  I was already sleeping less, taking less care of myself, spending more time documenting things on a computer and more time hunched up, waiting for the next crisis to emerge when my neck seized for the first time.

Visualize the posture of being hunched up, of tensing those muscles (trapezia) all day, every day. Hunched over, as in hunched over a computer.  Hunched over, carrying the weight of stresses it does no good to articulate, not when getting through the next few hours is your main objective.

I did everything I could to stabilise both environments, doing what I have a habit of doing - taking on too much responsibility when no one else does, because that's what loyalty is about.  The pain was my body responding to that environment, doing what pain does - telling me I was in an unhealthy environment and my body was suffering.  Instead of dealing with the root causes of my pain, I did what I think many people do - Oxycontin became a band-aid, a way to sweep my structural challenges under the carpet.  Essentially, Oxy became my out.

I was never addicted to it.  In fact, I never liked the feeling of being on it - I felt sluggish, removed, like standing at the bottom of a pool and trying to interact with the people around the edge. Periodically, I'd go off it, just because I didn't want to feel that way for at least a while.

I was, however, physically dependent on it.  Not being on it was torture, withdrawal even worse.

Eventually I smartened up enough to recognise my environment was part of my problem. 

Unfortunately, that realisation came with an offer to join another team, which turned out to present an even less-appropriate work culture for me.  By this point my confidence had equally taken a hit, so depression and anxiety were all mixed in with the never-ending pain.  If something wasn't working out, the only conclusion I could draw was that it was my fault - it's all I'd been hearing from the people I spent the most time with for so long, what else could be true?

For two more years, I lived in a cavern of pain and depression.  The pain was real, but the conditions that caused that pain were by and large external.  Had I been in a different set of environments, or if one had made an effort to be more accommodating, the pain could have subsided.  The work I was doing (but not promoting, 'cause that's what you do when your serotonin-rich) was excellent, but went unnoticed.  No one cared, if they even noticed; I was an employee on one end, a husband and father on the other.  My job was to do what others needed and if I couldn't do that, what use was I?

It wasn't until my wife started getting proper treatment and support for her health conditions and I had been let go of the job that things started to get better - because my environment changed.

I weaned myself off of the Oxy - went cold-turkey, actually, which I don't recommend - and started making a point of relaxing, of doing stretches, of taking care of myself - not something that comes naturally to a kid with ADHD and on the autism spectrum, but that's the power of discipline.

It wasn't until years later that I read The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts and saw an actual study that tied environmental stress to substance abuse that everything clicked into place.  When the environment and culture change, so too does the physical response to it, and the need for an out like Oxy.  It happened to me.

This is a growing theme that's emerging in our world, especially where work and finances are related. The laissez-faire, competitive alphas of the world are downloading responsibility, increasing pressure and using sticks more than carrots to keep their people in line.  Especially when creative cognitive work is what's desired, this is counter-intuitive but hey - he who's got the gold makes the rules, right? 

People just need to suck it up, get with the program.  It's an abrasive world, don't you know.

Youth in particular need to "man up"; taking drugs and whining about the lack of paid opportunities out there won't change the way the world works.  They need to hustle harder and expect less, is all. They are lazy, risk-taking, irresponsible; their low voter-turnout has nothing to do with how the system ignores them.  If they cared, they would do something about it, right?  Same on the job front.  They have to sell harder, harder than their parents did, because that's just how the world works.  

Except the world isn't working, and more people are looking for internalised outs to cope with it.

The people at the top who make tons of money and have as many sycophants as critics don't notice this, because they're too busy abusing other substances to notice.

Oxycontin addiction isn't the problem; it's a symptom.  One of many.  Until we choose to recognise the real problem and tackle the root causes of poverty, depression, unemployment, voter apathy and yes, drug abuse, it's only going to get worse.

A national mental health strategy that emphasises emotional resiliency and appropriate support/workplace empathy is a start.  Beyond that, though, we need a massive culture change that has to start with the top.

If she's serious - more so than her boss - that's where Rona Ambrose should be focusing her attention.

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