Answer to the Problem

Dr. Hope

Dr. Hope is a retired Professor of Psychology (also a recovered drug addict totally drug free for over twenty-one years). Write to him at PO Box 187 North Beach WA 6020. Real names are never used in this article.

Scruffy man Sam F. Is a scruffy, fifty-year-old truckie who scuba-dives and wears a pony-tail. He also attends the Community Drug Action Group where he looks... like, well, maybe...he doesn’t exactly belong in there, with his ragged jeans, worn jumper, and hard-toe boots. Then there is the little matter of the ear-rings! Three in the same ear, rising up from the lobe like rungs. Ear rungs! No other male in the Action Group even wears one earring. The Chairman wears a suit. Sam doesn’t own a suit. When men in suits begin to give speeches, Sam looks bored and sneaks outside for a cigarette. Today’s speech by the Secretary of the Drug-Abuse Strategy Committee is titled "Strategies Against Drug-Abuse." The Secretary worked all night on it. Everyone thinks Sam, more than anyone, needs to listen. I mean you can tell by looking at him...

Or can you? Actually what you can’t tell is that Sam F., scruffy Sam, despite the way he looks, could give a much better talk if anyone would care to listen to him. Because Sam, with the worn jeans, is actually the answer to the problem. Of course that’s an exaggeration but, hear me out, I didn’t say Sam had the answer or knew the answer. I said he was the answer.

Sam is a recovered drug addict - heroin, speed, pot, hash, coke, barbiturates, Serepax, knock-out drops, designer drugs, you name it, Sam has popped it, shot it, drunk it, smoked it. But the operative word is recovered. To Sam, who is precise about these things, ‘recovered’ means totally ‘clean today’ and ‘nothing in my blood but blood.’ However, during what he calls his ‘using years’ he was never ‘clean today’, never sober. I mean, the lights were on but nobody was home.

"Basically," says Sam, "I stayed stoned for fifteen years, moving from one drug to another, trying every drug known and some combinations not known and I still don’t know what they are."

He spent months in rehabs, detox units, dry-out farms and drunk tanks. He stole to support his habit, went to jail for stealing. He lost marriages, jobs, possessions, self-respect. He hurt many people in his using days, but most of all he hurt himself. Drugs made him friendless, a derelict, unemployed, unemployable.

All that ended five years ago. Now everything has changed. For five years, Sam has not taken a single mind- or mood-altering substances. No heroin, no marijuana, no barbiturates, no acid trips, no codeine cough-mixture, no anti-depressants, no amphetamines, not even one panadeine, nor anything else that rhymes with een (except Nicotine and caffeine).

And no alcohol, not one beer. Sam F., scruffy Sam, earring, tats, and all, is absolutely, totally, rigidly, rigorously, piously, enormously, thoroughly clean today! Unbelievable! Even the Secretary of the Strategy Committee has a cocktail or two on Saturday afternoon with the Fund Chairman. But not Sam. He would not touch a cocktail with a ten-foot swizzle-stick. Not even a sherry before dinner. No! Sam is cleaner than normal. If everybody did what Sam does, there would be no drug problem in Perth or anywhere else. But of course, the wineries and breweries would also go broke. I mean Sam is extreme.

There is an intensity about Sam that is, to be frank, a bit hard to take at times. Sam’s opinions seem fixed in concrete. People who like to smoke a bit of dope or get drunk on the odd Saturday night, find Sam disturbing to say the least. I mean, listening to Sam talk about his past can really ruin your high - bring you right down, you know!

Professional drug counselors do not really take to Sam either because he did not get clean in a professional program. Sam got clean in a twelve-step fellowship that is totally non-professional and self-supporting through its own contributions.

One thing they keep stressing in Sam’s twelve-step fellowship is anonymity. This means ‘If you want to stay clean, pull your head in and resign from the debating society.’ Therefore, if you want to hear what Sam has to say, you have to ask him, one-on-one. When you do that, here are some of the things Sam is likely to tell you.

  1. Recovering addicts must abstain from all drugs in order to recover. And alcohol is a drug.
  2. The most dangerous drug for Sam is ‘the one I haven’t tried yet.’
  3. Addiction is in the person not in the drug. If Sam starts thinking he never ‘had a problem’ with pot,’ he will be back on the smack. Sam tries to avoid ‘the clubs, the pubs and the dives.’ He has given away his using friends.’
  4. Sam is absolutely convinced that, for him,

The Only Way to Quit is to Quit. Totally! ‘Controlled use’, ‘harm-minimisation’, and ‘behaviour modification techniques’ are theories which simply do not work on the seriously addicted. Addicts who try to cut down are bound to go back to full-on using eventually. Those who switch drugs or rely on prescribed medication are ‘just changing berths on the Titanic.’

One of the most interesting, if disheartening, things Sam has to say is that nobody, but nobody, can rehabilitate a drug addict except God himself. Furthermore, even God rarely cures an addict who wants to use. Sam says, ‘You can beat us, starve us, arrest us, put us in rehabs or jail. You can pray over us, give us money, take money away, give us shelter or kick us out, love us or hate us but, if we want to use drugs, nothing will ever stop us from using drugs.’ Sam says he never got clean until his mother gave up all hope. His mother, a fine Christian, prayed for Sam’s salvation every day until he was forty years old. Then she sent him a birthday letter to the effect that she was not going to pray for him any more and was ‘resigning as his mother,’ and ‘turning him over to God.’

A few months later, Sam got clean. One of the first things he did in recovery was to write his mother to make amends for the way he had treated her. He admitted that her prayers might have helped but that it was certainly right for her to ‘let go and let God.’

(Names, dates, appearances, precise ages, and other identifying information are always changed in Dr. Hope articles.)

Dr. Hope (Charles Slack) has a Ph.D in Experimental Psychology from Princeton University and was an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at Harvard from 1955-1960. He is the author of numerous papers and one book.

© 1997 Charles Slack, MAIN LINE, Perth, Western Australia