HILL AIR FORCE BASE — October may be the month to recognize drug abuse, domestic violence and breast cancer, but most people don’t put drug abuse in the same category as domestic violence and breast cancer, John Garbett pointed out during Hill Air Force Base’s addiction recovery luncheon last week.
"Addiction is not a result of a moral failing any more than people who have gotten caught up in domestic violence or diagnosed with breast cancer through no fault of their own, yet we still continue to use that terminology for those who are addicted," said Garbett, who has watched his son struggle with drug addiction.
"Yes, you make a choice to consume something, but the brain is then rewired into a different way of thinking than those who are not addicted. Addiction is a disease, too, and we need to treat it like that."
Former Marine Terry McAdoo, who struggled with alcoholism for 20 years after his service, now volunteers with Veteran Affairs, helping people experiencing addiction.
"I never tell them they have a drinking problem. Never. I tell them they have substance abuse because addiction is never the primary problem," McAdoo said. "Addiction is only a way of dealing with whatever goes on in your brain."
McAdoo said he drank heavily, attempting to cover up his post-traumatic stress disorder. "Addicts are not good at recognizing emotion, and I didn’t recognize or validate my emotions either until I went to Veterans Affairs," McAdoo said.
Addicts don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong, McAdoo said. The world calls it denial.
"For an addict, though, it’s not really denial. When it’s denial, you have to deny a truth, but in my world, the truth was I was fine, so denial is not a good way to explain the behavior of an addict," McAdoo said, who went on to explain why an addict keeps abusing.
"The substance does all the work. When you get the relief from substances, you are shutting your brain down, changing it and you feel normal. The more people tell you it isn’t normal, the more you resist and push back," McAdoo said. "When you ask why that person can’t see that their behavior is shockingly bad, it’s because they have trained their brain not to see it."
McAdoo is often asked what made him seek out treatment after years of heavy drinking. After a bout with painful acute pancreatitis and then shortly after recovering, he found himself in an intensive care unit after a head-on car collision, he said he reached a breaking point with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The day after he was discharged from the hospital, he rode a bus to the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City.
"I never lost the idea that I owed a debt to my son (who committed suicide) and the people I lost in the Marine Corps. Through a long process of figuring out what that means, it made me decide that I needed to get treatment and carry on the memory of those who have died," McAdoo said.
Sonja Hohmeister said her life collapsed in 2006 when she became divorced and had full custody of raising her two teenage boys. Her oldest son began trying new things with his friends to cover up the pain of not having his father around and eventually became addicted to drugs.
"Eventually, I could not take his rude, crazy and dramatic behavior anymore, so I sought out counseling to make sense of it all," Hohmeister said of her experience with the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness.
"The hardest part was that I had to change and learn to take care of myself first. I had to let him go so that he could be successful on his own, which was difficult to do at times because his behavior got worse toward me," Hohmeister said. "I kept thinking, I wasn’t the one with the addiction, but I recognized that I had to change and help my son understand that I was getting education to understand what was happening to him. This was a family disease, not just his."
"Everything I learned was evidence of hope," Hohmeister said — who added that her son eventually sought out treatment and has now been clean for five years.