We may live in a digital paperless age, but the power of books still proves strong. People read more nowadays because of social media and clickbait than perhaps ever before. In America, people also overdose on heroin and prescription painkillers more than ever before. It’s a sad plight, the epidemic of our nation, the opioid crisis, and it kills about 100 of us every day. We believe strongly in the power of professional rehabilitation, and we endorse the latest in evidence-based therapies and medicines. We also believe in the power of words. Although nothing can replace enrolling into a professional addiction treatment facility, sometimes a little reading can go a long way. The first half of this article will focus on some selections of reading that could serve as quite positive during addiction recovery. The second half of this article takes a turn toward community activism, words in motion. This article must start with a sincere thanks to Mary Healy, manager of the Anoka County Library Centennial Branch in Minnesota. Her recent article for Hometown Source inspired us to both share her article and expand on it. Mary’s heartfelt article discusses some books she believes can be empowering to an opioid addict who is either considering quitting or is in the process of recovery already. We will discuss the literature, but there is another layer to this, one much deeper. Mary Healy isn’t just a librarian. She is a member of The Top Secret Project, a program based out of Anoka County that employs quite unique methods to help parents identify potential substance abuse among their children.
Mary brings to light four books: one non-fiction, two that might be labeled as ‘self-help’ and also a children’s book. The non-fiction selection, Dreamland: The True Tales of America’s Opiate Epidemic, is by former LA Times reporter Sam Quinones. The book tells the story of how a combination of Mexican drug cartels, over-prescription in America and greedy pharmaceutical companies pushed us into our current opioid epidemic. While not necessarily comforting, Mary calls it “one of those books that everyone should read to see where the connection from OxyContin overuse escalated to full-blown heroin addiction in small town USA.” Of the two self-help books Mary chose, one is more for family members of addicts and the other for addicts themselves. Addict in the House: A No-nonsense Family Guide through Addiction & Recovery by Robin Barnett is for the family members. If you know you need to step in for a loved one but you don’t know how, get yourself a copy of this book. As Mary puts it, “This book can be a great start to finding the help one needs for their loved ones and themselves.” The second self-helper is Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy by David Shef. The main point made in this book is something we have been stressing for years. Shef compares substance addiction to other diseases, such as diabetes, as it should be, since addiction is indeed a disease. The problem? America as a whole doesn’t see it that way. America as a whole sees addiction as a crutch, a weakness, a sign of lack of will. Read David Shef’s book. It’ll change your mind, but it will also help you understand that as an addict you are not a bad person, not at all. Lastly we have a children’s book. We feel of all Mary’s selections that this one is perhaps the most important. It also ties in perfectly with The Top Secret Project, the program Mary is a part of. Bird by Zetta Elliot is actually a picture book. Through illustration, a story is told of a young boy dealing with his older brother’s drug-caused death. The boy realizes in the end that there is indeed much optimism in the world. This message is crucial. One in three homes in America are directly affected by the opioid crisis, and sadly enough that means there are plenty of young children with older siblings or other family members who have died at the hands of drugs. Learning early to cope with this unfortunate reality is critical, and Bird gently teaches children how to handle the drug-induced loss of a loved one.
Some Other Selections
Mary’s list ends here, but before we delve into the Top Secret Project, we wanted to briefly share a few more literary works that may serve as a positive boost to a recovering addict. Believable Hope by Michael Cartwright, a former addict so deep in it he was in a catatonic state in a psych ward, is a powerful book. According to the Amazon review, “…he shares his personal struggles, his recovery process, and the 5-pronged approach that has caused dramatic transformation with clientele ranging from those living on the street to celebrities and everyone in-between.” Reddit is actually a wonderful place to read some inspiring words. There are plenty of sub-reddits about sobriety and recovery, and it provides a free, easily-accessible community. Of course, like all social media websites, there is plenty of trash to waddle through, but some of what you’ll read on there is raw and eye-opening, perhaps enough so to provide a boost of encouragement along your own path to sobriety.
The Top Secret Project
Okay. Here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. The Top Secret Project of Anoka County, Minnesota, is a free traveling exhibit that visits mostly schools but also community centers and/or parks. Their mission statement: “The Top Secret Project is committed to helping adults uncover the mysteries in the lives of teens, providing tools and resources to foster safe environments, and encouraging ongoing dialogue.” Their method? Not entirely so straightforward. Attendees walk through a full-size model of a teenager’s bedroom. They are taught to look for signs of potential substance abuse, but also much more. Parents (or whoever wants to attend) will learn to discover signs of self-harm, eating disorders, bullying, and many other risky behaviors. How? By recognizing the presence of certain everyday objects to perhaps mean more than it appears. The idea is not to spy on your kids. It’s to recognize that the presence of, say, aluminum foil or candles, might mean more than it seems. The idea is to “recognize unfamiliar hazards that are often in plain sight,” as it says on their website. In the virtual bedroom are literally hundreds of items and/or indications of possible risky behavior. And there’s more. After the virtual bedroom tour, The Top Secret Project offers a resource fair involving both local law enforcement and community programs. Also, there is an hour-and-a-half long discussion hosted by staff members of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, one of America’s most prominent addiction treatment and advocacy organizations. Rhonda Sivarajha, chairwoman of the Anoka County Board, from the above-linked site: “We all want to help our children safely navigate the teen years, but we can’t do that if we don’t know what to look for. The Top Secret Project offers invaluable insight and resources for parents to help them identify warning signs that are often hiding in plain sight.” And there’s even more. For children age 2 on up to fourth-grade, there is free daycare at a Top Secret Project event. There are activities for children in fifth-grade and older. There are prize drawings. There are guest speakers. There is free pizza. Free pizza. In fact, the entire event is free. Here is the event’s upcoming schedule so far:
- January 9: Centennial High School West Building, 4757 North Rd., Circle Pines, MN
- January 11: Anoka-Hennepin School District Educational Service Center, 2727 N. Ferry St., Anoka, MN
- February 22: St. Francis High School (time to be determined)
If you happen to be even somewhat near any of these locations, you should go. This author has not attended as this author lives on the east coast, but if this author could this author would! It truly seems not only that it works, but that it’s fun, and fun is a major motivator for an American in 2018. And at heart, it serves to prevent risky behaviors in our youth, which is when it all starts. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation website, “This project stemmed from a desire to make our families safer, stronger and healthier. There is no manual for raising children but if we come together to share experiences and resources, we can be stronger because of it.”
We realize this has been sort of two articles crammed into one, but the spirit behind both recovery literature and something like The Top Secret Project is the same. The prevention of drug abuse is paramount, and the treatment of inevitable substance abuse is equally important. There unfortunately will probably always be addicts. What we can do is spread the message that addiction is a disease, a treatable one, and far too many people are afflicted and live untreated. If you are an addict and you are not in any kind of treatment, seek help immediately. The literature suggested in the first half of this article is meant for addicts already in some form of viable recovery. The Top Secret Project is meant for parents seeking knowledge on how to best recognize risky behaviors in their own children. A professional rehabilitation center is meant for addicts not in treatment. Let me leave you with something a bit personal. This writer is too a former addict. From age 16 to about age 18, ecstasy was my drug of choice. About two months after entering into a rehabilitation program, my counselor died of a massive heart attack in his sleep. All hope was lost, and my addiction came back, this time in the form of “what have you got?” It took my best friend ending his life with a shotgun for me to finally get my life back together. Sometimes it takes an unfortunate tragedy to sort of wake up. Don’t go looking for one. Some of the best advice ever came from my father, who fought with me through my years of addiction. He told me that drug addicts only ever end up in one of three places: dead, locked up, or in a looney bin. Those were his words, but they’re true words. Without stopping and without help, drug use will kill you, criminalize you, or land you in a home. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, act now. Every moment an addiction continues untreated is a dangerous one. If you are even thinking that maybe you should reach out, then now is the time. Don’t let yourself or your loved one become a statistic.