The Self Medicators
The process of “self-medication”
is when we as individual human beings prescribe for ourselves some format of treatment or activity which will help to relieve
the pain of a loss we have, or are currently experiencing. While most people will experiment with more than one form of self
medication, generally one format or treatment pattern will become obvious to those living with and around the person that
intensely self medicates. Every one of us do a little “self medicating” from time to time in our human journey
through life. It is the blatantly obvious and extreme displays of self medication that help us identify the serious grief
and loss issues we see in our own life or in the life of others around us. Most people generally “self medicate”
themselves in one of four primary ways. The following are the four primary methods of self-medication.
1). Abuse of alcohol, drugs
(prescription or recreational) or food. These three substances are not listed in any specific sequential order. For some
food is as much of a “drug” as any prescribed or curbside supplied pharmaceutical could ever be. Sociological
studies indicate that the abuse of prescribed medication is gradually becoming equivalent problem to that of the abuse of
“street” drugs in our culture. The use of prescribed medication is socially more acceptable in our culture so
it is often not recognized as easily when it is abused. The abuse of pharmaceuticals is done primarily to mask or alleviate
the symptomatic issues of emotional and sometimes physical pain, even though the “self medicator” may psychologically
see this kind of treatment as a temporary cure for the problem. The abuse of food and extreme eating experiences is not usually
thought of as a social taboo in our culture, and thus it is not as easy to approach as a harmful form of self medication.
Food abuse is often rationalized by the participant as the “lesser of all three of these evils”. This entire category
of self medication is the obvious attempt to once again “feel good”, to comfort or to alleviate some or all of
the pain caused by experienced loss.
2). Excessive “busy-ness”
on the job or other principal areas of life such as church, civic clubs, sports
etc. The hyper activity that this kind of “self medication” produces is merely an attempt to become mentally
distracted from the loss and grief so as to not experience it. The mantra for these type of “self medicators”
is “I’m too busy to deal with all of that right now”. It is not an attempt feel good, but rather an attempt
to avoid or side step the pain of the loss or losses they have experienced.
3). Obsessive thrill and entertainment
seekers. These “self medicators” may spend excessive hours participating in extreme and high risk sporting
events, or amusement park rides. They play video games or watch movies or read certain types of books for hours on end. This
category also contains “the gambler” looking for the adrenalin rush of the “big win” that rarely or
usually never comes. It is not as much about feeling good as it is feeling important by winning the lottery or by having the
experience or accomplishing unusual athletic challenges. The desire is not necessarily to ignore or alleviate the pain, but
rather to become bigger and more important than it.
4). Extramarital and/or inappropriate
sexual experiences. In this category of self medication the person experiencing the loss is trying to establish an extraordinary
relationship. Their core desire is to somehow replace the previous lost relationship with an almost overwhelming or pinnacle
styled relationship. It is not uncommon for these attempts to become extreme experiences of perversion or unobtainable fantasies.
The initiation is generally an intentional exposure to some format of pornography, and then a steadily growing intensity in
this arena of “self medication”. This category is often a blended version of numbers 2 and 3 (previously discussed).
These new and better relationships are necessary because they not only distract their attention away from their loss and their
grief, but it will also keep them busy enough that they don’t have time to think about their loss either. Generally,
the ultimate goal is to feel loved or important to someone else who is not a potential loss, at least for the present time.
An individual who has lost a good friend or a parent in death may very well still care and love their spouse and yet self
medicate in this way. It is because they are in effect attempting to develop a close or intimate relationship to replace the
The blanket of addictive personalities
adequately covers all four of these self medicated categories. But even self medicating addicts must grieve in an odd and
unexpected way. Even drug addicts, alcoholics and smokers must go through grief from experienced loss during the rehabilitation
period after giving up these addictions. This is because psychologically, they have lost the treatment or substance that has
brought some form of peace, pleasure, mental protection or numbness to their daily existence. That feeling of normalcy or
even euphoria which they had become accustomed to from the source of their addiction has departed from their life. Because
of their decision to stop indulging in the use of whatever their substance of choice is, there is a definite point of separation.
It is also a very genuine loss that they will grieve over.
Even when they are aware of the
damaging and negative affects the abused substance has had on them, there is still an element of loss and grief that must
be experienced so that the new change of freedom from addiction or abuse can be experienced in a healthy way. This form of
grief is not unhealthy at all. It must not be discouraged by a counselor or caregiver. Even though recovery from addiction
may take a long time, and more than likely will affect many other areas of their life, it is a process that can be worked
through successfully with patience and endurance on behalf of the addict and the caregiver.
Loss is always a part of our lives.
If we are willing to define it properly and acknowledge it, we can begin the healing processes that will once again yield
an acceptable existence grounded in purpose and significance.
Educating for Grief Care
Education plays a role in the process
of grief and loss. This does not always take on the image of formal education in classrooms, seminar halls or sanctuaries.
But, if we are teaching those around us what loss is, and how to work through some of the basic grief issues when a loss is
experienced, we will then be truly helping ourselves and the society and culture around us to maintain a more healthy approach
to life in general.
A few years ago, a report was released
about centennials. These are people who live to be over 100 years of age. Several dozen of these elderly US
citizens were interviewed and analyzed. Their diets were examined and their psychological and personality traits were scrutinized.
Very few of them had rigid or well-balanced diets. Most of them were not regular exercisers, or had maintained what would
be typically considered to be a physically disciplined life.
Ironically, the one common denominator
that seemed to surface continually in the personality make-up of these people was their ability to "roll with the punches".
In other words, they were able to deal with loss, crisis and trauma fairly well. It was obvious by some of their verbal responses
to some of the questions that they had experienced many difficult circumstances in life. But somewhere along the way they
had learned how to make the right choices in their grief processes and worked through the complex issues that mentally weigh
upon the vast majority of our society. They had learned the value of communicating openly about their losses and how they
had expressed their grief in and through those situations.
It only takes a few minutes of
observing one of the popular major semi-violent "talk shows" on television to understand that the real issues being discussed
are not "who slept with who’s sister". Instead, it usually exposes itself to be the unresolved grief surrounding the
loss that was experienced by "someone sleeping with someone else’s sister". The phenomenon is glaringly obvious. These
“talk show” participants have never been given the instructive and educational care on how to properly work through
the grieving experience that is created by the incurrence of a loss, crisis or trauma in their immediate environment. Instead,
they resort to verbally abusive language, physical violence or inappropriate sexual displays as a method of venting the pain
and anger of their circumstances.
In all of this it becomes obvious
that we have produced a generation of people within our society that are not capable of properly dealing with the losses that
come with the lifestyle that is experienced by most of our society.
Many sociologist and contemporary
anthropologists credit this fact as a major contributing cause to the moral decay in our nation that began in the 1950s &
1960s. During those two decades the two major generations experienced a major communication break-down, often referred to
as the “generation gap”. The younger generation, sometimes referred to as the “Baby Boomers” started
to question authority and display obvious trends toward an expressed rebellion against the traditions and powers of government
associated with the older generation.
The older generation, often called
the “Builders” did not respond in a highly communicative way and made the assumption that the “Boomers”
would one day wake up to their error and come back into their model of universal conformity. This didn’t happen. Instead,
the ‘Boomers” failed in many aspects of normal communication with their offspring, the “X-ers” and
the “Y-ers”, because they were working off of the role model they had experienced.
This analysis does not place the
blame for this sociological condition on the “Builders” or the “Boomers”, nor does it excuse the “X-ers”
or the “”Y-ers” for their lack of grief and loss coping skills. It simply explains part of the possible
journey and how we have arrived to the place we have within our cultural framework. There are many other factors that have
contributed to this problem along the way, some of which have yet to be thoroughly diagnosed and analyzed.
The one thing that most counselors
and therapists generally agree on is a lack of proper education and training in the current culture about coping with loss
and experiencing a healthy grief process. The pop culture and the media have trained the general population to “take
a pill for that” or even to run far away from whatever the problem is. Therefore we can conclude that there is a great
need for new and continued education and a re-thinking amongst the general population on how to handle their losses and how
to effectively express their grief in a way that will be beneficial to their own well being, and the well being of those close
If we are truly honest with ourselves,
the educational process should really start us as professional care givers. Many times the question arises as to what we should
be saying to someone who is obviously experiencing a loss or is suffering from a complex grief circumstance. What is the proper
approach we can take? What is the best use of language that will produce positive results in this educational and training
We must also ask the question “What
shouldn’t we say to them?” What could we say to those experiencing grief that be harmful or highly deterrent to
their healthy acceptance of loss? Many times this angle of thought is not considered at all in our communication skill set.
When we don’t know what to
say, we often say something that is very inappropriate or ineffective. This may cause us personal embarrassment. We may even
back off or ignore such a person suffering a major loss, and thus intensify the loss they are experiencing by their loss of
you as a supportive care giver or friend in that situation. This may also increases their ability or desire to isolate themselves
from others that could help them.
So as we can see, learning the
right ways and the more effective communication skills in dealing with those who have experienced loss, or are working through
grief, is very important. We can have more of an impact on others in situations of loss grief when we understand our own abilities
to manage and process them through grief in a way that is progressive and productive.
If we understand the healthy processes
of grief therapy, we can ask the pertinent questions that will help us counsel and facilitate others into a more educated
posture concerning their own abilities to cope with their loss and express their grief.
These would include questions like;
“How would we like to be spoken to in our situations of loss?” What questions would be too invasive if they were
asked of us? What comments or suggestions would help bring peace to our lives if we were in the same intense aspects of grief?
In other words, when we learn how to deal with our own loss and grief in productive ways, then we will be able to help others
cope with theirs. We can and should teach and educate others about grief and loss through becoming a healthy example of that
same process in our own lives.
This is a process that we as caregivers
must continually work on and develop as we learn and are educated in grief care. This is not an arena or discipline where
the blind can afford to lead the blind. It takes an individual with a compassionate growing personality that has a genuine
love for people and a desire to care for their needs to be effective at some level of healing in the progression of grief
being experienced by others. Caregivers must be willing to educate those in the grieving process as well as continually be
educated themselves. This process includes learning proper diagnosis, highly informative definitions and effective potential
solutions or resolutions for the various losses they have suffered in the journey of life.
The kind of person that expresses these qualities will have the most productive and effective career as a professional
care giver who works with those involved in the continual cycles of grief and loss.