My patient had literally burned a hole in his tiny, new stomach with a combination of cigarettes and alcohol. I don’t have a moral position on this except that life is probably worth preserving until one can make an informed decision. Destroying it unconsciously feels arrogant, but again, who am I to judge?
Most people can smoke and drink a whole lot without any problems to the stomach, but after having weight loss surgery, a gastric bypass, it is really risky. The little pouch is relatively unprotected and the combination of impaired blood flow (smokes) and caustic liquids, is a set up for problems.
He was out hunting. Actually he was out mostly drinking and smoking and reflecting (dimly, I think) on why his wife wanted to end the marriage. He woke up with a hole in his stomach that felt exactly like that. He tried to drink water and the it ran out of the hole like rain through a drain pipe. He developed peritonitis. He made his way to a local hospital in remote Oregon. The surgeon there saved his life by sewing a patch of fat over the hole, literally.
He then moved to Central Oregon where I have met him. He is a really nice guy. He can’t figure out the drinking. He used to eat, but then after the operation, he drank. He sits bewildered at night wondering why he still does that, even now, after he almost died. As I talk to him I can see him there with his little glass of vodka, one then two. He is sad, misses his wife, knows it has something to do with this operation he had and how he switched to the vodka from the sugar, but it is fuzzy to him. He is relieved when I tell him there is a way to stop drinking that involves, well, stopping drinking. It is as difficult and as easy as that. The missing ingredient for him is other people. He needs their help. I could tell that made sense to him. I told him where those people were.
My patient has experienced addiction transfer, a boring term for what is really simply addiction, which is the process of filling our empty human-ness with anything other than ourselves. When we abandon our emotions, numb them, the anesthetics become the substitute and they feel like home and heaven and hell at the same time. He started with his foods of choice, eliminated those by having surgery but without understanding the emptiness and started refilling the emptiness with the next thing. He came to me from Reno. It could have been the craps table, but it wasn’t. It was this.
It is anything and everything. We are built, I think, with an emptiness. We are forced to connect to someone outside ourselves in order to fill this emptiness or we instinctively, it seems, fill it with some thing. This doesn’t work, and only when the pain of this gets very apparent do we change course.
Here is what I know from what I have lived and what I see in my work (and I don’t know why this is true, but I think it is): we need love and connection (connection also known as spirituality). We get sick alone and we get better in groups. Healing literally lives in the connection.

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One Response to Burnout

  1. Emily says:

    This was very powerful! And so very true.

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