07: Dealing with Addiction and Recovery – Interview with Tahsin Floyd Orr (Career Series)
It is a problem which eats away at the personality and spirituality of an individual. And this could affect the creativity, career and connections of such a person.
Is it an evolving trend?
Do you have any cause to worry?
Should the Ummah be on alert?
In this part of the Career Series, Br. Tahsin takes time from his special project to shed light on this important social issue. He talks about addiction and some related issues in the Ummah such as the social problems that could arise from it. He shares his motivation, ingredients & resources for recovery including spirituality; and encouragement for more awareness as well as doing away with the ”teenager mentality”. Have you ever pondered at the age addiction and related problems could actually start? It may NOT be what you actually thought. Read on to find out.
Tahsin Floyd Orr is the founder of Muslim Sober Companion, a unique service available to an international community. He incorporates Islamic principles in his work whose history includes the Muslim youth.
~ Interview ~
1. Addiction is a big problem in the Ummah today. Is it an evolving trend or has it been that way from a long time ago?
Addiction related issues are many and it is a human problem that every nation has had some form of an addiction problem within its borders.
There has always been alcohol, tobacco, and other substances in the Muslim world.
The thing that has changed is the social, religious and family protections that have kept these problems at bay. It doesn’t help that there are ongoing wars and conflicts in some Muslim areas. Wherever there is a war or violent conflict there will be post traumatic stress disorder. When there is post dramatic stress disorder there is pain and fertile soil for marriage problems, addiction problems and more.
Of course with new technology and globalization comes choices, ideas and identity clashes that causes the family structure to adjust. This can be good, and it can be bad.
But those aren’t the biggest factors contributing to the growing addiction problems in the Muslim Ummah, it’s the lack of solutions that have been growing in parallel with the problems.
What I mean is treatment models haven’t been developed in proportion with the growing and evolving needs.
Muslim nations are lagging in relevant resources to take on the problems. Even in western countries that have many such facilities, they struggle to find solutions as well, but they have more resources and more awareness to put them in a much better position.
Alhamdulillah, places like Islamic Online University are offering degrees in Islamic Psychology. And there are more and more Muslims offering social services.
The only thing left is to have bold and creative students get out and experiment with different models of recovery to help the Muslims and not be scared to experiment, and develop systems of recovery that is culturally and religiously relevant.
2. Is Addiction more prevalent among certain age groups or gender?
It depends on what we are talking about and in which country.
There’s an ideal poison for every age group and social class.
There are drugs for the well off, for the poor on the streets, the college student, youth in high-school, and persons in a war torn country. All ages are affected, and exposure to addiction related problems start younger then people think.
For example, a kid as young as 6 years could be exposed to pornography, and it affects him/her for a lifetime. This is because all addictions change the brain.
3. Do you think there’s enough awareness of its dangers and consequences to health, relationships, career and finances?
Muslims aren’t even at the awareness level and it’s scary. We need more Muslims spreading the word about addictions at every middle school and masjid in the Muslim world in a responsible way.
4. What are the most common social problems resulting from addiction?
For every addict there is a family that is negatively affected. So for every one addict there are potentially four other people harmed by the addition.
For example, when a child grows up in a household with a Muslim father who drinks alcohol the stress, anger, resentment and shift of parental roles of the father being the breadwinner to the mother is one change.
The effects go even much deeper than that.
When you live in an environment that is stressful the body is always in fight or flight mode which releases chemicals in the body that should only be released every once-in-the-while. When these chemicals are constantly released it is horrible for the health.
Also, if you are a young child growing up in such a house you learn to get used to the unnatural relationship between mom and dad. If there is no intervention into protecting the children it may affect their whole lives and decrease the quality of their own marriages in the future.
There are certain things a child needs when s/he is growing up in order to be whole; love, contentment, self-esteem, etc. If one does not get it when young. S/he will need to get it later. Or s/he may not get it at all. This may affect the way s/he interacts with others.
Consequently that causes the discord and the cycle of divorce.
5. How did you get into this field? And what does it really require to do the kind of work you do?
I saw the problems with Muslims struggling with addiction related issues abroad and domestically.
I also saw a lack of treatment options that accounted for the religious, cultural, and holistic needs of a person to recover.
The requirements for what I do (sober companion, addiction coach, drug counselor) depends on the type of environment a person wants to work. If a person wants to work in an institution then the education they may require will need to be institutionalized (college degree, masters).
If a person wants to help people in their natural environment – help peers, his community, his people, his family or start a business helping people then he needs an education of his choice.
Whether it’s through self-study, online classes, or on a college level; whatever gives him the feeling of being confident, effective, and flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances will work.
There is no wrong road to recovery.
Sometimes the biggest thing people who are in pain need is a strong relationship with someone who has an understanding of their problem, accountability, and help on their own terms.
6. What is your motivation?
I want to stand in front of Allah knowing I did something for this ummah . I always enjoy doing Islamic work. Having to remember Allah (swt) as a part of my daily job is the best job I feel I could have.
7. How can families & friends help those dealing with addiction problems if they have no professional training or experience? Or is it something that can only be dealt with by the experts?
Yes, of course family and friends can help if they are willing to seek a little education (books, stories of recovery..etc.)
Sometimes the quality of the relationship is the strongest ingredient in a healing relationship.
The person should know how not to do harm, what has helped other addicts improve and how to stay healthy while spending a lot of time with sick people with out letting the relationship make you sick. The biggest thing a family needs to learn is NOT to enable the addict. There are many books on that.
Everyone should read a book on how to avoid enabling addicts; how to develop oneself with correct Tawheed and Aqeedah (ahlus sunnah wal jama’a) with no extremism.
8. What kind of systems/ options are out there for recovery?
There are many resources for addiction recovery.
There is life coaching, addiction coaching, Islamic principles.
There are websites that teach programs in addiction counseling, the public library and just speaking to people who have overcome their addictions.
The three main systems are: The 12 step based systems, Addiction counseling and Addiction coaching/Sober companionship.
9. What system[s] do you utilize in your practice & with Muslim Sober Companion?
I focus on life coaching, Islamic principles of change extracted from the Quran and Sunnah, habit breaking techniques, creativity and the mind frame to work with people where they are, and to start with them where they want to start.
I like to encourage them to find the answers and do the work while I support them because it’s their recovery.
10. Is there any correlation between addiction & mental health issues?
It’s true that many mentally ill people have an addiction related issue in order to cope, but it would be wrong to say that people who are addicted to something have a mental illness.
Most people who are addicted to something have jobs and may be professionals, generally functioning persons who are struggling with their issues.
11. Which plays a bigger role in addiction, nature or nurture?
It depends on the outlook of the healing professional you ask.
Not all counsellors, or coaches see things the same way.
What’s more important is the view of the client. It is important for the counsellor or coach to support whichever view the client has of his situation. Each person is an expert of his/her own life. S/he just needs support.
12. Is there silence, stigma or just lack of knowledge/awareness on the issue of addiction?
All of the above is true.
The stigma is something that hurts recovery. A person is not evil if they are addicted to something, but they may be doing an evil act when they are getting addicted to something.
13. What role can spirituality play?
It can protect a person from giving up, and help them forgive themselves and others who hurt them.
If not used correctly, it can make a person drown in guilt. A person can use their religion to help free themselves of the addiction if they see it as a tool.
Learn from lessons it has to teach and understand that there is a Power that is greater than themselves Who never gets tired answering requests.
14. What tools can be utilised from the Qur’an & Sunnah for the healing & recovery process?
Faith is a very powerful tool to keep a person from becoming hopeless.
A believer is never hopeless because he know as long as there is air in his/her lungs and he wakes up in the morning, Allah (swt) can heal him.
Islam teaches habits and consistency of doing good things. Look at the salah. It can be used as a tool to help remind a person not to relapse if they dedicate the first sajood of their salah to recovery. Make dua in the first sajood for help until they die.
This is powerful because after being away from the addiction for a month people lower their guard because it’s part of the addiction to forget the negative consequences and only remember the positive feeling a person gets from the addiction.
A person needs to be reminded of the consistencies every singe day and the salah is great for that.
15. What action can we take individually to safeguard the younger generation from the negative consequences of this problem?
If I were to ask you, if a strange man knocked on your door and said I want to come in your house as teach your children about the dunya, his religion and his self-identity most people would say, “I’m not going to let a strange man in my house and I certainly won’t let him around my children.”
Yet, every day you let strange man and women in your house via internet, tv, cell phone and they are teaching values, identity religion and more.
Adults are effected just as much if not more than the youth. We keep talking about saving the youth when the adults are affected just as much.
We must have more influence on our children than media and if we can’t limit it we must remove it. I’m not saying be extreme and ban all media. I’m just saying be proactive and choose what they see, know what it is before they look at and take it very serious. That’s why I don’t have a tv in my house and we choose what media we let our kids look at without going too far.
We also have to insist that our youth spend more time with healthy adults then healthy youth. That is key because youth need to transition into adulthood, and be taught what it’s like to have a family, not just hope they understand.
They also need someone to teach them what’s wrong in their environments so they can differentiate between what’s good in a marriage and what’s not based on common sense and deen.
16. How can we as an Ummah deal proactively with this issue of addiction?
Stop allowing the “teenager” mentality to spread.
There is no such thing as a teenager. A person is a man or boy, a person is a girl or woman. If we use words like teenager then we will make the culture that comes with it a reality in our families. We will have teenagers and the typical problems that come with teenagers.
We will have men that are emotionally unstable and beat their wives, discontent people, and people who grow up mediocre.
Every parent that has a teenager living with them has already lost, and every parent who has a young man or woman living with them has already won.
The Prophet (saw) taught us to do the opposite of what other nations do to protect our identity so I’m saying do the opposite of families who have lots of family issues if you want to protect your family.
Don’t be scared to think outside the box when it comes to raising children. We must have joy, happiness and sense of purpose when we raise our children. A household that’s not flowing with love and functionality is going to have problems.
Everyone who wants to improve from these problems can, and whoever wants to help can.
Use the religion as a filter to find the techniques that are acceptable, then be creative in finding your own solutions.
That is the only way to have more options and experiences; when people use basic Islamic principals with creativity and basic understanding of the issues facing us.
Over to you, how will you try to make a difference to the life of at least one person struggling with addiction?