Updated: January 2005
‘Jasmine’ was a heroin addict.
At 23 years old she had been taking the drug since shortly before her fifteenth birthday.
Although her parents had separated when she was quite young, Jasmine came from what most people would consider a professional middle class family. Her mother, ‘Myra’, had remarried while Jasmine was still pre-teen and the stepfather, ‘Joe’, was generally accepting of his new wife’s daughter. Things changed little even when Myra and Joe had their own child, ‘Belinda’.
When I was asked by Myra to try some therapy with Jasmine, the 3 of us mind-mapped the young woman’s life. While there might have been some questions around damage to her PURPLE need for attachments with the departure of her biological father and the loss of all contact with him, there was nothing obvious to indicate the kind of need heroin could fill. Joe had proved about as good a stepfather as Jasmine could have wished for.
It seemed that Jasmine had simply experienced a powerful surge of RED self-expression in her early teens while hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’ and had got drawn into first alcohol and marijuana and then heroin. Paradoxically she remained a high achiever at school right through her GCSEs.
By that time, though, the heroin was taking over and Joe and Myra had to either finance her ‘habit’ or have her steal from them. Eventually they persuaded her to go ‘cold turkey’ – simply ceasing to take the drug.
It proved a horrendous experience for the household. Jasmine had to be ‘minded’ 24 hours a day or locked in her bedroom with no possible means of exit. Frequent bouts of demented screaming and thrashing about made it dangerous to be in her presence at times. But eventually the symptoms eased and Jasmine started to pick up a normal life again.
She stayed ‘clean’ for nearly a year. She left home to go college; and there, once again fell in with the ‘wrong crowd’, she deluded herself that, if she smoked rather than injected this time, she could handle it.
When Joe and Myra realised Jasmine was once more in the grip of the drug, they refused to have her home again. Going through cold turkey with her had been a traumatising experience; plus, they were concerned about Jasmine’s influence on Belinda who was now in her early teens.
Jasmine ended up working in a brothel. With near-model good looks, she had no shortage of ‘clients’ and soon found that she could not only afford her habit but a fairly good lifestyle to boot.
When Myra eventually realised Jasmine was selling her body, she took her daughter home. To ease the strain on the household, Myra paid for Jasmine’s habit – though that proved a financial burden in itself. A couple of attempts at going cold turkey ended up with Jasmine stealing from them again.
Joe and Myra’s relationship began to deteriorate.
Myra managed to get Jasmine onto the waiting list for a methdadone programme. That gave the household a sense of future. Something was going to be done about Jasmine’s problem.
Undermining that hope, though, was the fear that Jasmine would start taking the drug again. After all, she had been clean once before. Plus, the consultant running the programme had an uncompromising attitude: one slip and you were off the programme. (For the first few weeks, patients had to submit a urine sample daily for testing.) As far, as he was concerned, he had a lengthy waiting list of people who were so desperate they wouldn’t slip.
From the start, I made it clear to both Jasmine and Myra that there was nothing in the realms of NLP and psychotherapy I knew of that could cure the cravings of heroin addiction. (There have been occasional claims by NLP Practitioners to have cured such addictions. Their claims have not even been taken seriously enough for verification exercises to be undertaken.) What I could do was work with Jasmine to undermine her psychological need for the drug.
Since they had the imminent methadone programme to take care of the physical cravings, they said it was the resolution of Jasmine’s desire – as opposed to craving – they wanted help with. However, at the end of the first session, I told Myra I didn’t think Jasmine had sufficient dissonance to quit the drug and that she had only said she would go through with the methadone programme because it was what her mother wanted to hear.
I advised Myra to give Jasmine an ultimatum: fail the methadone programme and she would be put out of the family home and not allowed back until she was clean. Myra’s response was: “I couldn’t have my own daughter – my own flesh and blood – out on the street again. I’ve done that before. You’re asking too much.”
Since Myra knew the basics of the Gravesian approach, I told her she was letting her PURPLE undermine her BLUE which would give Jasmine’s RED cart blanche to do as it wanted. Myra begged me to continue seeing Jasmine.
One evening shortly after that, Jasmine rang me in tears. Her new boyfriend, ‘John’, with whom she was ‘in love’, had found out about her heroin use and had threatened to end the relationship if she didn’t quit. Now Jasmine was experiencing sufficient dissonance for change to be possible!
The first step was to create understanding. Given that Jasmine was a bright young woman and she was now desperate to quit the drug, she picked up some rather complex concepts pretty quickly.
The first thing I did was work on her neurological levels. I told her she should no longer describe herself as “a heroin addict” because that was an Identity statement and that we would work on some new statements of Identity. Once she no longer defined herself as a heroin addict, that gave her choice at the level of Behaviour: she no longer had to take heroin since she was no longer an addict.
That was something of an eye-opener for both Jasmine and her mother: they had never really considered the idea of choosing to behave in a certain way or not.
I did, however, introduce a major note of caution by explaining about schemas. Without ever once using the term ‘alcoholic’, I explained that I had once seriously abused alcohol and had developed what I now thought of as a ‘gin-loving schema’. I told the following story: “Having given up gin for several years, I was asked what it was like to be drunk on gin to the point of being really, really drunk. That question awakened my gin-loving schema and I immediately associated into all those wonderful feelings – to the point where all I wanted to do was get hold of enough gin to get drunk again. Fortunately, I resisted the temptation – but it was really hard. I could think of nothing else for several hours.”
So they determined that Jasmine was not a ‘heroin addict’ but she had developed a ‘heroin-loving schema’. She might have to resist that schema for many, many years before it broke down completely; but at least she now knew she had a choice.
Coping with desire
At the next session, Jasmine was quite forthcoming about how many times she had ‘smoked’ since we had last met. (At previous sessions, she had been reticent about discussing the actual level of her abuse.) I took this as an indication that we had achieved enough trust and rapport to be in Therapeutic Alliance. That meant Jasmine was much more likely now to carry through actions I suggested to her.
I then took a calculated risk. I asked her to associate into preparing to smoke and tell me what she actually did. With her eyes half-closed and mimicking the actions with her hands, Jasmine ran through a perfect script-schema of what she actually did. Although there was an element of PURPLE ritual in the process, there was considerable RED pride. She also took considerable pride in the scams she had perpetrated on her mother’s credit card to obtain money for her heroin – though there was also some PURPLE/blue guilt at the suffering she caused her family.
What I told Jasmine she must focus on was building a positive RED sense of self, with an ORANGE stretch into the future, framing what she could make of herself and what she wanted to be, given her many positive attributes.
We explored what she was good at and the possibilities for her life now she was no longer a heroin addict but merely had to cope with a ‘heroin-loving schema’ which would be seriously debilitated by the methadone programme. From this we created a number of positive Identity statements and affirmations. We also started work on a Present State-Desired State Plan.which would take her from who, how and what she was now to be who, how and what she wanted to be in a few years time.
Jasmine’s ‘homeplay’ was to complete the Present State-Desired State Plan and to put it up on a flip chart sheet of paper on her bedroom wall. Also to go up on her wall was another big sheet with the identity statements and affirmations which Jasmine agreed she would recite every day.
Jasmine commenced the methadone programme around 10 days later. She spent the time in between working on her Plan in quite a lot of detail and rehearsing how she was going to carry elements of it through. She also faithfully recited her statements and affirmations every day. And she continued to smoke heroin throughout!
Jasmine undertook the methadone programme and kept to the rigorous testing regime. In so doing, she kept her boyfriend. Several times, when she felt tempted to smoke, she used the submodalities exercise I had taught her to help her resist. (Using this technique, she was able to change the way she represented the effects of heroin to herself and make the drug aversive rather than attractive.)
Jasmine and John moved in together and eventually got engaged. She completed her methadone programme successfully, cutting down the dosage faster than the schedule required, and then started a new university course as part of her Desired State Plan.
Some 18 months later Myra got back in touch to tell me her daughter was still ‘clean’, apparently resisting the many temptations in a student environment with little concern, and excelling in the second year of her course. Myra finished the e-mail with: “I really appreciated your help at a time when it seemed there was no hope for her whatsoever.”