If I had been Michael Jackson’s Sober Coach…
If I had been Michael Jackson’s Sober Coach I would have talked to him about harm reduction not about quitting. Let’s face it, no one would want withdrawals before the start a world tour. It wouldn’t be practical because you would feel like crap. There was too much at stake for Michael and forcing him to quit before the tour was a bad idea.
Michael’s family was justifiably concerned about his drug use and arranged a medical detox at home and hired a sober companion to ensure that he stay off drugs. Unfortunately when people are pressured to do something they don’t want to do they balk or fight back. When people are pressured to quit—even if it is “for their own good”—they will resist because no one likes to be told what to do. And sometimes they resist by taking more of what they have been told to not take. That’s why I would have taken a harm reduction approach. Because you can expect lots of resistance and push-back when you are telling someone you have to quit completely forever right now, but if you say “lets talk about how you can take drugs more safely” then there is much less resistance and push-back.
Michael clearly was not interested in quitting. But no one was talking to Michael on his terms. No one was asking Michael what he wanted to do about his drug use. They wanted to force him to quit before his tour so a sober companion was hired. Not a sober coach or Recovery Coach but a sober companion.
You should know that sober companion is not the same as a real coach. A sober companion is “a trained professional who accompanies a patient full-time to ensure they stay off drugs by administering random drug tests and liaising with psychiatrists and other doctors.” There is no coaching involved. The purpose of a sober companion is to insure compliance with abstinence.
A professional Recovery Coach on the other hand doesn’t force their client to do anything they don’t want to do. We want our clients to be in choice. Recovery Coaches know abstinence is a great long-term goal and highly recommend it, but we also know that not everyone wants to quit and so we are trained in harm reduction.
If I had been Michael Jackson’s Sober Coach I would have asked what the drugs were doing for him—because people take drugs for a reason. When people take opiates it is often so they can manage physical pain, reduce anxiety, or avoid flashbacks, subdue unwanted thoughts, or get decent sleep. I would have asked what needs of his was met by taking opiates. I would have asked him to consider other safer ways of meeting those needs. I would have asked him to be clear on how much opiates was needed to reduce his suffering and how much was too much. I would have worked with him to make a sustainable plan for reduced but adequate drug use for the length of his tour.
I wouldn’t have pressured him to quit right before the start of his tour. My concern is that Michael’s overdose was an unconscious reaction to being pressure to quit. I wish Michael Jackson’s family had hired a Recovery Coach—he might be alive today if they had.