The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will? (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question! This is a huge question in you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict. This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict. This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Creepy Clown Doctors
Creepy Clown Doctors (Photo credit: Chris Kealy)

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question!  This is a huge question if you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict.  This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict.  This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

Before you talk to or about this person;  can you get past the feeling that this person is just weak, just an idiot, stupid etc.

When dealing with an alcoholic, there may be a natural annoyance that a man could be so weak, stupid and irresponsible. Even when you understand the malady better, you may feel this feeling rising.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 139)

This is a natural feeling to have and to some degree or other may be rooted in some level of truth.  The question you have to ask yourself is are you going to be another part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Lately I have noticed more and more of these negative conversations taking place with, around or about people in desperate need.  As I stated a second ago, these feelings and discussions may hold some elements of truth or even be entirely true, but the mere fact of these discussions may reveal deeper problems.

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This passage is speaking specifically about alcoholics/addicts and the root of the problem, but is it possible that this is the root of some of the problems that some of the people around the alcoholic/addict.  Not to make anyone uncomfortable, but if you are participating in activities like that is it possible that you may be a contributor to the problem by vomiting your own sickness all over the sick person in need.

Let me explain.  One big question about these conversations is why?  Why are you saying what you are saying or even thinking what you are thinking?  Is there some way that this conversation helps the person or is that in reality incredibly unlikely.

It’s amazing how many times we who are supposed to be the friends, loved ones or helpers of a person in need see them wounded and decide that the best help we can give is a series of poison darts shot from our mouths.

Why would a group of people that know a person in need have a conversation focusing on what is wrong with the person and spend little if any time discussing what things any of them could do to help the person.  Wouldn’t that be just about getting each one of their feelings communicated to someone, about making sure that the others understand why you feel that way and to ensure that they are converted to feeling the same way as you do (in other words compounding the hurts and harms that this person has caused to each of the individuals in the conversation with the harms and hurts of the others).  Remember what is at the root of the person’s problem:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

If this is the wellspring of stupidity in the life of this person, are you sure that it is the best choice of possible contributions you can make to their life?

In some cases it is an individual conversation with the person, that is the culprit.  Someone who has real problems with this person (real or imagined) that he/she wants to express right now.  Right now: even if the person is not listening or will be terribly damaged by the conversation etc.

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that these conversations need to be had.  I am also fully aware that there are times when full-blown reality checks are needed.  It is the when, why and how that I am questioning.

Talking smack about or to a person and using “It’s for their own good” to justify it.  Or should I say to justify the fact that it is for your own good no matter how it may damage the person or the person’s relationship with others including you.

Here is a reality check for each one of us:  To some degree alcoholism/addiction is contagious.  I don’t mean that in the sense that if you get around an alcoholic/addict you automatically become one also.  I meant that in the sense that if a person who is sick with this disorder is around you the tendency is to pick up some of the symptoms (such as selfishness and self-centeredness).

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

There are appropriate times, places and ways to have necessary conversations about real concerns and wounds.  There are also times when we want to engage in such conversations mainly because we are “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity”.

A good reality check for all of us is to look at ourselves and how sick we are ourselves before we get busy about relieving the pressure inside of each one of us to erupt into an explosion of what’s wrong with another person.

Those who work in medicine have an obligation to “do no harm”.  It would seem that it is a good rule in general and a great way to measure when it is right and wrong to express these things.  After all, what right do you have to rant about the problems that person has if you are a part of the problem yourself (that includes even just influencing the other people this person encounters by talking about that person “behind their back”).

It is not a matter of if the alcoholic/addict person is indeed a sick person.  It is a question of if you are so sick that you are going to make the sick person sicker instead of better.

Think of the reality involved in reality checking like you think of nuclear energy:  It can be used (carefully) as a cheap and powerful source of energy and a huge benefit or it can be unleashed in a way that creates chaos and global annihilation.  The reality check is not good or bad in and of itself it is a matter of how it is used.

That brings us back, full circle, to our original question:

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

Can you deal with this person and with those you discuss this person with in a way that is focused on not doing harm to him/her or how others view him/her.  If you find that not to be possible, you may be at a point where you are a part of the problem also.  You may have gotten there because of that person and what he/she has done to you, but the reasons do not change the facts.  If you do not like the problems and want to be free of the problems, one of the first things you need to do is see if you are a part of keeping the problem going and if so STOP!

If you are supposed to be helping the problem and you are dong things that make the problem worse are you not like a person who sees a person dying of thirst and gives that person poison to drink.

I was going to stop there, then a thought occurred to me:  “There are going to be some of us who suffer from alcoholism/addiction that are going to weaponize this article and use it to attempt to fend off any attempts that a person would make to reality check him/her.

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

If you are in recovery, you must not forget “The Rule”:  you have to be considerate of how others feel and at the same time be hard on yourself.  If a person is inconsiderately vomiting their hurts and other problems they have with you at the wrong time in the wrong way, you may have to deal with it as if your life depended on what they have to say (it might).

The key in that case is to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”  You need to find ways to sift through the crazy and find the elements of what that person is saying that is true and is a fact that you have to face if you are to get better.

What you cannot do, in attempting to deal with your own problem, is to lose focus on what you are working on by hiding behind or whining about the problem another person has (like not communicating with you properly).

What I am getting at is that everyone involved has to think of himself/herself as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.  Every person involved also has to think of every other human being as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.

I am not saying that anyone is to be a verbal or emotional punching bag for another individual.  What I am saying is that times, places, approaches and reactions need to be considered carefully with the question:  “Am I being selfish and self-centered in some way or am I seeing a problem and trying to be a helpful part of the solution?”

There are the sick and there are the sick that make them sicker.  Both need to work on getting better and all of us need to work on avoiding living as either.

Stay sober my friends!

Wade H.

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Ha...
Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.  All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals – usually brief – were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

 

I have been pondering this idea for a couple of weeks in the midst of several encounters with people struggling with alcohol/drug challenges who insist that the alcohol/drugs are not the problem.

Many of these encounters were conversations I was not directly involved in, but were taking place in a way that I was allowed to observe or I simply was not noticed.

As I watched these conversations I kept thinking to myself:  “If it is such a small thing to you, that you can take it or leave it, why don’t you just stop, just in case you are wrong?”

Then the word “delusion” from the preceding passage had new meaning to me that a definition cannot truly capture.

The cases I was observing were extreme cases where extreme cases where there were things like physical problems associated with excessive alcohol/drug use, history of excessive problems like arrest, violence, public and family embarrassment, spouse and family distress and complaining and on and on.

All of the people I witnessed had some level of functionality and thought they were managing their use.  I suppose in terms of the clinical idea of “harm reduction” these people are not nearly as bad off as they could be and their ideas of “managing” their alcohol/drug use have yielded some change in their amount of use.

The challenge I was noticing with these particular situations is that there were other people who had both past and more importantly present problems related to alcohol/drug use.

This is not always a perfect measure of ones using as the people around us as alcoholics/addicts could just be messed-up too and as such be just vomiting their crazy on us as we try to get better, but as I listened to these particular situations, I had to say that the basic points the friends and family in each situation were making sounded like valid concerns.  The problems they mentioned sounded like valid and immediate problems.

Then I remembered a couple of concepts that I was told in my recovery that I found to be key:

“I am not the right person to determine how good or bad my using is or my recovery is going”

“One of the first indicators that I am getting out of control or that I am out of control is that my using begins to bother others around me.”

“The self-diagnosis that I have it all under control is a part of the sickness of being an alcoholic/addict.”

“Lying to myself and others is a major part of the sickness and one of the biggest obstacles to recovering.”

These key concepts as a backdrop change the way I would have the same conversations if I was the person who was using.  If my relatives, friends, spouse, children, parents, etc. say that my drinking is starting to concern them, I have to assume that that is true, because I HAVE PROVEN THAT I AM NOT CAPABLE OF JUDGING IF I AM MANAGING ALCOHOL/DRUG USE MYSELF (one of the reasons I simply don’t use at all and plan to never drink alcohol or use drugs again).  I would be forced to respond as if it is a proven fact and stop, assuming that my drinking/using is at least a major part of the problem(s) if not the source all together.

This brings me back to a story I have used a few times here in different posts that I think has to be considered in this conversation:

Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.

On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?

You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, the illustration would fit us exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language – but isn’t it true?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 37 – 38)

As I listened to these various conversations, I had to ask myself a huge question:  “At what point does a person have to face the fact that their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use are failing and look at stopping altogether?”

When each person I listened to was planning their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use their mind allowed them “set the bar” at “As long as annihilation of my entire world has not happened ALREADY, I am doing a good job of managing.”

The conversations I overheard involved ideas such as divorce, death and other terrible occurrences in a way that sounded imminent.  The persons in question seemed to feel that as long as they could make some kind of argument that either shut the worried person(s) up or that made some other problem seem like a bigger problem alcoholism/using can be taken off of the table completely.

To be completely honest, the best way I can describe the conversations I was hearing is to LOOSELY quote an old saying that many of us have heard:

“IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH BULL-DROPPINGS!”  

The conversations sounded like one person grasping at every straw imaginable, and using every trick in the book to avoid one possible conclusion at all costs.  That conclusion is the one that says:  “My alcohol/drug use is a part of and possibly the source of this problem.”

I have come up with a new concept that may be a general rule for all of us:

If you have to argue, discuss, debate or otherwise convince others that your drinking/using is not a problem then it most likely is a very serious problem!

I believe there are people who are not as advanced as I was who can moderate or stop drinking/using with a little guidance, but I also believe there are those of us so far advanced that there is no longer a safe amount of alcohol/drugs we can use ever.  Those of us in the second category seem to often believe ourselves to be in the first category and this is what is known as “The Great Obsession”.

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

If you are not sure where you stand and others are concerned, I would advise assuming the worst and seeking treatment that will help you learn to stop using alcohol/drugs all together.  It would seem considerably better for a few people who could have moderated to stop completely then for several people who might have been saved to absolutely destroy their own lives and possibly even die thinking they are “moderating”.

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.