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.