Friday, February 7, 2014

Ending the Shame

What is the malfunction of our society, here in America, where we treat addiction as a crime, instead of a disease or syndrome that we can treat?  Why cannot we realize, even for an instant, that laws don't prevent those addicted to alcohol or drugs, from falling into the abyss of addiction?  What is our malfunction, as a society, that we refuse see the tragic mistakes we make around addiction? Why do we not care?

Is it because, for most of the population, addiction is a thing that they think happens to others?  If that is the case, where the hell is our compassion and empathy?  I can tell you where it is. It's subsumed by self-pride.   You see, in our rush to hold ourselves up as stronger, better, without that particular failing, we judge those with addiction as possessing a weakness.  Those people, those drunks, those addicts, those thugs, those criminals; they are flawed.  And we aren't like that.  Not us, as we turn towards our daily drink, or stagger home from yet another weekend party, writing a hangover check that will be cashed the next day.

Are we truly that ignorant, in our hubris, in our pride, that we see this only one way; that the addict is weak and, since we are not addicted, we are not weak?  We are better.  More an adult.  More responsible. Yes.  Better.  Yes. There.  That makes us feel better, doesn't it?

And society thinks they will never fall to addiction, as they have that second candy bar after a stressful meeting at work, or start counting the hours until that after dinner drink, or drinks.

But they aren't addicted, not them. Not them.

The judgement rolls on, keeping alcoholics and addicts in the dark.  It prevents many who need it from seeking help, walling them off from the support of their fellow human beings. They end up trapped behind those walls, in a dark solitude, until, finally -- either they pay for this in their deaths, or finally swallow their pride and seek out help. Yet, that help is often in secret, so no one knows.  No one must know. If others knew, there would be shame, judgement, possible lack of status, of employment, gone relationships, loss of status as a responsible person.

"You are weak. You are an addict. You chose this. You should be ashamed. You should not have started. You should just stop."

I would bet some of the people saying things like this to addicts smoke cigarettes and tried to quit but have failed. There is also a chance they are veterans of many failed diets; overweight, possibly diabetic, looking down a road that ends in completely preventable death of cardio-vascular disease. Let's not leave out the "social drinker" who has, by sheer luck, not yet been pulled over for their first well deserved DUI, who is celebrating their status as life of the party, who looks forward to the end of the day for their drink.

The self-blindness of human beings is appalling, legion and pervasive.

The only way this can change is to bring light to what addiction is really about. It's not about weakness, lack of morality, or being less of a human than the blind judge. It's being all too human, but with some difference, some wiring that the Judge is fortunate enough to lack -- if in truth are not also afflicted with something they are simply blind to.

The only way to bring light to it is to speak openly, saying, "fuck you" to the judges of the world, and doing what is right for us, and for our fellow man.

Russell Brand had done so in light of the tragic and unexpected death of the great actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. He has spoken powerfully and courageously of his own daily battle with addiction. As Brand has stated so eloquently, because of the media circus surrounding other actors and celebrities, we expect them to fall to this. We possibly even cheer it (they deserved it, remember?), because a media that reinforces the shame of addiction and holds up victims as flawed and weak.  So, how are we are surprised by the death of Hoffman?


We are only surprised because of our sheer hubris and ignorance, not because we weren't paying attention.

On October 5th of last  year, I was given a tough life blow. I had a couple year relationship with a woman that I thought was based on mutual respect, honesty, compassion and, yes, on love. The outcome of that day was a feeling of being quite thoroughly and summarily dumped. I was set adrift, wondering what the hell happened. I was basically "laid off" from a relationship so neatly. What did I do, or not to, to make her decide that she didn't want me anymore?

In all honesty, the woman who said she didn't want me anymore isn't the villain here. She isn't. Decisions of the heart are often hard. I knew this. Though it would have been easy to turn on her, I deliberately chose not to punish her for not being able to be straight with me. I still feel some love for her. I can't be mean -- not to her. Not really.

But, the question remained; why didn't she want me anymore? I asked myself that question all the next day as I sat alone, drinking whisky. Drinking both numbed the pain and drove me deeper into self-doubt and depression. The numbness was nice, comforting, and something I thought I needed. Actually, in all honesty, I thought I was escaping the pain but, in reality I was weaving a trap, one I had made before. I did it when my mother died. I did it when my father died. I did it when my brother died.  I did it when my other brother died. I did it when my partner of five years dumped me the weekend my father died. Each time, I thought I was medicating my pain but, in reality it was just me hurting myself by starting the episode with these words:

"Fuck it," he says again, reaching for the bottle.

By the way, before I go on. To her, to my ex who dumped me in October: Thank you. Really.

You will see why shortly.

I can be mean to myself and I did just that. That night, as my loving partner returned from a day away, I was quite thoroughly drunk. Oh, I wasn't falling over, passing out, or throwing up all over our home. I was feeling no pain -- physically. She knew why I was hurting. She had seen this before and, true to her kindness, patience, and forbearance, simply let me go to bed and sleep it off.

The next day, I felt like hell. I suffered at work, finally giving up and calling her into an office before I left for home.

I sat down with my partner and said to the person who loves me, honestly, openly, "I don't know if I'm an alcoholic -- maybe I am -- but I want to stop drinking. I don't like the patterns I've been seeing in how I drink. I'm not present. I'm not clear enough. I'm getting too old for this cycle of drinking and not feeling well afterward. Also, I don't need it.  I really don't. I have to stop. I don't ever want to drink anymore. I know I said it three months ago and four months before that. This time, I mean it.  I really do."

There, I said it.  I said it to myself, to a person who loves me very much, and later, to a few others.

To her credit, that day, she found me a program to join.

By the way, the program I'm in isn't AA.  If you want to know what it is, just ask. I'll share it with you. The religious overtones, the punitive nature that I perceived in how AA dealt with responsibility, how they made you reliant on another for your success didn't speak to me.

I've been in that program since the week of my birthday. I should finish it this spring. All my program is, for me, is talking, clearly stating my intent, and keeping that commitment to myself and my partner. The other members are just those that I support and who act as witnesses to my intent. That intent and commitment is simple: I will not drink again, ever. Not ever.

I've seen others in this program who I would look at and say to myself,  "well, at least I'm not as bad off as that guy." Oh, in the past, I also have trotted out how I'm not a drug addict. No sir.  Not me.  I'm too smart for that. See?

And in that, I was doing exactly what I find so reprehensible about the judges of our society I addressed above. True, at least I didn't say it to that drunk, or that addict, but I said it to myself, and I said it to my partner.  Many times I pointed out to concerned others how I never had a DUI, never lost my job because of drinking, didn't make a host of bad decisions people usually associate with alcohol. I'm responsible. That was my justification to not look honestly at myself. I refused to see that alcohol wasn't good for me, that I didn't understand what it did to me but, mostly that I didn't care if I did know.

In the end, though, I needed was to be hurt enough, angry enough, or bored enough, and I'd hurt myself with alcohol. The sheer stupidity of hurting myself like that, after someone else has already hurt me by treating me poorly -- it just boggles the mind.

Facing reality is hard sometimes. I will tell you that facing it with a clear head sure seems to work for me much better than coming out of a self-medicated fog, into a hangover, collecting myself and waiting for the next blow.

No more. My life is mine. Sometimes it's going to be wonderful and sometimes it will be an abyss of difficulty. Either way, whether in triumph or despair, alcohol will not improve it -- not one bit.  Not at all.

With that said, I come back around to the shame. I've told very few people. Good friends have been told, others have guessed and, you know what?

Not one has judged me that I can tell. Not one. So, what was the shame about?

It's about you people. Those of you in organized religion, you in the media, you who are fortunate enough not to be addicted but also unfortunate enough to not have any damn empathy. It's you who keep those struggling in addiction there, with your Drug War laws, your gossip after holiday parties, with your unwillingness to support health (medical and mental) programs that would help our fellow citizens. It's also your inability to reach out to someone who needs it and ask, "are you OK?"

Because it's easier to judge, save a little of your precious tax money, demand that it not be spent on "those people", while you continue to operate in a empathetic void towards your fellow human beings.

Well, to you I say, "Fuck you."

I stand here, unashamed for my life or my decisions. I'll stand this ground. Free by my own decisions. I'll continue here, open, caring, and willing to spend whatever time anyone needs to become free of their shame and the dark abyss of addiction.

My arms are open. Whoever you are, you will make it. Just take the step. My arms are open.

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