Monday, May 14, 2012

Faces of Manipulation: Addiction – The acceptable plague

I remember back in 2009 when we called the Swine Flu h1n1 a pandemic in the United States.  It was a horrible state of affairs, I knew of professors at my university who died, I had friends who came down with it, and the atmosphere of my employment and school completely changed.  We suddenly cared about people being sick and getting them the care they needed because this virus was so dangerous.  In the end according to the CDC from April 2009 to April 2010 according to mid-range estimations 61 million people caught the virus, 274,000 people were hospitalized because of the virus, and 12,740 people died from the virus.  When you consider US NEWS estimates of the population were around 305 million people living in the United States it becomes clear why people were worried,  that's some pretty scary numbers.  But everyone takes a collective sigh of relief that we lost no more than 18,300 people to it.  That's less than a small city.  It wasn't that bad.  I was one of those who thought that way, until I realized that one out of every five people contracted the virus.  It got me thinking about the pandemics which have been taking lives for centuries and effecting even more people world wide than H1N1 even began to touch in a single year.  The pandemic, or rather plague, I'm talking about is addiction.

Now I like to think about addiction in much wider terms than just alcohol and drugs, because this pandemic has arms that are much longer and more dangerous than that.  An addiction is a pathological relationship with any mood-altering experience that has life-threatening consequences.  So what kinds of things can be considers mood altering experiences?  Alcohol, drugs (illegal and prescription), co-dependency, video games, and sex are only a few kinds of addiction.  Each one gives to the addict a different emotional experience that strengthens a relationship with the addiction and weakens the relationship they have with themselves.  And therein is the danger of addiction, because the addict loses themselves within their addiction which makes the addict capable of things that in a healthy state of mind they would never do.

Now you may ask why someone would seek out some experience or substance to make themselves feel better.  John Bradshaw describes addiction as "an outer reach for an inner security."  In other words addiction is an exterior symptom of a inward condition.  So when you see the alcoholic with their vodka, or the drug addict with their lines, there is a hole in their life that they are trying to fill with the drinking or cocaine.  The hole in my life is self acceptance.  My mind was broken during my childhood and I struggle with being able to see myself as a good person.

I've tried to fill that hole with being uber religious.  I've tried to fill that hole with numbing myself with video games.  I've tried to fill that hole through being co-dependent with others.  And each drug has only stripped me further of the acceptance I needed for myself.  God's acceptance never penetrated my resentment.  When I numbed my resentment I couldn't give of myself sincerely.  And I when I returned to helping others I overextended myself and grew more resentful.  Which sent me back to God asking for him to expel the anger and resentment from my heart.  But none of these things helped.

And I didn't get how they related to me, until in my group therapy they showed us this diagram.  Those places I tried to fill the hole with were unhealthy roles that removed me from who I really was.  As the uber religious person (Persecutor) I tried to force myself to God.  When I felt I was worthless (Victim) I played video games to make myself numb to my own pain.  And as when I went out to help people (Rescuer) I over extended myself frequently and found myself resenting the situation, the people, or myself.  And because I refused to directly channel that angry energy towards anyone I would just continue the cycle.  Does that sound healthy?

Every addict deals with these same roles in a different way.  Yet how many really have the education as how to deal with the addiction in such a way that they can begin to reclaim their identity?  Let's count.  According to the COA seventy six million Americans have been exposed to Alcoholism in their family.  Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.  And roughly one in eight American adult drinkers is an alcoholic or experiences problems due to the use of alcohol.  Worst of all is the cost to society which is in excess of $166 billion per year.  Shouldn't that mean the AA groups and Al-anon should be overflowing with people wanting help?  Or that perhaps our government should address this addiction problem more directly?  The scary part to me is that's just the alcoholics.  I haven't even addressed the co-dependents like myself, the drug addicts, the sex addicts, or the myriad of different addicts out there.  I would wager that every home in America has been affected by the actions of addicts in one way or another.  And we called h1n1 a pandemic?

It is up to each of us to take the time to learn about this plague and do what we can to establish having healthy identities of our own, and to teach our children to have healthy identities of their own.  There are groups like Alcoholics Anonymous for some.  Others need groups like LifeStar.  Rehab is a solution for some, but that's expensive and they don't always help you find your real identity.  They just keep you clean long enough that you think you're healed.  And the truth of it is, addiction is a life-long disease.  You can manage it, but you'll never be cured.

My wife is with me on my journey of healing right now.  Because she has been harmed by my self harm.  She has learned things that she has to unlearn to be able to be whole for herself.  Addicts never harm only themselves, they always leave victims in their wake.  Whether the victim is the child ignored for the addict's isolation, the spouse the addict beat to control, or the woman in the casket the addict hit when they drove drunk.  And we as a society must learn enough to help addicts seek the help they need without hating them for their weakness.  Because hatred will not heal our homes or the addicts either.

I'm an addict in recovery.  You might wonder what that means.  It means I work daily towards seeing myself in healthy vision.  I find seek out healthy ways to cope with my pain.  And I recognize that I will always be an addict.  But it doesn't define who I am.  My boundaries, my hobbies, and how I help others do define me.  The lion in my mirror can either be the shame and repulsion of self that eats at me because I'm not living up to who I can be, or he can be my potential and the image I work towards being with each day.  I choose potential.

I am Jayrod Garrett, the First OG, and it is my sincere hope that we as a nation can start to address these real problems in our society.  Addiction is only one of many.  Not only a face of manipulation, but a mirror of the society that we are embracing.  What other problems do you see in the mirror?
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