Who Teaches Addicts If Sane People Don’t?

     If you have a kid who is stuck behaving like a child or a spoiled brat, what do you do? You teach them, show them, and push them to grow up mentally, emotionally and socially – not just physically. If my 3-year old continues to whine about candy bars when he’s a teenager with hair all over his body, let’s face it, we got a problem.

    It is no different with an addict, and we can liken addicts to children who are refusing to grow up. You may think they’re not capable of growing up, and perhaps some are not, but most of us are, so do not use the disease nonsense as an excuse for our childish and self-centered behavior or for our refusal to develop into mature adults and all that entails, such as taking care of oneself, working hard, reaching out to others, being available to our families, and taking responsibility for any habits we may have, especially when they’ve gotten out of hand.

     The contribution of social work to the problem of addiction is to let you all know that the addict already feels bad enough about themselves and doesn’t need any more criticism. Wait a sec, uh, we feel bad about ourselves because we mutated ourselves into drug addicts. I don’t think we should be excusing someone from the effects of something they did to themselves. What message does that send? That’s like when the fed excused the banks by bailing them out after they gambled away your retirement, and guess what that accomplished? Nothing. They’re right back at it, and the next downturn will make your head spin.

     Criticizing ourselves may be the one shred of clarity we have left. In my quiet moments when I was in the thick of it, I got down on my knees before getting into bed and asked forgiveness for what I was doing, for manipulating and betraying my wife and family. It was a brief moment of honesty in an otherwise sea of lies.

     We’re also assuming that addicts feel bad about themselves, which is not necessarily true. Some of us simply went to have our wisdom teeth pulled and some idiot orthodontist gave us OC 20s to take home for the pain and whoops, what do you know, now we have a habit. Six months later, we have done nothing about our habit and we start buying dope instead. In another six months, we have spiraled into a full blown junkie. Done. Simple as that.

     We are cowards, and cowards, like children, who are scared of everything, need to be pushed out into the world of adult responsibility if they have any chance of surviving. You do not let some whiny, bratty child walk all over you and do whatever the hell they want. You need to teach them, discipline them and add some tough love to the mix, which is quite frankly the loving thing to do. Meeting a child where they are and coddling them when they are doing the wrong thing only validates, reinforces and perpetuates the behavior as well as his or her way of thinking.

     Ultimately, however, it is best for the adult child to assess and judge their behavior on their own. For addicts, this is what the Steps teach us. It’s about being honest with oneself, and there is no better elixir than that. And besides, the sad truth is that you really can’t do anything to stop an addict anyway. But trust me, doing nothing at all is much better than showering your addict with frothy emotional appeal and empty platitudes. 

     There is nothing wrong with tactful criticism. How do you think I got better? I got better when other addicts who used and felt the way I did and who are now recovered deconstructed the never-ending heap of bullshit that was sitting in my brain and perpetually coming out of my mouth. You can be loving and firm and wise all at the same time. An addict, remember, is lying to themselves 24/7 and needs to be jolted out of their delusion. They need to hear the truth about themselves, about addiction, about what they are doing and how it is affecting others.

     Criticism is just saying, man, you’re a piece of shit! I’ve never advocated any such thing. I’ll challenge you and your lack of courage by describing addiction and breaking down my experience, and then offering you a solution as well. Do you see? I’m not criticizing addicts, I’m trying to be honest with them just as someone was honest with me. Sure I’ll choose to be more gentle at times depending on the person, but you can certainly be critical of an addict in a loving way. You can even be nice and critical at the same time.

     By the way, the sponsees I’ve been toughest on respect me the most. You have to ask yourself why that is…?

     So if we never hold addicts accountable, show them, teach them firmly, and then offer them a solution that really works, how are we ever going to see through the BS we have been feeding ourselves and everybody else ever since we first began to rationalize drinking alcohol and using drugs? Since addicts certainly cannot, if nobody ever teaches us that what we are doing is wrong, how are we ever going to get better? How are we going to even consider meaningful change?

     You have to remember that the addict’s conscience has shriveled up like a prune and is virtually non-existent. Trust me, they are not going to just magically figure it out on their own. I would be dead in the ground right now if the boys up North never sat me down and shredded all of the ridiculous notions about my self and my addiction to bits.

     Being taught how to properly judge and criticize myself is the very thing that vanquished my addiction and saved my life. If someone can find me one shred of evidence that falsely empowering an addict and blowing smoke up his ass in therapy actually works, I’ll happily retract, but it doesn’t. I know it sounds good, but it doesn’t work. Only through rigorous self-honesty and awareness do we find the courage to act.

Also see, Real vs False Self-Esteem

2 thoughts on “Who Teaches Addicts If Sane People Don’t?

  1. “You have to remember that the addict's conscience has shriveled up like a prune and is virtually non-existent.” LOL! I'm pretty sure most of us who read your blog are only too aware of the state of our addicts' consciences.

    But seriously Charlie, I think this is one of the best posts you've ever done. You're getting better all the time at cutting right to the heart of things. Everything you say makes perfect sense. I'm so grateful to you for making this giant mess of a situation clear to me.

    I have a question though. You are talking about addicts helping other addicts with tactful criticism. Are you saying that there is no point at all in the loved ones of addicts being “loving and firm and wise?” Say, for example, there is a guy who who refuses to admit that is addictions are a problem, runs his health into the ground, neglects his family, and refuses to go to AA or do anything to change. So what is this guy's wife to do? Frothy emotional appeal is a no-no, but are you saying she should do nothing? Surely a little tactful criticism could possibly help here, too, or at least not harm? Sometimes leaving is not a practical option, and the idea of doing nothing at all just doesn't seem right.

  2. Haha, yes I imagine everybody is quite aware of our shriveled up pea of a conscience! And whoops, let me clarify as you are right on. Tactful criticism can and should be delivered by anyone, anyone sane that is. I just meant that nothing is better than frothy emotional appeal, but certainly something firm and wise is better than nothing. In fact, my wife laid into me and challenged me to get better as I spiraled out of control, and it certainly helped as sort of a good slap in the face, if you will… so indeed, go for it 😉

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