Once upon a time, I thought about calling this column “Mad as Hell.”
Maybe you remember the scene from the classic film “Network” when the fired TV news anchor screams out the window of his apartment building, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Windows in adjoining buildings opened and soon there’s a resounding chorus of people yelling, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Many times over the years I’ve been frustrated and angry — even, at times, mad as hell — about the endless newfangled psychological theories on the causes of addiction.
But you know what? I’m tired of being angry. What good does it do me or anyone else? How does anger help kids who are struggling with alcohol or other drug problems? Where’s the gain for parents, grandparents and siblings who need compassion, courage, strength and hope rather than blame and shame?
Still, every now and then, and more often than I’d like to admit, I read something that gets my blood boiling. It’s a curious thing, though — when my blood boils these days, I get tears in my eyes. The anger, it seems, is always mixed with frustration, sadness and a real fear that prejudice and ignorance are hurting real people with real serious problems that affect us all.
Here’s a relatively recent blood boiler. “Heavy drinkers engage in array of unhealthy behaviors” is the title of an article in the journal Addiction Research and Theory. “Risky drinkers” — people who drink three or more drinks daily — are more likely to have poor eating habits, not wear seatbelts and avoid regular visits to their doctors.
True enough. When toxic chemicals are circulating through your brain, you tend not to make the best decisions.
Following the article are several comments including one from a psychotherapist who describes addiction “as the desire to inflict self-injury.”
If we can change the behavior of the addict, this fellow writes, we can “successfully change the self-destruct.” The underlying motive to use drugs, he concludes is “intentional self-harm.”
Reading the comment I felt the bubbling and boiling start in a process I’ve come to call Flabbergastion. I think the word offers a rather picturesque visual of someone with a bad case of indigestion flapping her arms around in pain and distress.
Decades of scientific research show that addiction is a progressive, chronic brain disease with a strong genetic component, meaning that the vulnerability to addiction is passed down from one generation to the next.
Lifestyle choices — stress, eating habits, exposure to chemicals, trauma, abuse — can turn certain genes on and off. But from there do we take the leap that people who use drugs want to intentionally “self-destruct”?
I’m flabbergasted, given the 50-plus years of fact-based research showing that addiction is a true medical disease (recognized as such by the American Medical Association in 1967), that there are still so-called “experts” spouting psychological theories about chemical dependency as a symptom of a personality disorder, lack of will power, character defect or willful intent to harm oneself (and, by extension, others).
So I asked my husband, who is 28 years sober, for his opinion.
“Well, that’s totally ridiculous,” he said calmly.
And that’s when I realized I can let go of one part of the chorus — I’m as mad as hell — and hang on to another. I’m not going to take this anymore.
I don’t feel angry anymore. I’m not flapping my arms around. The indigestion is gone. Because I’ve come to accept the fact there are always going to be those people who just don’t get it and nothing you or I can say or do will change their minds.
So here’s my advice (take it for what it’s worth): If you are seeing (or looking for) a counselor or therapist to help you through the pain, shame, guilt and trauma of drug addiction ... and if that person dismisses the medical model and defines addiction as a psychological disorder of deficient character, weak will, or intentional self-destruction ... run (don’t walk) as fast as you can and never look back.
We’ll leave these folks in the dust. That’s what we’ll do.
I feel a sense of peace now. Because we’re not going to take it anymore.
Kathy Ketcham is the co-author of 14 books and executive director of Trilogy Recovery Community. For more information, go to www.trilogyrecovery.org.