Friday, April 3, 2009

It's a Health Crisis

It's helping me a lot to view alcoholism as a health crisis. Nothing less. And nothing more. When I went through treatment in 1988 I was provided a good education on the physical consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. I was 27 years old and despite many years of heavy cocaine and alcohol abuse, I was still in good health and my desire to live was strong. I had been attending some 12 step meetings prior to treatment, but I remember finding the program very confusing and as they say, I just didn't "get it". However, after going through treatment I got that alcoholism and drug addiction were killers and that I was quick headed to an early grave if I didn't stop. I became extremely motivated to stay sober in order to live a healthier happier life and I became willing to do whatever it took to ensure my sobriety.

In the six years that I remained sober following treatment, I fully regained my physical health. But there's a catch. My mental, spiritual and emotional health did not follow suit. It wasn't anything you could actually see from the outside; I wasn't batshit crazy or anything, but I ignored many an inner urging regarding the program that had been promoted to me as the cure for my problem. News Flash! Quick way to acting batshit crazy on the outside: ignore inner urgings. To be perfectly honest, it didn't bother me enough at the time to make a big deal of it. I was sober and I knew I was doing all the right things to stay that way.

But it brings up the AA concept of "attraction vs. promotion". What AA means by this is that they will be available if you have want of their help, but they will not promote themselves. It's a great organizational tradition. Here is the long form:

11.) Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.

However, my experience was that AA was heavily promoted to me and I think that's not entirely AA's fault - the treatment industry became AA's new best friend and found a way to make a lot of money with a ready-made program. It was easy; a no-brainer. Send everyone to AA; if they don't grasp the program, well, it's probably their fault.

The tradition above seems in stark contrast to the one below, which states:

5.) Each group has but one primary purpose-to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

I just saw a television advertisement for AA not two days ago. I could possibly see this as "attraction vs. promotion" if it weren't for the fact that virtually everyone on the planet knows what and who AA is and how to find them. So I have to wonder why expensive televison adverstising would be considered "attraction." Carrying a message sounds distinctly like promotion and I certainly felt it had been promoted to me at the treatment facility in 1988.

It's the same type of discrepancy that bugs me about the steps as a solution. Even if you don't want to call alcoholism a disease, no one can deny that it constitutes a major health crisis. I think for some the crisis may be primarily mental, for others physical and still for others spiritual. But every aspect of life is involved in the manifestation of the problem. AA focuses fully and entirely on the spiritual aspect. Maybe for those people whose primary manifestation is spiritual, AA works very well and for others the primary manifestation is physical, or mental (depression/anxiety) and the focus on overcoming resentment and anger, identifying character defects and making amends, is not all that helpful to a person who doesn't feel extreme resentment or anger and who is all too aware of her "defects of character". I don't want it to sound like I've never dealt with these emotions. Of course, we all have. But they just weren't my primary, or even secondary, emotions. The negative emotions that plague me are guilt and self-recrimination; much more inner than outer directed emotions. I suppose it could be argued that they are flip sides of the same coin, but it seems an important distinction in my own epxerience.

This all makes perfect sense to me. Which could mean a number of things, from I'm on to something here to I'm completely delusional. I guess we'll all just have to stay tuned.


big Jenn said...

You ARE a Thinker to be sure! Me too. I got sober when I was 27 in 1987. I just thought that was kinda cool. I see this journey as spiritual, mental and physical. The spirituality of the 12 steps made enough sense to me at the time to keep me in the rooms long enough for me to get my shit together. At the moment I'm working on the physical stuff, It's what has taken the biggest back seat. Great post! jeNN

Anonymous said...

I don't always find the 'disease' analogy that helpful because it leads to compartmentalsing of a mind/body split which I don't find true for me. But there was physiological damage in my case and a definite and rapid deterioration combined with worsening dependency.

In the same way I don't use the labels of spiritual/ emotional/mental/physical because for me my life journey is more integrated than that.

Self-pity and blocked grief were more immediate problems for me in early months -- the resentment came along when I started trying to deal with conflict and other problems while staying sober!

Glad to hear things are going so well --

xxMary LA

Anonymous said...

Are you court-ordered to attend AA?

vicariousrising said...

I've not seen any AA ads, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly the sort of thing the traditions is against.

As for the attraction not promotion bit, once you get to AA it feels a lot more like a push than pull strategy by the way many people tout the "do it this way, it's life or death" speech. I think that preys on fear rather than acts as an attraction.

I think it's very much the AA reliance on a higher power that makes it a somewhat religious experience for many, and hence more followers than fellowship. Fellowship implies openness to diverging ideas, and AA doesn't have room for that. Then again, perhaps for another method to reach the reputation and awareness level if AA, it may require ritualization and strict structure also to hold the group together.

Just rambling. And for the record, not that anonymous-chicken asked, but I was not court ordered to AA and went of my own free will daily (and often more in early sobriety) to meetings. I needed something to do with myself. I learned a lot there. Took what I needed and left the rest.