Love The One You’re With!
Tonight I received an email from Benoit Denizet–Lewis about an interview piece he has posted on The daily beast where he interviews Brad Lamm, interventionist and author of “How to Change someone you love”. Benoit thought I may be interested and he was right, I was. I have been asked about this book a few times and in all fairness I have read nothing other than the title, but the title is enough to comment on. To start it is Al-Anon blasphemy. Depending on how many are sold, the book is bound to make some 12-step waves. I’m not in publishing but they are offering a free copy at the author’s book signing in Dallas so I don’t think they are flying off the shelves so maybe it won’t be a massive earthquake in the 12-step world. Paradigm in tact!
On one hand I admire Lamm’s willingness to challenge what really does not work all that well. I don’t think we really understand all that much about addiction, how to intervene or treat it. Hazelden has been an industry leader and pioneer and they do great work and have for generations but I think they could use Vatican II. In principal, doing something different is a good idea. I think addiction is very individual and impacts every family, community, and person differently so yes, let’s try something new, let’s try many new things. Is this worth trying? Telling people they can change someone they love? Does it work in reverse? In other words can an active addict use the step by step approach to change the one’s they love? Change them into seeing the world as the addict does? Changing someone is a dicey proposition, to start, it sets up a ‘better than” dynamic. The “better than” person must be worthy of changing the “less than” person. As far as I have seen, competitions about right and wrong never go very far when trying to sort out an addiction. Additionally, what if you don’t like that your loved one is gay? Clearly not the same as a life threatening addiction but to some, being gay is risking eternal damnation. Will the plan change that? How about not liking your son’s shiksa wife? Taste in furniture? Political affiliation? Where is it that this ability to change people ends? Of course I am a die-hard libertarian and even as an interventionist, I never enter into it with ‘correction” on the agenda. I don’t think addiction is a crime that needs to be punished or changed. I think addiction is a very painful experience, hurtful to the addict and the people around them but it is still mala prohibita, bad because someone says it is. Of course it is hard to watch someone kill him or herself with an addiction but not watching is a choice as well.
In my experience, change comes as a reaction to change within us. People change when we change, when we set limits and are consistent with the limits. Is that the only way? No, but it may be the most effective way. It’s similar to 12-step participation, as far as we know, it’s what works the best for the most, so let’s do that. As far as we know, changing ourselves is what works best in supporting change in others. I will read the book, but it’s unlikely I’ll be changing my approach to the problem. I say it all the time, often to girlfriends of cocaine addicts, “yes, everything you say about him is true, but have you considered a boyfriend who doesn’t use cocaine?” Some people are addicted to trying to change people. Oh, where does this stop?
If anyone is out there in blog land thinking about trying to change a loved one, consider this. It seems to be an act of self-love (still a loved one) to focus the efforts to move toward change to oneself. Someday, after the t-shirts, starting a recovery high school, losing 20 lbs (ok 25), reorganizing the drug war and all the other things on my list I will write a book and maybe the title will be “How to accept the addict you love for their inherent worth and value even though you may not ever approve of their choices and understand that you can set limits to protect yourself from the things you don’t like” Seems like a long title, I think I need an editor.