Archive for AA
Iconic grande dame of rock and roll Courtney Love played at the recovery rally, a celebration of recovery from drug abuse recently in NY. Love is known for her on and off stage antics, largely connected to her long time on and off recovery. Love has had a stormy history including the suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain. It’s been a very public experience, one that easily asks the question, is she an example of recovery?
The media has long been telling the same story about recovery, the same story arc of fall from grace, lesson learned, never did it again. It’s a fine story, the kind that after school specials and Republican social policy is made of, not to mention the DARE program. Is there anything wrong with this message? No. It’s a happy tale and representative of about 2 percent of people currently in remission from addictive disease and some of them may be lying.
In a way, Courtney Love is the perfect recovery story and one that is closer to more stories than the media approved neatly tied up story. She has been up, down, in rehab, stable, funny and charming, glimmers of artistic brilliance consumed by tragedy, back recording and touring, fall again, loved, hated, the story continues. Most of us don’t live our lives under the watchful eye of the media nor do we have the unique life of Courtney Love. At many levels, she is an inspiration, she reduces the shame that many addicts feel by letting us watch her very flawed and imperfect life, she gives misfits permission to live, to feel they have a place in a complicated and often isolating world. So yes, Courtney Love is a role model for the recovering community, and I enjoyed her show and was there to say thank you for advocating for our cause.
Chicago, they say is called “The Windy City” not because of a weather condition but because of the legendary dirty politics; a reference to the “wind bag” politicians. Alderman Ricardo Munoz is no stranger to controversy and questionable ethics. Recently, Munoz disclosed he is an alcoholic and he sought treatment at an outpatient clinic.
Some would say this is a premature announcement, others would claim its inappropriate. We all love the stories of redemption, those stories of people who were destroying their life, learned their lesson, and then moved on with their life to share their story and save others. The problem with this paradigm is that it is rare and can serve as a source of shame for people who don’t fit into this mold. Additionally, many people try to force their square peg into this round hole, abandoning honesty in lieu of fitting in.
This brings up the whole issue of anonymity in the recovery world. There are a few ideas about this. The 12 step guard, fiercely defending the traditions of AA would say we must “always maintain anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film” . The AA traditions seem to be solid, they have worked for a long time but there is an arrogance associated with this idea. It assumes that everyone who is in need of an arresting alcoholism is a 12 step zealot. Not True. It also assumes that advocacy is self-disclosure, also not true. There are many roads to Damascus and while, I believe that 12 step is what works the best for the most, who really knows. Alcoholism, the forgotten step child of public health, isn’t researched all that well so largely what we are doing is throwing pasta at the wall and seeing what sticks. Can you imagine if this is what we did with other diseases that impacted every American?
I think we need to re-think and update the very fabric of how we approach this issue and its long reaching tentacles. I am all for people sharing their struggles with alcoholism. I also don’t think we need to hide the imperfect struggle most people experience. I have no idea how effective Munoz is as a city official but I certainly support his decision to come forward and share his story. The HIV community clued in right away that silence=Death. Will we make that same discovery?
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.