Hesaid/Shesaid

Written By: Adele Slaughter and Christopher Kennedy Lawford

Hesaid How Addicts/Alcoholics Respond: The Negative.

Let’s deal with the negative stereotypes first, understanding that the stereotypes change depending on what substance you abused.  Addicts can be tricky, hard to pin down, shut down, narcissistic and self-righteous. A junkie doesn’t like to feel pain, hence their love of painkillers. But even after putting the drugs down they may have that junkie manhole cover in place for years preventing any unpleasantness i.e. confrontation, sadness, anger from seeping down below the surface e.g. neck.  An alcoholic can be emotional, angry, self-pitying, self-righteous and narcissistic.  Obviously there are great variations within both groups. These are ridiculously generalized notions about how we respond and are, well… absurdly general. But there seems to be a bit of truth in stereotypes, despite the inherent complexity of human response. Let’s have fun with this and try not to take it all too seriously – shall we? In my 24 years of self-examination and 40 plus years of dealing with addicts and alcoholics what I have come to believe about how we respond is the following:

We have very busy minds, most of us are smart and cunning in a way survivors have to be, this of course is only true if you haven’t killed all your brain cells. We are deeply sensitive to criticism, seeing it as an attack to which we have a limited repertoire of response. “So, you have a problem, concern or critique of something I’ve written? Well, fuck you. What the hell do you know anyway? You’re just jealous. Why don’t you try doing something instead of just sitting there – in entitled splendor – undermining what I’m trying to do – you lazy SOB. Try moving beyond your limited view of the world and…” You get the idea. Overly sensitive with the ability to unleash the nuclear option at the drop of a hat. Annihilating feels soooo good. Not great commander in chief material. Oh right we had a recovering (Alleged) alcoholic (documented) president – W. Lucky for us he only invaded two countries.

Addicts/Alcoholics also tend to be self-centered and self seeking in the extreme. Everything that we take in, all that we examine and judge, is driven by our preoccupation with getting what we think we need. Welcome to the wonderful, whacky, incredibly interesting world of Chris. “yeah, yeah, I know this blah, blah is terribly important to you but did I tell you that I… isn’t that sooo terribly interesting to you?” And because we are survivors (of some pretty dreadful circumstances) and have facile, compulsive, driven minds and are usually a few steps ahead of normal folks who don’t live with the same compulsions of getting over and figuring out all the angles. Many of us engage in a form of this high octane, cerebral, narcissistic chess with little awareness of our operating system, and are under the impression that we are generous, nurturing, empathic, outward looking people who care deeply about our fellows. I think most of us really wish we were that way. If we just weren’t so afraid. If we could just quiet our screaming monkey mind long enough we might avoid being driven insane by self-preoccupation and respond from the deeper goodness that I believe is at the core and in the hearts of most addicts.

We also suffer from the grass is greener syndrome. That is, many of us have deep discontentedness preventing us from enjoying the moment or circumstance of our present life. It will be better over there… I will be so much happier with someone like that… if only that would happen…if she just didn’t… These are often the building blocks addicts use to sustain misery and prevent happiness. I don’t know if this is the residue from chasing the next drink or drug, the compulsive, obsessive search for nirvana or as my good friend says, the need to touch the hand of God. Maybe the need was present from the beginning, driving us to substance addiction. I do know it’s difficult to get rid of.

Addicts are impatient. We are also spontaneous but we will get into that next week. Many of us move very quickly and don’t tolerate deliberateness or prudence well. We respond favorably to excitement and spontaneity with an unwillingness to notice any red flags and some of us idealize especially when it comes to love interests. After all, it is much easier to be in love with an ideal then a real person. Thus many of us don’t respond to relationship terribly well.

Again this is all very general, there are people who don’t idealize and see the worst in everybody. Oh right, did I forget to mention that many of us choose to focus on the negative when responding to…pretty much anything. I guess that’s why we need some kind of program of recovery…putting down the substance is not enough. But even with a program many of us can’t let go of some of our favorite responses. I am speaking from my own experience and whatever resonates great, if you have a different experience I would love to hear about.

Shesaid How do Alanons react to things?

You might have heard that hackneyed phrase “don’t be a doormat.” Well, it comes from something real. Being a doormat means you let others take advantage of you. I did have a friend describe herself as a doormat with teeth, which we all thought very witty and true. As a child of an alcoholic who disciplined my sisters and me through violence, my first response to strife is to look for whose at fault. I think that I am quick to analyze my own behavior and be self-critical. This can be a problem.

I believe everything is my fault. It has taken me years to see how arrogant that ‘self-effacing’ idea about myself actually is.

The comments on our recent blog made me feel uneasy. What did I do wrong? How could I have written a better blog, one that didn’t generate those negative responses. Why didn’t that one writer understand I was kidding around when I said “guys will be guys.” It was supposed to be taken in a light-hearted manner. How can I make it right…and so on. You can see that this line of thinking is overly self-critical. This is one of the ways many people who are described as an Alanon think.

And being self-critical is only one of the many ways I react to things. Without stereotyping or being too one dimensional, I’d like to offer a bit of an overview of the ways in which someone who has been affected by other people’s drinking can (at times) react in difficult situations. And of course I am using myself as the example, sometimes I am:

Defensive

Afraid

Need to control

Feel the victim

Respond passive aggressively

Did I say controlling?

Overly helpful

These are just some of the ways I can react to stressful, traumatic situations. And one can see how these ways of reacting are maladaptive.

A bit of back-story might help put my reactions into perspective. In the early 90s just after I’d moved to LA, I had a job as a producer’s assistant. One day as I was driving a script to a low rent production company and I had a realization. As I drove my dying Volvo station wagon over the hill, I began to sob, thinking I graduated from Columbia University, what was I doing? And I saw my life before me and I knew that what I wanted was to be in a deeply loving intimate relationship with a man and to be self-supporting by my own efforts. I could also see that the way I was going, neither of these things were going to happen. I needed to do something differently and I had no idea how. I had already been to therapy and it didn’t help me make the changes I needed to have a different life. I couldn’t figure out my way into right action.

I found Alanon and this program helped me to stop looking for the solution outside myself. I took responsibility and stopped blaming. I went within to find the resources inside, to find God, to find a spiritual solution. Alanon also helped to explain how my personality had been formed around alcoholism.

Obviously this is a longer discussion, one for a whole book, in fact. But suffice it to say an Alanon personality is very different from an Alcoholic. You can see it in the different 12 Step meetings. Alanon meetings are full of rules and very controlled. The AA meetings are fun and raucous and irreverent.  Is this distinction general? Maybe, but useful? I think so.

Next Week. How Addicts Respond: The Positive.

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~ by Christopher Kennedy Lawford on July 19, 2010.

One Response to “Hesaid/Shesaid”

  1. Hi there,

    For me, a HUGE part of learning how not to be a doormat is giving myself permission to say what I think – right, wrong, or indifferent, just SAYING it, without editing myself, without worrying about what others will think of me (oh…the horror! ) or if I’ve somehow managed to offend them in some way, and without being apologetic for it.

    As per your other post and my comment to it…I said what I thought.

    However, Adele and Christopher, your posts DO resonate with me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but that doesn’t mean that because I’m a person sitting “out here” typing stuff to people I don’t even know on the Internet that that means I have no feelings and can say whatever I want to you, the ones reading the comments on the other side, with the expectation that neither do you, and, bearing that in mind, will temper any future comments I do (or…don’t) make more respectfully.

    That being said, as much as I kind of “got” that some of what you’re trying to do here is all in good fun, some of it obviously cuts a little too closely to the quick for those of us out here who’ve been through the vagaries of love and relationships (which, I’m guessing, would be a good majority of us) not to generate a little button pushing, and yeah, a little reactivity to that.

    At any rate, thanks for what you’re doing here, and I’ll await next week’s post with great anticipation.

    Take Care,
    Bobbi

    I happened to enjoy Adele’s part of both posts especially, but that’s just me…

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