While much disparaged, geographic “cures” do work for many conditions including various forms of abuse and “addiction.”
Validation of the efficacy of moving as therapeutic was first documented during the Viet Nam war when Air Force pilots, who routinely used heroin when they weren’t flying missions, went into spontaneous remission somewhere between Saigon and Anchorage when their tours ended. And this was not a small number but averaged 50%. Added to that, another 25% ceased using within a month of returning stateside.
The “Rat Park” experiments produced even more dramatic results. Rats raised in isolation and given the choice of water or heroin laced water, chose the latter until they drugged themselves to death.
BUT! Removed from the isolation and placed in the enriched Rat Park environment with other rats and interesting things to do, they nearly all voluntarily recovered.
What’s going on here?
As I noted last week, it’s far easier to give up alcohol than the habit patterns we have adopted around our drinking. But when we make a major change in our living circumstances we have to adjust, accommodate, and develop new habits, associations, and activities. If we choose, we can use this opportunity to leave our alcohol abuse behind.
Interestingly, even AA “works” for essentially the same reason. Successful adherents to the Steps are Conformists who change their reference peer group. They move from isolation and bars to their own Rat Park where they emulate the revised rules and expectations. The Steps and other trappings are irrelevant, but, like any ritual, reinforce the group rules and expectations. Of course, as with any cult, one does need to agree to stay within the confines of the Park.
For the rest of us, “geographic” need not be strictly limited to cross-country or transcontinental leaps. It can mean beginning to consciously change activities, associates, vocations, avocations, and other things that make up our day to day life. We can exchange the gym for the bar, for example; engage with people who are doing things which either do, or might, interest us; avoid destructive people including family members; and stop participating in events which only alcohol makes tolerable.
We’ll happy help you look at your personal geography and assist you in drawing a new map – one that gets you back into life, not stuck in either a bottle or AA’s 1930’s impoverished “park.”
An unexpected result of giving up alcohol is the possibility of being blindsided by others’ sabotage. This may be either conscious or unconscious and sometimes is as surprising to the saboteur as it is to you.
But why would someone, who’s been complaining about your alcohol abuse for years, suddenly start pushing you back towards the bottle!
The most common case involves spouses. You and you partner, over the years, have developed a dance which includes your drinking and their complaints and threats. Then you quit and you actually address the issues you’ve been medicating.
They didn’t think about that part. They just thought life would go on as before except you wouldn’t be getting drunk.
Stopping drinking means ceasing to be lonely, bored, anxious, depressed, and whatever other conditions you’ve only escaped. It also means addressing conflicts assertively, not passive-aggressively. It means you will be less controllable, not more.
And it also means that whatever issues your partner has been ignoring, whether their own or as a spouse, will suddenly replace your drinking as something to be attended to.
Just because you are now off the hook as the “alcoholic” scapegoat doesn’t mean they are thrilled to have the spotlight turned in their direction, or even to having their life disrupted by your new interest in doing stuff. Or knowing stuff. Or getting your vote back in family decision making. Or…….
Things may have been miserable for everyone when you were drinking, but at least things were predictable. The security of familiar miseries. But now all of that predictability is upset.
That doesn’t mean a civil war is about to commence. It does mean that you, as the drinker, need to move slowly to regain lost rights, authority, and respect. Everyone needs time to adjust.
Success means you both have to agree to grant each other some leeway and to address those things which need to be addressed in an atmosphere of good will and good humor.
It helps if we have a little time to educate both of you in how to manage that.
It beats groping around wondering what’s going on and how to manage it.
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