The two most common underlying conditions we treat are Under-Engagement in Life and Passivity in Personal Relationships.
First, let’s take a look at “Under-Engagement.”
Last week’s newsletter included a link to a Huffington Post article which is essentially a review of the addiction research that’s been around for a long time, some of it all the way back to the war in Vietnam.
The article refers primarily to the “rat” experiments which showed that confined rats, given a choice of plain water or cocaine laced water invariably chose the drugged water and consumed it until they died. Researchers concluded that this is what happens to people who begin dabbling in drugs which, they decided, invariably leads to addiction and death.
Then along came Dr. Bruce Alexander who thought maybe the experiment was bogus since it used conditions which would only apply to prisoners in solitary confinement. He therefore constructed “Rat Park” where the rats weren’t isolated and lived in a stimulating environment. Guess what? Most of the rats preferred plain water.
Amplifying the experiment, Professor Alexander took more rats, subjected them to the parameters of the original experiment, got the same results, but just before they would have died he moved them to Rat Park. Again, guess what? The vast majority of the transferred rats recovered.
Bad news for AA, Minnesota Model treatment, the far right who cite moral failings as the cause of addiction, and the far left with their diseased victim mentality.
Good news for the rest of us.
It’s also is one of the underlying factors which help explain why our clients – and I – got into trouble with alcohol abuse. Social isolation.
The next obvious question is, therefore, why did we end up isolated and why doesn’t the “AA fellowship” fix that?
This is where Dr. Jane Loevinger’s research in adult development – emotional and psychological – provides the answer. We’re isolated because we got too mature when we were too young. This results in a shortage of peers along with an equally pressing need for intimacy with no one available for truly interdependent relationships.
The result? We attempt to use alcohol’s regressant effects to drink our way down to other’s levels of maturity, or immaturity as is usually the case.
We may indeed be able, like the isolated rats, to drink our way down to a pseudo-peer group and achieve a false intimacy to substitute for the real thing. We may even be able to join AA for that pseudo “fellowship” as well. But if we quit drinking we will again bob up to our real maturity level and be stuck with leaving AA (which from our mature perspective will be either a silly group of people or a just plain dumb organization), or staying drunk. Of course there’s also suicide.
Which door’s for you?
Door #1: accept isolation; Door #2: adhere to AA (or any other cult) and drink enough to fit in; Door #3: die.
Happily there is Door #4. Understand your situation and proactively construct your own personal, idiosyncratic, Rat Park (Rat Park TED Talk). That’s called getting a life of your own without regard for the usual societal constraints that haven’t ever served you in any case. And that’s what we spend more than 3 months helping you build.
Ready for a life of your own, uniquely suited to your particular strengths, interests, preferences, abilities, and circumstances?
That’s what we suspected. Now let’s turn that into your reality.
As if Isolation Wasn’t Bad Enough…
A lot of us found that the isolation of alcohol abuse has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. For one thing, it provided an “invisible protective bubble” that made an abusive and/or controlling spouse, family members, or society tolerable.
It also makes an excellent passive-aggressive weapon to be leveled against these same annoying individuals, families, and groups of all sorts.
We exacerbate the loneliness that is the root cause of our over-consumption, thus sabotaging both our need for intimacy and our ability to stand up for ourselves.
Pretty much a self-propelled lose/lose approach to life.
Consequently, it probably isn’t a surprise that the two most common things we advise clients to focus on are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Assertiveness Training, usually in that order. First, you learn to manage the destructive thought patterns that paralyze your ability to stand up for yourself and then you begin practicing managing those around you assertively, not passively, and certainly not aggressively.
Of course, you need to develop this re-engagement soberly. Drinking, at this point, simply reinforces the passivity and isolation and gives everyone an excuse to continue to negate anything you say. Remember, when the drinking became a problem, you lost your voice and your vote. No one is going to be in a big hurry to re-enfranchize you.
Which bring us to what is frequently the most interesting question in our work with you:
What are the benefits others are getting from your drinking?
You’ll be astonished when that question is unraveled, as will the people around you when confronted by the changes six months to a year from now.
Most people think that your drinking is the problem. It isn’t.
They also think that if you’d just stop drinking life would go along just as it is except you won’t be annoying people by getting drunk. Wrong again. Everyone who is affected by your drinking will also be affected by you not drinking – only more so.
Think about it. Now sober, out of your bubble, and increasingly assertive, all of the real problems, yours and especially theirs, will suddenly emerge from the protective fog you’ve been providing to everyone else.
Drinking buddies will suddenly become aware of their own consumption, no longer hiding behind yours. “But I don’t have a problem. I drink much less than Martha. Now she has a problem.”
Spouses find their emotional, psychological, or physical abuse is no longer accepted. Nor are their health and happiness disrupting habits, be it obesity, diabetes, and other intimacy prohibiting conditions. You will have slowly, and we do recommend very slowly, opened a Pandora’s Box of problems that you have been running cover for, sometimes for decades.
Yes, assertiveness is essential if you aren’t going to be sabotaged, consciously or not, into returning to the bottle like a good genie and closing the box back up.
But you know how that plays out. Time to try a different tack and, surprisingly, given sufficient good will and good humor, you and those you cherish can come to accommodations that will gratify everyone involved.