On Culture & Addiction

In this article I want to discuss how our culture sets us up for becoming an addict. Before I do it's important to realize we are all in a trance. We are hypnotized by our culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just is the way things are. It happens in every culture. It has to.

Culture is transmitted through the family. Parents teach children their culture's world view. This world view is like a filter, it defines what is real and what isn't, it proscribes what is appropriate behavior and what isn't, it dictates how we should be and what we should feel. It defines everything about our existence. The way this is taught is unique to each family because it is woven into the fabric of our family's history.

The most important thing to realize about our culture is that it is focused on "having." Our culture is based on capitalism. Capitalism needs consumers. We are hypnotized into believing that our self-worth is based on what we have, rather than on who we are. We measure success with the amount of material things we possess like money, homes, cars, and adult toys, not our character. I'm sure you heard that quote, "He who finishes with the most toys wins."

This obsession with "having" infects how we interact with our self and others too. We end up treating ourselves and others as objects and/or possessions. We become obsessed with how marketable we are. Women are typically treated (and also treat themselves) like sex objects. Men are usually treated and also treat themselves like success objects. What makes a man successful in his job makes it nearly impossible for him to have a warm and loving intimate relationship. A woman who treats herself as an object cannot be intimate because she is concerned about her image, not who she is.

More is better isn't it? That's what we learn in our culture. In fact we become addicted to more. I'm certain you've heard addiction described as the experience where "one is too much and a thousand isn't enough." Unfortunately this applies to nearly everything in our lives. We are rarely satisfied with what we have and even more dissatisfied with who we are.

We are obsessed with becoming something we are not. True self-esteem is rare. We just don't feel good enough, which is crazy because we aren't even certain of what it means to be "good enough." Our concept of who we should be is corrupted by our notions of who we think we should be. Women spend billions of dollars on plastic surgery to have the "perfect body." Men are also visiting the plastic surgeon more than ever before.

It's all about more, more and more. We spend millions of dollars on the latest exercise equipment so we can become more attractive and have a better body. Unfortunately most of it is gathering dust underneath our beds or in our garages. We pursue schemes to get rich so we can buy more things and have more money which in some magical way will make us feel more secure. Men become workaholics because they are obsessed with having more and being more successful. We turn into humans, doing and performing, rather than humans, being . What a tragedy.

Another bit of nonsense is that life should be easy and gratification instantaneous. We become obsessed with finding the easier, softer way, and we want instant results. Well, life isn't easy and most worthwhile things don't come easily. But nobody tells us that. Instead we are bombarded with messages that tell us to take a magical pill and your headache will immediately disappear. There is no need to figure out a better way to handle your stress. If you are depressed take an antidepressant and that will make you feel better. No need to figure out what you are doing that makes you depressed. We buy weight loss medication on TV that promises to help us lose weight while we sleep, so there is no need to spend hours in the gym. It's easy.

When we turn to drugs including alcohol, they really work. I mean really work. Instantaneously we feel better. We are sexier, more fun, more comfortable, more relaxed, more spontaneous. We are free from our fears and concerns. We are free from the false self that develops in this insane culture. I had a friend say that he didn't know if he was born an alcoholic but the moment he took his first drink he knew that an alcoholic was born.

We are set up by all of this nonsense to become addicted. We become addicted to drugs including alcohol, to sex, to gambling, to compulsive overeating or compulsive restricting. We become addicted to dramas, to spending money. We become addicted to more.

I may sound paranoid but I do believe that there is a cultural conspiracy that undermines the development of our true, spiritual self. We are encouraged to abandon our true self and become an idealized self riddled with our culture's proscription of who we should be.

Let's also consider looking at addiction from a different perspective. The fact that we aren't satisfied with our false self solution, that we become "dis-eased," means that something is right about us, not that something is wrong with us. Jung described the alcoholic as having a "spiritual thirst." It is our spiritual self that constantly reaches out, cries out to be actualized. It is like an alarm that will continue to ring despite the number of times we hit snooze. So it's what is right about us that doesn't allow us to completely abandon ourselves to the nonsense in our culture. This is not a culture based on wisdom. Recovery, however, is based on wisdom.

Recovery helps us find our lost, true self. It helps us reconnect with who we really are. Recovery is about "being" not "having." It's an incredible journey that begins with shattering our false self. This opens the door to discovering a spiritual solution to our dilemma.

Every spiritual discipline is concerned with "being" not "having." That why the 12 Steps work. They facilitate a spiritual experience. In recovery we have to have a 180 degree shift in our attitude and perceptions, this is a remarkable personal transformation. We shift from obsessed with "having more" to concern with "being," and living a life guided by spiritual principles. This breaks the trance and cures our cultural sickness. We become like Alice in Wonderland, realizing that what is isn't and what isn't is. What an amazing journey.

Reflections on the Process of Recovery

What is recovery? I see the process of recovery as involving three things:

1it helps break the bonds of addiction

2 it helps us recover our lost, true self and

3 it helps us grow up and learn how to live life clean and sober.

For many years, mental health professionals tried to help their alcoholic patients by focusing on treating the underlying causes of their problem, for example, by treating a childhood trauma. Their thinking was something like this: "If I help this person resolve the underlying causes of their addiction they will be asymptomatic, that is, they will no longer be alcoholic and therefore be able to drink socially." This approach failed miserably, as did other approaches that tried to teach a person to drink in moderation. Today we understand why.

Neuroscientists have validated something the founders of AA intuitively understood about alcoholism--that "We are like men who have lost their legs, we will never grow new ones." The addict's brain changes during the process of addiction and is no longer able to regulate the use of alcohol or other drugs. This change is irreversible. Once an addict always an addict.

Treating an addict without the direct treatment of their addiction doesn't work. It didn't work back then and it won't work now. There is no easier, softer way. So how does someone who is addicted stop using or drinking. Successful treatment begins by helping a patient accept a paradox. They must surrender to win. They must admit they are powerless to find a way to arrest their addiction.

Once an alcoholic or addict realizes the futility of a frontal assault on their malady with willpower they are thrown into an existential crisis: "What I used to do doesn't work, what I know to do to solve a problem doesn't work, yet I do not have a viable alternative."

Quite a predicament isn't it? This is exactly what is supposed to happen during recovery. The resolution of this predicament creates a willingness to go to any lengths to find a solution. Bill W. described recovery as being a spiritual experience that is conceived on a pedestal of hopelessness.

The recovery of our true self, our spiritual self, is a consequence of working the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps systematically and methodically create a spiritual experience by shattering our reliance on our "false self," and replacing it with a reliance on a "Power greater than ourselves."

Our false self is our idealized self. This false self is the solution to a very basic problem. We all want to be loved and accepted. In fact we all have a basic fear or anxiety that we won't be loved and accepted. This basic anxiety must be resolved. To resolve it we construct an idealized image of who we need to be in order to be loved and accepted. The type of personality that we develop as a solution is shaped by an interaction of several different factors: our family dynamics, our biological constitution, and our culture.

Typically personalities evolve along three different vectors: the appeal of freedom, the appeal of love, and the appeal of mastery. I will address these in more detail in a future article. For now I want to make the point that these solutions all alienate us from our true, spiritual self. We try to be something we are not. It's no wonder that most of us are afraid we are going to found out to be a phony, because we are.

The 12 Steps systematically dismantle this false solution and help us recover our lost, true, spiritual self. Another way of saying this is that in recovery we recover the ground we missed in our personal development. We are warned in the Big Book that "...until we let go of our old ideas the result will be nil."

We need to let go of our false self in order to find our true self. We need to build life on what is real, not on misconceptions and myths. Recovery is about becoming authentic, about actualizing our true self, and about growing up. The final stage of recovery is learning how to live life, clean and sober. In order to develop real maturity and balance in our relations with ourselves and with others we need to face our emotional dependency. Bill W. referred to this as an "absolute dependence." Emotional dependency interferes with emotional sobriety. We need to grow up and learn how to take total responsibility for our lives, our spirituality, our self-esteem, our ignorance and misinformation, our happiness, our recovery, our relationships with our loved ones and what shortcomings we need to change. There's a funny thing that happens, when we take responsibility for our need to change: Other people stop trying to change us.

This is what happens in recovery. We are purged of our false self. We surrender to our powerlessness over drugs including alcohol and accept that our lives have become unmanageable. Our "false self" is shattered. Steps 1 thru 12 illuminate a spiritual way of life by the use of paradox and right action. The Steps help us integrate parts of ourselves we disowned and discover other parts of ourselves never realized. And finally they help us reunite with our loved ones and our community. We learn how to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. We live life with a new purpose, to help the alcoholic or addict who is suffering. We realize that our trouble are of our own making.

What a remarkable process. We owe a great deal to Bill W. and Dr. Bob. May they rest in peace!

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