Slippery Places

Warning: this is a long one (about 2 pages single spaced). It is a composite of my experience attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings as an observer for the class on substance abuse I am taking at Loyola. I need to turn it in on Friday. Feedback is welcome. BK

“Are you in the program?” His voice booms across the room. He looks like an aging California surfer: blonde hair slicked back, skin the color and texture of hide leather, and blazing blue eyes that challenge my presence.

“No,” I say, “I’m Barbara. I am here to observe.”

“Observe away,” he sweeps his arm across the chairs in front of him. “You should be in the program. It works.” He pokes himself in the chest. “Forty-five days. I never thought it could happen.”

Of course, I say to myself as I sit down, all of them would think I am addict. Why else would anyone come here?

“I know you,” a woman squints at me. “I’ve seen you before. You ARE in the program!”

“No, I am not,” I tell her. More people file into the room. Some of them take notice of a new face. Others appear oblivious.

Everyone finds a chair. They squirm restlessly as if being still is impossible. One reads the 12 Steps. Another reads the 12 Traditions. The leader of the meeting is a dark, somber young woman.

“Each person has three minutes,” she locks her gaze on me. “Say your name, that you are an addict and, if you don’t want to share, just say ‘pass.’ We will go counterclockwise around the table and then move to the back rows. We start with you.”

She points to an elderly man. He looks about 70. He might be younger, but his illness has aged him.

“My name is John and I am an addict.”

There is a chorus of “Hi, John” before he continues.

“I am very aware of the slippery places in my life. I know I have to avoid bars. One drink and the whole game is over. I have an infection, and I had to go to the doctor. He gave me an antibiotic, which is okay, but then he asked me if I wanted something for the pain.” John pauses, staring at his hands. I notice his fingers are trembling.

“I said no, but it really bothers me. I never thought about my doctor being a slippery place,” he says softly. “That’s it. Thanks.”

“Thanks for sharing,” the chorus fills the room.

Around and around it goes. One woman admits to being only two weeks into her third recovery, having relapsed twice. A man describes being offered oxycontin by a co-worker even after he told the co-worker he was in recovery. When they get to me, I say my name and that I will pass. I do not say I am an addict.

I am a misfit among these souls. Alcohol puts me to sleep and I dislike being out of control of my mind. I abolished my addiction to cigarettes over 20 years ago. Slippery places no longer provoke a need for nicotine. But, it is not the same. There is something different happening here.

Another meeting, another time, a sea of faces who I will not soon forget. Children come with their mothers making babysitters nonessential. I wonder what the children think, what the impact will be on them. It is not my place to ask.

A young man apologizes for his twitches.

“I’m only two days sober,” he explains, “this girl invited me out to a bar a while ago. Months ago. Okay, a year ago. I only had one drink that night. But then I had another a couple of weeks later. And then another after a few days. Then, I started using again. Two years I didn’t use. Two years! All it took was one trip to a bar, and that’s all down the drain. This time I’m going to stay clean. I hate withdrawal.”

Slippery places.

A young woman with tattoos covering her arms, her bare midriff, her back, says she is having a rough time. Her daughter is about five years old and sits next to her contentedly licking a Tootsie Roll Pop.

“I need to find a sponsor. One here close by. I can’t be without a sponsor for very long. I’ll start using again.”

Slippery places.

These are lives balanced in a delicate, precarious cease fire. They might have quit their drugs, but they have not quit their addiction. All they are doing is NOT doing the drugs or the drinking. Very few talk about coping skills when life gets hard or when they find themselves sliding into the slippery places. The warning is out there. The way to cope with the slippery places is to just not go there. Meetings are the place to go instead.

As a counselor, I would require it. Proof-of-attendance slips are available. Loneliness is a slippery place for addicts. Being with others, making safe connections, having a sponsor, being a sponsor, and making oneself accountable to others helps build confidence and self-reliance. An addicted person needs exercises that help them say “yes, I can make good choices.” Regardless of the endless stories of relapse, those who shared gave testimony to their own self-worth and the desire for another chance. Addicts are the only people who can grant themselves second chances.

The meetings give addicts autonomy over their own treatment and recovery. No one is telling them what to do or how to do it. No one is prescribing anything. The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are ways of being in the world. How a person chooses to integrate and reflect those steps and traditions is a way of becoming who one truly is.

If I could give a recovering drug addict just one thing, it would be to help him or her find a way to be finished with addiction. Being finished does not mean that a person could have a drink, or pop a pill, or snort anything ever. Being finished means that the person is free of the desire, the need, the compulsion, and the constant struggle to avoid slippery places. Slippery places are not just bars or people or events. We all have slippery places inside of us in our thoughts, our emotions, and our responses to life.

The difference is that my slippery places will not take me outside of myself or my life. For recovering addicts, slippery places can end their lives. None of us can control the slippery places. The only part we can control is what we might do when we start sliding.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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14 Responses to “Slippery Places”

  1. holessence Says:

    Barbara – This is an excellent post. That’s worth repeating — this is an excellent post.

    “They might have quit their drugs, but they have not quit their addiction. All they are doing is NOT doing the drugs or the drinking.”

    That’s key; vital.

    “Being finished means that the person is free of the desire, the need, the compulsion, and the constant struggle to avoid slippery places.”

    I love the way you wrap up with

    “None of us can control the slippery places. The only part we can control is what we might do when we start sliding.”

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      thank you, Laurie; you are always a great source of affirmation and support. There is so much more that I could say on this topic, but I have already exceeded the page limit.

  2. jeffstroud Says:

    Barbara,

    What she said! pointing to Laurie’s response!

    As an observer you have observed not only from the outside as so many non addictive people do but you have observed from the inside, you get the wholeness of addiction. Addiction is or maybe an illness, in AA they call it a disease. Recovery is a spiritual process, recovery from anything, finding and using the tools that allows one to accept their addiction, move beyond their
    compulsion/obsession is the key. And you have stated that wonderfully here!

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Jeff — you are right about the disease/illness dilemma . . . that there is something chemical or organic in some people that makes them prone to being addicts just like there are people who are prone to being diabetic. Like you said, recovery is a spiritual process; some of them seem to lose their spiritual connection, though, and they relapse. I would want to search for a way to help them make that spiritual connection permanent, which I think would help them move beyond their addiction and be finished with it.

  3. ntexas99 Says:

    “These are lives balanced in a delicate, precarious cease fire.”

    That statement reflects an honest and intuitive observation into the life of a person that struggles with any kind of addictive behavior. I also appreciated what you said about seeking out opportunities for positive affirmation, and building on that momentum to carve out an improved version of life. One good decision at a time.

    As someone who struggles with addiction myself, your words helped me identify something that is important to the overall process, which is to remember to look for that positive affirmation in the right places. Expecting someone who does not know about addiction to provide any form of positive reinforcement is one of those “slippery places”. Identifying what DOESN’T work is sometimes just as important as identifying what does work. Thanks for that reminder.

    Another great post, barbara. Good work. Always insightful and thought-provoking, with a touch of humanity and compassion thrown into the mix.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Nancy — glad you came to visit me 😀 What is interesting about being a “recovered” smoker is that when I tell people I quit smoking, I get all sorts of positive affirmations. If I were to tell people I am a recovering crack addict, I would get a whole different reaction. Why is it I can wear that badge proudly anywhere while other recovering addicts can only wear their badges at meetings? When I gave up smoking, I adopted the way of being in the world as a nonsmoker. I did all sorts of things to make that happen, many of which were very creative and not traditional psychotherapy.

      I hope you come back to visit soon, Nancy.

      • ntexas99 Says:

        I’m back sooner than expected! We almost bumped into one another (big smile).

        I also meant to say that I particularly liked the way you worded this blog entry (aka your class paper). The way you jumped in with both feet firmly planted in the NA meeting was clever, with how you provided enough details to allow the reader to visualize and hear the conversations … I could practically smell the coffee brewing in the back corner, and the lingering odor of too many cigarettes smoked-down-to-the-nub clinging to their clothes. Great observations, and great writing, too.

        • Barbara Kass Says:

          Nancy, if I had more space (I am already a page over the limit), I would have put in the endless coffee, smell of cigarettes, and the candy! Tootsie Roll Pops! The restlessness is palpable in the meeting room. Truly, if I could give them a gift, it would be to free them of the power addiction has over their way of being in the world. People who have the addictive gene or disease or illness (I believe their body chemistry is different somehow) have just as much right to a therapy as someone with diabetes or asthma that will help them be who they truly are in the world.

  4. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    Thanks for sharing this interesting experience

    It resound in my brain too freshly with my family of origin….

    Admitting there is a problem is a first step,rather than sweeping it all under the rug waiting for someone else to clean it up.

    ::hugs::
    Kim

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim — you are right about admitting the problem; addicts know that drugs and alcohol (or whatever they are addicted to) causes problems in their lives but the problem is not the drug or the drink. The problem is that the addict engages in the behavior. And behavior is something we can be in charge of. Getting someone to that stage where he or she is willing to engage in different behaviors and avoid the one that is causing problems is a huge obstacle for many people.

  5. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    Coffee at Caribou comes to mind and eating…..for me.

    20 days and counting….no coffee…..Gee at 4.00 a pop I have saved 80.00 so far. maybe if I am real good I can have one every few months or so as a treat with a friend, rather than a daily habit!…..soda too.
    As for the chocolate, I have to admitt I have slipped a day or two on it, there was some chocolate pudding staring at me in the fridge!.
    Chocolate and sugar are next major items on my list, along with then watching more closely what salt is in the foods I eat. One thing at a time.

    The hard part is find productive things to do than thinking about the fact I am somehow depriving myself of something and learning to find healthy substitutes…..No red licorice is not on that list…LOL

    Kim

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Well, Kim, you made a good point is the difference between an addiction abd a habit. Caffeine can be an addiction, but most of us are not willing to sell a kidney to get some like people who are addicted to crack. And, most people get a set “fix” like 2 or 3 cups a day. True caffeine addicts drink it all day long.

      I think chocolate “slips” are necessary to our sanity. I was a chocoholac for many years and then just had to quit buying it. I still have a piece now and then, but like you and your coffee, as a treat.

      I gave up refined sugar (switched to Splenda) and I never ate much cake or candies. Put a quart of ice cream in my line of site, though, and nobody should be between me and it.

      In my heart, I am a 500-pound person. I love to eat, drink, and make merry. The gift I give myself is feeling good, healthy, and the ability to still run around on a tennis court. You just gave yourself a gift of $80.00. That can buy something real nice or be stashed away for a great trip to anywhere.

  6. PETER RICE Says:

    what would constitute a slippery person?

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      In all seriousness (:-), I think slippery people are those who cannot quite get a grip on life and what makes them tick. The people who come to mind for me are people I cannot quite figure out, the ones I almost know but their true selves are elusive, perhaps even to themselves.

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