Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

anonymous presence

June 27, 2010

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Tradition #12)

As one of my last assignments for the class I am taking on substance abuse, I explored the 12 Traditions that support the 12 Step programs for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc. These traditions are principles that describe the external environment required for any 12 Step program to exist and be successful. The 12 Steps are an internal process of personal spiritual growth and change for recovery to occur. The 12 Traditions are regarded as the rules and regulations, but they are also a set of spiritual principles that create a safe environment for the process of the 12 Steps to be shared.

Tradition 12 is saying that being unknown and ordinary is the breath of life for all the principles of the 12 Step programs and maintaining these principles is more important than any one person’s habits or behaviors. These words imply that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. They prevent any one person from taking over 12-Step groups.

Being anonymous is required. It protects each individual alone and collectively. By protecting the group, Tradition 12 guarantees the safety of all the principles. This does not mean that principles or other people are more important than an individual. Even while living among the many, each person must continue to put his or her own welfare first unless, by some tacit agreement, he or she has agreed to put others first. The men and women who go to war and fight battles and are willing to die to keep us safe come to mind. Yet, even then, soldiers are expected to take very good care of themselves so that they can be effective and keep their agreements.

This tradition says that the principles come before personality. Some people believe that if they cannot be their personality, then they are not being themselves. We are not our personalities. Our personalities are behaviors that reflect who we believe ourselves to be. We are all in charge of our behaviors. We select the behaviors that show the world who we are.

I thought about what it means to be anonymous. Synonyms include being nameless, unidentified, unknown, ordinary, indistinctive, everyday, unexceptional, and unmemorable. There is an element of safety in being nameless and ordinary. There is an element of loneliness in being unknown and unmemorable.

We can be nameless and still be known. I put my name aside. I set my personality along side of my name. Who am I when I have no name and no habitual behaviors to display myself before the world? Throughout my day, I am nameless and unknown at the grocery store, the post office, the gas station, and a dozen other brief encounters. I display behavior appropriate to the circumstances. At work, I am no longer nameless and I am known only to the extent that I reveal myself through my behaviors. Again, I choose the behaviors that represent how I want to be perceived in my work world. But, these are not therapeutic settings as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings are.

How can one remain anonymous in a therapeutic setting? My brief experience in attending 12-step program meetings gave me an insight that says being anonymous opens a door for exploring the individuality of the person who has been submerged under drugs or alcohol (or any other behavior that is an addiction).

It brings up the question we can all ask ourselves: who am I and how can I be in the world when I am not my name or my personality?

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


Slippery Places

June 15, 2010

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