12-Step Programs

I wrote this as an assignment for my “Addiction Studies” course. I thought I’d share it on here. 

07 May 2013

Addicts– an anecdote


Addicts– what to do?  I’m not referring to a specific type– agree or disagree, I’m an adamant believer that an addict is an addict is an addict, whether a lush in L.A. or a junkie in Seattle, to generalize for just one moment. Being the daughter of one beautiful, prodigal, outlandishly cunning woman, a woman whose torrented life owes something, if not everything, to the astounding powers of meth, I’m inclined to say that some, if not all, addicts are innately smart people. I say that, but I really don’t mean that, because the reality is, hanging around addicts is weird. Addicts are weird. They are negative people, terrible, even, and their behaviors, most of the time, just really cannot be justified. Because when you’re an addict, and you’re looking to get high, all you really care about is when and how you will get that next fix. That’s a stereotype. It’s a cliche, nowadays, and it’s smothered in the PSAs. But those facts don’t erase its truth. Addicts are bad people. This is true. It’s so true. I hate to admit that and it’s difficult not to hate myself for admitting that out loud, but objectively, that’s how it is. Primal ethnology of substance indulgences aside, addiction just isn’t rational.

Sometimes, an addict is even aware of this fact. Just earlier today, I had a conversation with an old friend where she recalled moments from a few years back in our history. Just a few years back, I might have been duly in the process of performing a favor for her– like picking her up from some house, and driving her home to mine. My house– I was driving her “home” to my house, where she was “temporarily” staying. I would usually offer her food along the way, food she would always refuse, or at best, pathetically pick at. Anyway, as she recalled today on the phone, she empathized with her past self in order to shed light on something I myself was suddenly experiencing, remembering what it felt like to  have her fix in her purse, along with the paraphernalia with which she might use it, all while being in my car on the way to my house and literally hating my guts simply because I existed. Literally, in these situations, the fact of my existence was the only barricade from her using. So, in the midst of performing for her a favor, I was somehow the devil incarnated. I’ll say it again– she knew that this was not rational, let alone fair to me, but therein lies the mindset of an addict. When you want to get high, that need trumps everything else. Every single thing– especially the ability to be loving to those who care for you, or at the very least, a decent, commendable human.

With this anecdote in mind, I ask you– what do we, as a society, do with these addicts? I’ve already hinted that I believe some of them to be the smartest people alive. Having been raised by an addict, and grown up around it, and even having for a breeze used  the things myself, I can’t deny the fact that I am concerned for these people. Try as I might to distance myself from them (I moved 1000 miles north to escape my dark and twisted past) I can no longer deny the fact that I care about these people, and even feel somehow that I am linked to them. The thing with drugs, and the people who use them, is that they are so profoundly lonely. The very act of ingesting a drug shockwaves you straight into a vacuum. It’s the most isolating thing that you can do to yourself. I mean that wholeheartedly.


Alcoholics Anonymous — a brief (and biased) history


Notable psychologist Carl Jung went so far as to deem substance dependence as “medically helpless”. That’s a pretty bold statement. So how did people respond?  Bill Wilson and his doctor friend provide a big example. Together, they one day decided, while chatting it up in Akron, OH, that the solution to this “medically helpless”, profoundly isolating epidemic was to start up grassroots support groups in empty churches and abandoned basements. The idea was that, over shitty coffee and too many cigarettes, people would come together and talk about the horrors their habits created for them and how difficult the sober life is. Bill Dub and Dr. Bob Smith designed a thoughtful, well-intentioned “twelve step program” and called it Alcoholics Anonymous. They published a book by the same title (but nicknamed The Big Book) in 1939 and before anyone knew it, this phenomenon went viral. People all over the country started gathering in basements, passing the book around while scrounging for shitty coffee and filling churches up with cigarette smoke. It became the alternative solution to prison sentences– don’t lock an addict up, simply force recovery upon them! Recovery through these meetings.

Look, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this system is horribly flawed. While I will gladly admit that AA seems to work for some people, my dad being one of them, it is not for all people, and I think oftentimes, the program does more harm than it does good. My dad is a lonely guy– he divorced and never remarried. He’s a little bit antisocial, and his kids are all grown up. He’s in astronomical amounts of debt, etc. For him, AA is a place where he can go and be a part of a community. AA is where he has friends. So for my father, woo hoo, AA is a wonderful thing.

On the flip side of that coin, there is my marvelous mother. My mother is a lot of things, and a willful, independent spirit is definitely one of them. AA is detrimental to these types of people. A willful person needs to live under the impression that every single decision they make is their own and theirs only. Even if that decision is an objectively bad decision. AA is the opposite of that. AA means admitting that you are a “medically helpless” person, and that you need these meetings to recover. AA leads you to believe that recovery without these meetings just simply isn’t a thing. Add the layer of these meetings being forced upon a person, and you might as well just forget it. My mother recently admitted to me that AA always only increased her desire to get high, and only sometimes was that desire physical– it was often just her form of petty rebellion. Granted, my mother might be an anomaly here, but I’m really not so sure.


Alcoholics Anonymous– My (most recent) Experience


On Wednesday April 24, 2013, I attended a “Sober and Free” Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a church on 10th ave. I attended with Amber, who I know from my film studies program, because I thought the “buddy system” might alleviate some of the awkwardness. As I mentioned, I grew up with addict parents, one who recovered and one who didn’t. These meetings were a part of my upbringing. I remember attending them as a child with my father– the parent who recovered. There was always lots of smoke, a ton of coffee (which I drank gleefully loaded with cream) and loads of Tootsie Pops. The bartender would always give us an extra Tootsie Pop if we received a wrapper that had a “star” imprinted on it. Wanda, one of the regulars, would always give us strawberry candies that appeared from the depths of her handbag. She smelled like cheap perfume. My sister and I mostly just played in the arcade area, sometimes pool but usually pinball. Occasionally, only occasionally, would we sit in on the meetings. I’ll admit that I never really paid attention to what was said and my favorite part was always the hand-holding circle in which the Lord’s Prayer was recited.

Anyway, this meeting with Amber was different. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be a good idea to tell her that I had a history with these things. Being transparent and radically honest, I ended up telling her. I didn’t tell her everything, but I told her enough so that it was clear that I, unlike her, was not feeling voyeuristic about the project because I, unlike her, had grown up with the phenomenon. I really did not know what to say because since moving here, the whole ordeal has seemed so very distant to me– at least, up to this point. This class has triggered a surge of memories, and it’s been very challenging, confronting that fact. I alway told myself that, despite everything, I am not my parents. I have always been so sure to make it a noted point that I am creating a life that is separate, even radically different, from the lives they chose to live. I’m losing sight of that.

Anyway, again with Amber, I agreed that despite my past, we would both just tell the people that we were student observers. I was skeptical of this, but felt awkward, because I could tell that Amber felt awkward, about my having addict parents. Not that I blame her, I don’t at all because it’s sort of an awkward thing– unless, of course, you’ve lived it. But then, it’s sort of an even more awkward thing– because we’re supposed to be honest about our experiences, and accept each other’s diverse perspectives for what they are, right? But things like alcoholism, and meth addiction, are still just so unbelievably socially unacceptable. As they really should be, because if the definition of “socially unacceptable” is behavior that is a threat to humanity, well, those two diseases definitely fall under that umbrella.

Moving on– we knew we’d reached the right place when we saw people hugging through the windows. An older woman greeted us, and told us that we were more than welcome to sit in. Amber did most of the talking, I never really talk much when I’m in group settings. The woman (whose name I forget) told us that it was multiple people’s birthdays, and that they always celebrated such things at the end of the month. She offered us some homemade fruit cake, and while it looked delicious, I was stuffed from the ramen that Amber and I’d had for dinner. The meeting itself was less than profound. Maybe it was the fact that I’d had a long day, or that I’d insanely over eaten just a few hours before, or that I was nervous and anxious and riled about being there in the first place, but I just really was not impressed. I remember feeling sad for everyone in the room, I do remember that. I remember recalling how tragically alone people are in their addictions. And that maybe, just maybe, AA was a good thing.

We ended up, somehow, at a “gay” meeting– other than our greeter, we were the only ladies present. Which was comforting– not to sound uptight but it was comforting to know that no one in the room was interested in oogling (at us, anyway.) It also might be a strange coincidence that they were reading the “We Agnostics” chapter. Honestly, I’ve never really picked up the book in my life, I know I shouldn’t knock things that I haven’t tried, but like I said, I’m just really not a fan of this system. I thought that this chapter was alright. It seemed like it was trying to acknowledge the lonely, defensive place that so many addicts are coming from. Still, the meeting was kind of low energy, and no one’s story really blew me away. They were all just variations on a theme– “I didn’t want to give up everything, until I realized that I had to. I didn’t want to admit that I needed AA, until I realized that I had to.” I mean, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. When you’re addicted to something, you don’t care about people. This means that people cannot really truly care about you, either. That’s what I mean, by isolating. Or that’s part of what I mean. All that said, I just really don’t get AA. One of the guys even mentioned, after the meeting, that he hoped we didn’t stereotype them based on ‘the movies”– he seemed to think that the movies were inaccurate depictions of AA meetings. Maybe he’s right. He’s probably right. I still don’t get AA.


Narcotics Anonymous– an anecdote


If I think that AA is flawed, that is nothing in comparison to my thoughts regarding NA. NA is poison. Literally, poison. Founded in LA about eighteen years subsequent to the founding of AA (1953, to AA’s 1935) in California by Jimmy Kinnon and others, I am not sure what he was thinking when he thought it would be a good idea to invite the gamut of addicts into one cigarette-smoke-saturated basement. I know from first-hand experience, that for many, NA is where you go when you are not serious about recovery, but are actually looking to meet new “connects”. For those who are serious, AA is a surefire option, regardless of your addictive tendencies.  I acknowledge that this is probably not an “across the board” phenomenon, but I certainly think there is something to it, and as I’ve said, I’ve seen it up front. My mom admitted to me that she met some of her best “connects” in NA. Again, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this is how I feel, and I don’t know that my mind will change.


Narcotics Anonymous– my experience


I didn’t go to another meeting. I could have, I would have, I should have.  I could even have pretended to and just made something up.  For the purposes of this class, and this paper, though, I just am not going to do that. The truth is, this class is triggering for me. While it shames me to admit this, I recently relapsed. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I certainly don’t mean to say that I relapsed because of this class. I didn’t. There are so many factors that went into this behavior– this choice– beginning, perhaps, with my own hereditary temperament, and following with my environmental upbringing, continuing with loads of factors in between, and maybe culminating in the fact that I ended two unhealthy relationships over the span of just one week. I could mull over the fact that I share a studio apartment with a man I am not dating and that I have no space, let alone time, to myself, or the fact that I am graduating with no plans in just one month (assuming I pass my classes). I could even self-pity over the admission that I feel uncomfortable with the way I’ve lived my life up to this point. The excuses are honestly endless.

The truth is, triggering as it all is, even “trite” and “voyeuristic” as it all seems to me sometimes, I was meant to be in this class. This is my final opportunity to look my demons in the eye, and tell them that they bore me. That I know longer need them. That I’m not that person anymore, that I’ve outgrown this layer of my flesh. Even though I relapsed, I know that I can move on. And I can accept that it’s a part of me. Will always be a part of me. It’s a process, it will always be a process, but as I mentioned earlier, I care about this world, and the people who inhabit it. I mostly care from a distance, but never a day goes by when I don’t wish that there was more that I could do. I know I’ve been critical of the system– and have probably failed to sufficiently back it up. I don’t even offer an alternative– because I’m not sure what that would be. I just know that, as it is now, the system does not know or even appear to want to know how to treat the addicts of our world. Of course, there are individuals within the system who seem to demonstrate a little bit more insight, and intuition regarding the matter (like you, I would say you come from a place of caring) but generally, it doesn’t seem as if most individuals that make up the “system” truly care about the individual persons beneath the addicted layers. Again, as I’ve also hinted at, this tendency is almost rightfully so, because the addicts tend to make it so hard for you to care. Even in cases where caring is present, it’s a feeling that is nearly impossible to sustain– my relationship with my mother provides a classic example of this tension.

My roommate recently told me that I ought to own up to my messiah complex. I never thought of it that way, but perhaps he has a point. I spent my entire childhood wasting my birthday candle wishes on one single wish– that my mother would recover. That she would learn to love herself. It never happened, and to this day, I can’t bring myself to wish on anything ever about anyone or anything under any circumstance. My friend wanted to blow away on dandelions  just last weekend, and that innocent impulse in him literally sent me down into a deep wormhole of sadness for a good five minutes. It wasn’t his fault, and it certainly wasn’t rational, but there you have it– sometimes, emotions just are not rational. Emotions actually are not considered to be “rational” at all– but they’re important. They are so important, and in some ways, they are the root source of my interest and engagement with the world around me.

The truth is, this paper is very hard for me to write. I feel like I have so much to say– so much pain and memory stored up. It’s all so cloudy, and I really don’t know where to begin. Let alone, how to do it all the justice that it deserves. I want to write something cathartic, I want to write something real. Maybe this isn’t the paper  that you wanted, but it’s the only paper I could write. I hope I go back to it, and make it the memoir it deserves to be. I didn’t realize until now how profound my need is to express these experiences in writing.

I guess I’ll close on a story about a girl I discovered on Tumblr. I found her last week, while I was perusing the “drug” tag in the moments preceding my relapse (don’t even get me started on online “support” groups, that are so the opposite of supportive!) Anyway, in this teenager’s “about me” page, she tells the world all about how she has the “perfect life”– the perfect family, the perfect house, a pretty face, and a place in the “popular” crowd at school. She goes on to say that she is bored, and wants something “different”. A line separates her story, and she tells us that, three months later, things have changed. She’s lost her virginity, tried pot, and become addicted to meth. She chronicles her stories in a very vivid, episodic manner. She writes quite well. It’s surreal, to me, reading these stories. I feel like I’m almost re-living tales from my own past– I remember it all so clearly, and I see exactly where things might be headed for this poor girl.

I started talking to this girl, gently extending a hand. She’s already at a point where she is trying to get clean– on the one hand, she has her “getting high” boyfriend, and on the other, there is a boy in her life who loves her, but can’t be with her unless she gets clean. I hope she ends up with the right one, I hope she gets clean, and I told her so. I told her that I know how hard it is to let go of people who you care about, but that sometimes, you just have to, because they are literally poison. Most importantly, I think, I told her how good her writing was– I told her all about her potential, and her strong sense of voice.  She told me that no one ever told her she was a good writer, so she “never knew if she was or not.” That made me happy– knowing that I saw someone’s potential, and helped them to become aware of it. It’s really important that in someone’s early life, someone else pays attention enough to notice that they are special. It’s important to be told so, in a manner that is honest, inspiring, and supportive. This brings me back to my original point that addicts are so smart. I really think that some people are just so smart, and so acutely aware of everything around them, that it becomes overwhelming. It becomes simultaneously overwhelming, and in some cases, so pathetically boring, that they seek out some things to either numb the pain, or spice things up, or some weird combination of the two. It really just all comes down to love, though. If you have people who love you, and care for you, and let you know that you are special, you have something that nobody can ever take away from you– the beginning of some self-worth. If you act on these encouragements, you are even better off– activities. Creativity and activities are the ultimate anti-drugs. I just hope it all works out. I hope this made some sense. I hope I can continue to write about this, and maybe arrive at some sort of higher truth. It’s really hard to say.