Examining Power Structures: Part 1

For months, I have witnessed waves of a strange mix of attacks aimed at 12 Step, plus:  “abstinence is not evidence-based, alcoholism is not a disease, prescription drugs alone are the (only real) answer to treat addiction, and let’s not forget, hey, we need to apply a full-on corporate model to the legalization of drugs and trust us because large faceless corporations that sell drugs have your best interest at heart”.

I smell a rat, and not a laboratory rat.

There are valid points made in all this and we’ll walk through some, but we need to get to larger truths.

I love the Internet, with so much information if not downright knowledge literally at our fingertips. The dark side, a valid complaint, is that many postings on the Internet pose as “news” without the basic journalistic standards that are needed to inform about a subject. Much of what’s written about this simply would not stand up to the fact-checking we expect from a city newspaper.

Couple that with vast amounts of downright mean posts or “trolling” and it does not bode well for reasoned analysis.  A by-product of this din streaming out of the digital world is what the psychiatrist E. Martin Schotz wrote in  “On Belief Versus Knowledge”. “It is so important to understand that one of the primary means of immobilizing the American people politically today is to hold them in a state of confusion in which anything can be believed but nothing can be known, nothing of significance that is”. We know scads about the Kardashians (who, for God’s sake?!) while we go round and round in undistinguished garden-variety debates that twist in Gordian knots on real issues.

These are some of the reasons the Governor’s Institute on Substance Abuse  and RecoveryNC have YouTube channels, including a coming attraction Messaging Training that you can watch online AND receive 2 credit hours for licensure or  peer support certification. We’re building a library. Now back to our regularly scheduled program:

There has been some insightful discussion on the related topic of internet shaming and its parallels to the “last era of American history when public shaming was a common form of punishment, {in}…the 18th and early 19th centuries”. That’s when they put people in stockades in the center of town and threw rotten vegetables at them.  I was surprised to learn of numerous examples of people making a (small) stupid mistake online and their lives literally being ruined, altered permanently and irreparably.   One of the things they realized, in the past, was “that well-meaning people, in a crowd, often take punishment too far.”   Mob mentality.

One of these complaints, when it comes to the treatment of addiction/dependence, is old news but valid, “One size does not fit all”.  Most anyone working in treatment for a while knows that; all diseases exist on a spectrum of mild to severe, whether cancer, diabetes or addiction and what reaches one will not assist another. Most therapeutic “help” comes from the ability to maintain presence with the person, not such-and-such technique. Humans hurting need to be seen and heard first, not run through a “one size fits all” grinder.

These complaints are coupled with a desire for more meds/medical/evidence-based yet the onesizefitsall/everyone go to AA ethos emanated mostly from or with the complicity of the medical profession. During the hey-day of treatment-the 70’s and 80’s- the majority were hospital based and doctor driven. The odd fact of 12 Step and treatment being wed-together on parallel pathways was not necessarily an invention of AA.  Btw, 80% of all that treatment is gone now.

Now, as to abstinence being evidence-based and the importance of people learning how to safely drink. Sigh. The cultural bonds with alcohol are deep within America (It’s Miller Time) so I understand the struggle, yet this is the very doorway into the spiritual truths recovery affords us.  We have been trained to equate alcohol with freedom. That somehow alcohol is necessary to live a full life.  Rubbish!  If a doctor told you to stop consuming green beans for your health you would not wrestle and debate this suggestion. It would be No Big Deal. Notice that for a while now the beer companies have added “Drink Responsibly” to their ad campaigns. Designated driver suggestions too.

No one ever, not one ad, not one alcohol company ever states, in their PR/advertising etc. that IF there is some kind of problem, maybe you ought to just not drink.  EVER. No, what you need to do is find some poor co-dependent sap who’ll give up their night following you around as you get liquored up so they can be at the ready to drive you home. Do I sound cynical?  A leading expert has stated that “20% of the drinkers consume 80% of the alcohol sold”. I believe that’s an accurate statistic. The profit’s in the over-consumption, folks.  Powerful elements (many) are invested in us NOT getting with our addiction issues.  This is a truth underlying and influencing these online discussions.  You see that with the pro-marijuana tsunami coming over the wires. That somehow legal marijuana makes us freer. More rubbish. Or to put it another way, at this stage in our human advancement that is a step backwards.

Much of this is fueled by a pro-science fetish as if there is no such thing as spiritual. This debate is fraught with perils. Study, research and rigorous application of the scientific method brought us out of the Dark Ages and eventually into the Renaissance ending the vast sway superstition held over the population, superstition driven by the church. During the last 200 years, led by business interests, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, drug and chemical companies so powerful that imbalances have arisen. The word spiritual is such a big topic, and brings up such confusion that it merits discussion in the future.  For now, we’ll start with the fact that scientists have known for decades that a wide variety of unpleasant emotions, like shame, depression and anxiety are linked to greater ills like heart disease, cancer and premature death. Conversely, positive feelings have been shown to be good for you. A friend of mine from the field advises me to call facts like that “non-medical” as opposed to spiritual. I’m feeling cynical again.

Meanwhile, allow me to digress a bit and point out that;

The scapegoat in the family is the truth teller and it’s a thankless job. We’ll call AA the scapegoat here. As a people we don’t really like the truth. There are so many signs of that fact that if you find yourself resisting this statement you might want to check yourself. Start with the ways we literally destroy whistle-blowers lives. There are actual laws on the books supporting, applauding, and paying those who step up and report serious wrong-doing and yet if you do the research you find their lives are ruined.

There are exceptions (as there are to every general truth) but we are not, as a people, nearly as curious as our minds allow.  Early school/culture approaches crush the immense innate curiosity every baby is born with. Add in the numbing effects of television, an unprecedented experiment in social control and you have a reduced ability for critical thinking or just an unwillingness to see the truth. Denial.

Truth or power, those are the polarities that life offers. We can search inwardly and together to find greater truths, leading to an upward spiral of personal power that enhances human life or we can search for small or large scraps of temporal power, and the attendant downward spiral. We are not hardwired for both. It’s either Love or fear.

This was (part of) the allegory built into the Adam and Eve/serpent with the apple parable from the Bible, the apple representing temporal power. The Bible, an outstanding book when you understand some of the historical and interpretive context.

We need to see what’s in plain sight. We lie, often by omission, constantly, as a culture. And with the vast growth of available media due to digitization-0 & 1- the platform for greater lying has been built.

This is going to have to be in two parts there’s so much meat on this plate. The truth about meds/no meds, 12 Step or not, is it a disease, etc. is that we need it all. As said in The Anonymous People, “There is nothing that impacts American life more than addiction, nothing.”

We need all the help we can get to climb out of the hole we have dug. That means community. There is no other answer. Do not think this is despair. There are tons of solutions. This N. Y. Times article on heroin in America, which discusses a cycle I’ve been watching since the mid-60’s,  closes with a powerful sample of what a Recovery Oriented System of Care begins to look like.

“Portsmouth, Ohio, was among the first to see a generation addicted, and pill mills – pain clinics where doctors prescribed pills for cash and without a proper diagnosis – were virtually invented there. Portsmouth, like a junkie who has hit rock bottom, has found within it a spirit of self-reliance that has helped kindle a culture of recovery. The town shuttered the pill mills. Narcotics Anonymous meetings are now everywhere; recovering addicts are studying to be counselors. And after years of watching jobs go abroad, in 2009 townspeople stepped in to save one of Portsmouth’s last factories – a shoelace manufacturer, which now exports shoelaces to China, Mexico and Taiwan.

Like Portsmouth, we need to take accountability for our own wellness. There is a time and a place for pain pills, of course. But we need to question the drugs marketed to us, depend less on pills as solutions and stop demanding that doctors magically fix us.”

Here’s another link to a breakdown of how community looks when it prevents these issues.  Inside this link is an interview from The Marshall project that expands these concepts.

My next acronym for the list is: FTGGOAC – for the greatest good of all concerned.