Archive for the 'alcoholism' Category

Letting it pass through you

June 22, 2014

Sometimes during an argument, the other person hurls an insult.  I don’t know how it is for biological parents, but adoptive parents sometimes get from their children during the heat of an argument, “You’re not even my real mother.”  And you take it for what it is, part clumsy expression of fact (that I am not their first mother), part expression of pain and frustration (maybe even powerlessness), part attempt to penetrate their opponent’s defenses.  And you let it pass through you.

The relationship, as I see it, between addiction and spiritual connection is that some people are open in some ways and not in others, and they prematurely encounter a spiritual equivalent to “You’re not even my real mother.”  It may well be that “boundaries, strong identity, impulse control, and deep God experience” were lacking (that’s from today’s Daily Meditation from Father Rohr), but I think those are secondary to the problem of encountering a difficult wave of spiritual energy while, on the one hand, not being simple and  innocent enough (to allow it to pass through naturally), and, on the other hand, not being spiritually (re-)developed enough (to allow it to pass through consciously), either.  I think the addiction comes from the dynamic of the energy encountered — it is an energy that offers a rush of pleasure but at a very high long-term cost.  Very innocent people I think never get caught up in the energy because they are oblivious to it, but people with a little less innocence may stop to take a look, to see what it is, maybe they even try to resist the energy or tussle with it, or maybe they become frightened by it.  In any case, they interact with it instead of letting it pass through them.  Without a really well developed capacity for removing the ego from that encounter, the person becomes sucked into a cycle of succumbing to short-term pleasure and long-term pain.  To get out of that dynamic, one has to remove one’s “hang-ups” and learn detachment, and those are helpful things in their own right.  That’s why in Al-Anon, the program for relatives and friends of alcoholics, one sometimes hears gratitude expressed for having gone on the journey of growth that the alcoholism of another has impelled them to go on — it can be a painful means to a very helpful result.

My point is that I think addiction may actually be the result of a spiritual encounter that went awry, not because there was anything wrong with what was encountered, but because of the person’s state of mind.  In that respect, I agree with the Daily Meditation, it’s just that I think there is no surprise that people who fall into addiction have a keen spiritual sense — it’s what got them into the situation in the first place — it was keen but not keen enough.  I also don’t think it was “aimed in the wrong direction” so much as it was unable to process safely what it encountered.  I have the impression that the strand of belief that Jesus dealt with something spiritually on the behalf of others may arise out of some notion of protecting people from this pitfall.  But I think in the end we all need to develop all the tools, including those that would allow us to extricate ourselves on our own (with spiritual help) from this particular pitfall.  Trying to deal with how people do get seriously stuck in this pitfall should not be confused conceptually with roping off the pitfall and putting up permanent detour signs.  Otherwise we end up with the bogeyman under the bed, with the part of the map labeled “There be monsters here,” when in fact there is no bogeyman or monster, only an energy difficult to process.  And then we have the very real problem of having created the idea that there is a bogeyman.


April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.

Convincing lies

August 10, 2012

I’ve often wondered what makes a lie convincing, and it occurred to me that since people labeled as narcissists or alcoholics are said to do so routinely and are also said to dwell excessively in a false self, the answer may involve a lack of connection between a true self and a false self.  Because, I’m thinking, if we detect a lie by detecting a discrepancy between what the true self is saying and what the false self is saying, and if in the case of someone dwelling exclusively in a false self, there is no second “tone” with which to compare the first (the true self is not heard, at least by mortal human beings), then a lie will not sound different from the truth coming from this person.

Bread and wine

June 16, 2012

I bought a challah at Trader Joe’s last night and I even had some Manischewitz wine with a piece of it when I got home.

I did not recite the appropriate blessings or light candles, although I thought about doing both.  (I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand, either.)

I thought about what challah and ceremonial wine mean to me on a Friday night.  My first thought is tradition.  I think about Friday nights with Willy and the children, I think about other Jewish households celebrating the sabbath (Shabbat).

Then I tried to go deeper.  And that made me think about being offered a meal and feeling contented (here I thought, “Add a piece of cheese and you’ve got a (light) meal”), fellowship, and sharing.

Then I started doing my thought-association thing, and I came up with communion wafers, matzoh, no drinking in Islam and Mormonism, alcoholism, and psychosis-inducing bread mold.  What I pulled out of this mix was an idea about taking something that can be used in dangerous ways and trying to put it in a context in which it is used in a positive way: a measured amount of wine, a bread stuff that stays fresh, community, and religious thoughts.

But I think that’s only half the battle, keeping people safe from depression, spiritual experiences they’re not ready for, pseudo-spiritual experiences, isolation, and even turning them to thoughts about religious beliefs.  There’s also a need for people to make their own spiritual journeys, which eventually include a stage of going beyond the mundane and the usual routine.  How do we encourage and facilitate that?

When intuition is unhelpful

October 9, 2011

I was prompted by something I heard recently to think about when my intuition, and apparently countless other people’s, has failed to be helpful to me, and has been downright misleading.  And that is in the context of alcoholism.  There, what seems counter-intuitive, at least to me, has helped me deal with the chaos that can swirl around another person’s drinking — just a small shift in perspective and some clarity of what’s my life and what is the other person’s life, for instance, has been so helpful — like turning the kaleidoscope a little and reconfiguring the mosaic.

But I don’t really want to talk about alcoholism and stray too near other people’s privacy.  What I did want to discuss, because it seems to me a position different from what I usually emphasize, is how we learn about what may be for us counter-intuitive.  For me it came through a program already worked out, written down, systematized, maybe even reduced to a sort of code.  Although this system doesn’t dictate particular behavior, but rather provides a perspective and a process for an individual to discern for themselves what to do, I did come to it through something pretty tangible and specific and external to me.  I doubt I would have ever figured the stuff out on my own, whatever my own personal spiritual understandings.  I’m not sure why this is, or how the two sets of understandings relate to each (very compatibly, in my experience).  But it occurs to me, since I usually am pretty frustrated by other people’s rigid endorsements of using codes and such to navigate human relations, that I have benefited from something similar.

Emergence and other interpretative strategies

August 14, 2011

For reasons not entirely clear to me (beyond the vagaries of Googling), I found myself reading (the beginning of, so far) a journal article on the concept of emergence in philosophy of science and sociology, which also includes discussion of other concepts, like supervenience and reducibility.

The argumentation seems to start from a reference point of physical matter.  I think this probably points to the trouble I have with the approach more generally:  why are we starting with physical matter?  Because we perceive it more easily?  To me, what happens at the level of physical matter seems like so much scaffolding supporting something occurring simultaneously on other levels (an example of this kind of perspective would be my attitude to the competing details of Sham’s disappearance), and I am more inclined to believe that all the events are occurring as the result of the cosmic equivalent of solar winds — within a stream of some sort of force, a bunch of stuff is happening simultaneously, and we get caught up in causation theories about which level of activity is influencing which other level of activity, in part because we experience things in linear time.

Here’s an example of what I mean, which I choose although it may be controversial even so because I think it is familiar enough to have some explanatory helpfulness.   When alcoholism is conceptualized as a disease, it can be, and is in many contexts, seen to be affecting not just the person drinking but their family — it may even be referred to as a “family disease.”  It may be tempting to “blame” the alcoholic for this impact on other family members, attributing behavior in others to repercussions from the alcoholic’s behavior.  But this behavior in others can, and often is, seen as primary symptoms of the disease of alcoholism manifesting in someone else in a different way.  The “disease” is giving rise to both sets of behaviors, they are correlated, but one is not causing the other.  I’m not sure I need to get into what the “disease of alcoholism” may actually be in order to make the point that there can be a third-party cause that is distinct from the multiple symptoms in multiple people to which it gives rise.

The other thing I wanted to say, before I consider resuming reading the article (and finding out it addresses my concerns later on, perhaps!) is that it gives me the impression of taking a trip through somebody else’s (intellectual) imagination, with all kinds of logical possibilities as interesting scenery explored — logical possibilities that may or may not be true.  There are other ways of gaining understanding of things, just as driving the streets is one way to find a route from one place to another place, using a map another way to do this, and flying overhead yet a third.   My concern is that starting from the material and working our way up to other levels, by means of using our intellects, may well lead us into all kinds of erroneous ideas — things that are possible in some sense but aren’t actually the case.  Kind of like a mistaken interpretation of somebody’s taste from a sweater they are wearing, which turns out to be a gift from someone else.  But maybe this method has some advantages I am not seeing, perhaps because I don’t have sufficient fluency in it.

The limits of a criminal justice system

August 3, 2011

We have a number of stories in today’s New York Times in which a criminal justice system is being asked to serve needs for which I think it may be unsuited.

What will help Egypt and Egyptians?  How to handle a young man with mental health problems who has apparently murdered someone?  (My comments are numbers 13 and 26, respectively.)  Processing these situations through a criminal justice system is preferable to many other alternatives, such as vigilantism and blood feuds, to be sure.  But are we trying to assuage our own wounds from the actions of others through observing something that happens to them?

I have certainly felt others have “done me wrong” in certain situations.  Even in those situations (like medical malpractice and defamation) with pretty obvious legal recourse available, I haven’t gone that route, and I’m actually a member of a bar (though I don’t practice).  And with people whose behavior I have felt damaged by, I haven’t necessarily tried to work things out with them in order to find my own healing — the two issues I see as separate and distinct: what happens with the other person and what I need.

With situations eligible for processing through a criminal justice system, there seems to me to be a tangling of what will be effective for the good of the whole with the needs of people damaged by the behavior at issue.  My concern is that the way we have fashioned our criminal justice systems, we don’t actually promote healing of the damage already inflicted and we do perpetuate a cycle of inflicting new damage.  Keeping a person from continuing to damage others is one thing, punishment of them is another.  Punishment that results in a healthier person engaging in healthier behavior is a worthy goal, but I don’t think our criminal justice systems are geared toward that outcome, whether as a matter of intention or of result.

In some approaches to situations we characterize as “alcoholism,” it is pointed out that people dealing with those actually doing the drinking often become negatively affected in their own behavior — in different ways from the alcoholic but affected nonetheless.   My concern with our use of our criminal justice systems is whether we without realizing it come to behave in ways that perpetuate dysfunction and do not actually result in healing ourselves or improving human relations.