Thank you to Fat Guy 2 Tri Guy for the inspiration for this post. This is going to be a very heated and emotional post so know two things going in… 1) I’m no doctor or shrink, I’m just a normal everyday guy. I reserve the right to be wrong – there may very well be a better way that came out in the last 20 years. 2) I am a recovering alcoholic/addict – while I’m no professional, I know what the hell I’m writing about. This post is from the context of a person who knows what it’s like to be in the madness, and to recover from it…
My friend left this comment on my last post, I Am Living Proof that God Doesn’t Keep Score:
Jim, you need to call Rob Ford in Toronto. That man does not realize he has a problem. You saw the problem and took action. Very inspiring.
First of all, the well-known fact that he has stated, on numerous occasions, his disdain for cyclists would preclude me pissing on his gums if his teeth were on fire. Second, while I appreciate the compliment, I did have a lot of help recognizing the problem from The People of the State of Michigan (that’s short for legal trouble folks). Here’s the rub: I had to realize I had a problem and that the problem was not that the People of Michigan were picking on me. In Ford’s case, he acts as though the problem is that people are just picking on him for smoking crack. The meat of the issue is this: Until I was ready to quit, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed my mind. In other words, you could have talked to me till you were blue in the face and it wouldn’t have mattered. Folks, I had a doctor tell me that I was dying and I still drank for another year. The sad fact is, the pain wasn’t great enough to quit, I wasn’t ready to quit until everything was gone and I was laying awake, shivering and sweating from the DT’s in the top bunk of my bed in the treatment center. Until that moment, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed me – and believe me, they tried.
Rob Ford, as I see it, simply isn’t ready yet. It seems to me that he’s where I was, sitting on the doctor’s table getting the news that my liver had less than a decade left on it (again I reserve the right to be wrong, I am writing about this from a place of sheer ignorance – I know nothing about the man away from the camera).
There was a commercial that ran here in Michigan several years ago that featured a young girl whining that she was “screaming for your help” when her parents found her drug paraphernalia. I tore that commercial apart here. The notion that people, take Rob for instance, are asking for help when they get busted, is stupid. It’s worse than untrue, it gives hope where there is none. Alcoholics and addicts are not asking, crying or screaming for help when they get busted. They’d just as soon you forget about what they did and let them go about their using.
In fact, let’s do a little thought experiment… You discover your daughter’s crack pipe and confront her. After you explain that this behavior is not wise you tell her you are there to help and offer to take her to an “NA” meeting if she would like to go – then you give her the crack pipe back and let her know that there will be no consequences for her smoking crack, that things will immediately go back to normal. Out of 100 people, how many will quit? If your answer is anywhere between 1 and 100, you’re a fool. The answer is zero.
This imperviousness to intelligence and logic is what makes dealing with an alcoholic so difficult. We don’t recognize the damage that we leave in our wake. The only things I know of that we respond to are pain and loss. Period. End of discussion.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve got to be wondering, well what the heck can I do. If you want to help, the trick is to make consequences as painful and costly as reasonable and possible. The idea is to stop enabling the behavior. If you’re someone’s boss but need the employee, try an unpaid leave of absence (though allow the medical insurance to keep going so they can get into treatment). If you’re a parent, kicking them out on their ear works (the mere threat did for me – but I knew they weren’t kidding around either… One more screw-up and I was out). A spouse? Consequences folks, we respond to pain and loss. If you’re a policy maker, and I’m a little out of the loop here, I haven’t even gotten a parking ticket in more than a decade, increasing penalties isn’t necessary, they’re stiff enough already. Probation, pee tests, blow-and-go’s in cars are excellent deterrents for first timer’s. Jail and eventually prison for second and third offenders are great… For those close to an addict or alcoholic, family or spouses, there are meetings for you as well if you so choose. For many, they prove invaluable. The delicate balance is this: Make it painful enough to elicit the proper reaction, treatment and recovery… If you get the mix right and your loved one recovers, you’ll get to save a life and see a truly changed person, devoted to being a better them.
By the way, if you’re a friend of a drunk or an addict, run for the hills. You know the difference between a drunk and an addict? A drunk will steal your wallet. An addict will steal your wallet, then help you look for it.