Barriers to recovery: being special
Being special: Feeling unique, different, and superior.
Are we too special to recover?
In a previous blog, we discussed the connection between wealth, fame, power, and addiction and family dysfunction. We said:
“The advantages and privileges of money, fame, or power support and feed our use of alcohol and drugs. When using, the very resources distinguishing us from others are in fact part of our disease and in essence killing us.”
We selected eight areas to explore as barriers to recovery, beginning with being special – the topic for today. As we know all too well, treatment centers and counselors that cater to the wealthy do not understand or adequately address our core issues – one reason for our high relapse rates. So if we want to achieve stable recovery, the only alternative is to start identifying and exploring them on our own.
There is a fine line between feeling good enough about ourselves to want to recover and too lost in ourselves and the expectations of others to keep from taking action to do so. Reflecting on being special will likely be uncomfortable for many, but we feel that unless we face some hard truths about ourselves – our reality – we will remain stuck in our addiction. So our goal is to consider some common experiences about “being special” and, if you identify with some of these traits, ways to respond positively.
Being special: a core issue
As people with wealth, status, and power, we often feel better or different than others. And why not? People want to befriend us, be near us, touch us, sleep with us, drug us… We’re the center of attention at social and professional gatherings. For some of us, the media reports our every move.
Where does the notion of being special come from?
- From how other people treat us as children and adults.
- From our search to secure love and affection.
- From our need to wield influence over the feelings and behaviors of others.
- From our experience growing up as children seeing how others treat our parents.
- Being watched and courted for our imagined power, access to funds, social set, or our bodies.
It’s not the size of the town that matters – the important families in the smallest of towns experience this phenomena, particularly if they are “the town.”
Because other people are constantly affirming that we’re important, we begin to feel that we are entitled to special treatment. This “specialness” can directly impact our recovery in many ways:
- We need to be special. Special treatment confirms that we are, indeed, special. Without it, we feel unsafe or unloved. So we insist on unique treatment so everyone knows we are important. This demand for special services makes it difficult for people to tell us what our real clinical needs are and limits our ability to connect with other people in recovery programs.
- People tell us what we want to hear. Our friends, publicists, lawyers, agents, and groupies tell us we are not the problem. Our use is due to our schedule or pressures. We can’t get sober because we are going to the wrong treatment center, therapist, or program.
- We make our own rules. We use lawyers, lobbyists, or agents to beat the system and obtain special favors. We believe that rules, including the rules of recovery, apply to other people – not us.
- We create a public image – and live it. Often as a result of childhood abandonment and rejection, we create a false, admirable self to assure we are never alone. It is easier to buy into the image than deal with our life as it is. We start to believe this image is who we really are – we want to be recognized, sign autographs, and give gifts – even in treatment. The problem is that our addictions live in that image.
- We fiercely protect our public image. Without our public image, we fear we will have nothing or be nothing. We live in constant fear that people will find out about the “real” us. Not only does this fear prohibit us from participating in recovery programs but it gets worse without drink or drugs.
- We can never achieve enough. “To know a wealty or famous person well is to know what cherished fantasies he has not fulfilled.”* The need to achieve more and more keeps us from being OK with the fact that we are alcoholics or addicts.
- We are important to the world. Our careers (even if non-compensated) can put us on a treadmill that we can’t get off. We believe our donees, fans, employees, or constituents depend on us to continue working. We don’t have time for treatment.
Ultimately, these are the primary negative consequences of being special:
- It’s hard to find personal power that is not at the expense of other people.
- The desire for excellence to show we deserve being special leads to an inability to admit we may need help.
- Our belief that we have valuable contributions to give to others or the world makes it difficult to hear from others or accept a program of recovery without trying to improve it.
- Lack of empathy for or understanding of the points of view of others or their problems.
- Overly-intense emotional reactions when things do not happen as we think they should.
- For those related (or in the entourage), derived power and vicarious living is a great substitute for the real thing, even though one must make appointments to see the “special” relative (e.g., going through a scheduler to find time to speak with a famous parent).
Above all, are we taking the easy way out by falling for any offered “cure” other than the self-examination, behavior changes, and lifestyle adjustments necessary to recover?
How does it feel to be on your own, like a rolling stone?
Not so good – in fact, terrifying! Hand me the Xanax or that joint. What about a little Molly or a handcrafted whiskey?
Mixed emotions about being special when thinking about recovery
We have mixed emotions as to whether we want to think about this topic, let alone discuss it out loud with others. That’s partly due to feeling badly around newly-recalled memories of inappropriate (all right, obnoxious) behavior when using. And it’s also because if we start to look at the details, it will mean cutting back and changing – become less “special” in order to become clean.
Then there is the very real problem of finding a safe place to even begin to reflect on the topic, let alone start a conversation. Trustworthy and empathetic counselors are hard to come by, whether in or out of treatment centers. Sometimes affluent friends in recovery can be really good listeners, share similar experiences, and can be very supportive. Otherwise, try journaling and thinking about some of our ideas.
- Accessing the shame over childhood abandonment and rejection as part of evaluating the drive for success. Where is the trauma?
- Looking at the pros and cons of the public image. What does it do and not do for us?
- When the public self denies the private self, the contrast creates personal fraudulence. How much of a fraud am I?
- Evaluating fears about disengaging from our entourage, staff, or family office. What is it about being on our own with others who don’t want something from us that is so frightening?
- Focusing on the let-down after the performance or the spending spree. Why is the “high” of the applause, exotic trip, or last purchase so difficult to sustain?
- Reality checks with ordinary people. May be a reason to go to meetings and just listen.
- Perform more of the basic functions of life. A “chop wood, carry water” philosophy.
Ultimately, those of us who suffer from feeling or being special need to be willing to expose that which we are ashamed to see that others can accept us for who we are – flaws and all. This is definitely a “dark night of the soul” journey where it is easy to get lost in despair, so look for that trusted counselor or friend to join you in your travails.
In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how wealth, fame, and power insulate addicts from the consequences of their behavior/disease.
* For more on this topic see “Fame: The Power and Cost of a Fantasy,” an article in The Atlantic by Sue Erikson Bloland, daughter of Eric Erikson.