Barriers to recovery: lack of consequences
Lack of consequences: Using resources to shield us from the effects of drinking and drugging.
What problem? Call my lawyer!
We continue our exploration on the connection between wealth, fame, power, addiction and family dysfunction in today’s blog with a discussion of lack of consequences – perhaps the Death Star of barriers to recovery.
Most people seek treatment when they “hit bottom.” Whether they are arrested or lose their jobs, relationships, and money – life has become so unbearable there is little choice but to do so. Those of us with resources and influence avoid these problems. We are insulated from the effects of our drinking and drugging – what I call the Featherbed Syndrome. We snuggle up in our cocoon of delusion with little or no sense of how we hurt others or even ourselves, and therefore, with few incentives to change.
Buying our way out of trouble
When arrested for a DUI or drug possession, we can use high-priced attorneys, friends of the family, or our position to avoid jail.
Substitute child care
We can avoid our responsibilities at home by hiring others to do our work for us; so we can drug, drink, and party.
Not needing to work
We may work, but work is not essential for our existence. It is often a cover. Losing employment may be an annoyance that needs to be explained away but creates few incentives to stop. When we are our own boss, there is no one to insist on performance standards.
For some, relapse may make us a marketable commodity for a show needing a ratings boost. At a minimum, it’s good for a few hits on our website, where we describe how we use our renewed strength to stay on the straight and narrow.
Home or work environment supports use
When those around us are dependent on us for their well-being, our addictions will be tolerated, if not encouraged. “The drug lady and her briefcase come at 11:00.” When fearful things will change if we sober up, our habits will be encouraged. We get rid of or avoid anyone who objects.
Self-made – not self-aware
For the self-made, the reach of our empires smooth’s over any flaws or warts that might bring ordinary men and women to their knees.
The code of silence
Above all, there is a code of silence, where those in positions of authority like to do us or our family members favors, and drinking or drugging are viewed as private matters to be tolerated and expected without much comment.
Rules don’t apply
Most of us were raised in a lifestyle where we grew accustomed to not experiencing significant consequences of poor behavior. Nothing happens to us when caught in anti-social behavior as children. It is ignored, covered up, or spent away. We also see our parents or older siblings avoid trouble through the use of high-paid help or influential relationships (although we may not be aware of what is really going on).
Those of us with special talents or favored appearances learn early on that same rules do not apply to us. It starts with school excuses, postponed work, going home instead of to jail, trading a smile or a look for a warning – all playing on the need of others to be connected to us in some way, even if we know we don’t mean it. When addiction strikes, the distortions become exaggerated:
Mirror, mirror on the wall, I know best and that is all.
The lack of corrective feedback as teenagers and young adults makes it difficult to accept information about our behavior that does not fit with our desires or view.
The sound of one hand clapping.
When everyone seems so happy to be around us, we buy into the idea that they must be right (and you, counselor, are wrong).
The avoidance of consequences by family leaders creates a culture negatively impacting successive generations where children are afraid to speak up for fear of being cut out of the will. Spouses can be influential, but many of us would rather find a new one than continue to hear about our excesses.
Lack of visible consequences
Many of us experience internal consequences from our use, such as emotional and mental degradation and loss of spirit. Unfortunately, we tend to see these as resulting from the actions of others or events outside our control. This “projection” makes it bearable for us to continue in our use. The lack of visible consequences can impact recovery in many ways:
We believe we don’t have a problem.
We are often able to deny the problem and point to positives in our lives as proof that the problem does not exist. This is particularly true in comparisons to others: “I can’t be an alcoholic, I’ve never been in a car accident or missed a day’s work.” (What is that you do, exactly?)
Without consequences, we stay in delusion.
Because our addiction lies below our level of consciousness in the primitive mid-brain, we are not consciously aware of our self-deception or that your perception of our behavior is more accurate than our own perception. In essence, our unconscious, primitive mid-brain tells us we must use or we will not survive. We buy into this message hook, line, and sinker and will continue to do so until we die.
The result can be multiple treatments to please others. Only when the consequences of our use become severe enough or others confront us with sufficient leverage so as to break through our “must use or die” internal bind, do we admit we might have a problem we need to look at.
Enforced abstinence seldom succeeds without the lifestyle connection.
Many times we are able to experience periods of abstinence only when access to money, prominence and power are restricted by others or our own severe physical consequences. Unfortunately, during these opportunities to gain insight, little support is provided so we can see how our resources help get us to the spot we’re in.
Without consequences – without feeling the impact of our addiction – it’s unlikely we will stop using alcohol or drugs.
Make the disease real
When sitting in evening lecture, night after night hearing speakers say we had to lose everything in order to recover, I began thinking of ways to make the disease real. Asking myself, how can we recover without losing everything? This is a topic to explore in later blogs, but I will say that it has lot to do with our being accountable by developing recovery agreements and relapse plans. In other words, offsetting the Featherbed Syndrome by creating external consequences and prioritizing recovery activities.
In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how materialism and the pursuit of money and possessions stifle self-care and recovery.