Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part IV (cont’d)

01/10/14 6:26 PM

Barriers to recovery: resentment and envy

“Oh no, you are one of those people, I can’t sit with you.”


We continue our discussion of negative reactions to us as a barrier to recovery by exploring its origins and, in our pursuit of sobriety, ways to offset or overcome it. As mentioned, many us go to treatment actually wanting to recover but hostile reactions on the part of other patients and staff impede our efforts – one reason for our high relapse rates.

Understanding resentment, envy and wealthism

In our society, it is still permissible to make negative comments about people who are well-off, prominent, or powerful. This unfavorable opinion can come from various places. For one, we can be assholes, particularly when using or stressed. In some cases, people have had negative experiences with wealthy or famous people, finding them arrogant, rude, obnoxious.


The growing income disparity also breeds animosity.

  • The top 10 percent now receive one-half of all income and own 75 percent of all assets.
  • The top 10 percent also received 116 percent of income growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 lost 16 percent – that’s right, they went backwards.

No wonder people are angry with us.


Additionally, wealthism stems from myths we and others create. Many people believe that material experiences or possessions lead to happiness – and if you have money, you shouldn’t have problems. People subscribe to the idea that we are happy, have an easy life, and can do whatever we want when we want to do it. There are several reasons for this:

  • We build our image to give the appearance life is easy and grand.
  • We’re unwilling to talk about the realities of our lives, especially the problems and dysfunctions.
  • We believe we have transcended the basic activities ordinary people engage in to survive, yet we behave in ways that prove we are unworthy of this transcendence. (See bad behavior of the week in people or the tabloids.)
  • Our culture sells Americans on the idea that those who work hard will be rewarded with success. Many people work hard, yet do not achieve their goals for success. This can lead to anger against the successful, their family members, and successive generations who simply inherit money. (See: our upcoming blog on the myth of the American dream.)
  • The media sell Americans on the idea that material experiences or possessions create happiness and satisfaction (or access to happiness and satisfaction). Since we have money, a name, or are in positions of importance, others conclude we must be happy, and they either want what we have or resent us for having it. (See: our blog on materialism.)

Whether legitimate or not, being self-aware and sensitive rather than dismissive of the views and feelings of the non-wealthy reflects an appreciation for how our circumstances in life could so easily be different.

Wealthism in counselors and the recovery community

In the counseling therapy community, unspoken and sometimes barely-veiled attitudes include:


“I work hard and I’m not rich. Why should you be rich, rather than me?”


“I hope you never recover because I will loss my cash fee.”


“As an alcoholic (or addict), you don’t deserve your money.”


Insight into counter-transference seems to be gleefully ignored and therapeutic integrity sore lacking.


When in treatment, our counselors encourage us to let down our guard and begin to trust our peers and the recovery community. But when we do, too often our newfound friends – even “sponsors” – ultimately are more interested in accessing our wallets, pants, or famous parents than supporting our sobriety. Halfway or sober homes with meetings open to outsiders are open season for sophisticated predators taking advantage of vulnerable clients just out of inpatient treatment. For those from out of town or with no stable outside friends, when this duplicity become evident, we withdraw – or even worse, relapse or give up on life.

Needed: good treatment centers and supportive counselors.

Unfortunately, centers providing quality treatment that address the needs of the affluent and therapists who can support us and advise us on how to tell our truth are hard to find.


(Note to us: We need to start our own one.)


What about centers that specialize in affluent clients?

  • First, many of the patients in these centers are not interested in recovery; they are there to dry out or please others – not a healthy peer group.
  • Second, many of these centers are high-end spas and lack the rigorous treatment programs necessary to build a foundation for recovery.
  • Finally, one core principle in recovery is that we become comfortable in our own skin – who we are as a person. We can’t do that if we avoid 90 percent of the population.

Aside from these three concerns, in my view specialty centers do not truly understand our underlying drivers of addiction or the barriers to and challenges of recovery. Treatment approaches tend to be superficial, rather than helping us gain insight into deep-seated fears and well-guarded feelings about our childhood experiences and relationship with money, power, and prominence.


My experience


On personal level, I was outed by someone who knew of me, so I made a decision to be honest regarding my general circumstances. Because I had talked about the loss of my brother and son, a good connection existed with many peers. And having spent years in sports and all male schools, I knew how to navigate the treatment unit environment. But many others are not at all successful.


When I did discuss how my finances and upbringing were part of my addiction, several peers came up to me and talked privately about their situation. But when their time to share came, they kept all that quiet. I could see the difference between the relief I felt from being honest and their continued obsessions and resentments about being in treatment. This was a light bulb moment for me and a motivator for exploring how wealthism impacted other affluent people attempting to recover.

What to do?

Some recovery practices combat resentment and envy. Here’s how:

  • Ask for help from trusted counselors, mentors, or friends (a support team) about how to tell our truth to others. This is about coaching and support. Since this is new for us, there will be a variety of experiences to talk about with our support team. No one gets this right the first few times. It is empowering to let others know who we really are.
  • Tell who we are in a safe environment. The fear of speaking our truth is much greater than the reaction we receive when we do talk about our lives. Most people will still like us. A few will not. Don’t take it personally.
  • When describing events, use the general description of the problem rather than the specifics. Otherwise the focus of the listener is on the details, rather than the problem. Example: “I went to political events to make me feel important. I was able to donate large sums of money which gave me access to the most important politicians.” Do not say, “I donated $100,000 to the Republicans, which allowed me to have lunch with Dick Cheney.”
  • Speak to the feelings and emotions in our lives as any normal person would. Allow yourself to be fully human. It is OK to acknowledge serious problems in our lives and deficient upbringings, while at the same time having or being related to money or prominence.
  • Set boundaries. Another time to ask for help or coaching. Examples of boundary talk:
    • “I am afraid to tell you about me for fear that you will not like me, ask me for things, or gossip about me.”
    • “No, it is not OK to ask me for my autograph; I am here for treatment (a meeting).”
    • “I am hurt that you seem angry with me, but I am here for help and I can’t get help unless I talk about my life.”
    • “The person you see in the picture or film or on TV is not the real me. It is an act or an image. The real me is an alcoholic/addict.”
    • “I am angry that when I told you money was an enabling factor in my life, you turned around and asked me for money. I feel that is a violation of the group trust.”
    • “Just because I look good by society’s standards does not mean I don’t have problems. I do have problems and I would like your support.”

All of these suggestions require sound advice and strategizing with a trusted therapist or friend and the courage to try new behaviors. We need to be better prepared to face resentment and envy in treatment and outfitted with the skills required to work through wealthism and focus on what brought us there in the first place: recovering.

Tragedies in the making

In our work, many of our most painful conversations are with parents who give up on children who keep relapsing and are deemed treatment resistant. When we dig deeper, we find their adolescents and young adults were afraid to participate and sometimes abused because of their background. These are tragedies in the making – almost all avoidable – one critically important reason to ignite a conversation about wealthism.


Too many of us go to treatment and are blindsided by negative comments or withheld interventions by staff and it’s time to bring this problem out in the open. It’s our experience and if people resent us for who we are, it’s their problem, not ours. Individually and collectively, it’s essential to summon the strength to be who we are – tell our truth and get on with recovery. Nothing makes the resentful angrier than to see us become sober without losing everything. And nothing makes us happier than doing so.

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