Public Service – Best Practises and Lessons Learned

Addiction and Personal Responsibility

I am not a health care professional, I am not a social worker, what I am is a person who has worked in many sectors of society, with a wide range of people and an apparent unique ability to reduce any subject down to its most painful (aka truthful) essence. I have no book or program to sell you.

I would also like to categorically state that I was not abused during my childhood, I was not raped or beaten or tortured physically or emotionally by any family member, family friend, or person in a position of authority in a social institution.

This is despite the statistics that most girl children, lesbians and female science fiction geeks did experience abuse – and I would also like to point out that abuse does not cause one to become a lesbian or science fiction geek.

People who are different tend to be abused by conformist bullies for our failure to conform – and abuse does not encourage one to conform to the norms of or demanded by the abuser(s).

Breaking Addiction

The only way to break an addiction, short of taking chemicals that block reward receptors in your brain specific to whatever you’re addicted to, is by being a self control and personal responsibility freak.

Addiction is not disease, you can’t catch addiction or give it to someone else. Addiction is a mental illness and a learned pattern of behavior – specifically, seeking reward with minimal effort and no personal responsibility.

Addiction tendency may be genetic or they may be learned behaviours or a combination of these, plus variable life circumstances. But like how a group of people can experience a trauma and be in various degrees of healthy functioning afterwards, so to can people go through life’s variables and respond with a range of resilience and thriving and escapism and addictions.

It is important to be aware that any person is at risk of addiction and that the object of the addiction can be literally anything and is not at all limited to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is anything that impairs your ability to function in daily life, your job, your family and friends, your society at large, or your participating in the world at large.

If you are addicted then you do not have control, whatever you’re addicted to has the control and it defines you – be it drugs, sex and alcohol or a particular person, object, idea (religious or political ideology), power, wealth, fame, whatever single item you put above all else in your life, to life’s detriment and resulting malfunctioning.

To stop being addicted, one must accept personal responsibility for losing and giving away control, and to take back control – to rebalance your time, energy, money and focus on life itself and the mechanisms that support life and make life worth living. Something each of us must individually decide what makes life worth living and experiencing.

Taking back control can be tricky if the addiction is drugs or alcohol and some more chemical help to break the reward cycle of consuming drugs, cigarettes, alcohol is reasonable and needful. The brain is a very expensive organ to operate and uses about 20% of the energy available to the body, so it makes sense to get your doctor to prescribed you specific medication that blocks the reward/pleasure receptors, so that when you slip into old habits, the addictive substance isn’t able to access the receptors and you are able to resist, since that old magic just isn’t there.

Deciding to stop is hard enough, without making it a daily, hour by hour and sometimes minute by minute battle – it was easy to become addicted, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be as hard as possible to break the addiction. There are tools to help and not using them is the same as giving up before you start.

I read once that that was the way to tell a good habit from a bad one – good habits are hard to start and easy to stop – like exercising several times a week and bad habits are easy to start and hard to stop. And it’s overdoing the habits that become addiction, and even good habits can become addictions.

So, to break addiction, you need to take back control, which means owning the loss of control and deciding that you are worth being in control of, you are worth more and deserve more than the reward that giving into your addiction gives you.

You have to be worth it to you, and not because of some external validation, for external approval is too flimsy and fickle a basis for self worth. External validation can too easily be taken away, and then you are left back at square one – so that doesn’t serve you – you have to serve yourself – this means internal validation; which no one can take away from you, you are the gatekeeper of internal validation and don’t give it away to anyone or anything external to you.

Addiction is to give away your personal sovereignty, control, identity, your time, attention; and it doesn’t serve you at all.

To get an addiction under control, you need to assert control over the addition, to make it serve you, by taking back your attention, time, identity, control and sovereignty. Run a cost benefit of what it costs you to be addicted versus what you get from the addiction. Addiction in moderation, is just a habit, not an addiction. If you can hold your preference for a substance to a habit, then you are not an addict and you are in control.

You also have to be aware that there are some substances that cannot be mere habits, or at least, not mere habits for prolonged use, such as heroin, that’s an all or nothing proposition. Know your limit and use within it.

The problem with 12 step programs is that they are religion’s attempt to deal with addiction that are often caused by religion. Before I detail that, keep in mind that addiction takes away your sovereignty and self control, so taking these back are the only way to end addiction and get your life back – attending meetings and turning over this same sovereignty and control to a vague “higher power”, you are giving away all these things and trading addition to a substance to addition to meetings, it is to continue to deny personal responsibility and being accountable.

It is not enough to tell a person that you have harmed that you are sorry they were harmed, you have to admit that it was you who harmed them, by acting or failing to act in a manner that was personally responsible on your part and that recognized their personal sovereignty.

“I am sorry that you where hurt” is a lot less meaningful and sincere than “I am sorry that I hurt you.”  Worse is “I am sorry you were hurt, I was an addict and not responsible, it was the whatever making me do it.” That’s excusing, not apologizing, so don’t be surprised when it’s not enough and your victims don’t want to hear it.

Yes, I wrote “your victims”. Think about that the next time you get a craving to hand off your personal responsibility.

Time given to the addiction is time not available to family, friends, work, life’s responsibilities. Taking time for yourself to recharge your batteries, to rest and regroup is not possible if you are addicted, addiction means you are using your time, energy and focus to service the addiction, to get from one fix to the next and nothing and no one else matters as much as the next fix.

The Quick Fix

We are very much a reward seeking, instant gratification creature. We don’t want to work harder or longer than we have to, so we take shortcuts.

The most dangerous shortcut that we do is subscribe to a religious worldview. It’s dangerous because it says that the answer to everything is that goddidit, so we don’t have to worry our pretty little heads and only have to follow some simple rules to get the heavenly afterlife reward, obey our superiors and not think too hard – anything hard, like higher education, well, learning in general and science in particular, is bad and elitist.

The problem with this lazy and uncritical thinking, is that after you get soothed that you don’t have to bother with understanding the world you live in, because hey, as a member, you’re the centre of the world that you live in, and it’s that a kick in the rubber parts – which, you shouldn’t play with, btw or share with others, unless you’re married, but only to have kids and not fun with.

The basis of Christianity is that as a person, you’re not good enough for god unless you jump through all the hoops that deny your basic human nature and cast you as sinful, that establish rigid gender roles and behavioral standards that guarantee failure and misery, thus, create the need for escapism, to feel for a while, some happiness and bliss – leading to alcohol and a whole of other isms.

Further, religion sets up an idealized standard of how families should be – think 1950’s sitcoms – that are impossible to achieve but also no one but Dad is a fulfilled and sovereign person – it’s called a nuclear family because Dad is at the centre and everyone else is in orbit around Dad.

That presumes that Dad is a) physically present in the family and capable of emotionally supporting the family  b) employed to the degree of supporting financially the family and c) competent, capable, compassionate and a whole host of other qualities that it’s little wonder that so many men aren’t capable of living up to such an impossible standard and instead become work and alcoholics and absent themselves physically or emotionally or abuse the family in order to avoid dealing with their own shortfalls and short comings.

Seriously, isn’t it just better to take all the pressure off ourselves instead of holding dearly to impossible and unreasonable standards – especially since achieving them isn’t going to make anyone meaningfully happy anyway?

Traditionalists, conservative and religious folk like to wax poetic about glory days that never existed, the old day were categorically not better than now and certainly not better than how the future can be.

The glory days were only glorious for very few people and relied on the gross exploitation and discrimination of many, and on uncritical conformity and exclusion of those unwilling or unable to conform. There’s just no such thing as a girl you have fun with and a girl that you marry – if you are inclined to marry a girl, then marry a girl that you love and, quite bluntly, have sex before marriage to make sure that you are compatible, because lack of sexual compatibility is a leading cause of marriage misery, adultery and divorce.

If the family sitcoms of the 50’s reflect a glory era, then, only technology would have changed and we’d still be living that way – not that we ever did, but family sitcoms generally represent an idealized dream, or as the 1980’s saw, idealized nightmare, of what family life was like – the Cleaver’s gave way to the Bundy’s on TV because TV became more reflective of the realities of family life, we don’t always like each other or even love each other, and we don’t always get along or resolve differences.

Sometimes the best thing that you can do with your family is to cut them out of your life. Something that religion would never allow you to do, and, given the number of religions where there have been sexual abuse of children and adult women members, financial frauds and money schemes, abuse of power, it’s little wonder that religion sees no problem in allowing adults and children to remain and attempt to uphold a family structure, no matter how malfunctioning that family is. Religion is no better than a malfunctioning family.

So turning to religion to cure the addition that basically, religious thinking gave you, is completely counter intuitive to ending the addiction.

Let’s take back the night, take back control, reassert personal sovereignty & responsibility and remember that rewards, like respect, must be earned to be meaningful. Anything that lacks meaning, isn’t worth the effort of achieving it.

Supporting Your Support

“People Explode. Natural Causes.”
– Repo Man (1984)

If you haven’t seen Repo Man, the quote is from a scene where a person has literally exploded all over the road from exposure to an alien corpse and the line is said by a shadowy government official trying to cover up the alien’s existence.

But in real life people do explode, just not usually literally – well yes, if they are wearing a suicide belt. Then yes, they do literally explode.

But, the belt explosion tends to be the last of a series of many smaller and metaphorical explosions.

There’s a explosion hierarchy of the religious terrorist down to the workplace/school shooters to the lesser considered people who implode – this would include suicides and those who appear determined to self destruct their lives, often through drug/alcohol addiction.

The scenario has become too familiar: a person feels trapped in a situation where they not are being promoted or recognized for their work or other workplace unfairness, they feel demeaned or alienated in the workplace which often results in behavioral changes that are self-fulfilling in that colleagues do end up gossiping and shunning them. Often the harassment spreads and instead of being bullied by one person, the harassment is from many people. It’s called Mobbing in workplace HR/Workplace Health and Safety parlance.

I visualize it as your co-workers are sharks in a frenzy and you’re the chum.

This certainly affects the victim’s productivity and the conspiracy that they feel is against them actually does form, because they have isolated themselves and no one wants to give promotions or good work assignments to creepy, bitter, unproductive or ineffectual employees.

These things apply to students as well. It comes down to a person being in a situation where they feel unfairly trapped and do not see any way out.

While an animal in a leg hold trap will chew off it’s own leg for a chance to survive, people seem to tip over that edge of  “Don’t care if I live as long as I take out my tormentors.”

Maybe the animal understands that it’s better to thwart your captor and escape, since you’re dead either way. Maybe if the animal could reason and calculate that it could live long enough to take out the captor when the person came to check the trap, they would wait to take revenge.

The Gavin de Becker book, The Gift of Fear, reveals that while the person is consistently miserable, the workplace is sort of safe and if corrective actions are taken, the chain of events that leads to workplace violence can be broken without anyone being harmed.

But, that’s only if people recognize the symptoms and act – because it’s when the person is suddenly cheerful that you have to worry. They are cheerful because they have picked the day everything is going to stop, they’ve made a decision that’s going to change everything, make people take them seriously, make them stop being tormentors.

For people who self destruct, the pattern is the similar, that sense of unfairness, being thwarted in their plans, rising frustration and little resilience or perspective to help them get beyond the disappointment or series of disappointments.

The self destructors may simply commit suicide – and again, we see a common pattern of behaviors, that, if disrupted, can take that person off the terminal path.

Or they may slowly dismantle their life, change their behavior to mask their pain and inability to cope, using substances to dull the emotions, engage in risky activities and sports, quit their jobs, their friends and reduce family contact. And eventually wind up dead or possibly street involved.

The current thinking on being bullied and harassed in the workplace has the same symptoms as post traumatic stress disorder.

I have no idea of what makes one person explode outwardly or implode, because  we do not all react the same to stressors; or even to the same stressors.

One person’s friendly banter is another’s sexual harassment.

It’s not always men who explode, there have been some women workplace shooters.

Men and women both suicide, although using different suicide methods. Men tend towards the more dramatic and violent means – using guns, hanging, car crashes; while women tend towards the pain avoidance methods of pills and gas ovens – unless they want to hurt or get back at someone by their death and then it’s the wrist slitting and hanging.

Medical Doctors are the best at suicide, since they know that any one method can fail so they will use 2 methods to ensure success. Plus, they have access to the best drugs.

As an aside, I often wonder about the ethics of discussing or of showing suicides in movies – on one hand you want to be realistic and on the other, not be a how to guide. Just as touchy as risking being a guide on how to commit murder and get away with it, I suppose.

Reading all about these events, thinking about people I have known who have self destructed – and thankfully don’t know anyone who has exploded outwardly.

Although I worked with a guy who was on that path – and when I alerted management to his high score on the de Becker checklist, I was told that I wasn’t an expert and that the at issue employee was “just a character”. Knowing that he considered me to be the bane of his work existence*, I knew that it was management who wasn’t the expert and I changed jobs.

What seems to start the person down either path is their sense of being treated unfairly.

We see this play out in society in non-violent means – litigation. How many people file civil lawsuits to right an injustice for the principle of it? Spending far more money to proceed with the lawsuit than they will ever recover at the end of it. Trying to achieve justice, a fancier word for fairness, we can do much damage to our lives and finances in that single minded pursuit.

And the second factor of what allows the person to travel down that path once “unfairness” puts them firmly on it, is the lack of a support system. Or an ineffective or inattentive or in denial one.

The person has no one to provide – or they reject – emotional support, perspective, a sounding board for solutions and options, they have no one to stay resilient and connected to reality for.

If the problem is in the workplace or school, then committing suicide to teach those people a lesson, ends up mostly hurting your family and friends and not your intended target(s). In fact, if you’re convinced that people intend you harm, then you suiciding is advancing their agenda and not harming them at all.

Another factor is losing your sense of self – replacing your idea and understanding of you and believing what you think other people think of you. This also impacts your resiliency, self-esteem and overall health.

Everyone experiences difficult times during their lives – the loss of pets, family or friends, moving homes or jobs or careers, starting or ending romantic relationships, and sometimes several of these stressful events at once. But you get through them, perhaps not the same as before; our experiences change us.

So, I return to the sense of unfairness as the thing that throws a person who could previously cope into not being able to cope. Unfairness seems to stymie our problem solving abilities, we don’t know how to rectify the situation, and it takes away our sense of power and ability to influence the situation.

We then go down the path of violence or destruction to others or ourselves – partly made okay by the social attitude of shoot now, ask questions later; if you can’t be famous, be infamous; and by the media coverage of the explosion events.

Perhaps the explosion people look at all the attention that other people have gotten for their workplace violence incidents; and then think  “I could do it bigger and better.”  Competitive copycats occur.

Maybe, the implosion people, convinced that nothing they do will matter, just destroy themselves, thinking themselves unworthy to take others with them.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel trapped, treated unfairly and your sense of self and perspective is altering or rapidly skewed – talk to people.

Family, friends, strangers on the street if you have to. Find out if your workplace offers an employee assistance program. Especially talk to your doctor.

If you see someone floundering in that situation, offer support, an ear, an option that they can explore – maybe it’s filing a workplace grievance or changing jobs, maybe it’s reporting the school bully over and over and over for as long as it takes to get someone to listen.

Nothing can start to invigorate a person as much as having an option to get out of the trap. Especially taking the steps to regain control and alter the situation.

Remind them of past events that were difficult and they got through, help them get back their sense of self and resiliency; get them out of their collapsing worldview, increase their perspective and divert them to a better path towards positive action and change.

A last note about unfairness. Our brains can really rationalize being accepting of bad situations or events. Many will stay in a job that’s not a good fit or  that depresses them,  because of the benefits, pension or salary. But, these things don’t really help if it ruins your health, shortens your life and you never collect that pension.

People do explode through predictable and the sadly common social processes of bullying, discrimination and isolation – but what we all need to do is to make those processes uncommon and disrupt the processes in progress enough for ourselves or someone we know to escape the cycle of doom.

Remember, as they say, the life you save may be your own.