An Admitted AlcoholicThose who watch Jane Velez-Mitchell know she is in recovery, and she has no bones about admitting she is an alcoholic. Indeed, Ms. Velez-Mitchell, at 18 years of continuous sobriety, is a stunning example of the positive changes that can happen for all of us when we began to learn to change our approach to life and move forward in recovery. For those who haven’t watched her, she hosts a daily news/opinion show on the HLN network where she discusses topical issues of the day. Being in recovery myself, I easily noted parallels in her thought process to things I had been taught, so I was not wholly surprised to learn she is a proponent of the 12-steps.
Toronto’s Mayor Rob FordToday she featured a segment on Toronto’s wayward Mayor Rob Ford, who is at it again with alcohol and (my opinion) drugs. If I were to guess, I would say crack cocaine. He was raving, nearly incoherently, on and on in a fast food restaurant, gesturing with the familiar thumb and little finger pointing upward, about some non-subject as he was being filmed on someone’s personal device. The rant ended up on YouTube and Velez-Mitchell and others noted his “Jamaican Style” voice. Hmmm… Drug Culture? Wonder who he’s trying to impress? He doesn’t look much like a gangsta in that suit!Guest Deanna Jordan asked him about the accent, to which he replied, “This is how my friends talk.” If he weren’t so obviously in the public’s eye, I would call his behavior that of an adolescent. His substance abuse issues have made him a target of ridicule, as there really isn’t any way to spin his addiction problems away. He was actually planning on running again for office, trying to convince the public that he has his addictions are under control!
Denial is a Powerful AdversaryBut I wasn’t fooled. It is indeed rare that one can just decide to “quit” an addiction that has obviously progressed to the point that he can’t always control his behavior. His downplaying of his earlier indiscretions also tell me he is deeply still in the throes of denial. If public humiliation isn’t enough to curb his actions, what is?I had just assumed after his earlier spectacle he would quietly go to treatment to detox, salvage some of his career, and learn how to turn things around and live a healthier life. There is no shame in becoming an addict or alcoholic – many things in life influence those who end up there. The shame is that his denial is obviously still so strong that he thinks he’s in control…. He couldn’t even speak coherently! Velez-Mitchell had to use subtitles to decipher what he was actually saying. The shame is that he doesn’t know how sick he is.
Addiction is TragicSome probably shake their heads. Some may call him a laughingstock. Personally, I call it tragic. He’s garnered attention because he’s in the public eye, but we see it all the time. Some of us have lived it. Maybe backhandedly he shows us how addiction can hold one‘s rational mind hostage; an example that addiction can hit anyone – we are all vulnerable given the right set of circumstances. He’s an example of the irrational thought processes that addicts cling to in their denial. He’s an example of how we can’t see it when we are really ‘out there.’ How many of us with addicts/alcoholics in our circle of friends and family have heard the rationalizing and explaining away of bizarre behavior? How many times have we heard the slurred , “I’m fine,” while staggering or preparing to get behind the wheel?So is the mayor’s fiasco funny? Not in the least… Instead of laughter or insults maybe he simply needs help. It’s so hard for others who have been negatively impacted by another’s addiction to understand that they are really sick. Addiction is one area where the mind becomes hijacked by the needs of the body. The part of the brain where addiction takes hold is the survival part – the unconscious part. Not the rational decision-making part. Not the emotional part. We have some control there. It’s the fight-or-flight survival part. Where hunger and thirst pangs live. I always have thought that if you can’t will yourself to stop feeling hunger or thirst, you won’t be able to stop the compulsion to use, no matter what’s at stake. That’s why it’s always been said that willpower is of no use whatsoever in conquering an addiction. We have to learn to do the unnatural thing when we abstain. And because the disease of addiction is so difficult to deal with and understand – partially because our bodies will always remain adapted to taking in whatever it is we’re addicted to – we most often need help, sometimes a lot of help, to learn to live without it.
Interventions WorkI’m personally glad the age of interventions is here. Because of that, many lives will be saved, and many will suffer less. Trumping one’s denial and raising the bottom is a good thing. Addiction is not a victimless crime, and those trapped there are hurting more than just themselves. Denial is a hard pill to swallow. Our systems crave what they’ve become adapted to so strongly that there usually has to be a significant negative life experience to bring someone to the doors of treatment. At least now there’s one more tool in the arsenal of helping those whose lives have morphed into seeking, using and remorse… Seeking, using, remorse…seeking, using, remorse… -A hellish mantra those suffering endure day after day. I don’t mean to imply that an addict or alcoholic’s outlandish episodes should be tolerated or sympathized with. I just mean to use Tom Ford to illustrate the sad depths this disease takes those who live it to.Thank God there are people like Velez-Mitchell to help us see addiction in a more realistic way. We do recover. We do rebuild our lives. We do become productive members of society again. Many of us develop a strong desire to give back to our communities, to perhaps atone for all we took when we were sick. Or maybe because we learned how to find joy again in living life on life’s terms.Let’s hope Mayor Rob Ford has some kind of intervention. Then, perhaps instead of being a target of ridicule, he can be another impact example of how we can turn our lives around into something positive.
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