Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Like They Plan it This Way

I've noticed that when there's trouble with one of the addicts in my life, there's bound to be trouble with the other either simultaneously, or following in short order. It's like they plan it this way. 

I imagine Roi and Kyd getting on the phone with each other and collaborating on timing. 

"Ok, Briar seems to be relaxing a little, getting some sleep, catching up on everything just enough that she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It's time to pull the rug out again, whaddya say?"

"Sounds good to me man.  Let's see, I've got an opening on Friday.  What do things look like for you?"

"I'm good the following Wednesday. Got the whole day free for some delicious self-destruction and finding a way to blame everyone else."

"Awesome. It's a plan dude."

Kyd had an appointment today so per the usual I drove an hour to get him, and an hour back so that he could make it to his appointment. On the drive home last night things were going well. Kyd was talkative, in a spastic kind of way, but it looked like his mood was good. 

Then we took a wrong turn. Or rather, I didn't take a turn that Kyd thought I should have taken, and suddenly the conversation drove straight into dangerous territory. I was taking a back way home, not a shortcut, but a route with less traffic. Kyd was positive the way I chose was MUCH longer, and it didn't make any sense to him why I would go that way. 

That would have been fine if when Lexi and I explained how it wasn't longer and had less traffic things were settled. They weren't. He started calling us insane and crazy and pointed out that we were women so obviously had no sense of direction. He kept at it even though we tried laughing through it, telling him we'd settle it with a map when we got home, etc. He got progressively louder, insistent, and rude, and eventually Lexi got pissed off. 

That's when Kyd started banging on her seat and then heaved himself out of the car at a red light, flailing his arms around and cursing.  

The rest of the night he babbled heatedly about how awful we are, how he hates coming home, how we make him depressed and angry, how it's OUR fault he acts this way. 

It was clear he was not in his right mind, and I was thrown right back into full red alert mode. Is he having a psychotic break? Is he ON something? Is he coming down OFF something? At what point do I call the police? An ambulance? Where is the hotline for help on this kind of confusing mess? I've done it all. Therapy, meds, neurofeedback, neuropsych evaluation, detox, rehab hospital commitment, all resulting in the addiction folks saying he has mental health issues and the mental health folk saying he has addiction issues. 

It's painful and heartbreaking and I feel so helpless to do anything.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Victim Blaming, Codependency, and the Analogy

Here's how I view this idea that the pain I feel in my relationship is "my fault", and stemming from "old wounds" or due to my "codependency".  

Let's say when I was three I fell down some stairs and broke my leg. And let's say that I fell down those stairs because someone bigger than me, someone who was supposed to care for and protect me, pushed me. 

Let's also say that as a three year old I couldn't get myself to a hospital and no one brought me so my leg never healed right leaving me with a bum leg that I could eventually walk on, but not quite right. In fact, my whole skeletal structure became compromised because I had to favor one leg over the other causing all sorts of other things to get thrown out of alignment. Back problems, neck problems, muscle problems, etc. But I learned to live with it, and I was functional as best I could be. 

Years later I meet a man who loves my quirky crookedness and we fall in love. He is kind. He is attentive. He makes me feel good. But then things start going a little awry. Then one day, with not a whole lot of warning, man walks up to me with a baseball bat and nails me on the bum leg, breaking it again. 

So I've got a broken leg, a re-broken leg, and I go to the hospital. 

Here are two possible scenarios. 

What should happen: 

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got a pretty hefty fracture and we're going to have to set the leg and then put a cast on. After 8 weeks in the cast I'm going to want you to do some physical therapy. What I'm concerned with is that you also appear to have an  old fracture that didn't heal right, and we're going to have to fix that too. The good news is that the new fracture is on the same line, so by fixing the new fracture, and with intense therapy, you'll be almost as good as new, in fact better than you have been for years. I'm sorry this happened to you. We'll give you something for the pain for a few days, and after that the pain will be bearable enough for you to handle on your own, but you'll be coming in for regular check-ups so we can be sure you're healing properly this time. Also, I think you might benefit from a self-defense class so that once you're healed you'll have a much better chance of keeping yourself safe from harm. Good luck and we'll see you in two weeks." 


What happens in the codependent/co-addict model:

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got an old fracture and that's what caused this new one, so really it's your fault that your leg is broken. As for the pain you're feeling, that's also your fault. Clearly you are focusing on the pain too much and if you could just detach from it you'd realize there's really nothing to fuss about. You're bringing up your old pain and that's simply not the correct way to go about this. You say you were hit with a baseball bat? Obviously you put yourself in a situation to get your leg broken again because you're addicted to getting your leg broken. Look at how many times this has happened to you? Given your history, it's likely your leg is always going to be getting broken, but if you learn to realize that the pain your feeling is just wrong thinking, and as long as you go to a support group for the rest of your life, you'll be able to learn how to not worry or feel pain when your leg is broken. We good here?"

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lovely Bones, Lovely Manipulations

*Spoiler alert

In The Lovely Bones, the evil guy manipulates his victim through using social/relational norms.   Those rules that we humans tend to follow and expect others are following because those rules are encoded in us both genetically and culturally. In fact, as social animals, our survival has depended on these rules.

When evil guy makes initial contact with the victim he utilizes the rule of "respect for adults" and plain old friendliness that demands return. Though Suzie doesn't really want to talk to him, she is compelled to because he is talking to her and he is an adult. It would be rude for her to not converse back on at least two levels.

Then when she politely refuses to come and look at something he's made, evil guy manipulates social/relational norms some more. He suggests that other kids in the neighborhood are going to like it, which peaks her curiosity, AND offers her an opportunity to feel special by being the first to see it. He also uses guilt, the suggestion that she is making him feel bad/sad because he was excited and she's rained on his parade. We all know, as Suzie does, it's not right to make someone feel bad when they were being nice and generous.

When evil guy has Suzie in his trap, she experiences increasing anxiety over the situation and him, and wants to leave. At that point he pulls out all stops and directly says to her, "Be polite!".

And every single time I see a situation like this, every time I read about how narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths, etc manipulate their victims, I think of addict behavior. Because really?  It's the same.

Addicts use the same tactics to protect their active addiction. Are they as evil as evil guy? No. They are more a victim of their own addiction, and the part of their mind that is willing to break all the rules to keep getting the high.

Those in society who need to break rules, either because they're evil or ill (depends on your perspective), find it most effective to break those rules without getting caught by manipulating others' adherence to those rules, as well as manipulating our deep belief that we are all operating by those rules more or less because we are human. It's in our bones.

This is why I have a problem with the concept of codependency. I'm not sure how much I can buy into this hogwash (which there is little to no clinical evidence for, and has been critiqued as having such a broad range of symptoms that it is rendered meaningless). The concept of codependency is that we were just as sick as the addict coming into the relationship, and that's where I'm stopped cold.

Because to believe that is to ignore my instinct that it's wrong, and that is the very same thing my addict wanted me to do - ignore my instinct. And I no longer trust anyone or anything who demands me to "be polite" and listen to them rather than myself.

Maybe in the end I'll find out I'm dead wrong, but as far as I'm concerned I can no longer toy with this one life I have and I'm just not about to spend a bunch of time sitting in a room where I'm told that being lied to, manipulated, mind-fucked, deceived, gaslighted, blamed, shamed, and told I'm crazy/overreacting/illogical is a) somehow my fault, or at least 50% my fault and b) something I can make peace with and c) something I shouldn't feel resentful/hurt/tired/etc over.

Because no matter what angle I look at that from, it stinks so bad of victim blaming that I have to sit on my hands and bite the inside of my cheek so hard I see stars to keep myself from standing up and loudly pointing out "THE EMPEROR IS BUCK NAKED FOLKS SO LET'S ALL STOP PRETENDING!" I'm just not going to swallow this fucked up, Bill Wilsonified, version of my experience.

This doesn't mean that I don't think I have to learn new methods, because regular methods don't work with this shit. It also doesn't mean that I don't fit some of the criteria for the faux designer disease of codependency. Low self-esteem? Right here. Self-doubt? Yep, me too. Thinking I know better than the addict and can fix this whole mess if I just find the right way to explain it? Here. Have a tendency to end up in relationships with men I can feel morally superior too? Guilty.

But this is also true of many people in relationships that are working and where addiction is NOT present. In fact, if you've ever studied the DSM (and I have) the first thing you realize (and it's both comical and disturbing) is that you can easily diagnose every person you come in contact with with a major or minor mental illness.

But please, let's just lay this out in the open. The stuff that addicts do is destructive and it hurts and changes those who love them.  It is confusing, and the skillful manipulation makes it all the more confusing and crazy-making. We are not wired to comprehend that another human can break social rules with such facility, so it is much easier to believe we are wrong, because we know something IS wrong. And if you spend enough time in a crazy-making situation, guess how it makes you feel? Crazy. And it doesn't take a dramatic low self-esteem to get caught up in this web. It takes only the smallest willingness to question yourself when the addict demands you question yourself even though something about it doesn't feel right.

And really, when you think about it, it doesn't even take low self-esteem to feel compelled to follow the social rules when someone tells you to "be polite" so that you'll sit still just long enough for them to get away with murder.

Are We Both Crazy?

No, not Roi and I. 

A few nights ago I finally got together with a friend from college. The two of us had been going at phone tag and friend-date postponements/cancellations for months. 

This woman (and I'll call her K) and I had met through mutual friends and hit it off instantly. We've had little opportunity to spend time one one one, so though we've hung out a few times we've never gotten to know each other on a more personal level. Yet we knew we needed to. 

Turns out she's living with a recovering alcoholic after being in a relationship with an active alcoholic (and possibly sex addict) for the 12 years previous. Waddya know? It's like we codies sniff each other out. Sort of like gaydar but for codies.

And as we said our goodbyes (or tried to) on a street corner just down from the cafe we had stayed at until closing, we suddenly found ourselves discovering this previously unknown commonality. She being with an alcoholic who has been sober and highly active in recovery was not nearly as beside herself as I was. I don't have friends I can talk to about this. I have recovery friends and they are unbelievably awesome, but I don't have friends who are in recovery. I feel the need to qualify that with two or more paragraphs, but you know what I mean. 

Anyway, K doesn't do Al-Anon. She tried but said she found herself really resentful that it was implied that she was doing something wrong by merely being in relationship with an alcoholic. 

I get that. I get that too well. When I'm at a meeting my intellect gets in the way. Because here is what I see at every meeting. 

People doing well. And those well-doers have either broken ties with their addict, or their addict is in active recovery and sober. 

People with circles under their eyes and tissues pressed to their noses as they sniffle and sob. Those crying messes are still in close contact with active addicts.

And for the latter, it doesn't seem to matter how many years they've been in program. Active addiction doesn't seem to ever stop hurting. And so they bleed openly, and I watch them as they open their eyes and ears wide trying to see and hear what they can change to make the hurt stop. And I watch as they nod vigorously and I can't help but see that they are trying to believe something that just doesn't make any damn sense at all.

As I walked away into the light drizzle of the night, I thought about K's words. How she just couldn't buy the program-speak. Not for Al-Anon anyway. She gets that she's codependent, and so do I. But we both smell something a little off, how it seems like the party-line of Al-Anon is about accepting unacceptable behavior.  And I don't feel any wiser. I don't feel any closer to answers.