This is a real story about an adult who grew up with alcoholism within the family and had children. They range in age, and the eldest is now an adult herself. She was the most amazing and beautiful little girl from the moment she entered the world. She grew into a beautiful woman. She wanted to be respectable person and successful. It comes with what most people want and she herself has worked hard for; money, success, status, reputation and the image of respectability associated with that. She identified with the image of respectability that comes with learning it from someone close to herself. In her family, that meant she identified with an alcoholic, and is in danger of becoming one herself. Her future is clear. It’s not good.
Few understand the family illness and disease, but those who do will understand this. It doesn’t make sense, but it makes sense to those in it. Ironically, for those who don’t know, what they see makes “sense” but has a different meaning than for those within. To use an analogy, it is a wendigo, a chimera, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, not the good shepherd or his flock. Alcohol devours the pain, and the person, and their soul…and finally, their body with it.
Retaliation. Flipping everything on its head. Gaslighting. A realignment of the parties to fit the status quo, exerting power and control, asserting and reasserting power and control, reinforcing it, maintaining it. How does this promote itself?
Control is necessary.
This is the alcoholic’s fallacy.
Control comes with being a man, especially for men.
Control of oneself. Control of one’s emotions. Status. Reputation.
Physical dependency introduces slipping control. Struggles with control.
Alcohol adapts the alcoholic to the alcohol.
A tug-of-war ensues.
Alcohol adapts the alcoholic to the alcohol.
The alcoholic adapts the environment to the alcoholic.
Controlling one means controlling the other, but this is the inherent fallacy, because alcohol is in control, not the person. It will win every time. Because of the nature of physical dependency, the more control an alcoholic exerts, the more alcohol’s control manifests. Alcohol has the edge. Alcoholism mirrors the alcoholics efforts to assert control over it, in reverse, an uphill challenge for those with physical dependency. Controlling alcoholism is shadow work.
Controlling alcohol, like controlling people, doesn’t work. Relationships built on control, including with alcohol, fail. Alcohol wins. People lose. Including the alcoholic.
Since alcoholism introduces physical dependency, issues of self-control, emotional control, and control in general, where an alcoholic views their relationship with alcohol in terms of control, this develops and builds it. This strengthens and reinforces the power alcohol has over the person and their relationship with it. Since alcohol adapts the alcoholic to itself, and the alcoholic adapts the environment to the alcoholic, the relationship and alcoholic has with alcohol is central and translates to people. The closer people are to the alcoholic, the greater the effects. We call this the family illness of alcoholism. It is a social disease. Alcoholism is a physical disease.
Alcoholism doesn’t just affect the alcoholic. It becomes a shared disease. It is progressive and destructive. Alcohol and physical dependency don’t just take lives, they destroy relationships and families. Families are social units. A member’s relationship with alcohol easily translates to relationships with people and between them.
It should come as no surprise that where power and control over alcohol defines an alcoholic’s relationship with it, this can promote and manifest other problems in addition to alcoholism, like domestic violence and abuse. This is one reason why statistically there is a higher-than-average rate of domestic violence and abuse associated with drinking, as well as assaults and violence in general.
The Justice System…
Much focus has begun to develop in the Thurston County courts and the Washington State judicial system towards adopting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a general model for both those ordered to treatment and those impacted and effected. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, the founder of modern analytical psychology, by contrast, has received far less attention. Little understood and often misinterpreted for his work with “dream analysis”, he addresses “shadow work.” His best understood publication and example explaining this was with “Man and His Symbols.” It is a model for promoting holistic integration of the entire self for the health of the individual and incorporates the social health of the community and people’s relationships of all kinds in its considerations. Psychoanalysis faded in the 1980s after a resurgence in its popularity. Mental health is just as subject to trends as other social points of interest. The courts favor cognitive behavioral therapy because it focuses on personal accountability.
The problem is there is no proof it works in the way the judicial system is employing it. This use by our justice system is unproven and entirely experimental. The goal is to curb recidivism and repeat offenses, especially for those involving drugs and alcohol. There is only one model that has been proven repeatedly, over time, to work, for all parties. Voluntary participation in a twelve-step program. These come in a variety of forms and originated with Bill Wilson who formed Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 and his wife, Louis Wilson, who formed Al-Anon for Families & Friends of Alcoholics. University of Colorado studies repeatedly demonstrate that most people, when they do quit, do so on their own, regardless of the type of dependency, and not because they are court ordered. The justice system and laws in place have very little to do with people’s substance abuse or use and decision-making process, remarkably. Studies and research from the New York Brennan Center for Justice also support this. This makes sense when considering the physical nature of dependency and addiction. Personal willpower, independent of consequences, is subverted. For every action there is a reaction, and cognitive behavioral therapy examines actions and consequences, coping skills and decision making. This is helpful, but just scratches the surface. Twelve steps programs like A.A. and Al-Anon deal with the shadow work.
Washington State has developed a guide based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Washington State judicial application titled the “CBT Guide to Intimate Partner Violence.” It begins with “There is currently no well-established effective program specifically for individuals who engage in Intimate Partner Violence. Work is ongoing to develop and test such interventions. In the absence of a specific proven program, this Guide provides a generic CBT-based treatment manual with clinical supports. It has not been tested in a research study. No claims are made that it is effective in reducing IPV. However, it is based on a well-established theory and the clinical skill-oriented content is supported by research. As well it is based in part on a generic CBT and DBT based treatment manual for sex offender treatment in WA. Like DVIPs, Sex Offender Treatment Providers (SOTPs) also operate within WACs. CBT is based on a theory that thoughts, feelings and behaviors mutually influence each other.”
The justice system is looking for a universal solution and CBT is a catch-all.
The Guide emphasizes “CBT based treatments target: unhelpful thoughts; difficulty managing intense negative feelings; ineffective or problem behaviors. CBT based treatments are effective for many clinical conditions and behavioral problems. CBT is the underlying theory for many effective therapies for common clinical conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and disruptive behaviors. Effective treatments for individuals who break the law or abuse their children are also typically CBT based. There are a number of branded CBTs that target law breaking behavior. We want to be fully transparent that we come at this Guide from the perspective of evidence-based practice. EBP means preferring treatments that have been shown to be effective in research studies. We are aware that evidence-based is a relatively newer idea in the delivery of psychosocial treatments. While evidence-based medicine is embraced as the standard for health conditions, that has not always been the tradition for behavioral health conditions and practice.”
“Behavioral medicine” or “behavioral health” is what Washington State’s judicial system has been employing and heavily reliant on for decades. “There continue to be controversies and disagreements,” they write, “As well we are very far from arriving at proven treatments that work for every behavioral health problem.” Standards in treatment, especially evidence based, that work and are established, with a prescription and formula that can be incorporated into the current justice system model and pop out healthy, whole, healed individuals who are rehabilitated and recovered, ready for re-entry into society with the social contract restored, is elusive.
The Brennan-Center for Justice in New York City notes in its report examining justice policies in “What Caused the Crime Decline?” that “One of the great problems we face today is mass incarceration, a tragedy which has been powerfully documented.” They write “How many people sit needlessly in prison when, in a more rational system, they could be contributing to our economy? And, once out of prison, how many people face a lifetime of depressed economic prospects? When 1 in 28 children has a parent in prison, the cycle of poverty and unequal opportunity continues a tragic waste of human potential for generations.” Americans spend $260 billion every year on criminal justice. That is more than one-quarter of the national deficit.
A year in prison can cost more than a year at Harvard. This is not a hallmark of a well performing economy and society. The report presents a rigorous and sophisticated empirical analysis performed on the most recent, comprehensive dataset to date. The authors conclude that incarceration had relatively little to do with the crime decline. They find that the dramatic increases in incarceration have had a limited, diminishing effect on crime. And they have quantified those minimal benefits. At today’s high incarceration rates, continuing to incarcerate more people has almost no effect on reducing crime.
The report demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary thinking. It melds law, economics, science, criminology, and public policy analysis to address the challenges facing our country. This starts with our families. Individual psychology and group psychology are two distinct branches of psychology that focus on different aspects of human behavior. Group psychology studies human behavior in the context of group associations. It examines how people behave in groups, interact with each other and how they are influenced by the group. The family is a fundamental social group. Group psychology helps explain why people tend to conform to the norms of a group, even when those norms are not in their best interest.
No man (or woman) is an island. Being human is social. Just because community doesn’t look like what we think it should does not mean it doesn’t exist or isn’t present, whether we acknowledge and recognize it or not. In reality, many alcoholics have jobs, homes, families and untarnished images of respectability. In reality, 80% of women who have been homeless report having been victims of domestic violence and abuse. What we see in the streets is just the tip-of-the-iceberg, the fringes of a much larger phenomenon hidden from view within families and homes.
One of community and families most basic functions is the health of children. Promoting that can be strengthened by family, or family may be abandoned or absent for individuals who seek community in place of family. Where community does not represent a safety net, people are reduced to their individual efforts. The family illness of alcoholism, for example, promotes isolation within the family, isolating its members and creating feelings of isolation. Health that is absent in both family and community promotes/reduces people on a large-scale to individual efforts. Family exclusion, with community exclusion, in a society that has witnessed progressive and destructive alcoholism and physical dependency exponentially since the largest generation came of age in the 1960s, means the swelling numbers of elderly, their children and grandchildren, in American streets today, will continue to swell, tax our limited resources, increase our national deficit and consume more while defeating us economically in the face of a declining national birth rate. Combine this with a pandemic, and the effects are amplified exponentially that much more. Unless we get real and develop a group conscience, divided we fall, instead of united we stand.
As aforementioned, this is the story of a real girl, now for all appearances sake an amazing and beautiful woman, but whose future is uncertain, even given all that. She has a family that’s not that different from your own or those you know or are familiar with, alongside your community, your country and nation. Each of us, as it turns out isn’t so unique, because the story of our nation and our families is our own, and there are so many others like us. What seems isolating, even American Isolationism, is a shared experience. It is easily understood by others, especially if we open up and begin to talk about it. We can do so anonymously, with anonymity, if we choose. No one has to be embarrassed or humiliated. We may find that what personal shock and embarrassment we have had fades and isn’t so bad when we face it in proactive, healthy ways that mutually benefit each of us. Our efforts can be private, within the supportive group of an A.A., AlAnon or other family group or settings, with people just like us, or we might be more extroverted and public, depending on our personalities. Because others share our experience, and also have strength and hope, their recovery offers hope for our own and true insight that only comes from the lived experience we also share.
We often turned to others for help, especially within our own families, and were often disappointed. Well-meaning friends and family members may have offered plenty of advice, but few were truly able to understand our circumstances or offer useful suggestions. In fact, some of the advice we blindly followed did more harm than good. We may have sensed or known something was wrong, deep down, but nothing we did ever seemed to get to the root of it. Our efforts left us feeling more alone and ashamed than ever. Jails, institutions and death. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong or why nothing was working. What are we doing wrong? we asked. Who’s to blame? Why can’t I fix it? We fix it? Why won’t he or she fix it? If he just did this… If she would just… These are symptoms of the family and social disease and illness we call alcoholism, addiction, physical dependency, and sometimes “America.” We can’t figure out how to successfully isolate ourselves from it or treat it. We don’t understand that it’s like cancer, with all the progressive destruction and stages of grief, from anger to loss, impact on family and more. We don’t understand why it keeps recurring or why our best effort fail.
“But I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an addict. Those are other people.” As much as we are individuals, we are interdependent, because we are social, by nature, and this is the irony and dichotomy of being human. What affects one radiates and affects others, including ourselves, whether we realize it or not.
The truth is none of us are getting out of this thing called “life” alive. How we face it, and our relationship with our life, personally or interpersonally, in the shadows of it, is what critically matters. That is the inherent challenge, solution and meaning. Mission Impossible: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” You accepted it. You’re here. You’re alive. Do you dare to accomplish and complete the assignment successfully?