Sunday, April 5, 2015

One Step Forward, One Back (but not 12 steps)

I've been blocked from writing in this diary because I know I need to write a little bit about a realization within the last month that involves my husband's family. So there's a sensibility about a public/private line and whether or not it should be crossed. How it should be crossed, really.

I came across an article in the Atlantic criticizing the 12-step ideology as a "cure" for addiction. The author's criticism was directed toward, for example, AA's use of denial and a sort of faux moralism to inspire many negative human traits among people "in recovery," particularly a sensibility that "addicts" must "hit bottom" before coming to terms with their lives. That is, be completely destroyed one way or another. The whole thing smacks of the patriarchy, if you ask me.

Of course, the 12-step program, has been adapted to many situations other than addiction from which people want some sort of personal freedom. In the belief system, "addicts" have no control over their lives, no concept of personal responsibility, until they "hit bottom" and can be restored to a higher moral plane through the recognition they've destroyed their lives and those of their loved ones, while the members of this 12-step cult help them toward the recognition of personal responsibility (though only through the members, not on their own) and personal restoration.

"Personal responsibility" here is especially fraught because neither inside the belief system nor outside it does the individual do anything independently: you are either a slave to your addiction or a slave to the cultish mentality.

While I read the article, I had that unmistakable sense of recognition attributed to deja vu. In 2007, my husband's business nearly went over a precipice. He was, of course, to blame in many ways, although not all. Money was at stake because his brothers had invested in the business. However, his brothers response to the situation made no sense to me until I read this article. In 2007, they clearly wanted to punish us, Robert's needs and survival not a consideration, nor my daughter's. Our family was to be destroyed, publicly humiliated--nothing I said or did to apply logic or good business sense to the situation mattered to them. Nothing that I did to ask for mercy made a difference.

So we decided we should simply stick with the business--our source of income and independence crucial to managing Robert's needs, even though we'd be in heavy seas for some time.

Our decision only resulted in more familial abuse, up through Robert's 2013 hospitalizations and near-death. At that point, when these people, in-laws, couldn't muster any sense of humanity or compassion, I cut the cord with them completely, puzzled and hurt by their strange take on morality and human decency. The more we asked for help during a crisis, the more they refused us--and with a sense of moral superiority. The brother who lived close by would not even come to the hospital to see his nephew, nor did he offer help or solace beyond taking our daughter for a single night for dinner. My husband wrote to him to tell him how afraid he was that Robert would die, and he refused to respond.

Then I read the 12-steps critique in The Atlantic these many years later. My husband had tried to tell me that all this was based on his brothers' insistence that he was an "addict" to his business, but I'd just chalked that up to the one brother's struggling to find a locus for his anger by turning to a structure he understood--his own struggle with drug addiction. I didn't think they were serious.

Evidently, they were. And this explains why our incremental, one-step-forward-one-back progress toward solvency and stability continued to inflame their anger and sense of moral rectitude. How I love that rectitude appears to share a root with rectum. And explained their seemingly eternal need to one way or another propound our moral inferiority and degeneracy--we had never hit bottom, we had never lost everything, we had never been destitute, our children didn't suffer.

I am so glad that that article appeared. As my husband explained to me, in this worldview, there are only three types of people: addicts, enablers, and those in recovery. No one is ever healed or cured, everyone exists in limbo, shifting among these categories, a very circle of hell for which Dante had no apparent numeral. I, apparently, have been an "enabler" all these years--yes, an enabler to my husband to do better, work harder, pull himself together, an enabler of crisis management, an enabler to Robert to keep him healthy when god knows his true purpose is to be--to be what? Destroyed? The exemplar of what it looks like to "hit bottom"? A true guide for us to the virtues of the 12-step cult?

And, yes, my husband has told me that they seem to harbor a belief that we are "addicted" to Robert because our lives revolve around him--an observation borne out by their complete unwillingness in the last 8 years to help at all with any of his needs not covered by insurance or Medicaid, including his need to communicate. The 12-step cult believes offering help to someone in distress is "only hurting" them.

What lunacy! To be so emotionally impoverished that one is stripped by the cult of every shred of humanity, compassion and human decency? But I guess that's what cults do, all the better one follows their orders. To live and be in relationships with others only on the basis of an assumed "morality" and in anger?

Despite the damage they've done to us, to my children, to Robert's specific needs, and to my own reputation as a decent person doing her best in a difficult world (remember, I am the crooked, manipulative "enabler")--I can only pity them. Really. What a bunch of lost souls.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this, Jeneva. As always, you have helped to articulate what I have known only intuitively and thus struggled with for so many years. I am glad that you've made it "public." Your great gift is an ability to weave the intensely personal with the more abstract, avoiding self-pity and defensiveness. I believe that great suffering has honed that innate talent - your words so inimitably yours can thus become ours and are emblems, perhaps, of real compassion. Thank you.

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