For this week's excerpt, I'm introducing one of the four stressors related to relapse emphasized in Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety. Shame. The book leans heavily toward the neuroscience and endocrinology fields in parts of the first portion of the book. In this middle section, in addition to being bluntly personal, I turn to many of the established pros in addictions and psychology... men and women who know the stigma the word "alcoholism" carries.
"...That’s just one example of stigma or ignorance leading to the insensitivity behind shame other people bring to our doorsteps or the shame we find when we stand on their doorsteps. In a lot of ways the shame is as pain-provoking as the disease itself, especially when we’re treated this way by People Who Should Know Better. I once thought I had a huge fund of tolerance for people but realized it could be quickly drained once I began dealing with otherwise smart people who say dumb things about Alcoholism.
The shamer may not want me to go to heaven because I’ve got this thing, but I want to go anyway, so who’s the one with the problem? The Person Who Should Know Better. You do not expect them to build a shrine to your sobriety, but it isn’t too much to expect them to let you try to succeed. They are simply not strong enough to accept that negative things can happen in life randomly. It is a part of nature they have chosen to deny. They have a “conflict of visions of reality” to steal from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (Robert M. Pirsig, HarperCollins, New York 1974) It’s the way people choose to see the world regardless of scientific discoveries.
Stigma is the shadow cast by ignorance, and ignorance about Alcoholism remains very strong in society. A poll cited in HBO’s 2007 series, Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Quit? reported that one half of the public believes Alcoholism is a “personal weakness.” In the face of 56 years passing since the American Medical Association deemed Alcoholism a disease, HALF the population still refuses to believe it is one, and are wed to a 3000-year-old notion that it is a bad person rather than a bad medical condition. Call it lack of training or education to be more diplomatic, but it isn’t going to change by the time you finish this book. According to a truly common way of thinking called the “just world philosophy,” you’ve gotten what you deserved. In a just world, if you are careful, smart and moral you can avoid misfortune; and if you don’t avoid misfortune, you are misfortune. Shame on you.
In 1957 Dr. Jellinek’s disease model of Alcoholism authoritatively ended centuries of false conclusions about Alcoholism being tied to careful, smart and moral. People still have a hard time giving up the idea that it is some sort of problem that can be stopped by just walking in a different direction. They don’t isolate the science from the myth and rhetoric. The prevalence of shaming is a natural human tendency to be subjective rather than objective and that the untrained and closed mind will follow the path of least resistance. The American society shames the Alcoholic, so too must they.”
--- condensed from Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, pages 53-54, FIVE STARS on amazon.com
It's unicorns-and-rainbows thinking for those in recovery to try to overturn the stigma that is rooted so deeply in our culture. What we can do is learn to live, live well and live sober around it. It's a key to long-term recovery.