Pulling Together the “ISM” of a Dysfunctional Society and Washington, D.C.
“Good liars create a convincing fiction. Great liars create a fiction that is true for them.”
Addicts and co-dependents are great liars.
I want to start this section by reiterating that I have been working intensively and closely with self-identified addicts and co-dependents for over thirty years. In this group are people who are at all stages of recovery. Few people have had the advantage of working with recovering addicts over such a period of time. Some of the addicts/co-dependents I have worked with have been involved with the Living in Process groups for all those years and other, new people at various stages of recovery, have come and gone.
The experience of working with these people not only has offered me the opportunity to see the process of early recovery, it has resulted in my accompanying people in early recovery, during relapses, at times of their going back out, at times of recovery and many intermittent stages along the way.
Since I have done some form of working with groups most of my life combined with working with organizations, these experiences have offered me the opportunity to observe the same characteristics that I see in individuals played out at the organizational and institutional level – with many of the same results as we see in the individual.
Because I have worked with and lived with the affects of addiction and been forced to do my own work along the way, it has been inevitable that I would come to observe the same characteristics of the disease systemically. This one-to-one correlation has helped me to see that the “ISM” of the disease has become systemic to western societies around the world and has also infected other cultures.
The addiction to the specific chemical (alcohol, drugs, food) is only the tip of the iceberg as anyone who has worked with addicts knows (a BIG iceberg, indeed). This recovery from the substance or process pales in comparison to working with the “ISM” of the disease. This is “ISM” which is the underlying assumptions, habits, behaviors, and processes of learning a new paradigm to LIVE out of.
The addictive behaviors and the need for addictions are just the superficial outcomes of a much deeper, underlying set of problems and assumptions that result in a societal and worldwide problem.
We have much more to concern ourselves with than the individual problems of addiction. AND, those problems do take on greater significance when the “ISM” of the disease is practiced by the President (or dictator), those who surround him/her and the elected officials of the government, any government.
Yet, we have to start somewhere and tackling the “ISM” of the disease gives us a good conceptual start.
So, let us start with looking at some of the major characteristics of the disease and see how they operate on the personal, familial, organizational, and systemic level.
We have discussed several of the characteristics of the “ISM” in so far in this blog series – dishonesty, “alcoholic thinking patterns,” self-centeredness, the illusion of control, underlying fear and anger and the loss of a moral base or being connected with our deep spiritual connection or power greater than ourselves which are all symptoms of the disease of addiction. The “ISM” of addiction does not go away with giving up the chemical (ingestive) “drug” or the process of the choice addiction (shopping, money, sex, romance, gambling, work, etc.)
When one gives up the substance (alcohol, for example) or the process (overworking) and has not or does not do her/his work of recovery and make a system shift, the Dry Drunk Syndrome ensues.
Often the Dry Drunk Syndrome is even worse than the effects of the addiction itself. It seems that all too often, the use of the chemical addiction or the process addiction has taken the “edge” off just enough to keep the full force of the addiction at bay. There are times when the family of the addict prays for the active addiction because the Dry Drunk Syndrome is even harder to live with than the active addict!
For example, I knew a family where one of the family members was discovered to be an alcoholic and went to treatment for six months. All the family expected everything to go swimmingly when the family member returned from treatment. It did not quite work out that way. The family member was no longer drinking or using drugs and that was a relief. He was “dry” from chemical addictions. The household had an agreement that since everyone (except the children) worked, each adult would cook one night a week. This arrangement usually worked quite well except for one night a week when the alcoholic was supposed to cook. He hated to cook so it was always stressful. The others expected a change after treatment. There was none. The kitchen was filled with the usual banging of pots and swearing as anger and chaos reigned. One family member overheard the children saying, “Why don’t you have a beer? That always worked before?!”
There are two important aspects to understand here:
- In the Dry Drunk Syndrome the focus of the addiction has been removed. And this does not mean that the “ISM” of the disease has been touched.
In order to deal with the “ISM” of the disease, one has to be willing to make a life change, which is to make a complete paradigm shift.
This paradigm shift is extremely difficult to make (changing our beliefs, our thinking patterns, our dishonesty, our illusion of control, our former practiced way of being in the world) in order to be “sober” and live out of a healing and healthy paradigm. And, another reason for the Dry Drunk Syndrome is that the person has given up the most offending addiction (alcohol) and, all too often, has “switched” to the next most preferred addiction (sex, for example.)
All addictions and the addictive beliefs are integrated into the culture as a whole and, in my experience, the process addictions are more “acceptable” than the ingestive ones.
Dry drunks are, in my opinion, much more difficult to deal with than your usual run-of-the-mill addict. They have given up the “support” of the addiction and have not replaced it with anything, especially their own deeper spirituality and/or morality. Dry drunks often excel in control and meanness. From my perspective, Washington is colonized by addicts and dry drunks. Finally the addictive society has a poster child in the White House and many in Congress.
I hear commentators trying to understand our political leaders’ behaviors by using the usual psychological and psychiatric labels when they are much better understood as the result of an addiction, dry drunkenness, and the functioning of an addictive society (see When Society Becomes an Addict and There Will be a Thousand Years of Peace and Prosperity and They Will Be Ushered in by the Women).
All of us who want to “understand” need to know two things: 1) addiction is not “understandable” if you are looking for something that makes “sense” and 2) we can describe the symptoms and processes of addiction and they do not make sense. It is the randomness and the insatiable need to “win” and be right that is so frightening and keeps us “off balance.”
A Look At Some Other Characteristics Of Addiction/Dry Drunks
1. Can’t tolerate differences. Those who are “different” must be banished, destroyed, or made invisible.
2. Uses excuses for behavior (blames others) “You did it so it is okay for me to do it” or finds an excuse for behavior. Unable to take responsibility for decisions and behaviors. Blames others for his/her behavior.
3. Defensive – a knee-jerk response to focus on others as the problem.
4. Little or no skills for self-awareness or taking responsibility for what he/she does.
5. No loyalties, ethics or real policies underlying behavior.
6. Takes no responsibility for what comes out of mouths (or goes in).
7. Maintains illusion of power and control by distraction and deflection.
8. No core values.
9. I heard recently – “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Addicts maintain power by keeping others off balance, guessing, and focusing on straw men and issues.
10. No coherent worldview.
11. No recognition that there are forces and powers greater than oneself.
12. No belief in or support for freedom of speech (or assembly).
13. Willingness to sell soul (and others’ souls) for power over.
- Does any of the above sound familiar yet?
14. Accusing others of what they are doing – form of self- centeredness. Everyone operates like I do – a form of projection.
15. More obsessed with stats and appearances than getting the job done.
16. Addicts and dry drunks take up all the oxygen in the room. There is never, NEVER ENOUGH. This is especially true with attention.
17. It is possible to operate out of an addictive system and never have a drink – family or cultural influence.
18. Addicts (and addictive societies) vacillate between believing they are the greatest in the world or are a piece of shit. These are the only possibilities. Also, everything that happens is either for or against them. It is never not about them.
19. Addicts and non-recovering people prefer to be around and feel more comfortable with other addicts and non-recovering people. Indeed, they are not comfortable with people who are not “like them.” Hillary chose not to think and behave like an addict and was pummeled for it. Addicts need and hate codependents.
20. One of the favorite drugs of choice for people operating out of the addictive system is adrenaline. “Winning” is one of the favorite avenues to an “adrenaline high.” This is one of the best ways to understand the behavior of the Republicans after their recent vote repealing the health care that serves so many. This “victory” was not good for anyone but the wealthy, the health insurance companies, the drug companies and the health care systems. It was not good for the elected officials or their constituency. Yet, it was good for an “adrenaline high.”
It was also good for a secondary “adrenaline high” from the process of trying to “convince” those who know it is not good for them that it is.
This whole scenario is a perfect example of the addictive system in action.
21. Addicts will say or do anything for a “win.” The content of the “win” is not nearly as important as the process of the win.
22, Addicts hold on to grudges and resentments for years and want to retaliate. They can be violent, vicious, vitriolic and vindictive.
23. Addicts almost always have a “secret life.” It is often said that secrets feed the addictive process and “we are as sick as the secrets we keep” (dishonesty?). Part of recovery is transparency and not keeping secrets.
24. On the other hand, addicts are snoopy and want to know everything about others, often using this information to retaliate for imagined “insults.” In this process, they can become emotional and physical “stalkers.”
25. Another technique addicts use is to pick on tiny details and use these “details” to dismiss everything that is being said. They also, along the same lines, tend to blame others for what they are doing which makes conversation very confusing and is used as another attempt to win.
26. The addictive system uses confusion as a vehicle for control of others. Unfortunately, this “technique” is often very useful in “getting a win.”
As we look at the above 26 “characteristics” of addiction and the way it functions, it is clear that seeing Washington, D.C. as a prototype of the society functioning as an active addict is the best “fit” for understanding behaviors that seem to be outrageously not understandable.
Addiction is not just being dependent upon a substance or process, it has become systematized into a way of life and way of societal functioning.
As I said earlier, one does not recover by just giving up a substance or process. That is the easy part.
For true recovery to take place, there needs to be a major shift in the way we think, feel, believe and function. It is really the “ISM” of the disease that is most important and the most destructive. The “ISM” involves an entire systemic way of life. (How shocked many of us would be to admit that dishonesty has become a way of life!).
This addictive system involves the way we approach ourselves, others and the world. It is a system of processing, thinking, being and acting and is much more pervasive than any specific addiction like alcoholism or work, for example.
Any “addiction” carries with it ways of being (self-centeredness, for example) and processes (trying to control everything) that are integral to a larger systemic way of functioning that are much more difficult to replace with processes more restorative and capable for positive change. Healing from this addictive process, like schizophrenia, requires a change in thinking and perception which is very difficult when surrounded by non-recovering addicts. Indeed, this “change-work” for the individual continues for a lifetime. And, this kind of change is essential at all levels in an individual and in a society.
We are living in a time when lying is called “alternative facts,” vindictiveness is seen as a comic, yet acceptable trait, and any and all forms of a moral compass can be ignored to gain power and control.
After working with addicts who genuinely sought freedom and recovery, I had the startling awareness that our Western society functions exactly like an active addict. Out of that awareness came the book When Society Becomes an Addict, which became a New York Times bestseller.
We have now moved from addicts who were still in touch with some awareness of a moral base to acting out addicts (or worse yet, dry drunks) who exhibit little or no personal or public morality at all. And they have become our “leaders.”
Those of us who know and have a long history of working with addiction know and have seen that what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says about addiction is correct for individuals and also historically for societies – ADDICTIONS ARE PROGRESSIVE AND FATAL – for individuals and for societies.
We also know that an addict cannot stand still. They are either getting better or getting worse. It has been demonstrated time and time again that it is not possible to get a little better, achieve a little bit of recovery and be okay. The disease and the process of life of an individual and a society is always in process – either getting worse or getting better.
All is in process. Improvement is a path, not a destination.
Now that we are clearer about the problem(s) that face us as individuals and as a nation, it is a good time to go back and revisit some of our beginnings and underpinnings as a nation. This exploration will help us see why we as the United States of America have a very good and unique foundation with which and out of which to build a saner, more functional planet.
- It is difficult to solve the problem when we are not clear what the problem is.
We know “it”– whatever “it” is – does not feel good and until we can see what it is, we will never have a direction from which we can move toward together.
So, let’s move together to Section II (the next series of blogs), see what is possible and Vision and Revision our Roots.