Introduction to Looking at Society as an Addict
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to prosper is for enough good people to do nothing . . .
I feel very frightened and something else, very deep, I cannot even name (pain, sorrow, horror – and much more). What is happening right now in the USA feels and seems like what I know happened in Germany and those of us who allow ourselves can still feel the leftovers from Hitler’s government in Germany. A 19-year-old German woman living in the USA right now understands what I mean. She said that she feels like what is going on here is like what she knows from Hitler’s Germany. She added that she feels she needs to do something and she does not know just what that means. I feel the same so I am starting by writing about a dysfunctional/addictive society – ours – the USA.
- America will get the President it deserves, probably not the one it needs. (Anne Wilson Schaef)
I worked in the field of “mental health” for many years. I worked in mental hospitals and did my internship at Bellevue Hospital under Dr. David Wechsler, then worked as a school psychologist for three years while I put my then husband through seminary, finished my course work and my exams for my doctorate while working as Chief Psychologist at the youth centers at Arsenal State Mental Hospital in St. Louis and later established and was director of a youth center at Alton State Hospital in Illinois.
I spent a few years working on the regional staff for the Illinois Department of Mental Health consulting and working with various organizations in community mental health in region VI and consulting in Springfield – the capitol of Illinois – and Chicago. Following that I had a long term, very successful, private practice in St. Louis and Denver. (It was embarrassing to me that I had a two-year waiting list!)
I say all of the above in order to demonstrate that I have/had a solid background in psychology and the psychological approach to mental illness. And, I came to see that for the very same reason that I could not spiritually, physically, mentally or emotionally go to medical school after completing my pre-med courses, I could no longer associate myself with the field of mental health or psychology.
- I knew in my heart of hearts and my soul of souls that there was something “wrong” with both fields (for me) and neither could bring about true healing which I continue to believe is possible.
- Both psychology and medicine were focusing on how to keep people alive, functioning and adjusted to a sick society. Neither is focused on actual healing on all levels.
So the work I have been doing throughout the world for the last forty-some, almost fifty years comes from a different paradigm. The Living in Process healing work has not focused on adjustment to dysfunction. It has focused on healing at all levels, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual. This kind of work is a better fit for me.
By chance (or divine intervention!), these awarenesses led me into almost fifty years of working with addicts from all over the world who want to recover and live out of a different paradigm. As fate, and experience would have it, I began to work with groups of people (no more individual work – that model feeds the problem!) all over the world who identify as addicts and are seeking true healing at all levels.
As I have worked with these people – some for forty years – I have seen and experienced (in some) the progression of the disease and, in others, I have seen the progression of healing. Those who heal start out focusing on themselves and their individual trauma and addictions, and then move to recovery and healing in their relationships and their families, then move to recovery with, in, and from their work (they no longer feel comfortable in organizations that function “addictively” and are destructive to individuals [demand addictive behavior] or to the planet).
They find ways to support themselves that do not feed into an addictive society, or become “good Al-Anon’s” (one can live with a certain amount of sanity with a “drunk.”) As they actively recover they can and do see the need to recover on all levels even a societal and planetary level.
Working with these courageous, dedicated people throughout the world inspired me to write my New York Times bestseller When Society Becomes an Addict which “hit a nerve” throughout the world.
Now, it is time to apply that same knowledge and experience to what we see going on in Washington, D.C. and the country as whole. As in an alcoholic or addictive family, the “power people” affect everyone. To survive, others become like them or they learn to enable them. Either is deadly. They often say about addicts, “they do not have friends or family, they take hostages.”
As I said, just before I graduated from college, I was wrestling with whether to go to med school or not. This “decision” was painful for me. I had dedicated eight years of my life (high school and college – working in the hospital in summers) to go to medical school and now I physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually COULD NOT FILL OUT THE APPLICATIONS!
I was called in by the Dean who said that she wanted to recommend me for a Danforth Fellowship (fondly called the Danny Grads). I was to go to a campus unlike my own, at least a thousand miles from my home and where I went to school. I could audit up to four credits a semester and I had three mandates – 1) to grow as a person, 2) to be of service to the campus and 3) to write a monthly newsletter (I still do that). That year was just what I needed to know that I could not go to medical school. I “did” that year with my whole being.
One of my greatest learnings, that is relevant here, was that I learned in Washington D.C. I was often invited there to speak at organizations or conferences and I also went down to visit museums and landmarks and to shop. I had, after all, lived in the D.C. area as a child when my father was trained to do research in radar for the government. I wanted to bring those threads of the past into my present.
Very early on, I “noticed” (one of the greatest skills we have as humans) that people were “different” in Washington. It was as if when one crossed the Beltway, they went into an invisible “bubble” and thought, felt and acted differently from the “real world.” At the time, I had no words or concepts to describe the difference and I certainly FELT it.
After some time with this awareness (many years), I realized that in my mind, I had labeled “it” as “bureaucratic thinking.” This “bureaucratic thinking,” I observed, permeated everything in D.C. The taxi drivers, the clerks in the stores, the waitresses in restaurants all “thought and acted out of this particular brand of thinking.” AND, this kind of thinking was so different from anything I had seen anywhere else. I hadn’t experienced it in Montana, or Arkansas, or Baltimore or Towson, not anywhere. I could not quite get my finger on it and IT WAS DIFFERENT FROM NORMAL THINKING. At the time, the best I could come up with was that it was BUREAUCRATIC THINKING.
- AND THIS BUREAUCRATIC THINKING WAS CONTAGIOUS.
Just for your information, I later learned (after years of working in Germany) that the whole concept and practice of bureaucracy was developed in Germany (which spawned Nazism). And, I learned that when the USA was making the decision for a national language, German lost by a very small margin.
All these tidbits seem important to me as I seek to explore the role and impact of addiction and the addictive system on the culture in which we find ourselves at this point. I now see that bureaucratic thinking and addictive thinking are the same.
There is a logical progression which I will explore in greater depth as we seek to understand why we have strayed so far from our beginnings and lost our uniqueness as a nation.
They say in recovery circles, “Addiction does not stand still. (It too is a process?). You are either getting better or you are getting worse.” If we are not actually in recovery as a society and seeking recovery as an entire society, we are getting worse, which seems to be happening. Societies, like individuals, cannot improve while resting on their laurels. They need to keep healing, growing and learning. To reiterate, STASIS is not an option for the individual or the society. Both are either getting better or getting worse. There is no stasis because all is in process.
Just look around you and within yourself and you will see that this principle is true. Botox of individuals or the society cannot save the day.
We will in the next few weeks explore the characteristics and processes of addiction as seen in the individual and the society. We will also remind ourselves of the values and principles on which this great nation was built and seek a path for recovery for individuals, the nation and the planet.
The important thing to remember is that we are talking about the need for changes on a systemic level.