Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Culture Club

So, the early part of this week was spent mostly on recovering from an eventful weekend on pass. And while these weekends are always great and the chance to spend time with my family and friends is definitely one of the things that makes a 13 month rehab livable, I spent the weekend with 5 kids, each under the age of 10. And, frankly, very few things make a person want to drink more than 5 kids yelling over who has to use which pair of scissors.

When I came back from pass, there were 8 new residents! WOW! This is more than 10% of the residents on the ranch. Of course, since I never mentioned a graduation in there, you can imagine the reasons why we had 8 new beds available. That would be 6 relapses, one guy who was asked to leave because he needed serious mental help and one who was asked to leave because he had for a reason I wnt discuss.

Its not hard to forget the adjustment period we each go through when we are dropped off at the front gates of the ranch. Those first few days are very challenging to say the least – and the idea that you aren’t going to stay is constantly nagging on you. It takes a lot of personal convincing to decide to stay and the fact that the ranch is out in the middle of no where helps.

But the other thing that is hard is learning the grooves of the culture of the ranch. Like with every population, there is an ever present code of behavior, of expectations, a method of getting our needs met. As addicts, I will say that adaptation to new circumstances is probably one of our best strengths. We have learned from an early age to be who we need to be in each situation to get what we need to get – I don’t mean taking advantage of a situation or of people, I am speaking more about the idea that – with addiction as our leader, we’ve developed the sophisticated ability to learn the environment wherever we are placed in order to feed the addiction. And knowing how to get things done is one way to get things done. Does this make any sense.

But, here on the ranch, there is a culture and, just like in a wolf pack, the older animals tend to school the younger animals on behavior. Its weird to me to realize that I am one of the older animals these days and the newer guys actually look at me as someone they need to emulate. Geeze – the group of guys that I hang out (including me) with are hardly the kind of people that I would want to emulate.

As I mentioned before, there are about 5 guys that I am particularly close to. In our own small group, there is also a culture, and we are each really good at keeping each other in check. In this place, we are the only people that actually know what we are each going through, so this helps.

ME: Hey, what are you doing with those pants
PHIL: I am throwing them away
ME: So you don’ want them anymore?
PHIL: No, I am getting rid of them
ME: I like them, I’ll take them
PHIL: No Thank you.

CURTIS: What are you drinking?
ME: A diet orange Sunkist
CURTIS: Is it good?
Me: Yea, its pretty good
CURTIS: Then, why don’t I have one?

LANE: Why are you looking at me like that?
ME: Because I thought your hat was crooked, but I think its actually your face or your head
LANE: Your attitude is crooked

And while all this creates good friendships, it also adds to the dynamic of a group of guys that are each trying to become rehabilitated while maintaining some sense of normalcy in an environment that is far far from normal. But, like my nieces and nephews who fought over scissors all weekend, we too have petty fights and tend to keep each other in check.

And its ironic that I am blogging about this or that this even came up because the latest lesson in addiction is the addiction culture and the culture of addiction.

There are several ways in which addicts have adapted to the culture of maintaining an addiction, but first and most important to note is that we are generally taught behavior, like the new guys are taught behavior. Whether you are a smoker, a drinker, a druggie, or addicted to gambling – chances are pretty high that you never decided to try these things – or to get hooked all on your own. In fact, its highly likely you were ‘mentored’ in this – someone told you the awful taste, the horrific coughing and upset stomach would go away – ‘TRY IT AGAIN’, “It will get so much better”…. And for a while, it does.

But this is how culture works.

Its also highly likely that you learned all this while still in the midst of true development – at a critical time when thinking and behaviors are developing and brain chemistry is taking root on a blank canvass – and those ‘good; feelings are imprinted on your brain code FOREVER! In fact, studies have shown that if you start drinking before you are 15 years old, you have a SIX TIME greater chance of developing a serious drinking problem. But, no matter what age under 25, you are still running the risk of developing misfires in your synaptic response centers that are being imprinted on your brain chemistry and leading you to areas you do no want or need to go.

This leads to a prolonged adolescence – in fact, certain changed thinking actually STOPS the brain from maturing and you maintain behaviors that you had when you started – as if time freezes – Think of how you handle money, relationships, responsibilities – if the other areas of your life are unmanageable as a result of your addiction, its highly probably that its because your brain hasn’t developed the skills you would have normally developed had you remained sober.

Paranoia, depression and isolation are real ones, but so is NARCISSISM – my GOD, I cant tell you how many people have this distorted thinking – and I don’t mean an inflated sense of self, although that is one portion of it – its deeper than that – and in fact goes all the way to the idea that you can’t see how your behavior affects other people. And its funny I talked about this last time I blogged, but it is a real distortion in the thinking of people who are addicted to something. Even to the smoker who is offended that they can’t smoke in a restaurant. The world is seen through your addiction.

Almost all addicts have authority issues because authorities are the people who want you to stop – parents, spouses, even the police – these guys can be such a buzz kill. And immorality – there is no guilt or shame for behavior.

It is said that you should anticipate at least one month of rehab for each year you are in your addiction, so because of this program, I might be confident at some success because 13 months is about 13 years, and I have not been addicted to alcohol for 13 years (although some therapists say that an addict is addicted the moment they take that first drink – many others have a tough time….er….swallowing that theory)

But the beauty of addiction is that you have some definite career milestones you can certainly see.
Initiation – learning from others,
Controlled use – weekend parties, getting hammered in college, nothing significant interfering with your life
Justifying – beginning to get some negative feedback about your use but trying to justify it to the ‘party poopers’
Identity change – denial by yourself to your peer group or family and the eventual shift to a new peer group that is more accepting of your habits
Letting go of Normalcy – This is a progressive disengagement from society and increasing engagement with your new culture – removing barriers and inhibitions.
Learning to Hustle – and no, I am not talking about that kick ass 70’s disco mantra – no, this is when you shift from leisure use to cultural use, to the victimization of people in your life (stealing money from your sister to get beer or sneaking a couple cigarettes from your parents bedroom, etc.) – its also when you first start to look out for #1
Kicking – this stage can be categorized by your first few attempts to quit using – generally on a dare, as part of a trendy event like New Years Resolution, or even in order to get someone to love you or take you back.
Getting Busted – arrest, incarceration, losing a job, losing a relationship, not being able to function – hell, even getting your ass beat in a bar…. There are many ways to get busted
Doing treatment – Notice I say ‘Doing Treatment’ and not ‘Getting treatment’ – because getting treatment happens much later, but doing treatment means completing a program because you are under the gun of a sentence or because you have no option in order to maintain freedom – but until you actually decide to GET treatment, chances are, you’re not going to be really successful.

I am going to blog more later this week on how some people maintain strategies to avoid changing while in treatment, but, I’ve been droning on and on, and if I don’t get back to the dorm and find those pants Phil is gonna get rid of, I may never get them – and its highly likely that Curtis, and crooked head Lane, have already discovered my Diet Sunkist stash!! This is my new culture – and you gotta admit – I’ve got it pretty good being sober these days. I think there’s a definite cultural connection that may just stick around.

PS - While I was writing this, the staff has resident review and three more residents were asked to leave. That makes 11 people this week.... its gonna get bumpy around here! Stay positive everyone- and be like that ultimate Culture Clubber, be a Karma Chamelion.

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