A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Friday that a parolee cannot be obliged to attend an AA or AA-affiliated program as a condition of staying out of prison. For those who believe that 12 step programs are indeed religious in nature, and that “the God of my understanding” refers to the Christian one, this decision may come as welcome vindication.

But what else is an addict to do?

I have attended 12 step meetings in support of a loved one. The god issue was always a huge sticking point. Seasoned 12 steppers always dismiss that sort of attitude as a form of resistance to The Program. For me, it is a resistance to pretending I believe in a higher power. I know and accept that I personally am not the creator of the universe; but I don’t believe in a higher power in the sense that I can’t surrender my will to “It” if it doesn’t exist.

I’ve read about one person who decided that the law of thermodynamics would be his higher power. I’m happy if it saved him from the tragedy of addiction, but I can’t think of anything similar for my own purpose.

So, if not a 12 step program, how can an addict break free of substance abuse? A book called Romancing Opiates convinced me that addicts (in particular, opiate addicts) are addicts by choice. Not victims, not slaves, but people who lack the moral fortitude to step out of the cycle they’re caught up in. Statistics based on American Vietnam veterans suggest that the majority who returned to the US as drug addicts were able to stop using without seeking outside help.

Those statistics are refuted by everyone who uses the addiction-as-disease model. They insist that the vets who got clean did so because they weren’t as badly addicted as the group that continued to use.

“The Heroin Diaries,” a book by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, was reviewed here by a writer whose main complaint about it was that Mr. Sixx was really only a coke-head and therefore not worthy of the respect due a real junkie (ie a real Suffering Artist.) It struck me as irresponsible as well as stupid to perpetuate the myth of the noble junkie. I even wrote to the reviewer in the hope of having a dialogue with him. He didn’t write back.

More recently, I read a piece in the New York Times magazine by longtime Times reporter David Carr, who has written an account of his addiction called “Night of the Gun.” His writing blew me away. His brutally honest depiction of his bad behavior is difficult to take, but it is certainly bracing and honorable. For some reason, though, the comments his excerpt provoked are mostly angry and bitter. I still can’t understand why, unless it’s the fact that he doesn’t beg for the reader’s forgiveness.

If you love an addict, or have an interest in addiction, I can’t recommend both David Carr’s book and “Romancing Opiates” highly enough.

If you are an addict, you are breaking more hearts that you can possibly imagine. Choose life, damn you!

If you are neither of the above, thank the god of your understanding for missing this particular bullet.

This entry was posted in Horrible Stuff, Words and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Intervention

  1. tobilynne says:

    A personal lesson learned the hard way: You cannot force an addict to quit until he/she so chooses. Meetings or no, it can’t be done.

    I have two former addicts in my life … one attends meetings, one does not.

    The one that does not go to meetings quit using when he had his first child. His entire lifestyle changed, which made it easier in ways, I think.

    The one that does go to meetings still works in the music biz, and is exposed to his former addictions very regularly. He goes to the meetings for the interaction with fellow addicts, not for the meetings themselves. He states quite a few reasons that this helps — Encouraging a “If he can stay clean, I can too” mentality. Seeing how other addicts regret when they fall off the wagon. Looking at those who were deeper into the drugs — how it affected them physically, financially, and personally. I think he needs the meetings, having not changed his lifestyle at all — but having to learn to turn down drugs, spending time with your drunk ass friends dead sober, dealing with junkie bands …

  2. Too bad about the programs; AA’s not perfect but it provides great support at dire times. I’m curious about Romancing Opiates, because what about the physical addiction to heroin, the pain of withdrawal?

  3. Juri says:

    I know I should read “Romancing Opiates” but I always forget to get it. Than you for the remainder. The David Carr piece seems very interesting too, but I must get some more coffee before I can read the whole thing.

    The reviewer of “Heroin Diaries” seems to have some personal issues with Nikki Sixx: Motley Crue sold more records than Husker Du, and Nikki Sixx is not worthy to stand in Burroughs’ and Byron’s divine prescence. His view of addiction is also quite disturbing: “among intelligent druggies opiates get a lot of respect, while coke is simply despised”. What the…? A lot of respect??? If you’re a mess, you’re a mess. Period. In the end it all boils down to choosing not to live without a chemically altered consciousness. Whether you’re doing Heroin or sniffing glue is not really the issue. “Instant glue diaries” might not become a bestseller, but in the life outside diaries the basic problem is not as much about the chemicals you choose as it is about why you choose them.

    And I do believe addicts remain addicts more by choice and less by some mystified, incurable sickness. Many are also programmed to believe that they are incurable “addicts for life”, which is crap, and a sad way to be brainwashed to look at one’s self. Of course, the longer you use and the deeper you get the easier (and safer, and less challenging) it becomes to stay the way you are and keep on using. Life is scary.

    And I’m still mad at that “Heroin Diaries” reviewer. I think I want to strangle him a little. I’d better get that coffee now.

  4. susie_bubble says:

    I think ppl need to understand that the plight of an addict is far more complex than most ppl imagine…

  5. K-Line says:

    Fantastic post, Sister W. I am totally interested to read that book. I love controversial theories and I am so intrigued by the back story of addiction (the biochemistry, the emotions, the habituation and other things that potentially underpin it). I completely hear you on the 12 step, higher power challenge. I do believe in a higher power (not an organized one) but I can’t take the conservative religious angle implicit in the AA system. It’s offensive to me.

  6. annemarie says:

    the “heroin diaries” reviewer called Freud a “half-baked intellectual”– what an arsehole!

  7. hammie says:

    Two of the addicts in my life got clean and it is all behind them. In both cases, while I was implicated as an enabler or whatever the psychobabble term is for the “supposedly-perfect-sister-that -makes-the-other-one-feel-bad-and-take-drugs”.

    I had and have my own addictions, an obsessive nature is not the least part of that. And having a very wacky mother and father.

    But the very strange thing about this post Sis’ is that I identify with the 12 steps; I just use them for grief and acceptance of diagnosis.

    Accepting a Higher Power? As a devout agnostic I find this no problem at all. While I have no truck with Angels and all that; I think I believe in Karma and “if I put it out there, there is a good chance it will come back”

    But I pick and choose. I think that religion should be like that episode of “Mad about You” where Jamie is trying to find a baby book and cannot decide. So Paul suggests she finds one that reccommends all the things that she already likes doing, and buys that one.
    If there is a religion that encourages people to treat each other well; I buy it. Doesn’t matter what color, size or shape that religion manifests in.

    As for my kids. When we were asked if we were teaching them about Jesus, I replied. “heck, we have had trouble enough with Santa! without going into all of that”
    Autistic people are too pragmatic for all of that, I envy them.

  8. David Duff says:

    ‘Sister Wolf’, here are two links that you may find interesting by an Englishman called ‘Dr. Theodore Dalrymple’. The name is pseudonym but he is a qualified doctor who has practiced for very many years, and indeed, some of his time is spent acting as a prison doctor in one of our big city prisons. I think it is safe to assume that he knows where-of he speaks! No time now for me to read your post in detail, but on a skim read you are dead right.


  9. enc says:

    There are lots of interesting things to bite into here, issues near and dear to my heart. Alcoholism was a problem in my family. I’m happy to say that it is no longer a problem.

    An aside: We have the “The Heroin Diaries” here at the house. My main objection to that book is the design. I hate reading page after page of reversed-out text. It makes me feel high! So I haven’t cracked it open yet.

    I know heroin addicts who have kicked, and who are enjoying lives of sobriety now, though they (admittedly) live on the precipice of sobriety as it falls into the framework of the 12-Step Programs.

    I also know many recovering and recovered alcoholics, and alcoholics who are actively drinking. Living sober and addiction-free–whether it’s drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or any other addiction–requires a lot more than just getting and staying sober. It requires living life on life’s terms, and participating in the world’s human race.

    I’ve always had a problem with “turning my will and my life over,” as outlined in the Third Step, because I don’t believe in the G-o-d that is implied in the 12 Steps. I’ve been an atheist all my life, and no matter how much I try, I just don’t believe that there is an omnipotent Man up there moving around the chess pieces of my life. If he was, I’d ask him to stop, and instead cure cancer, AIDS, stop famine, war, etc. By the same token, I know I didn’t make all this, so I’m at an impasse.

    AA and 12-Step programs suggest* addicts surrender to a “god of [your] understanding,” the idea being that the addict’s best decisions and thinking landed him/her in a world of hurt, so now it’s time to admit that his/her way didn’t work, and now is the time to let G-o-d handle things.

    Well, if that’s the case, Here’s a question: If there was a G-o-d, why did s/he let me get high/drink/gamble/overeat/become addicted to anything in the first place? Is it because I simply didn’t believe in G-o-d before, so I became an addict? Does the god of my understanding allow me to make the decisions that ultimately lead me to addiction? Say I believe in G-o-d, and become addicted anyway? There are plenty of priests in AA. Where was their G-o-d!?

    The AA meeting preamble says ” . . . A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; . . . ” purporting to be secular. However, Bill W. lifted much of his material for the 12 Steps from Oxford Group** tenets, and failed to give credit for the provenance of his “ideas.” Thus, I contend that the entire basis for AA, the 12 Steps, and the derivative groups is in fact religion-based.

    This is a huge and intrinsic contradiction which has alienated agnostics, atheists, Jews, Bhuddists, Muslims, and others.

    On the other hand, if people get sober, and stay that way, I’m all for it.

    *The Big Book says that the measures outlined in the book are “suggestions,” not requirements for sobriety.


  10. Sister Wolf says:

    Tobilynne – thank you for your wisdom.

    fashionherald – withdrawl from opiates takes around 3 days and is not life-threatning.

    Juri – you know how much I appreciate your thoughts on this. And yes, that reviewer needs his ass kicked for stupidity beyond the call of duty.

    Hammie – You are THIS CLOSE to being my HIgher Power.

    K-line -Thanks, and me too.

    annemarie – YES, this guy is wrong about so much!

    David -Mr. Dalrympal is the author of “Romancing Opiates.” Thanks for the links to him.

    Enc- Bravo and thank you. xo

  11. Lady K says:

    As someone whose early life was blighted by addiction in my close family I found this extremely interesting, thanks for bringing it to our attention Sister Wolf. It actually reinforces a belief I have had for a long time that addicts chose to be so, and that it is not a disease. I agree also, from my personal experience, they are oftern viewed by many as “the noble junkie” and as creative people. When your life is affected by it there is no glamour in addiction. I look forward to reading “Romancing Opiates”. Thanks K

  12. Interesting subject and I’m not sure what to say other than I agree – with you about addiction but equally the issue of addicton is complex. The veterans were able to come back into their previous reality and expereince which was not heroin or other opiates based. Lending it all to the enviornment/behavioural issues and Dalrymple’s artilce in the Times is a briliant pre cursor to the book – which I now want to read – it would be great for upsetting peopel with at dinner parties too.
    No nothing about 12 steps programmes but am uneasy about something replacing the other issue – there is no subsitute for will power and getting a grip however harsh that may be. As adults we can choose to not major on issues and forget hardship replacing it with hope and optimisim.
    I hate the fact Kate Moss is revered and sells her cheap tat drug chic via Topshop but then I’m the only opinionate stylist I know – that’ll be why I don’t get the best jobs then!

  13. alias clio says:

    The writer of that review of “Nikki Sixx’s” book obviously had his own reasons for taking the tone that he did: he supports the legalization of drugs, and anyone who does’t acknowledge that drugs are “fun” gets in the way of his agenda.

  14. Sister Wolf says:

    Lady K -Let me know what you think of it.

    Make Do – It is complex, yes. And I like what you say about hope and optimism.

    Clio – Who knows why that guy was chosen to review the book!

  15. Juri says:

    Sister Wolf – Due to my life since I turned 12 I’m not a habitual hoper but I’m really hoping for a happy ending on this one. You of all people deserve it, and so does he. “We shall never surrender”, as the chubby englishman said.

    Never give up.

  16. I’m in the middle of “Night of the Gun” right now and I agree it’s a well-written, compelling book. I’ve practically exhausted the addict memoir genre, and David Carr’s is one of the best, maybe because he is so forthright about his own failings and doesn’t wallow in self-pity or blame anyone else for his misfortune.
    I agree that the disease concept of addiction is seriously flawed but my argument with 12-step programs is the removal of responsibility from the addict/alcoholic. The mantra, “you didn’t have a choice; you have a disease just like cancer or diabetes” really irks me, and not because I can’t relate to the concept of addiction. But everyone has choices…

  17. Judit says:

    Hi! I might disagree with your opinion about rolled-up boyfriend jeans (though, I have to admit, I AM a victim of advertisments) and fringed boots, but I do agree with what you wrote in the junkie topic.

    As for AA meetings, which I attended because my mother´s an alcoholic, I must say, it really helped me a LOT!

    I had some experience with the Suffering Artist type,too – he has something like a blog on the internet and it was just about how bad he felt, why he´s so poor, poor, poor. Even worse, all his readers were really compassionate and assuring him, that he is indeed very poor (btw, this is a guy, who pretended to have a father who abused him sexually and told others that his mother died, which was not true either, in order to seem even poorer).

    And thank you for: “If you are an addict, you are breaking more hearts than you can possibly imagine. Choose life, damn you!” And here I´m not referring to that Suffering Artist 😉

    Sorry for my poor English!
    Hello from Vienna

  18. some chick says:

    thank you so much for coming out and saying something about this, it takes a lot of courage, as i know i would have a very hard time saying something publicly about my own personal experience with this.

    i was researching 12 step programs in my rss and came across this. i myself have been in a 12 step program for several years, and i come from an atheist family, i don’t believe in ‘God’ and i had two sponsors that don’t believe in god either in any religious sense of the word anyway.

    you said it best by saying that ‘i know I personally am not the creator of the universe’ and that’s all i have personally been able to say on the matter.

    what i can say, is i do know that the program helped me, and a lot of people i know. all in all, my life is really pretty good today, and it would not be anything like what it is without it. not to say i don’t have my problems, but that’s life!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *