Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mistaking Symptoms for Causes

I've really enjoyed watching BBC's Irish Drama/Comedy Ballykissangel.  They developed such a wonderful mix of characters and over several seasons, I came to love each one.  In a recent episode Padraig O'Kelly a regular at Fitzgerald's, local pub, went on a drunken binge after being rejected first by a young woman he was interested in, and then by his only son.  Dr. Michael Ryan pays him a visit and makes a simple but profound statement.  "Drink is only a symptom of a deeper problem."

Can you spot the alcoholic?  It's Ireland, they may all be.  Pardraig (pronounced Porrick) is third from the left.  A life of sorrow, self pity and disappointment shows pretty plainly on his face.  I identify with Padraig.  I don't belly up to Fitzgerald's Bar but I've been on plenty of sorrowful, disappointed pity party binges of self indulgence.  Most of the time I had no idea that my behavior was just a symptom of a deeper problem.  Like Padraig just thought he was a hopeless lush.  I thought I was hopelessly lost in my addictive behavior as well.

It's like my problem is an injured leg.  I can't deal with the injury right now so I wrap it in a bandage and forget about it. It hurts but, in denial, I refuse to acknowledge it and the fact that beneath the bandage it is festering.  I need to continue to function in society so I take up a crutch.  Something that helps me get along and helps me to ease the pain.  Pretty quick I'm back on my feet and have myself convinced that I'm functioning on a par with my previously undamaged condition.  I even manage to convince myself that the crutch is invisible and that no one notices how heavily I lean upon it.  Occasionally, I hear a talk or have some other reality check that reminds me of how disgusting and evil my crutch is, so I resolve to throw it away.  I do, but now I'm crippled by my unattended wound and cease to function at all.  I remain in denial and do nothing to treat the wound, except to heap more bandages on the old ones.  I have even forgotten how it got injured in the first place.  Needing to function I take up the crutch again.  A cycle of repeated tossing and retrieving of the crutch ensues.  Years pass this way.  Discouragement and then despair follow.  Determined, I carry on hobbling on a crutch that becomes ever more burdensome, ever more ugly and apparent.

Finally, someone like Dr. Michael Ryan points out to me the possibility of healing the wounded leg and invites me to go to the Great Healer and have the infected gash healed.  I do and before long, I am walking pain free.  I suddenly realize that I no longer need the crutch.  Serving no purpose I set the crutch aside and go on without it.  The Doctor of my Soul reminds me that I have a particular vulnerability to re-opening the wound and that I must remain constantly vigilant against doing further damage.  At first I don't heed that counsel.  I feel so great!  So emancipated!  Before long, recklessly, I reopen the wound and instantly my need for my old faithful crutch returns.  Or I receive another injury and automatically go to the same old ridiculous remedies. Again by invitation, The Good Doctor returns and heals my leg once more.  This time I'm more careful, more watchful, more vigilant.  Gradually, with care and determination, I rehabilitate the atrophied muscles and grow in strength.  Eventually, months and then years pass and the crutch becomes long forgotten and entirely left behind.

I loved he scene where Padraig puts down his crutch.  There is a light in his eye and a lightness of being in his countenance.  The pity party is over.  He has dealt with his pain.  The sore is healed over and the alcohol is put aside.  I loved it because I've experienced it!

When it comes to addiction I still find most people operating under the misconception that the booze, or Twinkies, or joints, or needles or roulette wheel or the porn sites are the problem.  They are not.  Not in any case I've worked with.  Those are only the symptoms of a deeper problem.  A deeper problem most of us are loath to explore.

My Nephew taught school in a little village on the North Slope of Alaska.  Despair and Alcoholism were rampant there.  One day he drew a line down the middle of the chalk board.  On the left he asked the students to list what was right with their village.  The list grew quite large.  On the right they needed to make a list of what was wrong.  The students rebelled, they threw chairs, they shouted and stormed out of the room.  The travail of dealing with our problems is no small thing.  Eventually, the negative list was completed.  Finally, they could address what they were going to do about the problems.  You would be amazed today to see the results of that project!  We need to be willing to do the same thing.  To take the bandages off the infected wounds in our lives, clean them out, treat them appropriately and actually get better.  We need to learn to face our pain and to quit anesthetizing it with treatments that only mask the problem and inevitably make it worse.

I think this applies to everyone, addict or not.  We are a society full of folks running around trying to avoid or ignore our problems and the resulting pain.  We want easy fixes instead of genuine healing.  Let's stop that and get on with living.  Really living.

1 comment:

Kate Weber said...

Thank you. I'm so happy that I have you to help explain things and help me out.

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