Let’s face it, it is a whole lot easier to acquire a Problem than it is to get help in eradicating it. In many localities, there are drug dealers at every corner, but to get your loved one to a clinic, takes two buses. Intake coordinators will make him wait in a room with old magazines and ask him a million questions; but bartenders will serve him right away and leave him alone if he doesn’t want to talk. Insurance companies will seek to deny him coverage, but he can play the horses with his credit card. He can get narcotics from every doctor, but it’s tough to find one who prescribe a medication that can assist him in getting off narcotics. There’s even an Act of Congress that limits doctors from prescribing it. Like I said, it’s a lot easier to get a Problem, than it is to get help getting rid of it. However, that’s not the same as saying that help is far away.
For starters, there are many self-help meetings.
Practically every church basement hosts an Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Anonymous this, or Anonymous that meeting. Even if you’re not the person with the Problem, you can go to your own meeting called Al-Anon. If your town is large enough, there will be a meeting every day of the week. They don’t cost anything, but they will pass the hat to buy coffee. There are no forms, no appointments, no need to call for pre-approval, no side effects. You don’t have to take time off from your job. You don’t have to give them your whole name. You don’t have to speak. You don’t even have to end the Problem. You only must have the desire to stop doing whatever it is you do. They can’t make it any easier than that.
In every one of these meetings will be people intimately familiar with your Problem or your loved one’s Problem. You can generally find someone a little bit further down the road to recovery than you are to guide you. They will all be generally familiar with the principles of reconciliation I talk about in this book, although they may put it differently. They will be eager to help you because helping you helps them. It’s a misnomer to call them self-help meetings. They should really be called mutual help.
However, as easy as it is, self or mutual help may not be your cup of tea. There are barriers that get in the way.
The first is that the Problem doesn’t like them; they are a threat to its existence. It’ll do anything in its power to subvert their message.
The second is that you will have to deal with people. There will be people there who are either not serious enough about recovery or too serious. There will be people there with another agenda. There will be judgmental ones and understanding ones. If you speak, they will answer you with simplistic slogans and facile quips. You may walk in and recognize someone you know, someone you never imagined had the Problem. Someone might recognize you. In many of these meetings, they still smoke. They all will remind you of the worst moments of your life and forbid you from forgetting it.
They are much the same as the people you will find in a bar or a drug house, any workplace or family, any nursery school or old folks’ home. The people who meet in the church basement are little different than the ones who meet upstairs, in the church, although they don’t dress up and may be less sanctimonious.
The third barrier that people have to attending self help is the insistence those organizations have in talking about a higher power. The Higher Power is mentioned everywhere. You can’t even get past the second step without them bringing it up. Many people trip on the second step. They have too much baggage associated with the Higher Power.
The Higher Power
Let’s face it, religious institutions have, over the centuries, done a pretty good job of marginalizing the very people that most need help. For that matter, people with Problems do all the things that piss religious people off. If this is a barrier for you, I believe there are three things you can do. Three ways of getting down with a Higher Power.
The first is to put your trust in the program or the self-help group to help you. You don’t have to get all supernatural, make the meeting your Higher Power. You don’t have to trust the people in the self-help groups so much, just principles they represent. Study them religiously. Devote yourself piously. Armor yourself with slogans. Dedicate yourself to change.
The second method is to take a look at your idea of God. For many people, it never matured from what they learned in their youth. Their idea of God is an infantile, magical idea of God: the guy with the beard and thunderbolts, smiting people from up in Heaven, and all that; or an adolescent idea of God, concerned about what group you belong in, who’s in and who’s out. These are unripened ideas of God that leave a sour taste in the mouth but can persist all your life if you don’t spit them out. These Higher Powers are really not any higher, at all. When you challenge them and learn from teachers who have moved beyond all that, your ideas grow into something that makes more sense and is more useful to you.
This is a lot like watching old Simpson’s episodes that you saw when you were a kid. You enjoyed them then on a kid’s level, but a lot of the jokes and the sight gags went right over your head. If you never see them again, you’d think they’re just cartoons. If you watch them now, you see how rich they are. They’re not just silliness that you can make fun of, but serious commentaries on corrupt institutions and social mores. In the same way, mature religion is not the thing you see on certain TV channels or espoused by terrorists. It’s something that does not insist on certainty, but embraces all of the paradoxes and mysteries of life.
If you still have trouble with the Higher Power, let me explain a third method you can try.
Your Personal Higher Power
We’ve been talking about how your loved one, the person possessed by the problem, is divided into two parts. There’s the person and there’s the Problem. Sometimes it seems like the Problem has taken over and the person isn’t there, but there’s still a germ of the person inside somewhere.
So, there’s the part that sides with the Problem, and the healthy part. It’s like that old image of the guy with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. For your loved one, it’s the Problem that sets him up, talks him into it, chooses associates from among those who support the Problem, chases away those who don’t, scores the dope, shoots the needle, heaps the guilt, and refuses the help. The other part wants to stop, makes healthy connections, apologizes for the hundredth time to family, hates the dope, loathes the needle, knows he can do better than guilt, and looks for help.
Even if you’re not the person directly possessed by the Problem, the Problem has got a part of you. You sometimes just want to give in and go with what seems like the easy way out. You’re divided, too. Everyone’s divided.
Most people make the error of thinking the first part, the Problem, is more real. They identify with the first part. That’s the self, they say. But that’s the trick the Problem plays on you. It disguises itself as the person. It steals the badge so it can swipe in. But it’s not real. It feeds on fantasy and tells lies. You can’t believe a damn thing it says. It’s the second part, the healthy part, that’s real; although it may be, as yet, unrealized.
Another way of thinking about it is that you have the old you and the new you, the part that became enslaved by the Problem and the part that’s getting free. It’s who you were and who you’re becoming.
Let me ask. Of the two, which would be the Higher Power?
The healthy part, I thought so. There’s your Higher Power.
If you cannot connect with the idea of the Higher Power that many people have, or devote yourself to a self-help program, then maybe you can connect with the new, healthy side of yourself as your Higher Power. Get to know it, listen to it, confess to it, rely on it, let it guide you.
Help is closer than you thought.