When I began doing psychotherapy, oh, so many eons ago, the first techniques I tried that helped me engage with subpersonalities was Gestalt Therapy, the creation of Fritz Perls. You don’t hear much about Gestalt these days, since Pearls died, because the star power of its main proponent is what sets the fashions in psychotherapy. At the time, in the sixties, Perls was a star and contributed in no small way to the zeitgeist of the era. Gestalt therapy looks to enhance awareness of the present moment. Since subpersonalities are a part of this moment, the Gestalt Therapist will be working to illuminate them.
I had a sense of my own subpersonalities since I first realized my imaginary friends were imaginary, but it wasn’t till I started to read Jung, long before I thought of being a therapist, that the nature of these non-being beings became clear. Jung introduced me to the contents of my unconscious. He gave them names, told me what they were doing there, and what we might do together. Since becoming a therapist, I’ve moved away from Jung. He and his followers can sound a little woo-woo and I have an image of being a practical, no-nonsense, kind of therapist to uphold. A certain kind of underserved clientele flock to me because they think the mental health world is glutted with flakiness. I, personally, don’t have a problem with what is called flakey, but I would feel partly responsible if a client left my office saying, “I knew it. They’re all the same. These shrinks are nuttier than their patients,” and went back to drinking and beating his wife.
When I say I moved away from Jung, I mean I stopped speaking Jung. I still think in Jung, though, or at least my version of it. Because I’ve stopped speaking it, I might be a little rusty in writing this part. But John Rowan, who’s book Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us(1990) I am reviewing here, has inspired me to try. Perhaps by having delved into non-Jungian psychology I’ve gained a perspective on it. Perhaps I can see what they all have in common.
Freud’s unconscious is a site of dramatic struggle between subpersonalities. The Id, the Super-Ego, and the Ego have been described as a gorilla and a schoolmarm fighting in a dark cellar, refereed by a nervous bank clerk. Deals are struck between the three, resulting in character and neurosis.
Where do we get the idea that there are subpersonalities inside us? We’ve always seemed to have it. Primitive cultures have been fascinated with altered states of consciousness and spirit possession. They are the stock in trade for shamans. Ancient people seem to have conceived of subpersonalities as gods and goddesses. They catalogued common kinds of subpersonalities as some psychologists do today to populate Olympus with what they thought were divine powers that sometimes possessed people to do what they wouldn’t normally do. Socrates had his daemon; and Plato talked about three parts of the psyche: the appetitive and spirited, corresponding to two horses, and the rational, a charioteer who attempts to control them. St Augustine seemed to build on this idea. He may have been the one who popularized the image of the angel and the devil on each shoulder, with you in the middle, choosing between them.
As we will see in later installments of this series, many psychologists have contributed to a body of research and speculation regarding subpersonalities, but where do ordinary modern people get the idea they have many parts? If you do have many parts, where do you find them?
It’s not uncommon to feel that there is more than just you inside your head. There seems to be a board of directors, at best, or a squabbling family, a mutinous crew, or a polarized congress up there, at worse. You may feel that someone sort of takes over, at inconvenient times. You hear a voice, maybe not the auditory kind, but a disparaging and derogatory point of view that makes you feel like crap. At the very least, you’re often divided, unable to make an important decision and follow through.
Looking through the literature on this kind of thing, I find the phenomena given quite a range of names. Here, I will call them subpersonalities because that’s what my guide on the subject John Rowan in Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us(1990) called them. It’s my intention to go through his book and devote a series towards what he can tell us about it. I’m doing this in preparation of my own book, Meeting the Voices in My Head: Searching for An Inner Adult, which I’m writing and hope to complete soon.
Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 4
It is a whole lot easier to get substances that will addict you than it is to get into treatment for addiction. In many localities, there are drug dealers at every corner, but to get to a clinic, you have to take two buses. Intake coordinators will make you wait in a room with old magazines and ask you million questions; but bartenders will serve you right away and leave you alone if you don’t want to talk. Insurance companies will seek to deny you coverage, but you can buy as many packs of cigarettes as you want on your credit card. You can get narcotics from every doctor, but it’s tough to find one who prescribes Suboxone (AKA: Buprenorphine), a medication that can assist you in getting off narcotics. There’s even an act of Congress that limits your access.
Suffice it to say that it’s a lot easier to get substances that will addict you, than it is to get into treatment.
However, that’s not the same as saying that help is far away.
Practically every church basement hosts an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. If your town is large enough, there will be one 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 one 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 stop using. You just have to have the desire to stop. They can’t make it any easier than that.
But it’s still not easy to go to AA or NA. I’ve found there are two big barriers that get in the way.
The first 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 to pick up women and women there to get picked up. There will be judgmental ones and understanding ones. If you speak, they will answer you with simplistic slogans and facile quips. Some will smell. Many will smoke. They all will remind you of the worst moment 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. 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 are less sanctimonious.
The second barrier that people have to attending AA or NA is the insistence those organizations have in using a higher power. The Higher Power is mentioned everywhere. You can’t even get past the second step without them bringing it up.
Step One is, We admitted we were powerless over [fill in the blank] – that our lives had become unmanageable.
The bars and drug houses are filled with people who admit they are powerless over their addictions. They may forget sometimes, but they know it. Having this knowledge is not enough. Hitting bottom is not enough. There has to be some hope.The hope is supposed to come in the form of Step Two.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
It’s that second step that stops many people. They have too much baggage associated with the Higher Power.
Religious institutions have, over the centuries, done a pretty good job of marginalizing the very people that populate most self help meetings. For that matter, addicts have done a pretty good job at doing the things that piss church people off. Furthermore, the idea of God, for many addicts, never matured. Their idea of God is often a child’s idea of God, like with the beard and thunderbolts, smiting people from up in Heaven, and all that; or the adolescent idea of God, concerned about what group you belong in, who’s in and who’s out. There are all kinds of problems and hangups that hold people up in the second step.
If you have trouble with the Higher Power, let me introduce you to something you may be able to wrap your head around.
Every addict knows he or she is divided into two parts. There is the addicted part that sets you up, talks you into using, chooses associates from among those who use, chases away those who don’t, scores the dope, shoots the needle, heaps the guilt, and refuses the help.
Then there’s the other part. The part that wants to stop, that refuses to use, sometimes, that 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.
Most addicts think the first part, the addicted part, is more real. They identify with the first part. That’s the self, they say. But the second part, the healthy part, is real, too; although it may be, as yet, unrealized. There are two parts to you, although you might only know the first.
Which of the two parts would be the higher?
The healthy part. I thought so. There’s your Higher Power.
If you cannot connect with the idea of the Higher Power many people have, or with your old idea of the Higher Power, connect with the 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.
Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 3
If you are addicted, even if you stop using the substance that changed you, you will look for other things (other substances, sex, shopping, relationships, rage, work, gambling, exercising, making deals, etc) to gratify you in the same way. This is called switching addictions. It’s a way of avoiding the real issue that underlies addiction: the belief that you are not enough.
The underlying illness is playing whack-a-mole by extinguishing one problem behavior, only to transfer it to another. We see this frequently with addicts who will use one drug till they get in trouble with it, and then switch to a different drug. Instead of scoring heroin on the street and using dirty needles, they get their narcotics from a doctor. You’ll think that’s an improvement, until you start to abuse those pills, too; or can’t get to the doctor.
Particularly common is the way cocaine addicts, when they are clean from cocaine, will turn to rage. Rage, you see, is the perfect substitute for cocaine, because they feel so much alike. Cocaine is nothing more than powdered rage. But you don’t need to go to a bad neighborhood to score some rage. You just need to dip into your stash of resentments. Rage will cause as many problems as cocaine, so it’s hardly an improvement.
A lot of addicts will turn to a self administered marijuana maintenance program, figuring that, just by smoking some herb, they will quell the urge to use other drugs. Whether marijuana is or is not a benign substance is irrelevant here. When an addict gets a hold of it, he will use it problematically.
Years ago, I used to work with many people who had been locked up in a state psychiatric hospital for years, maybe decades, where they couldn’t get the usual kinds of drugs of abuse. About 20% of them had what we call psychogenic polydipsia. They were addicted to water. They had a dry mouth, caused by their medications, and discovered that, if they drank enough water, which was always around, they could get high. Yes, it’s possible, but you’ve got to drink a whole lot and it will ruin your kidneys.
You see, you can turn anything, any substance, any action, any person, into a drug if you know how. All you have to do is relate to it as a thing that will change your mood, not as something in and of itself. All you have to do is become dependent on it, so that you do not have to stand on your own two feet.
Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, part 2
Once addiction has got a good hold on you, it doesn’t stop there; it looks for others it can infect with madness. In you, it has established a home base from which it can make forays into others, as if its whole purpose is to spread evil, corruption, and despair.
Addiction is not satisfied with just screwing you up. It wants to cause disrespect for law, populate prisons, murder thousands, destroy neighborhoods, corrupt nations, and fund terrorists. It also wants to drive your wife, husband, partner, father, mother, sister, and brother crazy. It especially wants to get to your children because then it can get started on a whole new generation.
Addiction can be so tricky that, as it spreads, it changes form. It’s a shapeshifter. The particular addiction you’re prone to: alcoholism, drug use, gambling, sex, eating, rage, whatever; once it leaves you, lights on another and infects them in a manner peculiar to them. Everyone has their thing, the particular way the wheels come off. Some get attached to substances or behaviors as you did. Others fall prey to depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Most simply loose themselves. They get so wrapped up in dealing with your shit, that they forget their own. They fail to take care of themselves because they’re trying to save you from addiction. When they fail to take care of themselves, things simply break down in the same way your car will break down if you never changed the oil. If you have people in your life who still love you despite what the addiction has done, you’re lucky. Do them a favor by battling the addiction before it gets to them. Warn them that trouble is coming and band together for your mutual defense.
If you’ve gotten treatment for addiction, gone to rehab, seen a counselor, attended AA, been on Suboxone, or whatever, you have probably gotten ten times more help than the people who deal with you. As inaccessible as treatment is, it’s worse for your loved ones, yet they are subject to the same madness you are.
If you have benefited from treatment and are far down the road of an authentic recovery, you may well be ahead of them. Some of the most psychologically sophisticated, insightful, and mature people I know are in recovery from addiction. Addiction takes you to a dark place where you confront your demons. You may think you have defeated those demons, but they have only migrated over to your partner, who is now more vulnerable, from which they can take another shot at you.
Most people divide substances into two categories: the hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth, and the soft drugs like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and prescribed narcotics. Hard drugs are all illegal in the US, they are sold exclusively by underworld organizations, they are associated with the down and out, are socially unacceptable for most people, quickly lead to poor health, problems in the job, broken homes, and criminal activity as people will lie, cheat, and steal to get their next fix. Any dosage of a hard drug can get you high, whereas most soft drugs can be used without intoxication.
All this is true, but it is a mistake to assume that hard drugs are more addicting.