How Addicts are Portrayed on TV

Television and movies are full of addicted characters.  “House” was about an opiate addict, played wonderfully by Hugh Laurie.   The new “Kevin Can Wait,” stars the very talented Kevin James as a lovable junk food junkie.  The character is seen to have just a “weight problem” that dieting should take care of, but not if you have a real addiction to food.  In real life he’d have a high risk of heart disease and depression.  The reality is, addicts are usually full of shame and act out to cover it.  Family members usually have no idea what’s really bothering the person, so they sometimes seek out an addiction professional who specializes in family work.

TV sitcoms really should create more therapist characters to treat their addicted characters.  Of course therapy would have to fail in the end, to keep the characters interesting.  That would be TV Logic, not Real Life Logic.

I am an addiction family therapist.  You have to love theater to do it, due to the extraordinary amount of drama.  The seeds of my career began when I was a boy, watching my battling parents argue all the time.  There would be a few days of peace, then something would set off an explosion and create a conflict that would last for several days.  I always took a ring-side seat.  I wanted to understand what was going on.  It was also a great way to begin learning about alcoholism, which my father had.

My favorite cartoon strip about the hazards of childhood is “Peanuts.” The luckless but loveable Charlie Brown is a brilliantly devised character and relatable to most of us because we all can feel like a victim.  Lucy is his supercilious, irritating gal-pal.  I had a Charlie Brown part and a Lucy part of me.  Seeing the world from my Charlie Brown part, I was sad about my parents’ conflicted marriage; they could never seem to get along.

Fortunately my Lucy persona would rise inside of me and I would become their secret psychologist:  my grand plan was to help them find happiness together.  I had to figure them out first, of course.

Quietly, never attracting their attention, I studied them for hours on end, trying to find the key that would save them from the living hell of their tortured relationship.   It was a childish, absurd proposal to suppose I could untangle their marital problems.  I’m sure that early desire was my impetus to become a marriage and family therapist.

A trained, experienced relationship therapist can work wonders, but I had no chance then to confer happiness on my parents.  Even a therapist can’t create happiness, but can often find a door or bridge so others can find it, with the assistance of grace.

Psychology attracted me because it was the new young science that might finally solve the puzzles of our human condition.  I believed we did need something to unravel our myriad of maladies, so I ventured into the world of Freud and Jung.  Two more different doctors of the mind there could not be.  Freud embraced atheism and Jung slid away from Papa Sigmund into mysticism and the “alchemic view of the soul.”  I came to prefer Freud, though I’m a theist, probably preferring him because of the strong father figure he represented.

Beyond explaining the problems of human beings, I searched for meaning and truth in a wide range of literary forms, including poetry, plays, novels, philosophy and spirituality.  Most recently I found Confessions by  St. Augustine.  Augustine rigorously analyzed himself and the human condition in that great work, concluding the human race was badly flawed but redeemable.  He put himself at the very top of the Absurd Humans List.

“O Lord God, grant us peace, for Thou hast granted us all things,” he pleaded for all of us.  He saw that we get into absurd situations rather routinely, which takes away our peace of mind.

I was on a treatment team helping a female heroin addict, a young lady in residential treatment.  She had not used drugs for eight days, had detoxed and was just starting to get her appetite back.  She was very anxious about the family session with her parents in a few days.  She made me promise I wouldn’t tell them about her last drug binge.  I made her promise that she would be honest about everything else.  I felt I had made a good bargain because usually honesty is the hardest lesson to learn in pre-recovery.

You may have a partner, parent, child or some other relative whom you think has a problem with a substance or behavior, but they don’t think so.  What you want to know is, “How can I help them?”  You may be the only person in your family who thinks there’s a problem.  You may feel very alone.  But don’t lose hope!  Because Grace and Mercy abound in the world, if you keep looking and asking questions you’ll eventually figure out what you should do.

When I’m in session with an addict or an addict’s family, if the Gift of Grace is with us it will be a successful experience for them, because Grace is a God-given nsystem leading to human connectivity.   Only good can flow out of what happens.  As the therapist, all I really have to do is follow my prayerful intuition, or, if you will, the Holy Spirit.

The most painful thing about our self-destructive nature as human beings is, we tend to do the same things over and over again expecting different results.  If you’re in Twelve-Step Recovery you have probably heard that before.

Grace is a much-traveled spiritual force.  I invite you to look it up and research it.  Briefly, its’ history began roughly 5,500 years ago, from a mysterious language out of which all languages are thought to have come, the Proto-Indo-European.  The phrase from which we get “grace” is a verb form, “to favor.” It’s a special force or spirit that “sings, praises or announces.”

Fortunately for us the universe abounds with two marvelous forces, Grace and Mercy.  The universe also contains large galaxies of The Absurd, upon which occur massive tidal waves of absurdities flowing from human behavior since The Creation.

This spirit of Grace enters the stage of our lives unexpectedly, unscripted, as it wills, and it rewrites the plot of our lives in our favor.  I’ve seen it happen many times and I want to share how that can happen.  The pages ahead are sprinkled with stories of lives that have been either touched lightly by Grace or pinched by The Absurd.

Our lives can feel like both a tragedy and a comedy.   A few therapy sessions can reduce the pain of a harsh pinch in the rump from The Absurd.  More therapy can even build a bridge to Grace, helping the client find renewed hope and meaning.

Grace soothes our wounds, while The Absurd causes us to laugh at life and ourselves.  Both can be medicinal and help us to keep trudging The Road of Happy Destiny.


Real Love comes Through the Door

I knew I had a “broken picker,” meaning I had no talent for picking a healthy partner.  So when Mercy brings real love into your life it takes you by surprise.  That’s how it was for me in 2004.  My licensing exam was about a year off.  I was a lowly intern and had been gathering training hours in Stockton, CA.  I left a fairly menial social worker position for a “real therapist job” in Sacramento–an upgrade in title with the salary about the same.  I was hauling boxes out of my office to the car and it was getting dark.

I thought everybody had gone home.  I was almost done; just a few more boxes.  I had turned in my keys to the office manager, so all I had to do was lock the door behind me and be on my way.

I walked back to the building to get another box, but was shocked to find the door had swung shut!  Now I’d have to call the office manager to let me back in.  However, just then a bright and shining face appeared through the glass.  It was Arleen from Marketing and she was still in the office! 

When she opened that door my life was changed.

“Hi,” she said warmly, “would you like some help?”  I wondered for a second if she meant help with my life.  No, she must mean with the boxes, I thought, but as a matter of fact my life did need lots of help.  Arleen, I would come to learn, is someone who’s always at the right place at the right time.

“Yes, I would like some help,” I said.  We got some dinner and after that we started dating.  I had recently surrendered my addiction, was attending recovery meetings, had a sponsor, and now my first ever healthy relationship found me!  To think, if that had not happened, I would have collected my things and left her behind.  I didn’t because of Mercy.  The first Promise (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83) of the Twelve Promises states, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”  It’s true!

We eventually fell in love and got engaged, married and moved to Wisconsin.  If that sounds weird, moving from California to Wisconsin, that’s okay, because it did to everyone else we met.  But for us it was the greatest good fortune and still is.  What followed was an amazing spirit of hope and a sudden shift toward healthy change, reconciliation, surrender, acceptance and forgiveness.  In short, a new life.




Grace and Mercy in Therapy

Ellen’s Story

“This should not have happened,” Ellen said to me, and I didn’t disagree, because it made no sense that she was scornfully tossed aside by her husband of twenty-three years for someone he met at work.   I had been seeing her for four months, helping her through the stages of grief following the loss of her marriage.  Ellen was a survivor, a strong person who refused to waste her life living as a victim.  Her former husband was addicted to drugs and sex.

“I gave that scoundrel my heart and soul; we raised a wonderful daughter and son.  I gave up a career and stood by him all the way for all those years.”  She was fuming, sitting in my office, eyes burning with homicidal rage and righteous indignation.  Then she did something I didn’t expect.  She laughed.

“And you know, I should have seen it coming,” she mused.  “Before me, all his relationships were pitifully unstable.  Just before we got engaged he told me, ‘You’re different from the others, Ellen.  You wouldn’t desert me like they did.’  And he was right—I never would have. ”

In those four months Ellen had screamed and swore and cried and by this time had recovered her self-esteem.  It was perfectly absurd that she was tossed aside when she had such a golden heart. Yet, the Grace bestowed on her was her children.  She told me that bringing them into the world was more than compensation for her disappointing marriage, which she survived.  She would remarry, this time to a wonderful man who was truly worthy of her.  I believe many times people overcome profound traumas and tragedies through mystical events of Grace and Mercy.

God’s Mercy imbues a special kind of meaning to anything.  In fact, in ordinary human experience, when we choose to inject the God into a story or event, it often elevates it to the extraordinary.  “God, I can’t believe that actually happened to you!” is exclaimed without consciously thinking about God, but nonetheless God belongs in the mix of ideas somehow, because there’s something mysteriously wonderful or amazing about those special, mystical events.

You may have a very vague, almost non-existent and even unflattering concept of God; yet the word “God” will promote itself in our minds in these numinous experiences of life.

“God, that was close!  An anvil dropped down out of nowhere and almost flattened me!” is a statement that raises getting that close to death, but yet somehow eluding it, to something incredible or miraculous.

Those kinds of situations I have re-worked from real cases with real people I have treated to share with you, my reader.  I hope you will add your own stories of life’s miracles to them as we go.  And if you haven’t had a miracle happen to you lately, if you need one, they are available to you, because no one is excluded from God’s amazing Grace and Mercy.

Therapist Needing Therapy

Before I became a marriage therapist and addictions counselor I realized I needed therapy myself.  I am an adult child of an alcoholic and had a bad case of toxic shame from growing up in my alcoholic family, during which I developed two addictions: relationship and food addiction.  This scenario isn’t unusual, if you talk candidly with many therapists.  Out of our personal life dramas we were called upon to help others resolve theirs.  I was to find I needed two things even more than therapy: to believe in myself and to find God again, from the inside.  Rich foods and silly romances made very poor gods.

I also needed to learn what a healthy relationship is, because I didn’t know.  After many false alarms of the heart, the Grace of all Graces came when I met my wife, who supports my recovery but isn’t in recovery herself, simply because she doesn’t need to be.  It’s amazing to me that some people in this world don’t need recovery.  I know I tried to pretend I didn’t need recovery for a very long time.

My clinical specialties are amazingly harmonious.  Relationship issues always come with addictions, which entail psychological and emotional problems without fail.  Out of this work of twenty years, I am humbled and appreciative of two spiritual forces integral to successful outcomes in therapy, which are Grace and Mercy.

Like all therapists, I earn my livelihood by listening to people, asking questions and drawing conclusions from what they reveal.  Then I try to help them make things better for themselves.  That always involves choices, but it all begins with Grace and Mercy.   If Grace and Mercy enter the therapy office with me and my clients, or are there when we walk in, a successful outcome is assured.  Of course, skillful assessment, treatment planning and the right interventions are always components of therapy as a behavioral science, which usually for me come together intuitively, even mysteriously.  Invisible spiritual forces do underlie our material lives.

In both my personal and professional lives I wish to be an influence of Grace and Mercy, so that those brought into my sphere of influence can reach out and be touched by them. Please tell me your story.  I can’t do therapy from a blog, but I can be a witness to your truth and validate your experience.  We are all trudging the Road of Happy Destiny in recovery.