Andrew Bevan - Voluntary Mentor
Some People Just Don't Get It
Paul Merson is a famous ex-football player who still features as a popular TV pundit on Saturday afternoons. He is equally famous for his struggles with addictions. In his book titled ‘How Not To Be a Professional Footballer’, he recounts one story of what happened when he returned from rehab. He says that one of his teammates at Arsenal welcomed him back with the offer of alcopops. Merson’s comment is that “some people just don’t get it”.
The general point here is that most “normally functioning” people can’t properly relate to an alcoholic. They don’t properly understand what distinguishes their own enjoyable pattern of “social drinking” – even to excess - from the person claiming to be an alcoholic. They don’t get what’s going on inside the private life of the alcoholic, or why and how there needs to be change.
In his Confessions, Augustine reports how he told his friend Alypius about his own obsession with sexual desire. His friend didn’t really get it. On the face of it, it sounded to him that what Augustine was talking about might be enjoyed and he wanted a piece of the action, so to speak. But he had no proper conception of what Augustine was going through. For the latter, his obsession had become a problem and a source of distress. It was literally driving him insane.
I’ve been asked many times by different people, “Do you think I have a drinking problem? Am I an alcoholic?” I don't know whether you have a problem. What I do know is this. If you say that you have a problem, then you do. It’s clearly on your mind or you wouldn’t even be asking the question. Medical practitioners will give you a questionnaire to see whether you tick the boxes but it’s not that simple.
The people who just don’t get it are, instead, dismissive. Their typical response to repeated drunken episodes is to say “you’ll be ok”, “we’re all the same”, and “you just had too much”. You'll get over it, basically, is the claim. But that's not the case.
It may well be that you started bingeing at the weekends because everybody else was having a good time. Some people deliberately choose to do that even though it makes them ill afterwards. Aristotle calls this ‘intemperance’. But that's not what we're talking about. Instead, we are talking about ‘incontinence’ – or ‘inordinate desire’ – when you do it even though your own reasoning is telling you not to do it.
The point made by Aristotle in Book VII of the Nicomachean Ethics is that, in effect, the people who choose to do it for the “pleasure” have no regret. People go out to drink to get drunk. They don’t regret it, despite the short term consequences of perhaps being sick or suffering a severe hangover. Intemperance is a deliberate choice. Incontinence, instead, is something different to this – it’s indicative of compulsive behaviour.
The people who don't get it are sometimes trying to push their insecurity on to you. It’s because they feel doubt about themselves that they cast doubt upon you. They want you to take the first drink because they want you to be one of them. It makes them more comfortable in dealing with doubts about their own actions.
So what do we do about people who just don't get it? How do we deal with them as part of recovery treatment?
One approach is to build a community of believers. It can include both those who are suffering – mutual self-help groups - and those who are trying to help, including mentors, recovery workers, friends and family. Members of the community share a common belief and commitment – the desire to help the alcoholic stay sober. We develop our own customs and practises.
The message promoted by those sharing common beliefs is that it’s alright to be different from the crowd. It’s alright to say this is who I really am. We are not talking about a sect trying to separate itself from non-believers. We are not trying to preach to others. We are simply saying that if those around you won’t listen to your story or are querying whether you have a problem or not, then it’s probably time to move on. It’s probably time to form new relationships and do new things.
I didn't want to stay late after work and meet clients. I didn't want to attend unnecessary dinners or drinking parties late into the evening, especially during my recovery. I didn’t want to go down the pub every night and be the last man standing. Did that make me abnormal? But do you know what? It never did me any harm. It helped me to build a new life of sobriety and a successful career instead.
Some people just don’t get it – let them get on with their own lives while you take care of your own.