I was listening to This NPR report this morning:
We should recognize by now that addiction does not merely affect a few bad people. We should understand that addiction is not only a systemic issue, but a social and cultural issue. Now days, only the most obtuse and ignorant people will be able to ignore the issue of addiction.
I am not going to make any sweeping statement here as to what the solution might be, but I am going to address a particular issue that arises often in the initial observations and talk about addiction. It is this kind of issue I think is embedded in the problem of addiction itself, but also coincidentally larger philosophical issues as well.
I enjoy NPR; I am not critiquing NPR but using this story as a site to address the problem that most do not understand, nor probably care to understand.
What does this mean?
Anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic or and addict (never mind that they refer to the same disease, the same issue) knows that most often despite the addict’s best intension and expression of that intension, most times the addict will not be able to stay stopped. They invariably will use after they have ‘stopped’, again, and again, regardless of the various proclamations of defeat and heart felt desperation and regret.
We learn that they have a life long terminal disease, and that their continued using is part of that disease. We are also implicitly taught that due to this chronic disease, the addict will never stop being an addict and that at any moment, for the rest of their life, is in danger of using again.
The lesson that informs this kind of talk is well founded, but ironically also may contribute the the perpetuation of the problem. The people involved in the addict’s life, of course, are merely being proactive in their defense; we should not necessarily fault them, but we might allow them the opportunity to develop a larger conceptual space and to understand their own consternation in a different context.
The issue I address here is this foundational notion of recovery.
In the NPR story, the reporter automatically refers to usual tropes of addiction that is not coming from the addict himself. She is assuming and reporting through that assumption. She is placing the addict in a typified scheme of meaning that, often enough, while describing a kind of addict, namely the one who had not actually stopped, cannot be properly used to describe what addiction is, and what addicts are. In the course of social defense addiction has become a script to thereby define and limit the addict into a particular identity. Ironically, that identity’s main function, the identity of the addict, is arguably the defiance of identity. We might note that the collapse of this contradiction coincides with the epidemic that is our current situation.
The reporter says “in recovery”. What this means everywhere, the meaning that is ubiquitous to people in recovery (see, there I go) as it is to people who have to deal with it is that they never recover from addiction . My question is what they are in recovery from? What exactly is this addiction that people are for the rest of their lives in recovery from?
What exactly are they recovering from? And if they are recovering, then do they ever recover?
The script would say no; the addict never recovers.
I am merely pointing out the difference in meanings that actually have credence, and how one meaning takes predominance, which thereby effects the situation in a negative manner.
There is the ‘in recovery’ that refers to the process of becoming healthy after an ailment, of dealing with the immediate, called acute, as well as the short period after, called post-acute, effects of the empirical, physical and mental, damage that has occurred due to the period of using addictive substances. This is the ‘essential” meaning that most everyone assumes is meant when a person says “Im in recovery”: That they are forever and always hanging on the edge of using again, struggling to simply not use despite of the periodic but often overwhelming cravings and ‘triggers’ to use. The essence of the person’s Being is understood automatically to be referring to a defective physical-mental-spiritual condition that never goes away, and indeed is always there waiting and pulling the person back into your health and disfunction.
Indeed; many, but not all, recovering addicts stay in this state. But instead of just accepting their compromised state, maybe we should ask why they stay there?
Then there is the ‘in recovery’ that refers to the the arena in which such talk may occur. This ‘in recovery’ is like saying “Im in advertising”, or “I am in I.T.”. It says nothing of the person’s essential state of Being, but talks about the arena in which the person does certain types of activity.
This is not simply a nice idea to ponder; it is the actual situation of people in recovery. Some people never recovery, many people do but are afraid to admit it, and a few actually do recover and have no qualms about telling people.
Similar to the rhetoric and discussion of race relations, perhaps we could begin by having a certain reflection upon what meaning occurs for a person when they hear this term “in recovery”. What automatic prejudices arise in a person’s thoughts, an addict’s but also those who are involved with them, when they hear of someone “in recovery”? How am I enforcing a person’s problem by understanding the term in an old, narrow and judgmental manner? Could it be that the terms I am using to inscribe myself into reality do not actually reflect the truth of the situation?