Worth reading from of the web – Addiction is like all physical diseases, there are particular symptoms. And in addictions, the symptoms of pervasive cravings and relapses are the most frustrating to deal with. Brain diseases affect one’s behaviors, right? My father had alzheimer’s, and his fear and paranoia were not “him”. In this article, you may find something you never knew you needed. I did. Jane W 😉
Taking the Mask Off
This is a story of my first real case of seeing beyond someone’s mask. This story has stuck with me and changed my life. It was my first lesson in how to look past behavior, and see beyond a person’s mask.
I’m going to read what you may see in this woman’s record if you are a doctor or nurse or social worker. These are the facts of the case (perceived facts). This is also what a judge will see when making important determinations about this persons life.
This alcoholic woman had 8 children taken from her for neglect, abuse and abandonment. Two of them were over 16, one went to group home. The children were abused physically and emotionally. They were also neglected, and tormented psychologically. She would force the children to kneel down and pray as they cried. She would make them swear to say she was not drunk. She, however was drunk, and she would threaten to beat them if they told the truth. She would call the kids awful names.
One of the children fell on a beer bottle at age 2 and split her foot wide open. She said it was just a cut and to get over it and put a band aid on it.The 14 year old girl had to drive the 2 year old child to the hospital to get stitched and have surgery. There was another time that she fell on one of the children, and all the other kids had to get together and pick her up so she didn’t suffocate the child. They did not go to school often, and when they did, they had the same clothes on. They were teased and ridiculed.
They didn’t have much food, the oldest girl cooked ramen noodles outside in freezing temperatures. She would grill them, and that was all they had to eat.
The father, who was a doctor, hit and abused the woman. One time he had drug her across the room with a belt while she was pregnant and she had a miscarriage. The children saw this type of abuse daily. The oldest girl buried the fetus in the backyard. The father died of a heart attack at age 40, leaving the 8 children with the drunken mother, all under 12 years old.
Eventually the kids were all taken away. She would call and harass the foster parents, but she never would show up to see the kids and she never really knew them.
The oldest son moved out, he moved in with his girlfriend. The other son went into a group home, then to jail for stealing cars, and then he moved in with his girlfriend and got married young.
The oldest daughter, the one that buried the fetuses, took the kids to hospital, and the one that cooked the ramen noodles, she always kept going back. She kept coming back to this woman who was this “monster” to everyone else and she kept receiving the most abuse. She had a choice, and she chose to always believe in this drunk, she saw something in this drunk that others couldn’t see; she was old enough to make her own decisions. So she spent her life trying to care for this “drunk,” and to save her in some way.
She even blamed herself when she eventually left the family. She felt her leaving the abusive situation is why the other children were taken away. We all know that is not true, but in her reality it was true, causing even more psycholgical distress and torment.
The drunken lady kept abusing and calling this oldest daughter awful names and was awful to her. She did psychological damage to this young lady who only wanted to be loved. This little girl could not figure out why her mother hated her. She thought something was wrong with her. The things the kids in this family went through was nothing anyone should ever have to go through. I’m only cracking the surface and I don’t think I need to go into more details.
So you read this stuff, and you are thinking what the heck? How am I supposed to be compassionate towards the drunk? She did all this terrible stuff and I am supposed to embrace her? It was her choice to do all this damage! She is the one hurting everyone. She is the evil one, the bad one, correct? Much like we think of those with mental health issues. They are no good and need to shape up – to just get over it.
Well, it’s easy to be compassionate towards the Doctor, and the kids. That’s easy to do and they have plenty of people to do that. When you look down on the drunk and criticize, you are only making the problem worse. When you sit on your throne and decide who is good and evil, you are capable of doing great evil, without even thinking of it as evil. That is a very dangerous place to be in for any of us. We feel superior talking like that. However, if you really want to change the world, then the way to do that is to be compassionate towards the drunk. It may be hard, but if not you, who? If not now, when?
These are the people that need it the most, it may be hard. I think impossible for some. That is ok and it does not make you a worse or better person. It is actually a very brave thing to say, “I can not help this person, it bothers me too much.” Then the key is to walk away and find someone who can. However, if you ignore this inability to care for the person, you may begin to subconsciously attack, belittle, and blame them.
Sometimes you can give all the compassion you have, but the person is gone or not ready. Sometimes they are never ready. But we have to still try if we want to change the world. This is the spot where it is done. It is done in the gutters, where no one wants to go. The world is not changed on the green grass with the sun shining. You have to go to the gutter or the perceived gutter. You usually will never get a thank you, but that’s not why anyone should do this. Never do it for rewards, because with poor intentions, you will fail.
I’m going to finish this ladies story but I want to give some facts first about this disease of addiction.
Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. There is no argument in the medical community, or in the science communities. There is no one that even debates it, the evidence is overwhelming.
The only ones debating it are those who don’t have the information, or are restating things they have heard others say: “It is a choice, just like it is a choice to eat a cheeseburger if you have just had a heart attack”. The people I am talking about, though, are long past that point.
Imagine a 13 year old girl and boy and the boy wants to ask her out. All his friends leave the scene, she is all alone. He is thinking to himself “Here is my shot! I’m going to go ask her out.”
He looks in the mirror, adjusts his hair. He is sweating and his nerves are killing him. He slowly walks over to her. She is sitting there with her pink notebook and pen; it’s a spiral one with one of those flowers on the end of it. He slowly walks up to her and says, “Umm did you hear about the dance coming up this Friday?”
She twirls her hair, and looks down and says “ya.”
He is getting more nervous and scared, but he’s in it now, no going back. He says with his voice trembling, “Umm do you think you may want to go with me.”
She looks at him, then she looks down. She says, “I don’t know, maybe.” Then as he sweats this out, he says, “well can I call you?”
She looks around, twirls her hair, then she grabs the pen with the flower and opens up her pink notebook starts scribbling on it and hands him her number and says “sure.”
He walks away, goes into the bathroom and screams “YEAH YEAH YEAH.”
Now same exact story, same thing happening. This time, before he asks her out he goes into the bathroom and smokes a joint or takes a shot. Still goes up to her and asks her out and gets her number. The difference here is that he never learned how to deal with the emotion of stress, anxiety, or fear. He never really risked being rejected.
What has happened is that he never really put himself out there. So next time that these emotions come up, what will he do? Same thing as he always does when these tough emotions come up, drink, use or whatever it was. The reason why is because he got a positive outcome, so that is how it starts. Then the mask has begun.
That alone will not cause addiction; it is repeated use and repeated positive outcomes. Then eventually you start to organize your life around it.
There is a genetic component and an environmental component. You can have the gene and never get it. You can have the environment and never get it. It all depends on all these factors coming together. Still you don’t have an addict.
What happens when you drink, is you have a surge of dopamine, the chemical that makes us happy. So let’s say you put a quarter in the gumball machine and get 10 dollars in quarters out of it plus a gumball. That’s a greater than expected reward, so you get a dopamine surge, and your brain is told to remember this because it is good.
Our brain is taught to remember things that feel good for survival, like remembering how good a piece of cake is. It has to feel good so we keep doing it so we keep eating and we stay alive. That’s what dopamine is supposed to do.
Addict’s brains handle dopamine differently and break it down differently. There were studies in Sweden of twins of alcoholic parents. One was raised in a good “normal” non-drug using home. The other was raised in the same “dysfunctional” home. What do you think the rates of alcoholism were? They were the same, about 48% of the time they both became alcoholics when the general population was about 2%. How is that possible if it is not a disease with genetics involved?
People who become an addict have naturally low dopamine, then you drink or use and you get this surge and your brain says wow!! Remember this!!!! For perhaps the first time in your life, you get high as ever and feel better than ever.
Then the next morning, it crashes, you have no dopamine. Your brain thinks it had a surplus of dopamine so it stops producing as much. Plus you now have guilt from the text or phone call you made, or the money you spent.
More things you don’t want to feel, so you then drink again to get that dopamine. It surges, but not as high, it is never as much as the first time. Then, when it crashes, it crashes more. So eventually you have to drink in order to feel normal. When you do not drink, you do not enjoy life. You need it to even play with your kids, it’s the only way you can feel normal.
There are 2 parts of your brain involved. These two parts are the prefrontal cortex and midbrain. Prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that does all the planning and organizing your day and everyday life. Most addicts are bored with everyday life, it’s pointless. So they drink and they can feel ok and be ok with normally boring things.
However, the midbrain supersedes the prefrontal cortex always. That is the part of the brain that helps with survival. That would be like if a tiger came into your bedroom and ran at you, you would say “screw the plans were getting out of here!” Survival is more important than plans, right? Well, the body is certainly designed to think so. In fact, it is a completely automatic response. The disease of addiction causes the brain to act as though you need this substance or behavior, or you will die.
It started as a way to mask the pain or run away, however now it has become essential to survive. Remember this when thinking about an addict. Their brain thinks that they need the substance to live. It is like being starving and not being able to have food. That is why you see the behaviors such as, what appears to be, the willingness to throw everything away for the substance. What they are going through can best be described as torture. Even THEY know it doesn’t make sense…. but yelling at them to get over it is really not the best approach when someone is being tortured.
I also hear people say that no one ever gets better and that people with mental illness and addiction are non-compliant so what is the point. This again is that stigma that I see, because this is simply not true. When someone is first diagnosed with high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, the rate that they “relapse” is very high in the first year. In fact, they are actually statistically more non-compliant with treatment than addicts and people with mental health issues. We don’t really want to buy into the idea that we need help or that we have a problem. Hence, relapses.
The 10% that recover is not an accurate number either. This is brand new, all the new science and treatment approaches. We are still trying to convince people to stop locking up mentally ill and addicted people and treat them like human beings. This 10% recovery rate comes from when we were not treating people as humans and did not have all this new information. Also we don’t consider someone who has a heart condition a “relapse” and we do not shame them for slipping up and having that cheeseburger. The problem is the way we react to people who are going through torture.
Now I want to go back to this drunken lady. What you will NOT read in her chart is that when she was 7 years old, she experienced a life altering tragedy. Now at age 7, you are gaining self-esteem from the external world. You listen to what the parents, teachers, and all the older people say and you trust them completely. Whatever is said, you take it as truth and store it in your files. The brain cannot tell what is true and what is not.
While babysitting, at 7 years old, her 5 year old brother was run over by a truck and killed. So she is a killer, irresponsible, and a bad person. That is in her head. She believes this to be true.
Other early-life factors added to this tragedy. Her mother died of pancreatic cancer when she 16, very likely caused by alcoholism. Her father was a reported alcoholic. The reports were he was “not nice.” Now, in my time in this field, this is a phrase that I hear often and usually underneath it is the worst kind of abuse. When the patient says something like “he was mean,” or “not nice,” and won’t talk about it, that usually means they are too scared to even talk about it. It’s scary to me when I hear that.
So what you don’t see in the profile is the abusive father, the alcoholic parents, and the death she felt “responsible” for. Can you imagine what that life entailed? We are usually too busy looking at the behavior and not behind the mask.
Then everyone saw her husband as the “great doctor”, but they didn’t see her get beaten and have miscarriages because of it. Back in the day you didn’t talk about this stuff, she buried it, and found alcohol to cope. When people called her a monster and a scumbag and looked down on her for “choosing” alcohol over her kids, she agreed. She already hated herself. In fact, anyone that attempted to get closer to her, she chased away, like the oldest daughter who kept coming, anyway.
Because she believed herself to be a monster and a terrible human being, all the time she was going through an internal torture and hiding behind this mask. This woman was suffering from a trauma at age 7 that she never understood. However when it gets put in your head you are wicked, you trust that. I imagine a 7 year old girl getting all excited to go to school. Then I imagine this girl traumatized beyond belief, never dealing with the confusion and pain, and then believing it was her. All the shame and guilt she carried. She was also very sensitive by nature. Why do we think that she deserves this and that she chose this? This was when I really saw the mask formed.
We like to say people get better, and when things get lost, that people go and find them. That there is this “Lost and Found,” and eventually someone comes in and finds them, and helps them find their true selves. That’s not the case, most addicts and mentally ill suffer until we die. We die thinking we are monsters. We are lost, but rarely found. So my continual challenge and message is to go find someone, and bring them back to life. Help them kill their false selves.
This story is too familiar in mental health and addiction. We see the behavior, but not what’s behind it, and then we treat the patient like a monster. The sad part is that how we treat the person – creates their reaction to us.
If you treat a patient or a person by their “chart,” and chart can be a literal chart or it can be our snapshot of someone. If we continue to use this as our guide, then I’m afraid no one will ever get better until we can look beyond the mask.
I remember at this woman’s funeral her kids, all adults by now, came in from out of town. I did nothing but watch. They had not been around for years, and I listened as they talked about how she was going to burn in hell, I could just sense the anger in the room as they talked. I was astounded because they never even knew her. They all had gone to foster homes and done well. It must have been hard what they went through, but all that anger. It has to be hard holding onto that.
The oldest daughter, well she was the only one always around while the drunk lady drunk herself to death. This woman continued to care for her mother as she grew old and near death. No one understood why she kept coming back. What was wrong with her?, was this daughter of hers weak and pathetic?
No. This daughter of hers, as I watched, was the strongest person I had ever seen. Not the kind of strength you see with muscles and the way you think of power. It was different, it was with this love that could not, and would not, be broken. She didn’t listen to what people said.
I watched this woman and the love she had for this “monster” and it was life altering every day. Every day people expected her to stop coming around to help, but she didn’t. Not once. She saw what others couldn’t see. If you’ve ever seen true power, I’m certain that this is what it looks like. It is an inner strength that cannot be defeated by any army and I was amazed as I watched this woman.
Did she ever get the “I love you and I’m sorry,” from the mother? No she did not. That’s the shame. No storybook ending here. She died, they never said goodbye. However I know this, for this old drunk lady, what she got was she finally believed she was worth it. This woman, the oldest daughter changed the storyline and this old drunk felt loved the last few years of her life. I saw it in the drunk ladies eyes. For the first time in her life, she knew someone loved her, and that made her think that maybe she was ok. What an enormous gift the daughter gave her and as I watched it unfold, it changed me forever.
The drunk lady was my grandmother. My grandmother was this drunk that everyone hated and was awful and this “monster.” But I remember that when I was 9, I wanted a football. I had to have it, I NEEDED IT. My grandma saw I needed it. So she went sober that day for the first time in 50 years and took me to buy a football. She gave me her only 7 dollars for that football. It lasted 4 years, the football, not the sobriety.
That was my grandma, the oldest daughter was my mother. I’d like to say she stayed sober, but she didn’t. She died when I was 11 from what most alcoholics die from. I believe it is a disease of the broken hearted.
I will not ever let it go grandma, I am going to keep passing your story on… until every cage is empty.
Grandma I love you. You are still with me in everything I do.
Mom you’re my hero.
Edited from : Lost and Never Found: An Alcoholic’s Unknown Story.