the disease of addiction, the condition of deprival #recovery #mentalhealth #alcoholism

July 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

When a child grows up in conditions of deprivation (lack of affection, respect, validation) that child is going to be conditioned to re-create those conditions in adulthood unless they decide to do the hard work of changing themselves and their surroundings.

In the 12 step world of recovery, addiction and alcoholism are conceived as disease. I understand why the original founders of the approach did this. They wanted to convey the sense that the obsession and compulsion of addiction is not something that is resolved by a one time only intervention. They wanted to convey the sense that alleviating the obsession and compulsion of addiction is an ongoing challenge that requires daily maintenance if we are to abstain from the self-destructive thinking and behaviour that characterize the ‘disease’.

I have found it helpful to conceive of my addictive mind-state as a condition, a condition that is wholly predictable given the circumstances of my childhood. The founders of 12 step recovery were middle aged white men who were conditioned to believe certain ‘facts’ about human existence that have since been shown to be false. As a woman in recovery, I cannot help but cringe at the unexamined male dominance in the literature. Both the 12 steps and the 12 traditions are male biased and it hurts to have to constitute gender bias in order to avail myself of the benefits of 12 step recovery.

I am an ecologist, more specifically, I am a social ecologist. The conception of the 12 steps and 12 traditions took place during a time when the concept of ecology was not a common philosophical understanding. As a social ecologist, the basis of the 12 steps and traditions make sense and work from an ecological point of view. In fact, an ecological analysis of the steps and traditions provides an explanation of why they work.

I am a woman who has been conditioned in a male dominant gender biased society. That condition has been deeply harmful to my ability to give and receive love, to understand what it means to be respectful, and to my legitimate needs for validation. Without the 12 steps and 12 traditions I would not be clean from drugs and alcohol for 18 years. However, when it comes to living life on life’s terms in my day to day dealings with long term intimate relationships, I do not consider myself diseased as much as I consider myself conditioned to accept treatment that is withholding, disrespectful, and invalidating. As a woman, I am not alone in this condition. And, because we are ecological beings, I know that this condition is not gender specific. When we live in a society that privileges gender, race, and socio-economic position, we are going to be conditioned to be underprivileged even as one segment of society is over-privileged.

This is my meditation on the concepts of disease and condition as they relate to my lifelong task of recovery from a childhood of deprivation. These conditions affect every relationship I am part of. They affect the possibility for my future health, security, and well-being. The ways we think about our position in society, what we deserve, and what are our legitimate rights are shaped by the conditions of our childhood and the ongoing choices we make to either re-create those childhood conditions, or create new conditions and learn to live with them.

I accept that 12 step recovery conceives of addiction and alcoholism as a disease because that was the terminology that helped the founders to recover. However, there is a part of addiction and alcoholism that are socially systemic as well as individual. And to that aspect of our recovery we need to understand how societal systems of privilege also contribute to our internal and external states of deprivation. We need to understand how these internal and external conditions are perpetuated through our own, and others, endorsement. This endorsement is perpetuated by non-engagement with issues of gender, race, and socio-economic status, issues that we must contend with, but we do not have to accept.


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