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Friday, January 27, 2012

Habits and Culture

To wind this topic of habits up (for now), I wanted to address some of the biggest habits of them all: culture.  In my experience of dealing with alcoholics, cultural habits are some of the hardest to break.

In some cases, we are talking here about sub-cultures of abuse.  These are the places and 'friends' of the addict with whom he has normally associated and engaged in his addiction.  Sub-cultures often dictate clothing styles, accents and slang, acceptable group behavior, posture, etc.  In order to 'fit in,' the addict usually has to engage in his addiction, which is another element the group shares, though some of its members may not be addicted and simply abuse.

In the context of a larger culture, where the abuse is acceptable, the addict must be prepared to knowingly and consciously stay sober while being uncomfortable.  A significant part of addiction comes from the desire to fit in and be accepted, but the recovering alcoholic must be willing to experience these clumsy and frightening feelings of being left out without the escape of the addiction.

A recovering addict must be willing to give up the old styles that were part of the old life.  Otherwise, there are simply too many temptations.

The problem for someone raised in a dysfunctional culture is that he often does not know any other way.  There is a difference between someone who actively chooses a subculture and another person 'born in the neighborhood.'  One has another context to fall back on, but the other needs coaching to break free.  He will need help even with simply things: buying appropriate clothing, speaking without slang, etc.

In Los Angeles, I have seen many addicts fail because they would not leave the neighborhood in which they had their addictions.  Because they would not surrender the routine, eventually they fell into temptation.  On the other hand, I have seen others who made a clean break from their old ways, and the results were almost always entirely positive.

Even if you are not an addict, you can experience how hard these habits are when you move away from your family, but return for the holidays.  Notice how at family gatherings you find yourself doing things you no longer do, just because you are around familiar people with whom you have old habits.  They resurface rather quickly in most cases!

Yet, these habits can quickly get one up on the addict and trigger a relapse.  Now, the habit is not necessarily the addiction, but are activities that lead up to it.  Around an addiction there can be hundreds of small habits that, like the fine threads of a jellyfish, draw up the addict into his addiction.  He must break free of the small habits to avoid becoming entangled in the addiction.

He must be vigilant and watchful, even over small things, until these habits become alien.  In some cases, the addict might find that he must permanently leave people and places behind in order to stay sober.

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