Central Snark

Where to draw the line? by Snuppy
Wednesday, 21 November 2007, 7:12am
Filed under: Teh Penguin

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins?…So with sanity and insanity.” Herman Melville, Billy Budd


“Margret Mary Ray believed with all her heart that late-night talk-show host David Lettermn was in love with her. Caught up in this delusion, she stalked Letterman day and night for a decade, writing him letters and repeatedly breaking into his house. She camped out on his tennis court and once stole his car. The tabloids treated her delusions as a running joke. Finally, she gave up. She wrote to her mother, “I’m all traveled out,” and put herself in front of a coal train. She was killed instantly.”

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that something was seriously wrong with her. Why am I telling you this? Well, of late our family has been devided by an issue that keeps evolving and growing more passionate as we go on.

We are talking about drug addicts. Seriously lying, manipulating and stealing shells of a person we once knew as an active member of our family. We got such a ghost in our family and the tendency to deal with that ghost reach from full fledged support, to simple ignoring all the way to utter rejection.

I think our different approaches lie in the fact that some of us think that “being an addict” is a life style choice. That there once was a decission made to engage in it and upon enjoying the rush, it became the very thing life should circle around. Children, family and job became the second or second to last place in one’s list of importance, following after self-indulgence.

Others in our family think that “being an addict” involves genetic pre-disposition. The fact that trying it once (which I did and which left me rather un-impressed) can seriously be the start for some on a road they are unable to return from. Once caught in the vicious circle, they become unable to control it, it takes them over and therefore we should treat them as patients. Sick people, mentally ill.

Nothing has been proven and I usually let these things slide by me, but the other day I thought somebody kicked a little too close and I went beserk. Putting drug addicts and cancer patients in the same field, I was lost for words until an argument ensured that involved actively smoking, causing lung cancer or such likes. Where is the difference between that and a drug addict? Both are aware of the consequences of their actions, both can have fatal results…yet society treats one case more normal and are ready to assist with every means possible, where the other is deemed a loser.

At the moment my head is spinning in many directions. Concerning the ghost in our family, I think that there comes a point in time (in this case 14 years) when the mircocosm should stop revolving around them. How long are you supposed to give, understand and set yourself up for guaranteed dissapointment? We only got one life, it is precious…I refuse to waste it on people who bring nothing to my life and leave in their wake anger, hurt and a torn family.

~ Penguin out!

What is your gut feeling in reaction to this…where should we draw the line between the two tints of a color in the rainbow? Share in the comment section!

29 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Penguin, sorry to hear about the troubles! I like the approach taken in Holland, which is to treat addiction as a medical problem. In the case of heroine, for example, a patient under a doctor’s care is 4-5 times more likely to beat addiction than an addict switched to methadone and left on his own.

In our society we don’t tend to treat people differently depending on the cause of the medical problem. Smokers are shunned when they get cancer. Parents are scolded for passing on bad genes. Who cares what the cause is when a solution is so important?

Alas, for addiction, the solution is often (usually) beyond the help that family members alone can provide.

All the best!

Comment by I Dive At Night

Oh, and… FIRST! (I feel… compelled… to acknowledge that.)

Comment by I Dive At Night

I meant to say “smokers AREN’T shunned” and “parents AREN’T scolded”.

Comment by I Dive At Night

Morgan, Interesting…I know about policies. And they do not always reflect people’s opinions and they certainly can’t tell you how you ought to feel about soemthing.
Let’s take a donor example: you have a drug addict and you have a cancer patient, both in desperate need of your kidney transplant. Who would you want to get it? I think the answer will reflect how you really feel. If your answer is, whoever is first on the donor-list…you are a bigger person than I am!

Comment by Penguin

It’s a tough place to be Minka. I’m sorry that addiction is so close to home. I think both arguments have merit and the fact that alcoholism is treated differently than drug addiction is primarily a political issue. However, in any case the addict must be willing to seek help and there must a means for help to be available.

As for genetics, it’s becoming more and more clear that genes, not just lifestyle, have as much to do with certain addictive behaviors. It all comes down to choice, but I’m not one to throw stones.

Comment by Brian

Brian, I agree with most you said. And you are right…this battle is very close to home and hence my judgement and opinion might be emotionally clouded.
I certainly acknowledge the role of genes in many an equation, however…if you see that your family is prone to be addictive to say alcohol or cigarettes, wouldn’t it be a conceivable choice not to try soemthing you know kills people every year?!

Comment by Penguin

Well, since I think more highly of junkies than I do of friends who think agreement is support, I guess I would ask what moral difference there is between another person’s choice and another person’s disease. From Skinner you have the idea that there are no choices, only conditioned reflexes. From Jesus you have the idea that compassion is more important than the crime. Either way, there’s not much support for turning on addicts.

But for gut reaction, when I was about 22, I think, there was a fatal car accident on the highway between the tiny town I lived in and the tinier one just to the South. That was as much as I’d had of the news when I knew alcohol or drugs were involved (Iowa is very flat and consequently, the roads are very straight.) If I’m not an addict, it isn’t for lack of trying but in that moment the undisciplined use of mind-altering substances stopped being cute to me and never was again. What is infuriating with addicts is how many people end up suffering for the weakness of one person. I think if we’re forgiving of the one with the tracks, we ought to be as forgiving of those who don’t stand in front of the coal train.

Comment by Walela

Walela, maybe mine is an idealistic position. I do not like the concept of Fate too much, but rather care to indulge in the possibility that we are able to decide the path in our life. Even with the pre-disposition of my family tree for generations and an environment that supports those pre-disposition, I ended up nothing like my family…simply by choice and determination. It is argueable that these cases display the minority, yet it is possible. I hoped that people well into adulthood, having children…would realize that they are not only responsible for themselves but others as well. Life is no sugar licking…I can’t help but feel finding the solution at the end of a bottle or the point of a needle is the easier way out and therefore deserves not our acceptance but our open display of dis-approval.

Skinner tested animals…I would like to believe that there is a little more to humanity than simple reflexes and conditioned responses.
Another example from psychology is from behavior modification. When your kids behave badly, instead of giving them attention for that behavior it seems way more affective to ignore such outburst and attend and enforce the good behaviours instead. Condinioned goodness!

Comment by Penguin

wowie — this is quite the thought provoking post, dearest Penguin! that said, it’s also a great one, and raises more than a few excellent questions.

as one who’s consumed more than her fair share of alcohol (you’d be surprised how much i managed to pour down my throat before giving it up long ago) with a pre-disposition towards addictive behavior, i have no doubt i dodged many a damaging bullet. but, for the grace of God and a couple of AA meetings, go i — with regards to suffering from ailments like liver damage and/or lung disease.

who gets the transplant? not sure it’s the person at the top of the list, tho’ traditionally, whether that person is in need through genetic defect or drug abuse, by the time they qualify for surgery, changes in behavior have already taken place. nothing like confronting mortality to get a user to put out that cigarette and/or put down that bottle (or needle. or whatever) in lieu of playing God, a “list” at least gives everyone an equal chance at a new start.

all i can say about the long-term effect of “conditioned” responses is that, often, despite one’s best efforts to set good examples and/or positively reinforce behavior, a child can and/or will go astray. i know from experience. that said, i also know unconditional love can go a long ways towards reaching out to that child, in order to lead him/her back.

unfortunately, a LOT of parents SO want to take their children’s actions personally, but that’s just wrong. also, it’s terribly destructive. in the end, we can only be responsible for our own actions — we teach our children the best we can, and hope they follow suit. sometimes that happens and, sadly, sometimes it doesn’t.

despite appearances that say otherwise, i DO think there comes a time when we have to stop “fixing” someone we love and allow them to figure out where they’re going next on their own. easier said than done, but still a good idea. of course, as one who suffers from the “reality” of that boxed quote up there, what the hell do i know? clearly i’m nothing, if not insane. ’tis what i get for taking those “crazy pills”, i suppose. ; ) xox

Comment by snuppy

er, um… that turned out rather wordy. d’oh! sorry. 😉

Comment by snuppy

snuppy, rather wordy…yet point on. I figured your stand before you posted and you brought it well across. I can agree with most…

the donor issue, sure should also be affected by urgency and not least a level of possible success…rather than a list. Should an organ given to somebody that is first on teh list but where teh tissue matches less than waiting on the list in place 13 that seems to be a perfect fit with a higher possibility of good results? Besides, a drig addict in hospital waiting for a new organ is by no means cured of his addiction and might go down the same path as before… he also might not…you are right there. Are we willign to take these chances in favor of a person that needs that very same transplant who has lived their life dedicted as a pillar of a community, tried to be as good as they can…
I know life isn’t fair…but I sure wouldn’t mind trying to tip the balance more into a just action.

After my brain checks out, my body can be used for whatever transplants needed …burn the rest! I am thankful I don’t get to make the decission of who gets my parts in the end.

Comment by Penguin

Penguin, it’s one thing to believe we can choose, it’s another to believe we can choose wisely. If lack of foresight is a sin there are no saints.

Comment by Walela

Walela, true enough for me. There is probability though.
There is no such thing as foresight, you can’t predict anything with a 100% certainty. You can, however, make a very good guess based on the information you have at any given time.
The point I am seeing though, is that at the age when this family member started, he/she was 13 and therefore probably not considering the consequences of his/her actions in the long run. There is no doubt in my mind that what ails him/her now is a sickness…I deemed what started it all is recklessness. I was a teenager too, recklessness seems to come in different shapes and sizes!

Comment by Penguin

I have a niece who from age 14 started down the road to addiction. She made my sister Doris’ life a hell right up until the day Doris died, and her daughter was by then 41.

I watched my sister and BIL give the girl “new chances” over and over. To what end?

To me, you try to help in the beginning. You love them, you do all that you can. And then, if nothing has worked, you accept that YOU can’t really change anything but your own reaction to the situation.

It really doesn’t matter WHY they are into whatever-it-is-that-they-are-into. You can’t save anyone but yourself. So, IMHO, you save yourself and move on.

Comment by tlp

TLP…yes, in the end that’s all we end up doing probably…but each and everyone of us has to get there, and sometimes it is hard to let go. I am trying to do just that…changing my reaction that is.

Comment by Penguin

My take (for whatever it’s worth):

People would not do something that they know would be harmful to themselves if there was not some sort of mental affliction involved. Normal people don’t bash themselves in the head with baseball bats- people who do have a mental illness. I believe it’s the same thing with addictions. I don’t believe that any addict wakes up the next morning and says, “Boy, I’m glad I have no money and am hungover in the gutter again!”

I am in the position of having someone in my family in this predicament, and I know that the consequences of this person’s actions, etc., that are all plainly obvious to everyone else, will have no impact on this person until he/she is able to see those consequences clearly. I also know that for some people this clarity never happens.

I have no answers, Penguin, but I have empathy. I wish you peace.

Comment by the frogster

frogster, of course your opinion matters. I ask for them, because i know there are no clear-cut answers. Soemtimes it helps to see how other people re-act and what they think. Emotions (and seeing a family member going down that path evokes a lot of them) cloud our judgements to achieve critical thinking. I guess all of this was an attemt to hear neutral issues…but i come to relaize that there won’t be neutral points on this. Everyone has come across this somehow, heard it, seen it and even lived it. Our individual experiences create our perspectives about this issue. But it is there and we have to deal with it…somehow.

Comment by Penguin

So, now mom also needs to say something.. at first Monika, I don´t really feel that there is a devision in the family, different opinions, yes, but we try to give everybody the attention he should get. And then, why do I have so much condact with that daughter? I like to be with her and spent time with her. I am not working so much at changing her, but I would miss the nice hours we have together if I would stop seeing her. Yes, some days it is painful, you want your children to be happy and I see how unhappy she is in her addiction, but when we take her just as a person nd forget the addiction for a time it can be fun. AND I am the mom, so who else should love until death do us part? And sometimes the death is so near. And I see this little baby daughter. Yes, it does hurt, but is that really her fault? I am rambling, sorry.

Comment by sabine Marth

There you are. I know how you feel about these things and probably rightly so. I find comfort or solace in the idea that you are the kinda Mom that has a concept of unconditional love for her children. That’s why you love me and that can’t be an easy thing…I don’t think this is sibling rivalry though…I think neither of us 6 ever feels non-considered. We do worry though, sometimes about you…because our love for you is a strong as the love you carry for each of us.

Comment by Penguin

Wow! What a lively discussion you have going over here, Penguin. Sorry to hear about the problem your family is going through. I think genetic predisposition plays a big role in this whole issue, but the initial choice to try drugs depends on a lot of factors (peer pressure, curiosity, etc.). When someone starts at a very young age, they surely don’t see all the consequences it can bring, and by the time they realize it, it may be too late. I think at first addicts need all the support they can get from family, friends, and society, but if they show no interest in helping themselves, then no matter how much support they get, they’ll never be cured. Yes, I say “cured” because I think addiction is basically a disease. I also think there is a limit to what family and friends can do, and they can’t let the addict distroy their lives either. I guess it’s a really delicate balance.

Comment by Theresa

I’m sorry that this situation is part of your life.

you have a drug addict and you have a cancer patient, both in desperate need of your kidney transplant.

For this amoeba, your dilemma cuts to the heart of the matter. The obvious answer is “both”. But neither you nor society has the resources to offer both. Or, if society has the resources, it’s not willing to make them available unless it is comfortable enough to do so without risking dearth elsewhere. Which, in nature, almost never happens.

Since we don’t have the resources to give everyone all they desire, we have, I argue, social structures that define who’s “in” and who’s “out”, and further define how those “in” and “out” may be treated. Penguins do the same thing. Not to mention ants, bees, prairie dogs, all the social creatures. Thus, our religions tell us that one who is “in” is to be forgiven seventy times seven times, but those “out” can be waterboarded with impunity. But those same religions try to remind us to make the “ingroup” as large as possible, for our own lasting good – while economics tends to tell us to make the ingroup as small as possible. To unity, even. Assuming one is not in the habit of cheating oneself. Which is a coal train waiting to arrive.

I am convinced that we do not understand addiction – or any of the other neurophysiological / behavioral phenomena associated with major life choices, the selection of a career being an addiitonal example – well enough to deal with it with any subtlety. Which means to me that the path to wisdom is to treat every case individually. Which comes up against the resource limitation problem. No wonder we wrestle.

May you find a way.

Comment by oceallaigh

This is an issue to which there are many perspectives. My husband was a heroin addict, as well as an alcoholic, and he lost his life to liver failure as a result of these habits. His path through life was one which left wreckage and grief to many. That being said, he walked a more difficult road than some do, as he tried so hard to become free from his addictions, many many times. He did eventually kick the needle, but the alcohol plagued him til the end. He was on the liver transplant list, but that was a joke. I don’t blame him for his failures, we all have some. I sought to understand, and as TLP said, you just love them, and know that you can’t really change anything but yourself. It is a tough thing to be a part of, isn’t it? Guess what? There may really be no answer at all.

Comment by Terry

Alcoholism and mental illness ‘run’ in my family too. No one really understands how the combination of genes, environment, and life choices ends in an addiction. The saddest part of all are the children of the addicts/alcoholics who suffer through no fault of their own. They need the most help of all in order to avoid starting the cycle all over again.

Comment by claire

I know people who stopped smoking on their own after they had decided to do but I’ve never heard of a seriously drug addicted person who could stop by merely deciding. Of course, if there is no decision, no help will help. I undertsand all points, yours, the one of your Mom, and there must be more inside the family.

I have someone close to me, not drug addicted merely is fucking his life up, I have no idea how much of it was a decision, I can only see he is now so far that I understand he’s not in any hurry to open his eyes. I cannot change him, so I’m just there for him.

Some decisions make themselves, you need to do nothing for them to come but you do have to fight hard to make them go. But so often you are not sure which direction the enemy is or if there is an enemy at all until it is too late.

Sorry, it was long. 🙂

Comment by ariel

I did read all your comments and I thank the penguin to have brought this topic up. And I really do thank all of you for your comments, some must have come hard and all came from the Heart. And of course, the penguin is joking: it is not difficult to love her! Mom

Comment by sabine Marth

My question is, what difference does it make?

You say that “the tendency to deal with that ghost reach from full fledged support, to simple ignoring all the way to utter rejection.”

I can’t see how any of those responses makes sense, whether it’s a choice or a disease.

Comment by Diesel

A most thought-provoking post! Many people have already stated my sentiments. TLP mentioned her sister, and I thought of Doris immediately, too. It’s so horrible and sad, what it does to the people around the afflicted one, because it feels wrong, mean, immoral, to draw a line and decide not to let the ghost haunt the rest of your life, but it is not.

Let’s take a donor example: you have a drug addict and you have a cancer patient, both in desperate need of your kidney transplant. Who would you want to get it?

I think the decision panel at any hospital would agree with you, Minka, if only for insurance purposes–addiction is another pre-existing condition. Such a person might not be healthy enough for an operation. I agree with your feelings about it, too.

I wish all addicted people could get excellent 24-hour care in a hospital, which was mentioned in the first comment.

Comment by actonbell

Have you guys seen that movie in which Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur, 2 losers, are trying to find help to get off drugs? That was hilarious. I mean terrible.

Comment by ariel

Actonbell, you’ve just cut the gordian knot, “Such a person might not be healthy enough for an operation.” 🙂

I’m thankful I don’t have to make such decisions. God has its job and I have mine.

Comment by ariel

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