Thursday, October 17, 2013

The AA ballad of Hugo Schwyzer

My enduring silence on this past summer's Hugo Schwyzer debacle, has been wholly deliberate. For those who need the background, check it out HERE, HERE and HERE. (Warnings out the wazoo, as we say here in the South.)

One of those primary "recovery rules" is that you do not judge another addict, or doubt that they are sober.

Just look at the fallout here when I (correctly) called the cause of Brittany Murphy's death before it was official. I was considered ableist and out of line. (And when I was proven right, none of these people apologized to me either.) I learned from that, and decided I would be more circumspect the next time.

And so initially, I did not plan on saying anything at all about Hugo's now-famous, bizarre meltdown. But since then, folks have pointedly asked me for my opinion, since I mentioned him in my post about my own AA anniversary... and so I have now decided to comment at length.


At some point, I think after I read the famous jizz piece, I decided feminist-professor Hugo was using and/or drinking again.

The problem was (see Brittany Murphy, Michael Jackson, et al), these were undoubtedly perfectly-legal, professionally-vetted, prescribed meds that he had started abusing again... and this is one reason hard-core Alcoholics Anonymous people like my sponsor were so categorically anti-drug. Prescription drugs are still drugs. Of course there are always "good reasons" for them; I got a million Rxs in my life, with no trouble. Had good reasons for them all. Primary among these reasons: I was an addict, I wanted them, and I knew how to get them.

The onslaught of anti-depressants, sleeping aids and anti-anxiety meds for recovering addicts/alcoholics, has been an unmitigated disaster. Its also an old feud within AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), as well as within other recovery circles. The concept is that people were "self-medicating" with alcohol (and so what else is new) and so they just needed the "correct" meds and ... then they somehow magically won't want those naughty "bad" drugs anymore. This is self-serving, narcissistic, addict-apologist bullshit. Always has been. Thing is, those of us who clung to this uncool, supposedly-outmoded view (that it's bullshit), invariably lost the war. Drugs flooded into recovery circles like the proverbial tidal wave. (NOTE: I have been alcohol-free for 32 years, and I refer to the advent of Prozac and similar drugs in the early 90s.)

At one point, I refused to sponsor people who were using prescription drugs to 'cushion their fall' into reality. And I learned (to my alarm) that I could spot them fairly easily. They didn't LEARN anything. They retained many/most of their negative personality-issues and character defects. They didn't "work on themselves"--and I think it's because, frankly, they didn't feel enough pain to find it necessary to change. Pain is instructional. Depression is instructional. Guilt and shame are instructional. When you do not allow yourself to FEEL these emotions/states of mind (self-medicating, the reason you drank in the first place), you do not learn the REASONS for them, which are usually: personality disorders, erroneous views of reality, childhood traumas left to fester and infect the psyche, self-esteem in the toilet, PTSD run amok, a puritanical/punitive world-view, etc. Drugs are a band-aid solution. As soon as I would get close to any of these issues in a sponsoree, they would have a meltdown (much like Hugo's!) and then go robotic; that particular, tell-tale type of robotic-reaction that is made possible by the psychological BUFFER OF CHEMICALS that is DRUGS.

No work could get done.

"I think I have PTSD," says the recovering person.

"Let's work on it," I'd say.

(((HYSTERIA))) followed by the robotic, predictably drugged-up countenance.

Like clockwork.

I would finally cut them loose, and I'd say, get another sponsor or come back to me when you cut out the drugs. I don't care if Sigmund fucking Freud himself gave them to you, NO. I will not work with people who are buffering the world with drugs. WON'T DO IT. And most of these people would hang around awhile, then leave. This has become known as the "revolving door of recovery"--because it just happens over and over and these people never learn to DO WITHOUT SUBSTANCES. TOTALLY.

At this point, readers are thinking/saying, "You are not a professional! Danger, Will Robinson, danger!" And they are right. I am not. That is how AA works, and how it worked for me. I do not go to professionals, I do not BELIEVE in bullshit elitist, over-educated professionals, who have over-prescribed drugs to the point that we now have multiple-epidemics of junkies on the level we have never before had in history. PROFESSIONALS ARE PART OF THE FUCKING PROBLEM. I believe in peers, I believe in equality, I believe in people who have been through what I have been through, I believe in the power of regular human beings connecting with each other. That is what worked for me, and I still believe in it. Professionals pretty much destroyed AA, as did the courts forcing people to attend meetings after being arrested for drunken driving or drug possession (in direct violation of the 11th Tradition, which originally stated that AA membership should be based on "attraction rather than promotion"). The overarching resentment of these court-ordered maybe-alcoholics just smoldered, and their anger was palpable in many meetings, destroying the cozy family-atmosphere we once enjoyed. Meanwhile, the professionals brought in all kinds of psychobabble and Dr Feelgood jargon, correcting the scruffy street-people and (ever so politely!) reinterpreting their experience for them with big words and medical concepts, alienating them even further.

As I said, unmitigated disaster.

In short, old style AA might have helped Hugo. The moment I learned he was still "on meds" (which I'm sure were duly prescribed by one of the all-holy and infallible professionals) --I knew the implosion was just a matter of time. I just waited for it, wincing, because I figured it would be a flame-out of Biblical proportions. (I have also been waiting for something like this from Glenn Beck, and he has disappointed me so far, unless he has been able to keep it out of the media.) I have seen countless of these in AA. It usually manifests in these kinds of people (Hugo and Glenn Beck), who make "recovery" part of their identity. It's okay to do this for awhile, even necessary at first. (e.g. I once saw myself as party animal, so it was necessary at first to see myself as recovery animal; I had to put something IN ITS PLACE as a substitution.) But eventually, the idea should be that we MOVE ON. (I have not been to an AA meeting in about a dozen years now.) After a decent length of time has passed, we should even be able to figure out if indeed a certain drug might be helpful and/or good for us. I am old, and my joints are falling apart; there ARE good drugs, and I fully understand that now. Similarly, a toke at the bluegrass concert, did not hurt me. I have learned the MIDDLE PATH at long last, but only because I made learning that a priority. I did not want to be dependent on AA (or drugs) my whole life. I know the important thing: my drug of choice, alcohol, and highly addictive drugs (Valium, sleeping pills, Oxys, opiates, meth, questionable "appetite suppressants" such as the now-disgraced Preludin, which I ate like candy) are totally off limits for me. I avoid them like the plague. I do not take any psych meds daily, since I believe they interfere with my judgement and make it more likely that I will forget this personal boundary and break this rule. I have managed to maintain my sobriety, although sometimes tenuous, through remembering my triggers: bad temper, familial stress (and attendant co-dependency; trying to run other people's lives to my specifications), feelings of inadequacy, hypochondria... and more importantly, I know where all of these traits came from and how they originated in my life (meaning: I no longer hate myself for them).


Hugo didn't. So he doesn't.

One of his triggers: WOMEN. He should have been forbidden from any and all relationships for a period of time, until his sponsor told him it was safe, and then the sponsor should have properly vetted the relationship. No sex; celibacy until you figure out what sex is doing to your life and why you compulsively seek it out. (This is true for MEN AND WOMEN regarding what is called "sex addiction" --which often goes hand-in-hand with other addictions, just as co-dependency and eating disorders do.) I know, this sounds cultish, but THAT IS WHAT I MEAN: Hugo went to the new, improved (snark), Rxs-for-everybody AA, not the cold-showers-and-root-canal version I went to in 1982. When I entered AA, NOT cooperating was really not an option if you wanted to hang around for an extended length of time. The Alcoholics Anonymous I went to was categorical: No serious decisions for a year. This rule includes jobs (if you are employed, do not change jobs or quit your job; if unemployed, try to stretch this out as long as you can), relationships (no changing them, no divorces, no "falling in love", no fucking around), and living arrangements, unless you are in an emergency situation (and many addicts are). Every stress-making decision was talked over carefully first, in meetings or with your sponsor. Everything you did and thought was thoroughly interrogated and examined, first by yourself, and if you still weren't sure, you brought it to "group conscience." [When I was faced with attending my grandmother's wake in Indiana, after only six slim months of sobriety, I fully realized this would be a rowdy and hyper-emotional occasion in MY hard-drinking family. The group counseled me, en masse, do not stay with a family member, stay in a motel instead. Wow, I said, isn't that RUDE? Someone replied, "Is getting howling drunk and fucking everything up rude?" Hmm, good point. I stayed in the motel. I managed. It was okay. I got through it, and the group's collective wisdom was the reason why.]

It was a hard-ass approach, but it is the one I think is necessary, because ADDICTS LIE TO THEMSELVES EVEN MORE THAN THEY DO TO EVERYONE ELSE.

And that way of life now seems extinct. I mourn its loss. It might have saved Hugo.

This is why I did not initially comment on Hugo's flame-out, because I knew I would have to say all of this. I think recovery itself FAILED HUGO, because it got soft.

In fact, let me be clear: the new and improved (snark again) recovery was TAILOR MADE for attention-whores like him. He then could use the fact of recovery to become a star and pump up his self-importance and toxic ego even more. For some of us, particularly down here in the working classes, addiction and alcoholism are still stigmatized; even admitting it is in your past, is still stigmatized. I often do not tell people, unless they finally ask me if there is a reason I never drink.

We don't have "stars" in the working classes (who do not eventually become recovery professionals themselves)... you have to be an academic or writer or media-figure to be a "recovery star"--and Hugo was. He used this fact about himself to boost his star-appeal, which tells me that he still hadn't worked on one of his major personality defects: attention-whoredom.

This has been difficult to write. In AA circles, what I have just done is called "taking Hugo's inventory" and is considered really bad form. I apologize, but felt it was necessary after I was asked the 6th or 7th time, and by people I deeply respect. I "defended" Hugo the last time (actually I just said he needed to be able to write honestly about what had happened--although interestingly, I don't). After his most recent flip-out, a couple of people got nasty with me and asked me if I had rescinded that post. No, I haven't--but then, I was writing it about someone I thought was actually recovering. (Notably: I had not seen the infamous jizz piece at that time.)

I would issue a warning, just in general: If you see people leave AA and then take up with some hard-core religion? Warning. DANGER. This person needs rules and boundaries, and they feel they are not getting them. So, they/we go where there are rules, lots and lots of rules. I did, my sponsor did, Glenn Beck did, and I notice, Hugo did. It is NEVER a good sign. It can work for some of us, as a sort of "transition out" of AA, a halfway-house into the regular world. But for others, it just means CARTE BLANCHE and gives them a whole new playground to play in. Aha, they think, I just needed GOD! I was never an alcoholic, I just needed JEEZUS! (And since we know that now, why not have a drink to celebrate?)

Watch out. As the Grateful Dead song said, trouble ahead, trouble behind. Hugo easily found the trouble, and took a nice long bath in it.

If AA had stayed true to itself, the revolving door of recovery would not exist, and the revolving door into the Church/Synagogue/Mosque/Ashram wouldn't either. As it is, we have all been betrayed, and Big Pharm bears a lot of the blame. But we have also lost our way, we have also declined the rougher, more unpleasant aspects of recovery, such as taking a big, bold look at ourselves as we really and truly are, putting all those pesky psychic-dramas under the microscope for close inspection. We have not wanted to look at the damage we have done--at least I never did. This means people like Hugo can write dramatic accounts of almost-murder/suicides and make them sound like Movies-of-the-Week, instead of the horrific, desperate acts they actually are (if his dramatic tale is true at all, of course. I have come to doubt it, or at least, wonder what parts of the story were edited/left out/trumped up, etc.)

I hope this is a satisfactory reply to the people who have asked me to comment on Hugo. I did not mean it to be so long... but then again, that is why I didn't want to write about him in the first place. I do see Hugo as a casualty of his own hubris... but the difference is, in the old days, he couldn't have used recovery as an excuse to GET WORSE. And now, it seems to be a rather common phenomenon.

I weep for those of us who will never recover. I hope Hugo can. But first, he needs to shut up, and for a good long time, too. Attention is his enemy. Although for some, it is a balm, since they were often totally ignored and relegated to the back of the room. That's the thing: One size does not fit all.

And once upon a time, AA knew that and counseled us accordingly.

I miss those days.