Digesting the Inner Child

Jan wrote this article in October 1992, many months after we had submitted the final manuscript for the Addictionary, but a little before it was actually published.

Do you get the feeling that recovery is hard work? Do you dread the next load of crap you have to wade through? When you read on page 164 of the Big Book, “… trudge the Road of Happy Destiny,” do you tend to focus on the first three words?

Humor is a key

There is an extremely powerful key to recovery that is so simple many people overlook it. That key is humor. It slices through the muck of self-pity and defiance while it makes you feel good about the confrontation. It is like a political cartoon compared to campaign mudslinging.

Have you ever known anyone who was working on their family of origin, boundary, or codependency issues so hard, they were depressing to be around? Are there poor souls that you’d like to reach out to, but just can’t bring yourself to ruin your day with it? Are there people you hope will not talk in a meeting because they’re always so serious about everything?

We are not a glum lot

We all know that some are sicker than others. There is always someone who came from a more dysfunctional family than yours (and someone whose family was healthier). For most addicts, there is a lot of real work to be done in recovery. Almost no one Waltzes into recovery and has an incredibly easy time of it. Most addicts have to learn a whole new way of life. Many have to get their whole lives back in order. Some never had any order in their lives to begin with.

The question here is what kind of attitude you have about that process. You can focus on how frightening it is, how much pain there is, and how angry you are that you have to go through all this. Or you can see it as the greatest adventure of your life, a testimony, to the existance of a Higher Power, and an introduction, or reintroduction, to love and a daily chance of happiness.

Well, what is it that makes a meeting fun? What is it about a good meeting that makes you want to go back? Is it all the stuff that’s read at the beginning of the meeting? Probably not, although many addicts do like the ritual of the Serenity Prayer and the first part of “How It Works,” or similar brief readings. Is it when someone shares in a very emotional way their innermost secrets? That can make for a very moving experience, but is it really something you’d like to experience for an hour every day?

Simplicity is beautiful but boring

I often hear that the Twelve Steps are a very simple program. In fact, much of the success of the many groups based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is due to their singleness of purpose. They are a fellowship of individuals united in their common adversary, which is their own thinking process. They are people who have admitted that they cannot control their own thought processes relating to alcohol or drug or food consumption, or their other excessive behaviors. Addicts need almost constant adjustment of that thinking process, and that amounts to telling yourself, or hearing someone else tell you, the same damn things over and over.

There is nothing today that a drink can’t make worse. There are no big deals unless I make them so. Today I want to stay not in the problem, but the solution. Easy does it. Live and let live. I can live clean and sober one day at a time. Let go and let God. Honesty is the best policy. The worst day sober is better than the best day drunk. I am not alone.

Well, hearing the same thing repeatedly is boring. What a relief it is when someone can say the same basic message of recovery in a novel, funny way! It makes it a little confusing for newcomers — (“Why is everyone laughing at that?”) — but it really helps the medicine go down easier for those who have heard the message of recovery daily for many years.

An end run around the defense

There is something about humor that is even more important than overcoming boredom. Humor can slide around the defenses, especially when coupled with the old AA trick of confronting you by telling you what happened to me. Someone says, “I just can’t believe I’m worthy of recovery." They then proceed to enumerate all the reasons why they think they are the worst human being that ever lived. Then some oldtimer says, “Well, I used to think I was the greatest scumsucker of all time. Then I got a sponsor who told me I just wasn’t important enough to be the greatest anything. And I realized that I was actually mad at that S.O.B. for telling me I wasn’t totally worthless!”

From drunkalogs to good stories

Some drunkalogs are just overlong stories. But there are skillful oldtimers who manage to find the humor in every embarrassing situation. The subtle message that comes out of this entertaining story, is not just how someone can be in a very bad shape and still recover, but each foolish decision, each manifestation of addictive thinking, is exposed for what it is. And a group of Somethings Anonymous leave the meeting less likely to abuse Somethings because they will be more likely to recognize rationalizing and justifying for what they are: the mechanisms of relapse.

Viktor Frankl advocated humor as a way to distance ourselves from our problems. If anyone ever needed a tool to give themselves some perspective, it would be an addict. Almost every good Twelve Step group meeting finds someone (if not everyone) leaving thinking about the grander scheme of things, not so much trapped in their own daily problems.

Dark humor is better than none at all

Do you like Gary Larsen’s cartoons, “The Far Side?" For me, they represent a progression from the original “Addams Family” cartoons, through Mad Magazine, Gahan Wilson’s dark cartoons in Playboy, and “Bloom County,” by Berke Breathed. I shamelessly stole the title of this article from the title a book of cartoons by john Callahan, who often gets flak for making fun of invalids and animals.

One of his cartoons shows a small restaurant with no one inside. A sign on the window says, “The Anorexic Cafe, Now Closed 24 Hours a Day.”

Another shows a blind man with seeing eye dog, getting on an airplane. The flight attendant says, “We’ve arranged a window seat for your dog so you can enjoy the view.”

The last straw, for quite a few readers, was one showing a dog lying on its back with a window pane embedded in its chest. A passerby asks, “How much is that window in the doggie?”

Reaction to humor

Now, it’s perfectly all right if this kind of humor is not your style. But pay attention to your reaction. If it was one of disgust, it is likely to involve what Transactional Analysis calls your Critical Parent. This is where all the “shoulds” come from: you should be happy, or you should be ashamed. By contrast, Claude Steiner tells us that genuine humor comes from the Natural Child. That child laughs simply because it’s funny. I can’t imagine good work on the Inner Child that does not include lots of laughter, playing, and breaking rules. Not rules that are necessary for society to function, but rules like men can’t cry, or that grownups can’t act silly, or even that you have to be “politically correct.”

By the way, John Callahan’s editors are used to answering people irate that he could make fun of handicapped people. When those folks find out he’s a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, their attitude usually changes. An auto accident with a utility pole severed his spine. The man driving was drunk. Callahan was already an alcoholic, but his disease shifted into high gear. Several years after the accident, he sobered up and is reported to be in recovery. He just has a weird sense of humor.

Your happy childhood is Now!

We live an hour and a half from Disney World. My wife and I have annual passes. We love to go over and spend a morning, just playing. Riding the rides, captured by the Wonder of fantasy and faraway lands. We usually get to meet people from different states or countries, and we joke a lot. We also see lots of people who are struggling with young kids that are way past exhaustion. These people are NOT having fun, but they paid their money and by God you kids WILL enjoy this, whether you like it or not! A good long day at the Magic Kingdom can show you the best and the not-so-hot of human nature, just as all addicts experience, at a meeting or in daily living.

If I have been successful with this article, it has moved back and forth from humor to something more serious, from the dark side of life to lighter fare. If we don’t take ourselves too seriously, recovery, and even good meetings, are like that, too.

A good joke at last

Have you heard this one? A guy sitting at a barstool gets served a drink with a fly floating in it. How can you tell whether he (the guy, not the fly) is an occasional drinker, a heavy drinker, or an alcoholic? The occasional drinker would send the drink back. A heavy drinker would take his spoon and dip out the fly, then drink the drink. The alcoholic would squeeze the fly.

— Jan R. Wilson, 4 October 1992

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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