The Ugly Victim

Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink. This is the theme song of the pseudo-victim. I am not talking about real victims, those who have been assaulted, burglarized, or had property destroyed by a hurricane. I am not talking about true victims of disease, cancer or other insidious or progressive illnesses. There is much, however, to learn from these real victims; some of them take on the victim role and milk it for all it's worth, others live a life of victory over their hardships, never letting on, until you get to know them, that they have had struggles. They refuse to play the role of victim. They work hard to resolve (solve again) their issues.

How many people do you know who have a significant illness, or have survived an accident but have physical consequences, or have a family member with an illness, and never complain? How many people are there in financial trouble who don't complain?

In contrast, don't you get tired of hearing people (yourself?) whine about how tough life is? The alcoholic/addict with his or her special personality traits is particularly adept at this whining stuff and at the ugly victim stance.

Examples: "Why does it always happen to me?" regarding some event like:

  1. missed or late for the appointment, meeting, etc.
  2. lost my cell phone, glasses, wallet (fill in blank)
  3. felt snubbed when Jane/John didn't say hello
  4. got loaded again and got another DUI
  5. had fight with my (girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, all of the above)
  6. was abusive to my (children, dog, roommate) and feel guilty
  7. ran up credit card, got late fee and finance charge
  8. didn't get invited to the party
  9. got passed up for the promotion (bosses have always been out to get me).

You get the point. These whiners are only victims of their own minds. We make our own problems. For the addict (remember, alcohol is a drug and an alcoholic is simply an alcohol addict) this is a familiar trap. Growing up is difficult for normal people. For the addict, the drugs, even alcohol, make growing up more difficult, impossible for some. Drug use takes away the opportunity for the usual emotional growth and maturity we are supposed to get during adolescence and early adulthood. Spending a significant amount of time mind-altered keeps us from learning what those who are sober, clean and present get to learn: constructive and functional ways to live, appropriate conflict resolution, how to deal with feelings, how to take responsibility for ourselves and not take responsibility for things that are not our job, ingredients of healthy relationships, honesty with ourselves and others, and much more. Simply put, we do not get to grow through adolescence and beyond to become emotionally mature adults if we stunt our growth be being loaded all the time. The solution to everything becomes: get high, instead of something appropriate.

This immaturity and inability to take responsibility for oneself is at the core of the disease of addiction. The "normal" response of the addict is to blame...someone, something, some situation, and get high. Then what happens? Emotional pain! The thoughts turn to: poor me, nobody understands, I'm different, and so on...as a kid, the refrain was, "I think I'll go eat worms." As an adult, the response is often, "have another drink, hit, bowl, pill, or line."

It would never occur to the addict to say, "Oh, hmmm, guess I made a mess of this," SO...here's the catch... "I will begin changing me and my behavior to fix this problem I created!" AND, way too advanced for many, "If I have done harm to someone (including myself), I will do what it takes to make it right. And I will stop doing the destructive behavior." "I am not a victim. I am an adult with choices about my behavior, even about my mind...negative thoughts can and will occur, but I do not have to entertain them!"

So, pseudo-victims, learn from your neighbor with cancer who is always cheerful and thankful for another day alive. Or learn from the hurricane victims who have almost nothing left and share what they do have with a dozen friends and relatives, again being thankful for being alive and for the soup kitchen food.

To be fair, there are adults who have been real victims as children. They have been traumatized and abused, emotionally or otherwise. Children truly are victims; they cannot get away from perpetrators of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse until they reach a certain level of maturity. Many go on to get help resolving old pain, eventually becoming able to lead happy and productive lives; some never get enough help to recover. There is help, but it takes willingness to find it and to use it. As an adult, you are not really a victim of other people...you just feel like you are, perhaps because you really were as a child. Many of those who were victims as children cover the pain with drugs. If you are still stuck in your drugs and alcohol, covering old pain by getting high, deal with it; get help for all of your issues. Don't go it alone; others who have been there can and will help you get sober and clean and stay that way long enough to grow up and find the best help available for all of your issues. Try AA, NA, Alanon, all listed in the local phonebook, or find a really good therapist or consultant, or both! Whatever you do, stop playing the victim; it's really ugly.

Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver info@docdawn.com.


 

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