Fairly often, novels, films and TV show clips come across my doorstep and inbox related to addiction. And though most of them offer unique insight, most offer a similar glaring message -- This is a story about an Addict and her drug. The stories often contain families, careers and struggles but as a side note to the overarching Issue that is addiction.
Addiction, like most major diseases, has a way of taking over life and usurping identity. We see it as thus across platforms, TV to novels, and treat it accordingly in real life, i.e. "Suzanne is an alcoholic." Well, actually, Suzanne is a single mother of three and jazz saxophonist, who, yes, also has a substance abuse problem with alcohol. The same can be said for those with medical hardships from schizophrenia to cancer. You are not your illness, yet you're sometimes treated as such.
I carry an Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step card in my wallet. It's laminated, dirty from rubbing against bills and contains a typed set of the 12 Step Spirituality Principles. On the reverse side is a list of Character Defects and Character Assets. A man gave it to me after chatting with him, to impress upon me the vital nature of the AA Program and the fact that he is an addict.
I have mixed feelings on AA. I believe in camaraderie and community in times of strain and crisis. I believe in cultivating the knowledge that addiction is not character weakness. However, I'm not so sure as to the continual efficacy of defining oneself as an addict day in and day out. As much as it's all-consuming, it's a facet of life, not a definition of being. Does it take this definition to cope?
That theory of Alcoholism as Identity is perpetuated throughout our culture, an example being Chelsea Handler, widely known for mocking herself as an alcoholic without adding life substance or background to the description:
|Chelsea Handler - Alcoholics Anonymous|
Somehow, many of the stories in her routines lead back to her self-awarded identity as an Alcoholic -- take this clip on romantic comedies:
|Chelsea Handler - Romantic Comedies|
"I fall all the time. You know who comes and gets me? The bouncer."
While funny, this clip, and countless other instances on her show, present Alcoholism reigning before her interests, life and personality. Somehow, cancer and heart disease aren't joked about in the same light, nor by speaking on those do you become solely a Victim of Heart Disease or Cancer. I have narcolepsy, but it's a small fragment of who I am. If we continue to treat addiction as a root characteristic of self, we'll continue to have "personality flaws" instead of health issues, problematic people instead of those fighting a disease.