When to Call Bullshit

In my group sessions with addicts and alcoholics, I have a bullshit button. It has five unique phrases for saying “you’re full of shit.” Because I fancy swear words to enhance my dialogue, and because it’s a perfect phrase for meaningless words meant to color something that is otherwise worthless fluff, this method becomes a way to let a group member know when they engage in distorted thinking. Minimizing, rationalization, justification, and blaming are ways people defend their actions and make otherwise intolerable behaviors okay. Using cognitive distortions and outright lying is common for people who are active in addiction, as it is a way to hide the offensive nature of their actions and the truly astonishing amount of use of the substance/behavior. How do I know? I did it too when I was in active alcoholism. And, I also have a degree and several years of experience working directly with alcoholics and addicts, both through volunteering and in my career.

The bullshit button was not my idea originally. I adopted it from an amazingly talented clinician who trained me prior to leaving.

From childhood where I grew up with parents that regularly had backed-up lies to justify their behaviors. I found out as a teenager their motives were to support their own unhealthy lifestyles. Neither had any intention of changing. And in my line of work, I have become fantastic at detecting bullshit. I have always addressed it when I see it. This does not make me many friends in my personal life, but the ones I have know I have the best intentions.

In work and sponsoring, using care-frontation saves lives. I infuse a bit of humor into our usually intense sessions to keep clients engaged. And, I call them out in a manner that does not shame them. Since shame only further damages people, I first encourage other group members to hold each other accountable as it saves lives, and I will call bullshit, then follow up with questioning that individual if they were telling the entire story or leaving out details, considering other factors, or using justification to support damaging behaviors. I also emphasize that clients are not their addictions- addictive behaviors are awful, but they are not horrible people. You are not your behaviors. And in addiction, your brain has changed you into something you’ve never intended to become.

Photo by lilartsy

Because all addicts lie- to everyone, including themselves.

The nature of addiction is to lie to cover up use- of a drug, of the outrageous behaviors addicts engage in, of the actual collateral damage use incurs. By outlining reality, I highlight not only the damage addicts/alcoholics do to themselves and every person near them; I dispel the distortions used to keep the addictive behaviors sustainable in their minds. Addicts and alcoholics may take part in dangerous activities that lead to arrest, incarceration, accidents, death, sex outside committed relationships, unprotected sex, child abuse stealing, fights, and obnoxious, aggressive behaviors. Addiction (all types- whether process or substance) incurs extensive damage on the brain, including the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that uses reasoning and judgment.

Eastern Europeans are known for their harshness. Received by Americans as offensive, the bluntness that some cultures exhibit is a cultivated behavior drawn from eras known for widespread suffering, such as World War II, NATO, or Stalin. A proud country, their customs often oppose American’s ways. They consider smiling upon meeting someone weird. Exhibiting emotions one truly does not feel is not only a waste of time but considered rude. By their terms, the genuine version of oneself is the best one to present.

What, you may ask, does a bullshit button have to do with Eastern Europeans? Should you ever visit the mother country, or have a friend from there, you may experience their curt interactions. This culture prizes straightforwardness. They do not take the extra step for adding pleasantries to their daily communications like Americans. Their rough history formed into a culture where they cut out the fancy surficial talk. Under the assumption anyone could die instantly, this became necessary for communicating in times of survival.

Showing the authentic version of oneself the purest form of respect an individual can show another, in the perspective of this culture.

Counselors help people develop an ability to observe themselves. Deep introspection is an activity most individuals will never take part in. It allows one to familiarize both their dark and light sides. Coined Shadow Work by Carl Jung, this work allows one to get to know their repressed side. The benefits of such is to become more self-aware of when behavior can incur negative consequences, to enhance behaviors that increase success, become integrated, and heal trauma passed down from generation to generation. In those with unhealed trauma, pain becomes inflicted upon oneself in many methods of coping in unhealthful ways. It is only through self-awareness that an individual can intervene in troublesome patterns that entwine self-defeating sequences.

When the mind remains convoluted within distorted reality, it is near impossible to see the actuality of the mess created by choices made in an altered state. While addiction slowly overcomes one’s ability to function overall, it creeps into every corner until behaviors that merely support the addiction completely consume the addict and he foregoes all other obligations. The addict/alcoholic fears losing the addiction, feeling that it is a necessary means for survival. Because this is how our brains shift to see an addiction neurochemically. Not having that addiction feels like dying internally to the addict. So, he or she will increase risky actions in order to support that behavior. This lasts until it is too painful to maintain. Termed “Rock Bottom,” the lowest point a person is in life when that individual loses everything from their career to their home, spouse, or children. This low part of life is where the addicted learns he/she can no longer upkeep their lifestyle created while using. It differs for each person.

woman in mask holding skull
Photo by Lisa

Who are you under the career, education, economic, or popularity status?

A question originally therapeutically by Aaron T. Beck, few can answer this question. Shadow work is part of that process. All humans are just that- mortals. People have characteristics, attributes that have negative and positive potentials depending on the situation applied to them. It is people that apply the labels of good or bad to these characteristics, but the desirable levels change depending on the person. Thus, hyperactivity or over-talkativeness may be valuable to one while it is undesirable to another. And, it is through our experiences with our caregivers in childhood that people put rigid definitions on such views. It is in adulthood that humans have the chance to re-evaluate their unconscious perspectives of themselves in the world, and redefine that where need be.

So, be courageous, conscious, and figure the entirety of yourself out. We all have our bullshit. Acting as if it does not exist is denial. Lying to yourself is possibly the greatest deception of them all. When one sheds light upon their darkness, healing begins.

Once discovering the authentic version of self, a person builds healthy self-confidence to reveal it to the world. Including the ability to withstand criticism, this genuine self acknowledges such information but does not take all of it in to define his/her reality.

Perhaps once you meet this truer version of you, you can visit Eastern Europe and not fret about fitting in. Or, at least, be in America and not feel the need to please everyone.

I’d still like to visit one day, buy a castle in the mountains- to live in part time. I’ve always wanted a moat. Lots of fascinating history over there.

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