Accepting the Ignorance of Others

[Disclaimer: I do not suffer from addiction to illegal or recreational drugs or alcohol. I do not portend to know the struggle to recover and manage this specific addiction. I wrote this post to highlight the idea of understanding and respecting different perspectives when it comes to mental health, healing, and recovery in general. I apologize if I offend anyone. Please let me know if there is something incorrect so I may learn from it, and change the post if need be.]

When I was younger, I mistook the knowledge of my idealism as fact and created definitive standards of right and wrong. Maybe my mind was too young to understand the complexities of human experience, or maybe I simply hadn’t lived long enough to see the dynamics of life. But thankfully over time, I have come to see the nuance in all human interaction, and our struggle to find peace and acceptance, especially within ourselves.

I have spent so many years on my quest to manage my mental illness. I have tried a smorgasbord of drugs, therapies, and alternative remedies. Some have worked for a time, and others simply did not fit. A simple example: while I have found DBT an effective form of therapy, group therapy has never worked for me. And while I am still searching, I have witnessed so many find the concoction of tools that help them survive. As long as it does not hurt themselves or others I support them without judgment. In fact, I envy them. I also understand that sometimes, in order to maintain their health, they might proselytize. I think it is common when you have found something that has changed your life. You want others to benefit from your experience and you want to believe in what you are doing, (something I believe plays a large part in what makes it work.)

All of that being said, I was part of a conversation recently where two people were discussing options to help someone who is currently suffering from drug addiction. At the end of the day, we all understand that she will have to want to change, and will have to most likely try a variety of mechanisms to help her battle her addiction. It’s going to be a long road, and I suppose those that love her are trying to find ways they can support and provide her with options for the journey to come.

One of those people is a recovering alcoholic who found his form of AA as key to his recovery. From what I know from others who participate in AA, there are varied forms of AA – it isn’t practiced or used in one way only. I also think it’s important to mention that this person is not educated or familiar with other forms of addiction therapy and tools. I believe he has lived a rather narrow life in terms of interactions and experiences with others. (This is not a criticism, just something to note.) And while I do not think he understands the situation fully, I do appreciate his passion for the techniques that worked for him and that have allowed him to remain sober for so long. I accept that I am not in his shoes and that in his perspective of the world, he has found the right answer – not just for him, but for so many addicts he has helped along the way.

While I held back my frustrations at his simplistic and contradictory ideas of “help,” at some point, I became incredibly frustrated. I told him that this matter was not just about drugs; it was about traumatic experiences, environment, social norms within their network, and a chemical imbalance that makes her have an addictive personality. I noted that while I appreciated that his version of AA had helped him, that for others, therapy, medication, and other forms of help might be better for her and we had to keep our minds open to what might fit her best.

This is when he began his tirade about “pharmaceutical money-scheming” and “bullshit therapy.” He noted that if doctors were to actually “cure” their patients, they would be out of a job. This isn’t the first time I have encountered someone with this opinion, and I know it will not be my last. But it stung. I am currently battling my bipolar II, and given my treatment-resistant depression (TRD,) I am in a frustrating and scary place.

Also, as someone who does take medication, I do not judge those that do not take medications – I know for some, the side effects are too much for them or they simply do not like the idea. Others have had unfortunately negative experiences in therapy, (who hasn’t,) and are weary of trying it again. And that’s okay. But this man has never tried therapy or medication (there are medications that can help with weaning people off addictive medication.) While I do not have a typical addiction, though I tend to see my self-harming personally as an addiction of sorts, I have spoken to those who have, I have read articles, and I have watched those around me get better. And so while I have heard ignorant comments that insult the mechanisms I choose to use, he added injury to insult by assuming I did not know what it might be like to be in a situation where you are not in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I had so much to say. But like many women, I have been trained to cry instead of show anger. The other person in the conversation, who knows my story, attempted to turn the conversation, and I stepped outside. I was crying because I was angry at his ignorance. I was crying because while I do not know his whole story, I do not belittle his belief in G-d, even though it is an idea I do not believe in. I actually see commonalities in the various techniques used, including in AA, like radical acceptance or letting go of past resentments. But he has developed an idea about medication and therapy, and without knowing what it really is, has decided it is worthless. And in doing so, he is negating the years of trial and error, and my struggle, because to him, it’s not just about proselytizing, it’s about “the right way.”

In the past few days, I have spent time thinking this through, and most likely giving him more time than he deserves. I know he is coming from a place of ignorance, and while some people are open to listening and learning, there are others who simply can not/will not. They say they are, but they already have decided their right and wrong. I have found this to be true when I tell people about ECT. Sometimes they don’t know what it is, and if do know or find out, their reactions are insulting. Often times, they look afraid and aghast, I have had people literally take steps back. You can see their idea of you shifting in their head. I have even had doctors look at me with horror and what feels like judgment. I always imagine they are thinking, “how can someone who seems so normal, be so fucked up? Who knew she was actually crazy – I mean she let herself be electrocuted.” Some are willing to listen and learn; others aren’t. And like this man, I allow them to make me feel ashamed of my choices.

I also think his comments hurt more than usual because I am currently struggling with my faith in the process. I am frustrated, scared, tired, and my hope is dwindling. Having someone exacerbate my fear is unsettling. Both of these reasons have more to do with me and my issues, and not him. I accept that.

I suppose in my own way, I want to proselytize my reasoning for being open-minded to all voices. I have found that if I allow myself to listen to the other side, I see how much we have in common, am able to analyze and understand some of what they dislike in my choice, and while I still may maintain my belief, find value in the challenge of learning to see it from different perspectives. I walk away with the understanding that nothing in life is as simple as we might want it to be. But not everyone works that way and it is not my place to tell them to do so.

I am trying to see this experience as a lesson. An opportunity for the radical acceptance that the nuance of humans includes those that are unwilling to open their minds. Understanding that he is a complex person, that this is one part of him that I do not like, but there are reasons why he is the way he is, he is not hurting anyone, and at the end of the day, he is more than just that one opinion. And he is entitled to that opinion, even if I do not agree.

Well, that is the ideal anyway.

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