The other day one of the clients at Hope Trust rehab confronted his counselor by saying: “I have been taking heroin for over a decade and have been to jail to prove it.
You sound like a know-it-all old alcoholic. What makes you think you think you have something to teach me?”
The factor of self-inflation and grandiosity is common amongst addicts and alcoholics. In fact ego-deflation is an important part of therapy both in AA and in a rehab.
Addicts and alcoholics develop a sense of low self-worth caused by their additive lifestyle. They experience so many losses – money, opportunities, reputation, health, relationships, jobs, friends, etc. These losses make them feel ‘small’ or inadequate.
Therefore, they clutch at any straw to show ‘superiority’. As an old saying in AA goes: Addicts are megalomaniacs with an inferiority complex.
The client even offered his jail term as proof he ranks higher than his counselor. As another counselor at Hope Trust put it: “It becomes a contest! Alcoholics and addicts pursue this need to amazing lengths. If they can’t be the best of the best, they must be the worst of the worst. ‘I’ve lost more money in business than you, etc’”.
Addiction therapists recognize that the alcoholic or addict who has to have the biggest car, the most expensive gadgets, talks the loudest, and never tires of telling you how rich or smart he is doesn’t have a big ego. He has huge low self-worth. He may be full of himself and his achievements while talking loudly, but he is actually feels worthless. He hides behind his glossy claims and is afraid his sad soul is about to be found out.
Such people actually know their true worth, but a drag of a joint or a shot of booze makes their self-doubt vanish and grandiosity overtakes their feeling of worthlessness.
Sometime back, when I was in college, the most damning thing you could say about someone was that he was “conceited”. The Greeks called it hubris, the madness and pride that goes before a fall. There are legends of triumphant emperors riding in a victory march through Rome with a slave in their chariot whispering in their ear: Remember you are mortal…wise kings of yore had court jesters licensed to tell them uncomfortable truths that flattering courtiers kept to themselves…ancient Indian Vedic philosophers spoke about peeling the layers of self like an onion before discovering truth and Buddhists wisely talk of unselfing.
But intoxication goes the other way.
“So what if you’re a little high. You can handle it. You’re you”. Freud said that grandiosity was a desire to return to “infantile omnipotence”, that early time when we could do anything and nothing we did was wrong. We recognize this as a fraudulent front, or false pride. So empty boasting is not only a common feature in addiction, it is a clue to our addictive personality.
Recovery from addiction is a process of getting out of this self-centred grandiosity, of rising above one’s ‘self’, of peeling the layers of ‘ego’…a sort of deflation, so that the addict or alcoholic is able to see the reality of his condition. It is the process that enables him or her to actually accept his personality with all its positives and negatives. It is actually getting rid of the comfortable fronts and facing his real self. It is the ‘moment of truth’, from where real and significant recovery can start.
Genuine recovery, like a house, can only be built on a solid foundation of reality and truth, not falsehoods.
Mr. Luther is co-founder and director of Hope Trust – Asia’s leading facility for addiction treatment.