I recently ran a poll on social media asking the question, ‘Are alcoholics or addicts selfish people’. On Twitter the poll received 237 votes and on Facebook there was a much a smaller response, mainly because the facebook page was so new at the time.
However on both pages the results were pretty much identical.
You will see here that I purposely pushed people to make a decision on either yes or no, this was because I wanted to press people to go either way otherwise I think I would have had a poll with close to 100% in the ‘don’t know’ category.
I should firstly mention that the main demographic of the voters would have been children of alcoholics based on the followers I have on my social media, however not exclusively and it is difficult to judge that either way so I am taking the results as they are.
What these results appear to show is that there is very much a divide in opinion but in many ways this wasn’t actually the case. Many people commented below expanding on their answers. Quite often people had similar beliefs but with slightly different ways of looking at it.
For example, some would say that alcoholics or addicts are selfish but that it wasn’t completely their fault. Others came from the angle that they often do lots of selfish things but are not selfish people.
Below are some replies from twitter that reflect this. I have kept them anonymous.
One tweet, which I can’t seem to find, said that their mum was the most selfless person you could meet, accept when alcohol was involved.
Some people though, felt that too much selfish behaviour amounted to a selfish person regardless of the reason behind it.
I don’t disagree with any of the comments. I think we all have our own experiences when it comes to addiction, and mental health in general and our perception is our perception and we are always justified in how we feel.
So what is my personal view?
Well, firstly I would have to stress that as someone who has suffered with a number of addictions both behavioural and substance, I cannot argue that I have done some extremely selfish things. If one had some very distinctly black and white thinking, then they would have to argue that during the time that I was actively drinking I was in fact a deeply selfish person. You could argue that there were times in my life where I woke up most days with one aim and that was to escape my reality. To not have to deal with the every day things in life that everyone has to deal with and that in this single minded aim, I was indeed, selfish.
I put my need for escape before everyone and everything.
Now, in times gone by, I had this exact black and white thinking. I also had a desire to be seen as owning what I had done. I had, what I thought, was strength in my black and white thinking. I would openly admit to being selfish to my core and that I now had every desire to be a different man. In truth, this brought me praise, people saw it as a strength of mind.
Today, for me, life happens in those grey areas.
Even some of those most selfish days of my existence would end with a broken man, alone in his bed staring at the ceiling completely aware of the pain I was causing, but seemingly incapable of understating why. I didn’t want to be what I had become but could see no way out. Was I weak?
I was alone, I know that. I was acting completely selfish, but was that who I was behind the skin?
The truth is, who I was, was actually still that 9 year old boy, alone in the room looking at my dad lifeless on the floor. I was that deeply traumatised 9 year old boy who couldn’t find another way, whose reality had become so painful that the need to escape it outweighed everything else. I was a 9 year old boy in a mans body doing my best to survive. The resulting behaviour was indeed selfish, deeply selfish on many occasions, but I now see it as a symptom of a much deeper issue.
See, the traumas I faced as a child, I played no part in. They were in no way my fault or responsibility. I think most people would agree that children are innocent and so i find myself back in the place where I am asking when does an innocent child victim become the adult that must take responsibility for what they do? The day they wake up on their 18th birthday? I guess in many ways this is true, at some point we all have to ‘grow up’ if we are to integrate into society fully but what if by then you are so deeply traumatised by your childhood that you cant show up? My coping mechanisms were so deeply ingrained in me by that age that simply deciding to choose recovery was just not that simple.
So would it have been right to outcast and shame that 18 year old me even more, simply for being someone not willing to find recovery at that moment?
I would argue the opposite. I would say that those that are so deeply traumatised by things that have happened to them should be given the same dignity and love as any other adult, perhaps even more…I mean this on a society level, as I know just how difficult someone trapped in alcoholism can be to love by the ones closest to them. If their family have reached a point where they have had to concentrate on putting themselves first and the alcohol dependant has fallen further into the abyss, society should still try to view these people as traumatised individuals, not masters of their own downfalls.
And so to somehow draw this all back to the question of whether alcoholics or addicts are simply selfish people I would say this –
I am sure there are some that are simply selfish people, as would be the case with any group of people, but does being an alcoholic or addict make one a selfish person by definition? No. People in general are hugely complex, and if we can look passed the behaviours to who these people really are, we will often find that rather than being simply selfish, they often lost, alone, and desperately trying to find a way to survive.