The Ersatz Judge, the Critical Critic, the Know-It-All who thinks he knows better than everyone else: there seem to be three kinds of flamethrowers in the world of addiction, all self-appointed to their positions as self-righteous destroyers.
There are those who are hostile toward the addicts themselves, ignorant in their understanding about the disease of addiction. There are those who are hostile toward the people who love someone suffering with the disease, spouting off about something with which they have no experience and that they know nothing about. And there are those who do know something about the battle being waged, having lived with addiction in one way or another themselves, and yet are hostile toward anyone with a differing viewpoint. It’s possible for the first two groups to be softened by honest example and education. The other requires a long, hard look at who’s looking back in the mirror, followed by some of the introspective sort of reflection.
The truth is, the only enemy is the disease of addiction itself. Only the disease needs to be destroyed, not people, which, too often, is the result of harsh judgment.
The Ersatz Judge believes that addicts are bad people—a bunch of selfish partiers having way too much fun. But here are some truths the Ersatz Judge should know:
- Once substance use becomes compulsion, all fun disappears.
- The word addict is derived from the Latin word meaning slave. Think about that.
- Medication prescribed for pain is a frequent cause of addiction.
- Most addiction begins in adolescence. Immersed in a culture that glorifies substance use, our children are lured to drug and alcohol use since birth.
- Addiction acts indiscriminately. No one thinks it will happen to them. No one chooses for it to happen to them. It can happen to anyone but doesn’t happen to everyone engaging in the exact same behaviors.
- Addiction causes some pretty bad behaviors (and consequences) because addiction is a disease that changes the structure and function of the brain.
- The brain that is sick is the same brain that needs to do the work to get better.
- The person inside The Addict is diverted from living the life and becoming the person he was meant to. And he is someone whom someone else loves and misses very much.
Substance use may be a choice (or by doctor’s orders), but addiction is a disease. It has nothing to do with the quality of a person’s character or the strength of their will. Our support, built on fact-based critical thinking and compassion, is what addicts need in order to move forward—judgment serves no productive purpose.
The Critical Critic has words—lots of words—for those of us who love someone suffering with the disease of addiction, whether they know anything about addiction or not. They criticize us for helping, fixing, and pushing (or not helping, fixing, or pushing enough) these sick children of ours who won’t be helped or fixed or pushed—they criticize us for not being able to stop them or change them, as if anyone can ever make anyone else behave in a certain way with a snap. They criticize us for overreacting and under-reacting, for hanging on and for letting go, and for being in denial and clueless when they would have done things perfectly from the start. Most hurtful of all, all snug in their luckiness, the Critical Critic lets it be known that our children’s addiction is the result of our parental love somehow being flawed.
But, Critical Critic, this could have been (or might yet be) you. You could be the one stuck in a role you weren’t prepared for and certainly didn’t want. A role where no matter what you do (or don’t do) you are criticized and judged to be wrong. Where you are already beating yourself up with undue blame, shame and guilt. And you don’t need anyone else stepping up to pile more blame, shame and guilt on top.
The Know-It-All has walked the walk of addiction recovery—as an addict or family member or professional—and vigorously preaches his beliefs or methods as the only right way, putting anyone with a different perspective in their place. But there is no one “right way” on this journey. What’s right for one person may be very wrong for someone else. Everyone carries a basket full of experiences and a perspective from which we can all learn, from which we can all take what we need—and quietly leave the rest. The path we’re all walking is hard enough without adding the weight of judgment to someone else’s load (and those of us who’ve spent any time walking this walk should know that better than anyone else).
Judgment is a roadblock to healing, for everyone involved.
So, judge not.
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Sandra Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction (Central Recovery Press 2014), Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children (Hazelden 2017), the Readings for Moms of Addicts app (Hazelden 2018), and her blog.
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