Snake Oil and Easy Answers

Snake OilWe addicts are especially prone to magical thinking, particularly in early recovery.  We have spent years — most likely decades — looking for easy answers outside ourselves: a pill, a drink, a romance, a new toy, a new restaurant or dish, a new person to take care of.  We were drawn to anything that we thought might be a quick fix, anything that might cover up our feelings of low self-worth, fear of the world, lack of faith in the things we feel have failed us. When we are newly sober, with only our program to replace our mood-altering behavior, we are still prone to looking for the quick fix.

And why wouldn’t we be?

We need time to develop the skills and ways of thinking that comprise a sober person.  Recovery is a long, drawn-out process, not an event, and the lure of easy answers outside ourselves is still a prominent temptation.  We want money; we want to clear up the wreckage of the past, long before we understand how to do it; we want lost prestige, to make up for lost time (we can’t); We want to regain the ability to support ourselves and our families in the ways that we think we’d like to become accustomed.  And, like all good addicts, we want to have serenity and peace in our time — right now!

Before we change our concepts of skillful living through our program of recovery, these seeming imperatives make us easy prey for the get-rich-quick, God-will-give-you-what-you-want- if-you-concentrate-on-positive-thinking, 30-Days-to-a-Better-You scam artists.  We buy self-help books by the dozen (okay, as long as we don’t try to substitute them for our programs). We get involved in esoteric “philosophies” and arcane organizations and fellowships that promise us better lives through magical means that don’t require digging down into the places where it hurts — where our problems actually reside.  

We are vulnerable to pyramid and vertical marketing schemes that promise the world if only we will do the work (easy, of course) and invest “a few dollars” in our “future”.  We fail to notice that the only folks who make much money beyond their original investments are the folks who got in at the top, who make their bucks selling to the “entrepreneurs” in their lower tiers.  (The writer got nailed in two of those — one when more than 10 years sober from chemicals — before realizing that things that seem too good to be true almost certainly are.)

We are desperate; we want to believe that life’s as easy as the snake-oil salesmen tell us.  We are in a hurry, and we are terrified of actually facing the demons that have haunted us for the better part of our lives.  Easy outs that involve dealing with superficial things are really appealing, and they snare untold thousands of us folks who really just need a year or so of reality to get our feet under us.

And, of course, if they don’t work it’s because we did something wrong.  We have no problem believing that, because we’ve been hearing it all our lives.

We need to be vigilant.  We need to find and talk to people who have been involved for years, not just the dewy-eyed newbies who are anxious to recruit us to validate their own decisions.  We need to discuss our grand plans with sponsors, supports, therapists — and perhaps lawyers or the folks down at the Better Business Bureau and Department of Consumer Affairs.  

If it’s one of the many “spiritual” programs, we need to be highly critical of their teaching, and compare it with the mainstream philosophies and religions.  Spirituality, ethics and religion have been around for a long time, and the things that remain generally do so because they have more than a kernel of truth (although such are often suborned to less savory uses by their leaders).  It’s highly unlikely that some newcomer is going to arrive three or four thousand years after the fact and discover a “new” way by consulting some crystals or some invisible muse with whom only they could communicate.  Many of these folks repackage age-old truths in fancy clothes.  Would we be better off exploring the original sources?

Vigilance in early recovery is of extreme importance.  As with the bars that will give you a free drink for a white chip, few of these hucksters and con men/women have our best interest at heart.  If it seems too good to be true, if the reputation doesn’t measure up to the hype, or if the philosophy is so esoteric that only this or that “master” can save us, we’re probably barking at the wrong snake. To paraphrase Jerry McGuire, look for the money.

The things that work best for us are usually dirt cheap or free.  There’s a guideline, right there.


1 thought on “Snake Oil and Easy Answers

  1. greys

    I don’t know that addicts are any more vulnerable than anyone else. Early recovery leaves us wanting for our old coping skill. Separation trauma may leave us lost. But the whole human race seams to be looking for easy answers.


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