A man had a really bad cough for weeks. Eventually, it got the best of him and he died. His
family held a wake for him at a local funeral home that stood at the top of the Madison Avenue hill. In the morning, they were loading the casket into the funeral hearse. The ground was slippery from an ice storm. The pall bearers lost their footing and dropped the casket. It flew like a rocket all the way down Madison Avenue. At the foot of the street stood Coulson’s
Pharmacy. The casket broke through the front door, down the center aisle, and stopped in
front of the Pharmacy counter. The momentum popped the casket top open. The dead man
sat up, looked at the pharmacist and said, “Hey, have you got something to stop this coffin?”
I heard this joke from my Dad when I was just a little kid. I always thought it was really funny,
so I remembered it. (Which is unusual because I never remember jokes.) The image of that
“out-of-control” coffin flying down the hill and into the pharmacy was one I could easily
visualize. I’d run down Madison Avenue and been to Coulson’s Pharmacy many times. They
were real parts of my world growing up. Running down Madison Avenue at an out-of-control
breakneck speed was a lot of fun back then. No doubt we all have done things in an out of
control fashion. Most of the time, however, they don’t end with a funny punchline.
An individual’s lack of control over a certain behavior (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc.),
despite the clear understanding that it is causing chaos and harm to self and others, is the
hallmark of addiction. Ironically, when someone is in the throes of addiction, they are typically unaware of the fact that they are totally out of control. If, and when they make the discovery that they are rocketing downhill to their own destruction, the situation is complicated even further by their resistance to relinquish control. They effectively careen to the bottom of the hill and smash into whatever ultimately stops them—financial ruin, loss of family and friends, incarceration, overdose, or death. Even after coming to a screeching halt, the individual may continue to resist giving over control in order to have a better life.
There are plenty of reasons why a person might want to remain “in control” (not), but probably the strongest and most common is the understanding that doing so likely means a complete change in how they have been living life. In other words, giving up control is hard work. Ironic, no? We often think that being in control of something means working hard, but the truth is that it is even more difficult to work at NOT being in control in order to effect a better outcome. We all want to take the lead in our own lives. It’s only natural. However, the key to living with any kind of addiction is acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact that what the individual has been doing simply doesn’t work. To stop the “coffin” flying downhill, the person needs to throw up his or her hands and yell for help. When help arrives, the person has to be willing to say, “I’m done. You drive.”
Help can come in the form of programs, 12 step groups, clinicians, family and friends—and,
dare I say it?—God. No matter what or who takes control of the life of the person living with
addiction, he or she must be willing to do the hard work of not being in control. Easy? No.
Anyone who wants to learn more about not being in control should visit Opening the Word
Peer Recovery Center in Webster. We have programs and people that can help. It costs
nothing except your time, and since you’re trying not to be in control anyway, you probably
have time to stop by. Hope to see you soon.