Part 2 -- A Twelve-Step Program to American Recovery

Part 2 – The Specter of Sigmund and Ghosts of Christmas Past

Let’s say we start to pay more attention to words and the deception that saturates our culture (Part 1 – Calling a Spade), we still have other serious chores to take care of if we are to resuscitate the greatness of our nation. Next on my list is ridding ourselves of our victim-hood, and embracing the free will God gave us.

Never mind that our young are addicted to all sorts of mind-numbing, body-destroying drugs. Never mind that as adults we continue to lean on chemicals to get us through our days. Those dependencies are mostly an outgrowth of our addiction to excuses.

We, ourselves, are never at fault; we’re almost sociopathic about this. Our savior is no longer Jesus Christ, but Sigmund Freud, society at large, or the last administration. Every stupid, silly, selfish thing we do ricochets right past the conscience and into a diagnosis or a new passel of legislation. We lay our sins at the feet of our parents (Who no doubt had their faults, after all, they had parents, too.); we blame other people, the food we eat (the famous Twinkie defense), the religion we were brought up in, and any physical pathologies we suffer from (PTSD comes to mind). We’ve lost the ability to see ourselves as the free-will moral agents the Bible shows us to be.

It’s easy to see how this happened, this Teflon coating we’ve all developed. Being able to pass off our rudeness as a bi-polar problem, or our disorganization as ADD seems a boon to all involved.  I don’t have to feel guilty and you don’t have to hate me. It’s great.

However, convenient as it seems, that bargain is a dastardly deal with the devil. You see, every time we buy into the idea that we aren’t responsible, we also give up control of the situation, and by extrapolation, control of any situation. Think of that the next time you say, “You make me mad!” Really? Or -- if I’m a workaholic because it runs in my family, then I can do nothing about it and I’m doomed to work myself right out of a marriage or out of my health. If I grew up with an alcoholic father then I have a right to a whole laundry list of neuroses – but I know that’s not required.

I have four wonderful brothers who grew up with the same narcissistic, alcoholic father. Dad was brilliant, hardworking, and talented, but he shouldn’t have been raising children. I believe he thought that too. My brothers have every Freudian right to be messes, but they aren’t. They have grown from the pesky little guys who smelled up my childhood into amazing, productive people and astounding fathers and grandfathers. They chose not to lean on Sigmund’s crutch, but to become everything they could become. They chose to leave the ghost our father behind instead of dragging him around like a ball and chain.

During my teaching career I had the privilege of working with over 6,000 students, a large percentage of whom lived in frightful situations (often caused by their parent’s inability to let go of the ghosts of their pasts), yet not all of those kids fell apart. Our school policy assumed, however -- because the society assumed -- that that was impossible, so we built pity into the system, and that did them very little good; depending on being pitiful is no way to live. Those enabling policies sent the message that these kids not only had a right to come unglued, but they had no hope of avoiding it. No wonder kids do drugs.

If we are to pull ourselves out of this present that is haunted by all the nasties that we can remember, both personal and national, we must wean ourselves from psychiatric and societal excuses. I know, I know – brain chemistry is not all it’s cracked up to be, and maybe we can’t help that. One of my favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, referred to that phenomenon in a poem entitled “Menses” saying, “May heaven consign and damn to a tedious hell this body with its muddy feet in my mind.” No kidding – I know the feeling. Our bodies no doubt influence the way we think -- but no more than our thinking influences our bodies; a chicken-egg proposition, if you ask me.

It’s true, as well, that many of us have suffered through traumatic or demeaning situations that still haunt us. Me too. It’s also true that we all face the challenge of genetic inclinations toward one destructive behavior or another – we want to drink, or do drugs, or sleep around, or gossip, or steal, or just be lazy. It runs in the family. We assume that those conditions let us off the responsibility hook.

But they don’t. We each have this one life to live, and each life is full of challenging and sometimes horrifying obstacles to the pursuit of our happiness, but we must each find ways to overcome, not bow to, our problems. We owe it to our country, for we each make up one unit of this faltering America, and an America built with twisted boards won’t stand long in the wind that’s most certainly coming. Let us all peel ourselves off of our excuses, Freudian or otherwise. Let us leave behind the ghosts that bind us to our past. Let’s embrace our personal free will – that is what freedom is – the composite of the volition of every individual in America. If we don’t use it, our State, or someone else’s, will take it from us.