A first glance, the connection between movies and addiction seems a bit of a stretch; one’s entertaining and one’s Hell. What connects them are the concepts of Cunning, Baffling and Powerful. Every person in addiction recovery hears those words over and over, often learning the terms by rote. But they are abstract concepts and often are not clear in a person’s mind. Movies on the other hand, can offer an emotional and visual example of something that otherwise lacks true understanding. Learning from movies is possible; they offer a completely vicarious experience, touching every one of our senses.
Movies are more than simple entertainment. They are an artistically engineered product that can teach vicariously. A really good movie, one with a compelling story, interesting characters, and factual information interwoven into the storyline, offers the perfect teacher by making a lasting impression. We are drawn in, we feel something, we awake to an experience and we remember. In movies, it’s the story that first engages us. For a short period of time, we are part of the experience that is going on right in front of us. We can see and hear what the characters do. Good characters and superb acting remind us of people we know, or of ourselves and our own experiences; we can relate. An actor’s facial expression or body language can get us to feel the same thing; their touch becomes our touch. Well-paced action keeps us engaged and our attention focused on the moment. Time is suspended. Music pulls the experience all together and opens our emotions to literally feel the experience. And, if we add in eating popcorn or candy, movies can give us a real experience that touches on all of our physical senses: Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. An experience that awakens all our senses is an experience that can be used therapeutically for behavioral change.
Addiction means we have been taken over; a crazed jockey is riding us. We say and do things that we believe we would never say or do. And yet we do them. No matter what the consequences, we do them. This brings up the first word of the addiction mantra: Cunning. Cunning means sly, calculating, shrewd or crafty. After years of recovery, it might wait till you are tired, or hungry or angry, then suddenly come as a thought out of no where…you might even feel it shoot in from behind and suddenly pop into your head: “It’s been ten years, I’m sure I could take a drink now. Or, I haven’t missed it in all these years, so I can’t really be an addict.” The cunning of addiction tricks us into believing that which is not true. To see an example of cunning personified, watch the movie RIVER WILD with Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep. Kevin Bacon’s character is cunning. He seduces others into believing him by acting friendly, helpful and harmless. He constantly watches and reads people, quickly getting to know them. He waits for the right moment to strike and take advantage of others. He looks for their weak spot and attacks from that direction. Underneath, he is cold-blooded, heartless and cruel. In addiction counseling, it’s learning we are in the clutches of something very cunning until we become vigilant.
Do you remember Bill Macy in FARGO? He gives an excellent example of the confusion and denial that add up to baffling. He doesn’t see that his life is unraveling before him. He might physically feel it, but that’s part of what drives him in deeper and deeper. He lies to himself and everyone else. He believes his lies. Everything is going to be OK. He tells one lie to cover up another. We watch him de-compensate in front of our eyes, just as others can with us when we are in denial, until that moment when we come face to face with the power of addiction. And that power is not loving and kind. It will destroy us.
I’m asking you now to imagine a power beyond your present imagination. Unless you have literally lived through an earthquake, tornado, hurricane or other seismic rebellion of nature, you can’t really embody the true meaning of powerful. Unless, of course, you have been consumed by addiction. Watch George Clooney in PERFECT STORM. Throughout the movie, he battles the converging forces of nature one by one, getting into the maelstrom deeper and deeper until he can’t get out. Suddenly realization dawns, in perfect clarity, total awareness of the real power of nature he is facing as he strains his head up to see the wall of water crashing down upon him. It’s a visceral experience of absolute powerlessness. That’s the power of addiction; in so deep you can’t get out by yourself.
There’s a reason people go to 12-step meetings. They are a reminder to stay vigilant, to always remember that the predator, Addiction, will look for our weak spot, then attack. That’s cunning. There’s a reason to listen to friends, family and the law when they tell us our life has become unmanageable. And there is a reason to gain self-awareness about how deep we are sinking into habits of destructive behavior before we plunge off the precipice. The power of addiction can consume us. It’s just what it does.
There is a way to raise awareness and gain enlightenment that can assist traditional addiction counseling. Go rent RIVER WILD, FARGO and PERFECT STORM. Truly grasp the concepts of Cunning, Baffling and Powerful. Then go to a 12-step meeting or a therapy session and truly have an honest discussion. It’s amazing how honesty can speed up the recovery process.