Infinite Summer

Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
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Author:  OneBigParty [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 5:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

I'm surprised no one has brought this up--I've been thinking about it for weeks now. What is going on with the stripper's story as an example of a no-no in AA, even with a grievous whopper of a tale like that? (pp. 370-374)

Is it the case that
1) Wallace (the narrator) is being tough on the stripper and her particular narrative?
2) AA is being tough on the stripper and Wallace is just attempting to explain why and how they are?
3) It's both. Neither the narrator or AA's sense of empathy is evoked by this type of narrative, (so ours shouldn't be either)?

First, compare the Don Gately section from pages 446 to 449 beginning

"They neglect to tell you that after the urge to get high magically vanishes and you've been Substanceless for maybe six or eight months, you'll begin to start to 'Get In Touch' with why it was that you used Substances in the first place. You'll start to feel why it was you got dependent on what was, when you get right down to it, an anesthetic. 'Getting In Touch With Your Feelings' is another quilted-sampler-type cliche that ends up masking something ghastly deep and real, it turns out."

He then goes on to "causal attribution"--it's in his head, it's not a narrative he has used (yet?) when he does a Commitment, and it's a bitch of a childhood although less bad than the stripper's.
Who, by the way, has her past tragedy, as over-the-top as the story is, belittled by the description "even though plenty of these White Flaggers, Gately knows, has personal childhood's that made this girl's look like a day at Six Flags Over the Poconos" (374). Really? I shudder to think. And notice it doesn't say that Gately's childhood would make her childhood look like a day at SFOTP. His just wasn't as bad.

Why is it a "look-what-happened to poor-me" moment when the stripper talks about her childhood, but not when the narrator is talking about Gately? Only because it remains, in effect, an interior monologue?

What narrative avenue is open to her with a childhood this radically awful if she's barred from causal attribution? What avenue would be open to anyone in AA? I would say any clinician reading a case study on this girl would be astonished that she survived at all with her mind intact. That's what I guess I would be thinking if I was sitting in that AA meeting and hearing her story. I might become a little bored, maybe, but I'd be saying damn, anyone would be a messed-up addict with that experience, and feel terrribly for her.

Is the fact that the child rape is so hyperbolically grotesque as to almost seem like a spoof, whereas Don's bad childhood is more realistic and not any sort of parody at all, another indicator that we are to feel empathy for his story, but not for her "abuse excuse" tale. Are the comments about how these horrors that we're reading about are nothing compared to other White Flaggers
supposed to be taken seriously?

And what's the solution for her if she can't say what the narrator says for us, to show us how deserving of shunning and even punishment she now is? Perhaps Wallace just used too radically tragic and grotesque a story to illustrate this point?

How lonely it would be if someone in AA in real life had a story just like this, and they weren't supposed to tell it. I'm not too knowledgable about AA, and so I wonder how they would be expected to "Get In Touch With Their Feelings" in front of the group.

I am befuddled by all this and I would love to hear anyone's responses.

Author:  MattG [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 6:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

Let me try to take a stab at this, not so much from the perspective of an IJ reader, but from that of a former AA member. (That term probably needs a lengthy endnote, but let me deal with it parenthetically instead. I went to AA faithfully for about 8 years, then occasionally for another 2 or 3, then...simply stopped going. I've now been sober for over 23 years, and while I'll say some very good things about AA, I don't think they ever admit that some people can get to the point where they don't need to go any more - and it's probably a good thing that they don't, because if this fact were openly talked about, every narcissistic mofo with 6 mos clean would say "that's me" and go back out there.)

Anyway, I think the problem that DG is seeing with the way the girl is presenting her story is the way it comes off as "I drank because...". In hard-core AA (and understand that the manifestation of AA presented in IJ is a very hard-core, rigid version, but a lot of AA meetings are very different) the ONLY way to complete that sentence is "...because I was an alcoholic." It's the first part of the 1st Step "We came to believe that we were powerless over alcohol..." The danger (in this view) of "I drank b/c my chilhood was all fu'ed." is the implication that either a) if the childhood issues are "dealt with" then there'll be no desire to drink, thereby obviating the need for an AA program, or b) that pst-issues-dealing-with the person will be able to drink "normally."

Oh, and an editorial comment: I can criticize AA in many areas, but I'm quite certain it saved my life. If anybody reading this is struggling with a substance issue, my first advice would be "get thee to a meeting."

Author:  dioramaorama [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 6:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

I am pretty sure that if you look back at that scene with Gately (446-449) you'll see that he never says anything along the lines of "I am an addict because I had a shitty childhood". I think it's one thing to tell your story and another thing entirely to be your story.

People sharing their experiences is absolutely crucial to AA, but I think that the AA meetings are more about the audience than about the speaker - it's about Identifying, seeing that the struggle with the Substance is essentially the same no matter what your particular circumstances are, that at the heart of all these different stories are loneliness and powerlessness, etc. It's not like there is anything intrinsic to the stripper's story that merits punishment or rejection from the AA crowd... I think it's just that creating justifications for your actions make recovery a lot more difficult. It's not too big or uncommon a logical leap from "I'm an addict because I was abused" to "I can never change the fact that I was abused, so I am permanently damaged, so why try getting sober?"

And yeah, I didn't think that her story seemed like a spoof of abuse. I thought it was really horrific.

Author:  storm [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 7:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

dioramaorama wrote:
I think it's one thing to tell your story and another thing entirely to be your story.

I'm a "+1" to that last post.

Author:  paris [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

There was some discussion of this issue over at InfiniteDetox. Aaron made a great point that:

I think Wallace does this bit intentionally, giving us the compassionless White Flag response to the Stripper story so that he can then contrast it with the “oh my god I’m shuddering with terrified laughter” section that follows, with the prostitute’s stillborn baby.

That is, it is not a matter of comparing or hierarchizing oppressions, but letting us understand something about "hard-core" AA (these are the White Flaggers, after all). And my guess is that no Advanced Beginner is going to be able to tell the difference in responses to their story, since they are contentually similar ("Keep Coming...") even if the subtle unsaid emphasis is different (... even though your causal tale is as bad as irony).

Author:  stephaniejane [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

I agree with MattG and Dioramaorama but just wanted to add this:

I don't think anyone at AA would have wanted her to NOT tell her story. I think they would've wanted to tell her story without using it as an excuse for her behavior. But I don't think anyone would blame her or not empathize with her - I think it's more that, if she was sincere about being in AA, she would have to approach the past differently, in order to stay sober.

Author:  OneBigParty [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

dioramaorama wrote:
I think it's one thing to tell your story and another thing entirely to be your story.

The people who can never revert from the latter to the former, if they have a story that hellish (and maybe even not so hellish) are lost forever, it seems to me, doomed to intractable loneliness. As well as pathologies of all kinds.

This reminds me of the discussion of Wittgenstein and being trapped in language. The stripper "becomes used to describing herself to herself in a certain way", you're saying, she feels "as though there is some final truth about [herself] in those descriptions--a truth which cannot be violated."* If I understand correctly, AA says that this, for one reason, is wrong because if she begins to change over time she either won't recognize it because the change-language is not part of her vocabulary, or she will recognize it and feel that she is betraying herself. (her victimhood?)

I think where I get confused is that I thought that speaking at AA was like psychotherapy, specifically, the release of repressed or suppressed psychological material by "interfacing", to use an IJ term, with the therapist. And another reinforcement of the confusion, a thought-experiment attempted: imagining a person with a childhood that horrible who has no language for it, no "self-indulgent" or self-pitying language, no language, no ability to release suppressed material. A person that becomes, in essence, much like Hal is in the beginning of the book, trapped "in here". Would they be better off if they could at least express it all in a self-pitying way? I think so, even though it pushes people away. It's better than nothing, I think. But then there's the problem above. There are people where the abuse is documented but all we get is word salad, or a developmentally delayed level of language. This double-trap of the experience and the lack of language to wrestle with it stems from the stress of the abuse itself. (I've worked with schizophrenics like this--addicts among them--"dual-diagnosis"-- who could never function in an AA meeting.) See the movie "Caspar Hauser," for instance.

*Frank Deluxe, A Master's Thesis Proposal: Wittgenstein, Foucault, Language, and the Self (online)

Author:  OneBigParty [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

Thanks very much for the responses.

Author:  OneBigParty [ Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

Sorry, that's "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" (a Werner Herzog film).

Author:  quinn [ Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?

Let me just put it one more very simple way: If they pity her, she is likely to return to the Substance. Having the job of improving the past will surely drive one to drink.

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