Lies. Manipulation. Lack of personal responsibility. Indignity. Consequences. So much of what makes A&E’s docu-drama reality series Relapse so good, riveting, and thought-provoking is how it directly relates to aspects of life that have nothing whatsoever to do with drug addiction. This is important info for anyone who thinks that they don’t have any need or desire to watch a TV show about drug addicts trying to get clean, particularly because they don’t know any drug addicts — and hope they never do. But, chances are, you already know someone (or more than one person) in your life just like the participants on Relapse, even if the drug of choice for the person you know isn’t heroin, coke, meth, crack, booze, prescription painkillers — or even a drug at all.
The person you know could lie, cheat, or steal. Or maybe they don’t even do anything quite that egregious or even illegal. Maybe they’re just a master manipulator. They could ask to borrow money and never pay it back. Maybe they take, take, take and never once give. Or they always talk at you, but never manage to listen to you. Do they often get themselves into trouble and expect you to bail them out every single time, and then don’t ever want to hear about how upset you are about the situation? I’m guessing they may make unreasonable demands and then throw toddler-worthy tantrums when they’re not met. Perhaps they’re a narcissist. Or just a good, old-fashioned drama queen. They never grow up. They never accept responsibility for their lamentable actions. They always have a lame excuse at the ready. They love a good cop-out. And they never, ever deal with actual consequences. Then, when you show them some tough love, they loudly cry abandonment. In short, these people are toxic losers. Anything sound familiar here?
See, none of the above scenarios and character descriptions reference drugs at all, even once.
You may also recognize yourself in an episode of Relapse — that is, if you’ve ever intentionally or unintentionally enabled, supported, harbored, or otherwise encouarged any of the toxic people I just described above. And I happen to know that this self-realization can often be 100 times more difficult than calling the other person on their bullshit.
On last night’s episode of Relapse, Courtney, a former competitive figure skater for 12 years and college graduate from a good family outside of Detroit, is now a homeless drug addict in her 20s with a predilection for prescription painkillers. (She often takes 15 a day, and visits 30 different doctors for the scripts.) Now, competitive athletes are usually disciplined, driven, ambitious people who are up at 4 a.m. in order to practice for hours, so already we know that Courtney’s no slouch. (In case you still had it in your head that no one in your life could or would ever be affected by drug addiction. Wrong!) Courtney has overdosed, ended up in the hospital in a coma on life-support, and has manipulated her family in every imaginable way. And, while I may not recognize Courtney’s particular daily habits, I sure do recognize her overall actions.
The same goes for the family members who are addicted to the addict and keep coming back for more, because they think that even though their unworkable approach is the same, maybe this time the eventual outcome will somehow be different. It never is. See, I know these people, too, even though they may be enabling different behaviors. The damage is still done. And it’s serious.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to or should look to a reality TV docu-drama in order to take stock of the potentially toxic relationships and connections in your life. But, really, it couldn’t hurt.
image of Courtney on Relapse courtesy of A&E