Today at a staff meeting for my talented team of co-workers at my new job for Elements Behavioral Health, our CEO- Dr. David Sack did a dazzling presentation, complete with Power Point. The topic? Dog poop. He shared the story of the family four-legged, named Charlie who is a basset hound. He was described as loveable, but stubborn and at the onset of the story; according to the vet- overweight. David went through his share of emotions, including guilt that somehow he was a bad doggy dad. He cut back on the amount of food Charlie was ingesting and in pretty short order, his canine companion became a bit more svelte and had more energy to go on walks, which he had once upon a time been reluctant to do. All good for a little while, until an unexpected side effect showed up. Charlie began eating his own feces as tasty snacks. This became problematic for everyone except Charlie who apparently thought it was a fair tradeoff for having to forgo crunchier and more societally acceptable sustenance. Just in case you wondered, the technical term for such behavior is ‘coprophagia’.
What David came to realize was that he had co-created this scenario, since he decided to feed Charlie the recommended amount of food AND he could not ultimately prevent him from desiring this alternative to his normal intake. Neither did he need to feel guilty about the pooch’s choices. He did all he could (including using products designed to prevent this unsavory recycling of waste products) to keep his dog on the straight and narrow. No dice.
As he was speaking, I immediately understood that this was a perfect metaphor for working with or loving someone with an addiction. The adage that no one else caused it, no one else can control it and no one else can cure it is just as true about eating dog poop. While family members and friends may contribute to the dynamics of addiction, they are not ultimately responsible for it occurring or continuing. It seems natural to want to do all we can to stop someone from engaging in dysfunctional behavior and yet, everything we do is a coping skill. Charlie’s actions were his way of coping with reduced caloric intake.
I am learning to relinquish responsibility for anyone else’s perceptions and choices but my own. I can’t stop them from eating symbolic scatological matter. I can offer alternatives, but whether they choose to accept them is totally up to them. It really is a dog’s life.