Why Internet Troll Culture and Recovery Don’t Mix.

A 20-something Facebook acquaintance posted this meme the other day.

It’s complete clickbait. A picture downloaded from the internet, using the same font (Impact Bold with outline applied) which most internet memes have been created with for the last 10–15 years.

A little background: Suboxone is a drug used for medically assisted treatment in certain patients with heroin/opioid addiction, similar to the way methadone is used. As our country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, it’s just one of many tools being used in the fight.

Of course, there was a large and polarized response to the meme post. Some were inclusive and accepting, others were the usual 12-step, book-thumping, iron-fist types who generally dissuade people from choosing 12-step recovery in the first place. In between were the “trolls,” who make jokes out of everything.

My personal view is that harm-reduction and medically-assisted treatment are vital to getting a certain percentage of the population stabilized until their cravings are diminished to the point where they can function. This process can take months or years, and it is no laughing matter.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I remember being a teenager, I also remember being a 20-something. I thought I knew everything, about everything. I had just graduated from college, I had a job, my own place, and a car. Everything was about inside jokes and cheap laughs at the expense of someone else. Frequently, I was the butt of those jokes. As I was not in recovery at that time, I was also frequently drunk and/or high.

But now things are different. I don’t see the world in the same way. Recovery, I believe, has made that possible. The attitude I used to harbor of cruel one-upmanship (rooted in insecurity from childhood trauma) is gradually being replaced with one of kindness, openness, and honesty — “gradually” being the key word.

I recently saw the SNL skit about “Heroin AM” — I have to admit, a small part of me was laughing. While it surprises me that a television show with a history of great comedians dying due to heroin overdose (John Belushi, Chris Farley) would air something like this, I expect people on the outside of the recovery community to make fun of both addiction and people in recovery. It’s just the world we live in and there continues to be a lot of misunderstanding.

What bothers me about this meme, however, is that it was clearly done by someone recovering from substance use disorder, directed at others with substance use disorder. Much like listening to one Christian denomination arguing with another over differences in theology.

Ours is a culture rooted in mean-spiritedness, especially where media is concerned. Fred Rogers, the creator of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” once saw a television show where a pie was being thrown in someone’s face, and was horrified. Even Donald O’Connor’s “Make ’em Laugh” from Singing in The Rain (1952) talks about the appeal of cheap laughs:

“Now you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite 
And you can charm the critics and have nothin’ to eat 
Just slip on a banana peel The world’s at your feet
Make ’em laugh, Make ’em laugh, Make ’em laugh”

We’ve come a long way from pies in the face and banana peels. Superstars regularly engage in twitter “beefs” with one another, and even a recording of a local newscast (ie. Antoine Dodson) can become a mean-spirited meme. And though Mr. Dodson has gotten quite a bit of notoriety by embracing the joke, it perpetuates the idea that each of us will at some point be cannon fodder for ridicule and public humiliation. Just go with it and you’ll make a mint.

For many, recovery from substance use disorder is a life or death matter. Within the recovery community, we can’t afford to belittle one another for any reason. Youth adolescent humor does not serve the healing process. You cannot ridicule someone into rehabilitation, but you can absolutely ridicule them to death. Such behavior is no better than a so-called “high-bottom drunk” (someone who found recovery from alcoholism/addiction without loss of a job, family, or health) looking down on a “low-bottom drunk” (someone who saw severe consequences as a result of their addiction). Even the terms “high-bottom” and “low-bottom” are derogatory, yet they’re thrown around with impunity.

According to story published today the Los Angeles Times, the world has a drug problem:

If you aren’t someone in recovery, you probably know someone who is, or at the very least someone who is struggling. Many of us were raised by parents with substance use issues, probably in a time way before we had any understanding of the impact it has on families and individuals, or an understanding of how untreated trauma can precipitate substance use issues.

It’s time to begin treating one another with compassion, and nowhere is this need more evident than in the recovery community. We must put down our petty moralizing and our myopic viewpoints, and instead look in the eyes of someone who is hurting and ask ourselves, “what can I do to help?”

Remember: a picture is a worth a thousand words.

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