Six Lessons Learned From a Line Cook and Addict Who Turned His Life Around
Chris Hill

Harder, Faster, Better and the American Dream

I know why “Lessons Learned From a Line Cook and Addict Who Turned His Life Around” is a popular story — it taps into the American ideology that if someone works hard, they can reach their dream and be successful and happy. It even works with changing times and economic circumstances where it is increasingly the exception rather than the rule to have a job that doesn’t grind one into a pulp. One of the ironies of this day and age is that while one is being ground to a pulp one is also supposed to say how much they love their job because jobs are scarce and highly competitive and only go to the “best” candidates, those most willing to grind themselves to a pulp for their employer.

So for me, this isn’t really a new approach, but just an update on the American Dream that accounts for current circumstances that are pretty oppressive.

However, I do like it that the article brings up the issue that many jobs are so stressful that the easiest response is to turn to drugs and alcohol as a release. I think this is true. The problem is that most addiction treatment doesn’t address the fact that drug/alcohol abuse is a response to stress and depression.

In particular, the leading treatment of AA and 12 Step insists most vehemently that people are addicts just because they are addicts. 12 Step says that it addresses underlying issues to drug abuse through “spiritual growth” but really the core to the “spirituality” is that if you are unhappy, overwhelmed, and stressed it is “of your own making.”

However, in real terms, not fantasy’s structured around ideologies, if stress, overwork, and the need to appear that one loves, loves, loves one’s job or lose it make one turn to drugs/alcohol for relief, the problem actually isn’t of the person’s own making in a direct sense.

Of course, saying it is, allows Americans to continue their concept of the American Dream that if they work hard, they will get what they deserve.

If we want real solutions to drug abuse and poverty shouldn’t it be to look at current work conditions and the relative scarcity of jobs, and say that the American economy promotes addictive behavior through its excessively competitive job market which causes many people to not be competitive?

Now to focus even more specifically on the issue of addiction and employment…

What we seem to be doing is ignoring all the causes of addiction, spending millions that could go into social programs on catching king pins in foreign countries, and sending people to AA and 12 Step so that they can receive more indoctrination in the idea that since they are an “addict” that can’t be picky about employment and shouldn’t expect to have a decent work environment unless God grants them this.

Thus, I’m not saying that the pull yourself up by the bootstraps and work 80 hours a week to reach your goal isn’t attractive a story. The problem is that if this idea of overwork and excessive stress is now normative, many people will have trouble working harder, faster, better since everyone else is also trying to work harder, faster, and better than ever before, the consequence is fairly obviously going to be increased incidence of mental illness, childhood developmental problems, mortality amongst the poor, and drug and alcohol abuse. Thus, the most logical response would be to re-evaluate our adoration of the American success story and stop wanting it to be normative for everyone to want to work harder, faster, and better than everyone else.

Indeed, the downside to our adoration of the American success story is “blaming the victim.” If someone is poor or unsuccessful in the US the tendency is to blame them. Of course, if someone has turned to substances because of this excessive pressure, and then ends up in AA, they will only have the negative side of the American Dream emphasized even more.

Not surprisingly, AA only has a 5% success rate. Many people actually even have a worsening of their substance abuse after exposure to AA. Indeed, if one is struggling with feeling inadequate because they are not personally living up to the American Dream of feeling no stress when overworked, AA will blame this individual until they absorb the supposed “spiritual truth” that “acceptance is the answer” to all their problems, and that “nothing is coincidence.” In short, it means someone embracing the idea that if they are poor and overworked and unhappy it is because this is what God wants.

American ideology also predicts that while AA is actually harmful to most of those that try it that AA would be popular because it pushes the same ideology that is causing our problems in the first place — the concept that everyone should work harder, faster, better than everyone else around them despite the fact that everyone else is also trying to work harder, faster, and better.

What I wonder is how much worse addiction and the oppression of the poor has to get before there is change. Can Americans survive on delusional ideology indefinitely?