The Joy of Groups

As part of my on-going treatment for my previous addiction to opiates, I do an hour a month of counseling, either in a one on one format with my actual counselor, or in a small group setting.  Normally I always try to fill my time with a one on one, since I have some serious issues with group treatment (which I will lay out below, after the main point of the post), but with the Thanksgiving holiday this month, I was forced instead to attend a group.  The group was billed as a “Men’s Issues” group and was being run by my counselor, so I figured it would be fairly painless.  Rather than “Men’s Issues” (whatever they may happen to be) the group quickly turned into a discussion of current events when the counselor asked the groups opinion on Syrian refugees.  While some things were completely unsurprising (I was alone out of the 11 in the room who supported admitting Syrian refugees to the United States), the rate of participation in the discussion was shocking (everyone participated, which could be a first in any group treatment setting), and some of the misinformation was simply depressing.

Why do I bring this up?  Because something I forget many times, in fact, something I think a lot of people forget from time to time, is that those of us who are well informed politically are not in the majority.  Sure, it is every citizen’s responsibility to be well informed in a democracy, but let’s be completely honest.  People have lives.  They have a thousand things competing for their limited time, and somethings, especially things that don’t immediately affect their day to day lives, are going to get shorted.  I spend a lot of time making sure I am well informed on issues.  I know how the media can mislead people, so I try to always read stories from various sites, including at least one from a comparatively unbiased news source.  I want to know what arguments I will be hearing, so I typically try to see what Fox News is saying about an issue as well.  Sure, it would be easier if I would just get my news from MSNBC or the Raw Story, but then I would be a picture perfect hypocrite since one of my main complaints about the right is the media bubble so many of them seem to live within.  Others who try to stay as informed can probably back me up on this, but some things have to be sacrificed.    For me it is largely television.  I normally have a documentary on in the background while I read or write, but my entertainment based television watching over the past five years is as follows:

  • Game of Thrones (because I am a huge fan of the book series.  Thankfully the showrunners have the show and their heads so far up their ass that since the sixth episode of the fifth season, I now have an extra hour free in the spring on Sundays.  To think, I actually subscribed to HBO for that show.)
  • One episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (Though I’ve seen every musical number online.)
  • Cosmos
  • Random sporting events that my mother is watching.
  • Random episodes of Arrow and The Flash that my best friend put on while we were hanging out.
  • Random episodes of Blue Blood and Criminal Minds that my mother watches.
  • True Detective

And Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  That’s it.  Seriously.  I’ve seen one episode of The Walking Dead.  Never seen Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Good Wife, Hannibal, or The Americans, even though I hear they are all great/at least worth watching shows.  It’s not because I don’t like television either.  Hell, I even like bad television.  I’ve seen every single episode of Perry Mason and Matlock thanks to my father’s love of those shows.  I think I’ve seen every Walker, Texas Ranger.  Most of Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza.  If I have the flu or something, I will watch 30 straight hours of Law and Order or Law and Order:SVU.  I used to adore Adult Swim.  Now?

We switched to Direct TV last year about this time and my room got a box installed.  I took the HDMI cable off the Direct TV box and used it to hook my television up to my new video card.  I have yet to watch television in my room on my new DTV box.  Why?  Because it is the entertainment I sacrifice to stay as well informed as possible.  And as much as I’d like to say that I do that because of a sense of civic responsibility, the fact is that I love politics.  Yeah, I care about the issue and everything, but I also am fascinated by it all; the inner workings of the system, the polling numbers, the psychological tactics employed to win voters, the debates, the lies, the amount of bullshit people will forgive as long as it comes from politicians in their own party, the idiocy, the insanity, every now and then the brilliance.  I love politics, and I have a very hard time thinking I would be anywhere near as well informed as I try to be if I didn’t enjoy it.  Politics is my thing.  And for many of those who are reading Think Progress, Right Wing Watch, Salon, Mock Paper Scissors, and Brad’s Blog to name a few sites, politics is their thing as well.  And sometimes, just like the right wing media bubble that some conservatives live in, listening to only rightwing talk, watching only Fox and Newsmax, reading only WND and Brietbart, we live in a bubble consisting only of people who care about politics.  Then we get frustrated when people don’t see our points or fail to understand what we think is a simple concept, forgetting that we are not only drawing on our built up over time knowledge of the middle east situation, but also the hours we’ve put into the latest crisis while the person we’re arguing with knows the following:

  • there was a bad terrorist attack in Paris
  • there is a Syrian refugee crisis
  • a lot of people are very adamantly saying that it would be dangerous to allow those refugees into the United States.

Now honestly, other than frustration, what are the possible outcomes of such a debate?  Especially if we don’t realize that both parties are coming at the debate from different places.

Look, I’m not saying these people are stupid.  Not at all.  By definition they are politically ignorant, but how much blame do they deserve for that?  Our brains did not evolve for the information driven life we now live, and for the vast amount of people, being politically well informed isn’t give that much priority when compared to the countless other things that demand our time and effort.  Sure, Trump may be leading in the polls right now, but remember, he has name recognition and the vast majority of the nation isn’t paying serious attention to the race yet.  If everyone was as passionate about politics as I am and he was still leading the polls, then that would be horrifying.  Sure, there’s a chance he’ll win the GOP nomination, and sure, even if he doesn’t, every damn one of their candidates cause me to shiver uncontrollably, but for me at least the real race won’t start until the voting starts and people start to pay attention.

Honestly, I don’t really know what point I am trying to make here.  It should be obvious to those of use who live politics that not everyone shares our passion, but then it should be obvious to the far right that they are a fringe group in the United States, yet they seem to believe the majority of citizens support the 40 member strong House Freedom Caucus.  We all project ourselves onto other people, because the only experience we have is inside our own head.  How can we have a debate about the Syrian refugees when the following issues, which all came up today in my group, are still around?  (11 people in the group. 2 proclaimed Democrats, 3 proclaimed Republicans, 6 apparent independents.  All men, since it was a “Men’s Issues” group.)

  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Europe is on the verge of becoming majority Muslim.
  • In order to appear “tolerant,” European countries have installed Sharia courts for their Muslim population.
  • No-go Zones.
  • Muslims are having huge families in order to breed their way to political dominance in Europe and the United States.  (Amusingly the exact thing Quiverfull families are doing, for the exact same reasoning.)
  • The US is overflowing with Muslims already.
  • Europe will be dominated by Islam within a generation.  The US within 50 years.  (Unless we stop them, of course.)
  • Islam is the 2nd largest faith in America, only losing out to Christianity.

Good luck with your “admitting Syrian refugees” debate when you are already facing this grab bag of misconceptions.  Somethings did surprise me though.  Just about the whole room understood that the refugees were running from ISIS.  They knew that even Al Qaeda thinks ISIS is insane.  They all know that ISIS mainly kills other Muslims, or if they didn’t know, quickly accepted that as fact.  A majority realize that most refugees are women and children, no matter how much propaganda the right puts out that they are all “fighting age warriors.”  A super majority knows ISIS is attempting to draw the west into an apocalyptic war.  Every person in the room knows that ISIS wants the United States to put “boots on the ground.”  Just about everyone spoke up about how any backlash against Muslims gives ISIS just what they want.  They know that the reality is Everyone vs ISIS while ISIS wants it to be the West vs Islam.

And yet I was still the only voice in the room for admitting Syrian refugees.  Some used the obvious “what if we let in a terrorist” argument, but others ranged from confusing to jaw-dropping.  One of the people who claimed Europe would be dominated by Muslims within a generation stated that Europe should take in all the refugees.  Two took the stance that they should all go to China, because…’s closer I guess?  A popular option was relocating the refugees only to other Islamic countries, ignoring the Syrian Christian refugees I guess.  By far, however, the response that pissed me off the most, a position that was accepted by the majority in the room, was as follows”

“How are we going to admit refugees into the United States when we have homeless and hungry people living here already?  I feel bad for them, but we have our own citizens to worry about before we can start helping people from other nations.”

I’d like to say that I destroyed that argument as soon as it was stated.  I didn’t.  I’d like to say that the reason I didn’t was because the group ended as soon as he made that statement.  That would be a lie.  After he dropped that bomb, the group continued for five more minutes, mostly of people agreeing with that statement.  I’ll be honest.  I just sat there, slack-jawed, in total disbelief, with no real idea of how to combat that statement without turning the rest of the group into a literal shouting match.  The statement is so nonsensical that it isn’t even wrong.

You do not get to use the existence of America’s poor, hungry, and homeless, who we routinely ignore, sweep under the rug, and hide away out of sight while providing them the bare minimum (if even that) of aid to satisfy our sense of ethics, often demonizing them while complaining about what they spend their limited funds on, (Omg, that person on food stamps has a tv!!!! Burn them!) as an excuse to avoid helping other people in need.  If the money to help the 10k refugees coming to America was coming directly out of programs that help the homeless and hungry, then okay, make the argument.  But as of now, here is that argument explained:

  • We’d like to help the Syrian refugees, but we have our own hungry and homeless people to help first.
  • We do not help Syrian refugees.
  • We continue giving our homeless and hungry the ethical bare minimum (if that) of aid.  The same amount they would get if there was no Syrian refugee crisis.

We live in a wealthy western nation.  Americans do not like to hear this much, but we have hungry and homeless people in the United States because we choose to have them.  You can not make the argument that the United States is not rich enough to build a few less fighter jets and eliminate homelessness and hunger in the nation.  You can argue against us doing that, some people argue against any social safety net.  The voting public and their elected officials have made the decision that homelessness and poverty are acceptable consequences of our societies system.  Perhaps they are correct.  I don’t know.  I know that in the future, as machines take over more and more jobs, something like every citizen receiving a minimum income from the government is going to be a requirement, but that is still a future concern.  I know that if it really was as obvious as I think it is that food, housing, and health care should be fundamental rights in a wealthy nation, then that would be reality.

But what is obvious is this.  You do not get to use the homeless people we are already not helping as an excuse not to help other people.


Why do I normally attempt to avoid group counseling in favor of one on ones?  For those of you who have never done any drug and alcohol treatment, I’ll throw in a quick run down:

  • Groups where no one wants to participate are depressingly common.  Watching 10 people sit in a room silently is not one of the most entertaining usages of time that I can think of, so I normally talk the whole group once I realize no one else is going to.  Which makes it a one on one with an audience.
  • Even groups that are actual group discussions normally break down into 3 or 4 people discussing the topic and 6 or 7 people watching the clock.
  • Know what’s really fun at a methadone clinic?  A group where one of the participants is either obviously on way too high of a dosage or a handful of Xanax as well.  Sure, if they are really obvious they may get in trouble.  They may even get removed from group.  But as any ex-opiate addict will tell you, we can instantly tell if someone is high.  It doesn’t bother me now, but early on in your recovery high people can be instant triggers.
  • How much does the counselor leading the group want to be there?  Every counselor has to run a certain number of groups each month.  Half the time the group therefore consists of watching an episode of Drugs; INC.  In which case I have to leave the group, because ya know what is a trigger to me still, and probably will be my whole life?  Watching someone shoot up.  The sight of an insulin syringe causes my heart rate to increase.  I have years of clean drug tests now, but overconfidence can take down the best of us.  I know my triggers and limit my contact with them.
  • Going off the attitude of the group leader, do they want to run a good group or just get the hour over with?  If it’s the latter expect people to be allowed to cross talk endlessly or just fuck around on their smartphones.    So much fun, especially when you can hear the cross talk and the discussion is about the Xanax they are buying when group is over.
  • Speaking of phone usage, I have seen some people bring up some really heavy shit in group treatment.  People breaking down, crying, admitting things that take the whole room by surprise.  I’ve never seen or heard of this being done, but if someone is fucking around on their phone, how does anyone know they aren’t taping the break down to laugh about with their friends later?  I’d be more comfortable if no phones were even allowed in the group room, and I’ve already dealt with my embarrassing shit years ago.

Group treatment is very effective when done right.  I’ve done multiple groups in the past that I believe really helped me.  That being said, too often in drug treatment, especially when the group is a time requirement and not filled with just people who want group treatment, the problems trump any possible positives.  Why bother?  I’ll just take the one on one.  (Even though I know my next one on one is going to be an hour of me looking at my counselor with my mouth open stammering “Why the fuck do you think Obama is a Muslim again?”)

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