The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

As a member of the addiction treatment team at Burning Tree Ranch for over seven years now, I have discovered that we can recognize a “Burning Tree client” from a mile away. While we do have formal clinical criteria for our clientele, the truth is that more often than not our gut will sound the alarm that an individual is a perfect fit for Burning Tree. A five minute phone call with a family member can usually give us all the information we need to spot this fit for Burning Tree.  This may not sound especially scientific or clinical, but what I can tell you, is that we know the character traits of the relapser. And we know how to get them well.

The Good (actually not so good . . .)

One tell-tale sign of our clients is they are often off the charts with their IQ and also have an incredible amount of wit, quick thinking, survival skills and a mastery of the English language. However, their intelligence has become a liability as they have used it to disarm loved ones, treatment providers, and even 12-step sponsors. They are masters at dishonesty, justification, persuasion, providing excuses, telling stories, and disarming people. They leave you wondering if you are the crazy one.

The tragic part is that they are so delusional and truly believe they know what’s best for them. Believing they are right and trusting in their own reasoning, to the point of total destruction. Because of their intelligence, efforts at running the show have unfortunately worked a lot of the time, which perpetuates a cycle of self-reliance. They may have been to 22 treatment centers and been unable to stay sober, but are still invested in calling the shots even at the 23rd treatment – where they will go, how they will go, when they will go, how long they will go. They have adopted the “Cafeteria-Style” approach to recovery and treatment, strategically selecting and deciding what they are willing to do and not willing to do.

The Bad (it sure feels bad . . .)

The Burning Tree client more times than not is an emotional terrorist and vampire sucking the life out of their loved ones and they hold them emotionally hostage. In relationships, these clients use the “I hate you, don’t leave” approach, which leaves loved ones terrified, confused and all used up. Loved ones end up walking on eggshells to avoid setting them off into a drug relapse.

In addition, their self-centeredness is at such an extreme, they literally take everything personally. This is evident with clients even in treatment with their counselor – if their counselor doesn’t show up for work because they woke up sick, the client will often take it personally and feel abandoned, victimized, guilty, and spend all day wondering why their counselor “left them.” Even just rescheduling an individual counseling session to a different time can ignite all kinds of upset with a Burning Tree client.

The Ugly (not always so ugly . . .)

Third, Burning Tree clients are incredibly lovable.  They are magnetic, charming, adorable and clever. Their personalities can actually be quite intoxicating. We hear stories during treatment about our clients excelling in academics, sports, fine arts, social skills, and their career, only to eventually waste all this talent through years of addiction. These individuals gained their ability to survive by using a natural charm to avoid consequences.  In fact, this unique talent for manipulation is many times why the client has survived so long– a lot of individuals would be dead by the time their loved ones call us without this talent.  By using their magnetic personality, they acquired the art of survival, in and out of treatment. They know what you want to hear and exactly how to pull your heart strings. They have been able to get around the rules and the consequences in all areas of life– family, school, work, the legal system, etc. I cannot begin to tell you how many clients I have worked with that had developed a “special” relationship with the probation officer to a point where the probation officer has actually become part of their enabling system.

Here’s the good news . . . The Burning Tree staff is uniquely equipped to address these patterns and personalities in chronic relapsers. As a staff, we are able to see the clients through the attempts at manipulation, emotional terrorism and using their intellect as a weapon. We get to stay one step ahead of them, know their idiosyncrasy, and help them find permanent recovery.