Dealing with “Demons”

By: Anson Burlingame

October 23, 2014

Go to and read another story of another celebrity coming out of rehab. How little does the general public understand what that attractive, professionally successful woman endures in her mind. No article can explain it nor can a Tweeter sentence do anything at all to educate the public about what goes on in her head.

Broadly written, this blog speaks to mental health, from a layman perspective. Far more people than one can imagine deal with “demons” in their heads. As well how to mitigate, control such “demons” remains a huge but seldom mentioned problem in American society. There are many different forms of demons, like the killer kid in Ct. through the hopeless drunk on the street, to professionals with a false face on how they really feel, to the “upset” kid in a school classroom. What to do across the spectrum of behavior remains a very difficult question, with no sound bite or easy answers for solutions.

But I will say, American society is not coming close to even mitigating such issues, much less solving them. Which would help America more, just today? Would a cure for Ebola help more than finding a way for Elizabeth Vargas to deal with her demons and the millions just like her? Just go read any newspaper or watch TV to get that answer, the priorities demanded by Americans.

I only address the “easier” problem, easier in the view of most Americans, of helping Vargas to mitigate her problems. I leave the far more dangerous and public issues concerning crazy gunmen, etc. to others to address. But I do believe the process to mitigate, but never solve, all those issues with “demons” has some common things to resolve.

Vargas has probably been an alcoholic all her life. Why, no one knows for sure. Sure genetics can play a major role in her case but that is not her only problem for sure. She faces issues each day in her life that have nothing to do with how Mom and Dad treated her long ago or what body metabolism or “chemicals” were there at birth.

More than likely Vargas has always been a “horse thief”. A combination of genetics and environment made her that way, a long time ago and her reactions to external events over the years reinforced her instincts to act like a horse thief.

Why use such a stupid metaphor, horse thief, you ask. I use it only because a very wise man once wrote, about 75 years ago, that if you sober up a drunken horse thief, you still have to deal with a horse thief. That very simple message of what must be done AFTER one sobers up is profound and true as true can be, in my view. Vargas has been a ……., a drunken …… from time to time. Coming out of rehab she MUST stop being a ……. if she has a chance to remain free from addiction to alcohol or other chemicals.

Said another way, getting sober is easy but remaining sober is a lifetime struggle for most alcoholics. There is no magic or medical treatment yet available to make it easier to stay sober, free from chemicals. The only way to do that, remain sober, is hard, hard work for the rest of one’s life, period.

At least most Americans no longer sneer at Vargas, call her names, etc., unless of course she shows up drunk, again, which I assure you she does not want to do, get drunk, again. Right now she feels she will do literally anything to not drink. She is now on a “pink cloud”, a sense of momentary happiness to stay sober and the resolve to do so, for now. But no one can live on a “pink cloud” the rest of their lives.

Rather Vargas must become, over time, much better able to live “life on life’s terms” without resorting back to “stealing horses” when stress, real stress reenters her life. If she relapses and drinks again she will first find herself “stealing horses” long before she picks up the next drink.

Again, 75 or so years ago a very smart doctor claimed that staying sober demanded a “psychic change” in the alcoholic. That in essence is what Vargas faces, changing her psychic, her personality, her instinctive or subconscious reactions to stress in any from. She must STOP letting external things, people, places and things it is called, to cause such turmoil with the demons now sleeping but still very much there, in her head.

For alcoholics those demons never die. Like old soldiers they just fade away, into the background, perhaps the subconscious in the mind of an alcoholic. And those demons are always ready to wake up and rampage again, demanding Vargas and millions more to go “steal a horse”, with the drink to soon follow even if she does not get caught “stealing”. Think of Vargas’s real problem as “stealing”, not alcohol. Stop the first and the second becomes irrelevant, to her.

It is my own view that the mental health community has yet to find a way to actually remove such demons in the heads of alcoholics. Maybe medical science will never find a way to do so without just removing portions of one’s brain, a different form of a lobotomy if you will. I hope not, but ……

I close with this observation or consideration for the reader to think about. I have described what Vargas now faces. But take a different example of the need for “psychic change”. A 16 year old kid in high school is a “bad actor”, a “hoodlum” as demonstrated time and time again by his actions in school.

While many may never have experienced it, just imagine how his “mind” demands attention and he acts wildly in class, disrupting any class he attends. Tell him to sit quietly and say nothing. Tell him gently or scream at him, either way. Can you imagine the “psychic pressure” he feels building up in him and thus soon starts again to act like a “hoodlum”. Threats of punishment rarely work in such cases as well. “I could give a ……, what might happen” is a frequent thought, for that kid or an alcoholic.

That psychic pressure in that kid is the similar to what Vargas will surely feel soon, and again, to just go have a drink.

Something in the minds of many people, people the public in no way consider “crazy”, causes such “bad behavior”. Why and what can be done to mitigate such behavior?

When I acted up as a kid Dad used to routinely say “straighten up and fly right”. Easier said than done, Dad. And yes, I still deal with trying to “fly right” many times even as an old man, now. I KNOW “right” and want to “fly right”. That is not the issue. It is doing it that is hard, very hard sometimes.

How about you, the non-addicted reader. Do you too deal with such “psychic pressures” and stumble in trying to resolve them?

I write such words not in attempt to make life “easier”. I simply want life to be better, for Vargas, the kid in school, the drunk on the street or the really crazy gunman. But I have no idea how to do it, all the time, and neither do doctors, in general at least.