The Key to All Steps and to Recovery!

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

I revisit this idea every once in a while and I think it is something that every person in recovery from anything should rethink regularly.  Let me start by being clear.   If your worldview is based on the idea that:  “Whatever makes me comfortable is right and whatever makes me uncomfortable is wrong,” what we read above is speaking directly to you.

In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 61)

In this passage the authors are describing what this looks like using the example of an actor who wants to control the show he is acting in (controlling the other actors, controlling the script, controlling the director, controlling the set design etc.). 

This passage is saying that some people trying to control the show are polite and influencing.  That person might even blame him or herself for not doing enough to let the others know how much he or she knew that could have made the show better.  Some people like this are extremely giving, but in their minds there is always the expectation that since I am giving you this or that you should trust my opinion more or you owe me appreciation etc.  This person and possibly the people around this person may not even think of this person as selfish.

The passage is also saying that this person might have a whole different approach.  This person might be pushy or overbearing.  Showing the others every mistake they make.  This person might manipulate and even lie to get his or her way.  This person must have his or her way at all costs.

These are the extremes and most of us have some mixture of both.  The key is that no matter which extreme, combination or amount of this we are describing, the fact is that it is selfishness. 

Selfishness or the absence of selfish motives cannot be measured accurately just by looking at your own actions.  Selfishness is about the motives behind the actions.

Here is an example:

Two people hear about a child in some third world country that just lost her parents and is in an orphanage that cannot afford to feed her.  The first person immediately thinks, “That is awful.  No child should have to endure such tragedy.”  Then that person sends $1000.00 to feed, clothe, and take care of that child.  The second person is a guy at a bar trying to build a relationship with a girl he just met.  This guy, in an effort to keep the conversation going, brings up the little girl’s story.  He really hadn’t paid that much attention to the story, but now that he sees the girl’s interest he states that he was thinking about donating a thousand dollars to help.  The girl states she would like to give also, so they go together and the man donates $1000.00 and the girl is impressed.

Both people were seemed giving and caring.  Both gave to a worthy cause and ultimately “did a good thing.”  But, one of these people is a truly caring person.  The other is using the orphaned girl’s plight as an opportunity to “pick-up” a pretty young lady in a bar.  This person used this little girl (who will be grateful anyway), used whatever organization was coordinating the donations, and used the orphanage as a “pick up line.”  His main motive for giving and for even considering giving is to get what he wants.  The fact that this was not really what he was going to do and to impress this girl he states and acts like this is what he was going to do is in fact a lie.  He lied to this girl to impress her.  Even deeper, he pretended to be someone he really isn’t to  get her attention. 

So let’s say the man who was “picking-up” the girl in the bar is successful in impressing the girl and they end up dating.  Eventually she will discover that he is way more focused on getting from people than giving.  More importantly, far more self-centered than the person she met or the person she thought she was dating.  She was sold one thing and received a totally different thing. 

Wouldn’t that cause problems?   If he is not in reality the type of person that the girl from the bar would like to spend time with, wouldn’t it be better to find out before the two people are emotionally invested in the relationship.   Wouldn’t it be better for him to be in a relationship with a person who likes him for who he is rather than a fictitious person that is totally different than who he really is?  This relationship is a recipe for disaster.  Isn’t he the one that set it up for failure?

Think about that relative to the following statement from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

The two sentences directly before this passage are how we know that the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps)thought that this self focus was a huge issue that must be dealt with:

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

They thought this self-centered interaction with the world is the deeper issue behind our other issues.  What this also means is that, if you do not work on becoming less self-centered and selfish all the work a person does in recovery will not be sufficient.  To look at it from a another angle, think of if this way:  If a person in recovery is not growing more and more humble, that person is not truly working on the deeper issues in his or her recovery or in his or her life.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.  For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.  Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy.  (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

If a person is working any Step of the Twelve and is not growing more humble, that person is not working the step properly.  I believe that any person that works the Steps will get some level of humility just by what the activities involved entail.  According to this passage, that person might even be able to remain abstinent in terms of his or her addiction, but still be a total mess.  This idea explains a lot of people I meet in recovery circles that talk about how long they have been sober.

If you run into a person who seems to be a mess, but has some sobriety time, that person may have possibly missed this key point.  If you run into one of these people who are always describing what an expert he or she is or is otherwise trying to prove him or herself important to others in recovery, that person may possibly have (probably has) missed this extremely key point.  A person working the steps and not changing is possibly a person who is not getting this key point.  If any of those people just listed is you, you may have missed this very key point.

The point of all this is to make sure that gaining humility and losing selfish motives have to be a huge key to everything we do in recovery.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

    The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

According to this passage, if you get past Step 2 and are moving into Step 3, you cannot even say that you have begun Step 3 if you are not convinced that these selfish motives must die and humility must start to grow in your life.

Starting Step 1 – The Lie Must Die

at a meeting
Image by smussyolay via Flickr

This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

To begin with, when a person is starting recovery, the minimizing and denial must stop! One of the struggles that many have in early recovery is this idea that I have problems and I am going a little overboard, but I am “not that bad” (not a serious alcoholic or a serious addict). In other words I am fairly normal, but I am just overdoing it a bit.

In one story located in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two examples of what this looks like…

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 39-40)

We first saw Fred about a year ago in a hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad case of jitters. It was his first experience of this kind, and he was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the hospital to rest his nerves. The doctor intimated strongly that he might be worse than he realized. For a few days he was depressed about his condition. He made up his mind to quit drinking altogether. It never occurred to him that perhaps he could not do so, in spite of his character and standing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

These are both excerpts from the same story, but both descriptions come from the observations of the members who were trying to work with him. Listen to how Fred himself describes this (after his big relapse):

“I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful in licking my other personal problems, and that I would therefore be successful where you men failed. I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would be only a matter of exercising my will power and keeping on guard. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 40)

This mindset says; “All that recovery stuff you are telling me is interesting, but I am not so bad that I need to do all that.” That is often a lie and it tells a person that he or she can just pay attention to what he or she is comfortable hearing. “If it’s something I find uncomfortable or I don’t like it, I can just ignore it because all of that is for people who are worse off than me” (like the person or people talking to me).

On page 568 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that:

Willingness, honest and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 568)

Let’s look at this kind of thinking and all how it resists these three essential mindsets:

  1. WILLINGNESS = If a person is suddenly faced with the reality that he or she is a serious alcoholic or addict and a person comes who not only offers a solution but is living it comes along it would seem like the reasonable choice to make is to try to do whatever that person does. That would also imply that if there are parts that you do differently than that person, then you will clearly get different results. The more you choose NOT to do, the more different your results. Are you willing to do exactly what that person did to try to get exactly the same results?
  2. HONESTY = In the case of Fred, in the story discussed above, he was in the hospital being confronted by doctors and others with similar problems who were diagnosing him as pretty advanced in his alcoholism. Even though he knew he had lost control to some degree and it had clearly led to some problems, he somehow convinces himself that he is more of an expert than the doctors, addicts, alcoholics and anyone else that might have tried to tell him differently. At what point does a person move from misled to flat out lying to himself or herself? Recovery requires being brutally honest with yourself and working to fix whatever problems are observed.
  3. Open-Mindedness = Even if it is hard to swallow, when both experts and people who have had the same experiences agree that your problem might be worse than you think it is, you should probably assume you might be wrong and they might be right. If a person who is not really an addict were to do all of the things an advanced user has to do to achieve sobriety, that person will still get many benefits (or at the least does no real harm). On the other hand, if a person who is an advanced level alcoholic or addict doesn’t do the things it takes to get sober the problem worsens. Lying to yourself is part of alcoholism and addiction and an open mind is a must if you are to get past it.

A person who is still driven by the lie that he or she is not as bad as the facts show clearly, or who knows it is a problem but justifies it by picking someone and saying, “At least I’m not as bad as that,” is failing to work the first step. No matter what that person says, writes, does etc. as long as that mindset persists, the lie will win and at some point tell that person it is okay to use again.

THE LIE MUST DIE OR THE RECOVERY IS JUST PART OF THE LIE!

The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. There are many.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)

With those of us working the Twelve Steps who suffer from drug or alcohol addictions this may be painfully obvious.  This also applies to many other addictions in a similar manner.  For those of us reading this who are the friends or family of an addict or alcoholic you may or may not understand what this passage is trying to communicate.

Elsewhere in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (which was the origin of all things Twelve Step) it uses this description of the alcoholic specifically which translates to all addictions also:

The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)

If you are the friend or loved one of a person that is and addict or an alcoholic their using does not just create problems in his or her life.  This person’s sickness rips through the lives of every person in contact with him or her creating problems for all.

If you are one of these loved ones, one point that you must completely understand is that, “YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON!”  They have to change themselves or at the least allow you to give the input that they will use in changing.  If you want to force another person (especially an addict or alcoholic) to change it will end only in great disappointment for you.

The real question is what, should you do as the friend or loved one of an addict or alcoholic.  Another point to remember is that, “ALTHOUGH YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON, YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOURSELF!”  Start working on you. 

One great way to begin is to learn as much as you can about the addiction or alcoholism, about recovery, and about what parts you play in the person’s problems as well as what parts you have nothing to do with.   The passage we started with from page 18 stated:

We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)

The Book was not only written for the person in recovery to read and learn from, but also for all of the people around that person to gain an understanding of the person and the process of change.   There are specific chapters in the book written directly:  To Wives, to The Family Afterwards and To Employers.  The rest of the information in the book also informs the friends and loved ones also.

However, not only should those around the addict or alcoholic be informed about these things there is more that recovery has to offer to them.

Though an alcoholic does not respond, there is no reason why you should neglect his family. You should continue to be friendly to them. The family should be offered your way of life. Should they accept and practice spiritual principles, there is a much better chance that the head of the family will recover. And even though he continues to drink, the family will find life more bearable.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 97)

The “spiritual principles” spoken of here are the ones outlined in the 12 Steps.  The family ought to work the program also for 3 reasons:

  1. To just grow in a more healthy way of living
  2. There is a better chance that the friend or loved one will recover if those around him or her are making the same changes and going through the same struggles to be better
  3. No matter what the person in recovery or in need of recovery does, it will be more manageable for the friends and loved ones who do the Steps.

As for the person in recovery who does not want to involve his or her friends or loved ones in the process because:  “That is all the past,” “It is embarrassing” “I’ve already put them through enough” etc, their involvement is not optional, it is a part of the recovery process.

Sometimes we hear an alcoholic say that the only thing he needs to do is to keep sober. Certainly he must keep sober, for there will be no home if he doesn’t. But he is yet a long way from making good to the wife or parents whom for years he has so shockingly treated.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)

If either the person in recovery or the friends and family are under the impression that all that is needed is to abstain from the addiction or alcohol the person thinking this way is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

Continue reading “Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???”

Getting Freedom, Happiness, and Other Promises from the Twelve Steps

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

Wow, “new freedom and a new happiness.”  On the next page this paragraph goes on to promise “we will know peace” and many more great things.  Those of us who have been around the 12 Step rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous have probably heard these promises a few times. 

The part that most people tend to miss is summed up best by the first word of the paragraph:  “If”.  These things are promised “if”, but if what?  The answer is “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development”, but that is not really the answer either as it leaves us with another question:  What is “this phase of our development”?  The use of the word “this” means that without knowing what is going on in the paragraphs and pages before this paragraph we cannot know truly what you need to do to get what is promised. 

The paragraph basically says:

If THIS then the PROMISES – If you do not know what “this” is, then you have no real idea how it is telling you to get those promises.  So, what are the preceding paragraphs and pages discussing?

Let’s begin with the paragraph before this one:

There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don’t worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right them if we could. Some people cannot be seen – we send them an honest letter. And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases. But we don’t delay if it can be avoided.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

Righting wrongs is what you do in Step 9 and that is the context.  On page 76 you arrive at Steps 8 and 9 and you do not move on to Step 10 until page 84 where you encounter the words “This thought brings us to Step Ten…”

If you are not completely familiar with the Steps, Step 9 is:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

But the passage didn’t just say if you work Step 9 you can expect these promises in your life, the passage says that you have to be “painstaking about” it.  If you are painstaking about working the Ninth Step you can have an expectation of these promises (such as freedom, happiness, peace etc.) before you are even halfway through with making your amends.

The only thing left to do to truly understand what this paragraph is really saying is to define the word “painstaking.”  According to WordNetWeb from Princeton University:

Painstaking = characterized by extreme care and great effort; “conscientious application to the work at hand”; “painstaking research”; “scrupulous attention to details”

So if you make amends exerting great effort to make them and taking great care to make them all and in detail then you can expect some wonderful things to happen such as freedom, happiness, peace, freedom from fear, freedom from fear of the past and more.  You can actually expect these things to happen to you before you are even half way done.

So get over regret of the past and wanting to just forget the past (shut the door on it) and face your past.  An unresolved past secretly affects you every day which means it is not really your past; it is your present that is trying to destroy your future.  Painstakingly work it through as described by Steps 8 and 9 and you:

…will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)