Recovery: More Than Information and Memories

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Recovery:  More Than Information and Memories

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse?  We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back.  I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.

Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41-42)

Here is the issue that this man is describing.  This man did what many of us do in
recovery.  He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan.  Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.

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 pg. 40)

The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking.  If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold. 

I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie:  They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission.  I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs.  In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.”  No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it. 

Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice.  This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”

The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all.  In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.

Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)

The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored.  The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?”  Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.

I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew
then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42)

Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”).  That is why so many of us are fooled:  The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using.  Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.”  The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.

Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough.  The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough. 

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42)

To put it bluntly:

INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
SOBER!!!!!

There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change.  More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.

The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1.  If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless. 

I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use.  I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.

Knowing is Not Enough

It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three for four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer – self-knowledge.   

But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 7)

At this point in history there seems to be an endless flow of information on recovery.  There are Twelve Step, Anti-Twelve Step, similar to Twelve Step, holistic and on and on.  Not to say that any of this is good or bad but, there is so much more to recovery than information.

That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were.  But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholic Anonymous pg. 39)

No amount of “knowing” will keep a person sober.  INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  This may seem like an ironic statement to read on a website that is focused on giving you recovery information, but it is the bottom line.  Obviously I think information is an important part of the recovery process, but it is not enough.

The facts and figures of addiction are nice to know and a few more reasons that your addiction is destructive to your life and the lives of those around you are always interesting.  The problem is that there are many people who know all of these things in detail that are trapped in various addictions at this moment with a brain full of all of those facts and figures.

In some cases all of this information is more of a source of self-pity.  If the information alone is what is offered to a person deeply held by the shackles of addiction every piece of information becomes more fuel to the fires of mental torture.

The point is that the information is only fuel.  The information either fuels the fires of mental torture or fuel that ignites and maintains the fires of change and action towards that change.

In recovery there are really only two options:

  1. Either you are changed dramatically
  2. or you are basically the same.

To give you an idea of how dramatic of a change I am describing let’s look at what Dr. William D. Silkworth experienced with one of A.A.’s founding members:

He accepted the plan outlined in this book. One year later he called to see me, and I experienced a very strange sensation. I knew the man by name, and partly recognized his features, but there all resemblance ended. From a trembling, despairing, nervous wreck, had emerged a man brimming over with self-reliance and contentment. I talked with him for some time, but was not able to bring myself to feel that I had known him before. To me he was a stranger, and so he left me. A long time has passed with no return to alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg xxxi – 4th Edition)

There is a lot more to it, but to break it down as basically as possible:  THE INFORMATION IS THE FUEL WE ADD TO THE FIRES OF CHANGE.

If you are not dramatically changed by the information, the information has been wasted. 

Do not become one of those people in recovery who know all of the information yet stays the same.  I call those “Zero Steppers.”  Step zero is talking about recovery (but not actually doing any recovery).  So, do not be a “Zero Stepper!”

In the passage we started with from page 7, Bill W. received an overload of recovery information and knowledge that made it all make sense.  All of the details and intricacies of people like us. 

In another story in the book the whole experience is described like this:

Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 26)

It is unreasonable to thing that gaining information that makes sense is the cure for an activity where you do something that makes no sense for absolutely no sensible reason.  It was never a necessity for your addiction to make sense before, what makes us think that making sense was the problem.  In fact, to some degree you already knew that your addiction makes no sense and were still doing it.

You must be different from the inside out.  Either you are the same or you are dramatically different.  That is it! 

The knowing is useless if it is not fuel for changing!

Confronting or Not Confronting???

We realize some men are thoroughly bad-intentioned, that no amount of patience will make any difference. An alcoholic of this temperament may be quick to use this chapter as a club over your head. Don’t let him get away with it. If you are positive he is one of this type you may feel you had better leave. Is it right to let him ruin your life and the lives of your children?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

 Some people in recovery immediately upon deciding to give all of this a shot become more caring and considerate, this passage is not describing that group.  This passage is describing the people who are still “bad-intentioned” even when abstaining from alcohol and drugs.  Some of those “bad intentioned” individuals even misuse the information they get in recovery to manipulate others.

These people may say that they want to change and this may or may not be true, but the point is that if their actions continue to be destructive to those around them, it may
be better to take drastic measures for the good of all.  Just letting the person continue to be an evil force, destroying his or her own life and the lives of all who he or she comes into contact with is the worst option.

I am not saying that all people who use heavily should be abandoned by their loved ones, but I do feel that allowing such a person to do whatever he or she feels, no matter
how destructive is actually a worse option.
There has to be a reasonable and balanced approach that is going to be helpful for all involved.

Let’s slow down a bit and look at this in more detail.  If you look at the page that the first verse we read is on, we see what may seem like the exact opposite message:

Try not to condemn your alcoholic husband no matter what he says or does. He is just another very sick, unreasonable person. Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia. When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

Sometimes, people assume this means to allow the person to do whatever he or she wants to do and say nothing.  Then you reach the passage we started with that says to not let the person “get away with it” and you may need to leave that person.  These seem like conflicting ideas or at least pretty different extremes.  The fact is, everyone involved needs to look at what is best for everyone.

Most of us have encountered the child who has the parents that can never say no to him or her.  The kind of parents who never confront the troubles a child has.  Those
are usually the kids throwing things in the isle of the grocery store or cussing the parents out in a crowd.  Then you have the parents that verbally or physically abuse their children.  Those children have all kinds of issues not the least of which often being drug and alcohol problems.  The point is that doing too much to correct a
child is detrimental, but doing too little is also terribly detrimental.

With those of us in recovery there are some things we need to be handled delicately, some things that we need to be told bluntly and some things we need to figure out
ourselves.  The problem is that even as the person going through it, we often do not know which approach goes where until after the fact.

What is clear with many alcoholics and addicts is that if someone approaches something that needs to be handled delicately with too much force, we tend to rebel against the idea without even considering if it is true or not.  If something that needs to be handled more directly and forcefully is handled too delicately we tend to either ignore it or use manipulation to just not deal with it.  If it is something we
need to figure out ourselves, delicate or direct approaches are both just information, but not really what is needed.

The point of all this:

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in recovery or in need of recovery:

  • Start with someone who already knows the ropes and have the person (or group of person’s) walk you through the process.
  1. Some of these kinds of people include the person’s sponsor, an Al-Anon or  CODA group, a professional counselor, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader,  etc.
  • Think in terms of what serves the greatest good!
  1. Am I helping or hurting the person (allowing someone to do something that is destructive to his or her relationships or to him or herself is often not good for that person while beating a person who feels terrible guilt while he or she is down is also not helpful)
  2. Am I helping or hurting those around us
  • If I do nothing is someone around us going to get hurt?
  • If I confront this is someone around us going to get hurt in some way?
  • Is there a way to confront this that will best solve the problem (instead of just making me feel better about getting it off of my chest)
  1. Am I allowing the person to hurt or abuse me in a way that hurts both of us?
  • Is this something I should plan a proper time for confrontation or I should do now?

Consider this passage which describes conversation with the person (confrontation) done appropriately:

We know these suggestions are sometimes difficult to follow, but you will save many a heartbreak if you can succeed in observing them. Your husband may come to appreciate your reasonableness and patience. This may lay the groundwork for a friendly talk about his alcoholic problem. Try to have him bring up the subject himself. Be sure you are not critical during such a discussion. Attempt instead, to put yourself in his place. Let him see that you want to be helpful rather than critical.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 111)

This may only be one example, but the focus is serving the greatest good of all while
confronting the problems.

If you are the person in recovery you need to keep in some things in mind:

Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

  1. Much of the mess you are dealing with and the crazy that seems to be around you is your own creation.  If you didn’t create the crazy around you, it is possible that you drew it into your life.
    • Part of your recovery is doing all you can to repair whatever damage you have created.
  2. You should not avoid conversations that confront your issues; it is part of your
    recovery to seek out those conversations.
    • If the people closest to you cannot tell you what they see that you may need to change, who can?  They probably know better than anyone (because they have often been the victims).
  3. If we expect them to be patient, tolerant and kind with us in spite of our “crazy”
    we owe them the same patience, tolerance and kindness when they approach us in some way that is a little crazy.
  4. Be willing to look at what the people around you are saying is important to them with the importance they say it has.
    • Just because you don’t think it is not that important does not mean that it’s not.
  5. Do not try to use your recovery information to manipulate those around you.
  6. When in doubt seek out council from your sponsor, some much more mature in recovery, professional counselors, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader, people from your group, etc.
    • Keep people who are knowledgeable, understanding yet direct enough to tell you the truth in your life for such purposes.
  7. ABSTAINING FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUGS IS NOT ENOUGH!!!

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. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)

My point is that all of these challenges will have to be confronted; it is only a matter of how and when these confrontations will take place. 

One set of words from a segment of the book discussing Step 9 best sums this all up:

Whatever the situation, we usually have to do something about it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 81)