How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.

In some circumstances we have gone out deliberately to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Let’s talk about the “insanely trivial excuse” described above.  But before we go into that let me answer the big question:  Why?  Those of us who are around others in recovery regularly, often hear a whole lot of these “insanely trivial excuses” in early January from a bunch of people who relapsed or those who relapse and are trying to explain to the rest of us some “insanely trivial excuse” for why the relapse at New Years does not count as an actual relapse.

Here is the truth about this “insanely trivial excuse”.  It is the excuse we arrive at to use at all, Not the excuse to get intoxicated, high, mess up our life, etc.  It is the excuse we arrive at to tell ourselves and others that any amount (even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit) is going to be safe for me.  That means ignoring the truth that we have all heard repeatedly:  You can never use intoxicating substances safely again.

These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that he can’t feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

If you are an addict or an alcoholic then the fact is that intoxicating substances make you self-destructively stupid.  With the use of even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit comes the risk of absolute destruction of yourself, of everyone and everything you care about, of those that care about you, and the real possibility of seriously hurting or killing yourself or others.  In other words there is no excuse even close to big enough to carry more weight than the potential pain, agony, and destruction that will result from a relapse.  In light of this fact, any excuse is not only “insanely trivial” but is also insanely stupid.  Using anything in any amount is a relapse period.  A sip of a beer, a sip of champagne, a quick hit of a joint, just a little, whatever; it is still a relapse and the penalty is way, way too great.  That is why any excuse; no matter how convincing it may sound is just like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to make your headache go away. 

My goal here is not to make anyone feel bad or guilty etc., the goal is to make clear the idea that there is no reason that you can come up with that is a good reason for you to use.  If you come up with a reason it is simply a way of lying to yourself that you have found that will work to trick you into destroying yourself. 

During the holidays it is not uncommon to find other people trying to make these excuses for you.  They are trying to convince you that champagne does not count or that marijuana is not a drug, or that blah-blah-blah is not your “drug of choice” so it does not count. 

Let’s just put it plainly:  Your problem is getting high and your uncontrollable desire to get high.  Yes most of us who are addicts and alcoholics have a high we most definitely prefer, but we use because we like being high.  If I use something that can make me high if I continue to use it, I am probably going to have a strong urge to keep using it or to go and use whatever it is that I prefer to use to get high.  Whatever the reason and no matter who is giving it to me THERE IS SIMPLY WAY TO MUCH RISK AND FAR, FAR TOO LITTLE TO GAIN!

A person or group of people that chose to try to force you to do something that you do not want to do and that has the potential to absolutely destroy you is probably someone you might consider not spending time with. 

If you had an unexplainable urge to hurt yourself such as an uncontrollable urge to stab yourself in the head with a knife, we would keep you away from knives.  Any excuse you came up with for having a knife would be considered unreasonable and we would find a way around it (such as cutting your food for you etc.).  It is also probable that we would not give you other sharp objects either even though your obsession seems to be with knives.  Scissors, pencils, ice picks, etc. would have to also be out of the question.

Now let’s say that you get to a relatively stable state and can be in public but still have to just avoid sharp objects in case you might trigger something that makes you suddenly do the same thing again.  You go to a gathering of your friends and they entertain themselves by trying to make you play with sharp objects.  They keep telling you, “It will be okay,” “Maybe if you just touch a few sharp objects with us here to protect you, you will get over it completely,” “Your problem is with knives, not these.  You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with pencils,” and similar statements. 

Are these people really safe for you at that point?  Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you?   Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All over the world on New Year’s Eve, there will be similar conversations.  “It will be okay, because_____” “Maybe if you just use a little with us here to protect you,” “Your problem is with _______, not _____.   You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with _______.  It will be fine”  The same questions apply:

  • ·         Are these people really safe for you at that point? 
  • ·         Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you? 
  • ·          Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All of this falls under these “insanely trivial excuses” we have been talking about. 

In the “To Wives” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (written to non-alcoholic wives of severely alcoholic men specifically but actually true information for anyone dealing with any addict/alcoholic:  as well as being true and deep information for those of us who are the addicts/alcoholics) there is some basic information that can help in dealing with others and in weeding out the people who are not safe for you:

We find that most of this embarrassment is unnecessary. While you need not discuss your husband at length, you can quietly let your friends know the nature of his illness. But you must be on guard not to embarrass or harm your husband.

When you have carefully explained to such people that he is a sick person, you will have created a new atmosphere. Barriers which have sprung up between you and your friends will disappear with the growth of sympathetic understanding. You will no longer be self-conscious or feel that you must apologize as though your husband were a weak character. He may be anything but that. Your new courage, good nature and lack of self-consciousness will do wonders for you socially.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

Like I said it was written “To Wives” but is a truth on several different levels.  Be open about your problems to the people you will be around.  If you are an addict let them know you are an addict working through sobriety.  If you are an alcoholic do the same.  Be humbly open.

Will you be uncomfortable; absolutely.  Will some people treat you differently; yes absolutely.  But, that is way better than destruction, horror and remorse of a relapse. 

Any person who you share this with who cannot handle the information, or who in spite of this information feels the need try and gets you to use or uses this information to somehow hurt/annoy you:  THAT PERSON IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU TO BE AROUND ESPECIALLY DURING HOLIDAY GATHERINGS!

Openness and honesty can add to your defenses.  Part of those explanations you give to these people should include the fact that you cannot safely use any intoxicating substances whatsoever and your sincerely asking them to help you not do so.  This is an added level of defense against your “insanely trivial excuses”, but all of this assumes that you are far enough along in your recovery to attend such gatherings. 

This may take consultation with sponsors, mentors, counselors etc. as you might not be the best person to make this judgment call, but some of us are simply not ready for these sorts of events.  If that is true, then it is a fact.  If you have an idea that you are not or may not be ready and you start looking for reasons to convince yourself that you are ready, you have again begun the search for “insanely trivial excuses”.    If you are not ready, spend the time working on becoming ready for future gatherings.  Find a recovery meeting or event.  Have a recovery gathering of your own with others in the same boat.  Work on steps with your sponsor while everyone else is getting drunk and arrested.

The bottom line is take whatever drastic measures are necessary to remain sober through the holidays even if it means missing them all together.  Remember, whatever reason you (or anyone else) can come up with to use ANYTHING is an “insanely trivial excuse” and is “insanely STUPID.” 

Remember also that the “insanely trivial excuse” as stated in the passage at the beginning, is an “insanely trivial excuse” to take the first drink, hit, puff etc.   It is the first little that is the relapse because in truth there is no tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit.  IT IS EITHER YOU DO ABSOLUTELY NONE OR IT IS A RELAPSE.

Stay Sober my Friends…

Wade H.

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 4 – Ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 4 – Ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

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

Many people have all kinds of things to say about things that are important to recovery, yet this extremely important point is often missed.  All of us using at these heavy levels are concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity.” 

This is one of the most key messages that we all need in recovery, yet is the one people ignore the most.  Here is the problem; there are few times throughout the year as tempting to a person overly concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity” as the Christmas holiday.

If a person is selfish and self-centered in the most traditional sense of the words that person will be completely focused on what others give to him or her.  If that is your focus there can only be a tremendous let down.

If a person is more of a self-pity type, that person may be a codependent who is obsessed with getting others stuff for Christmas and find himself or herself depressed at the inability to get purchase the happiness or appreciation of others.  This is a person who will believe himself or herself to be as unselfish as you can be with the obsession for doing things for others when in fact there is something that person is looking for in return for the gifts and services rendered etc. 

If a person is seething with resentments or in bondage to the hurts of others from the past, then the family gatherings and Merry Christmas stuff from the very same folks you are uncomfortable with (openly or secretly resentful towards) are the recipe for inner turmoil and torment.  This person may not have any problems with the gifts received or given as there may be neither to worry about.

Before going any further into this, it is important to remember just because you feel something that does not mean it is true or sensible.  Some of the things you feel may just be a part of your being an addict or alcoholic. 

If the root source of all things Twelve Step states that “the root of our troubles” is “selfishness – Self-centeredness” then it is probable that as an addict or alcoholic everything you feel may be filtered through an exaggerated focus on yourself.   That also means that one of the main focuses of everything in the Twelve Steps is to overcome this “root of our troubles.”

Wherever you are in working your steps, you may not overcome this struggle prior to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  A good place to start is by first recognizing that the problem may be simply a problem of your perspective and not one dealing with the reality of the situation or situations.

A problem so big that it is described as “the root” of your problems is not the kind of thing that you can read a cure in a two or three page blog posting:  But, the steps were originally written as a cure for this root struggle.  I understand that each of us may be in different places in our recoveries, but before you even consider dealing with the whole Christmas thing, this is an excellent time to greatly increase your efforts in your recovery.  Do more of and more quality recovery activities.  From Steps to meetings with your sponsor and other mentors to general recovery meeting attendance increase the amount and quality during the holiday season.  Get some strong people in place that you can meet with regularly to reality test your thoughts (because we cannot trust our own interpretations). 

We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

In an extremely simplified most basic sense retaliation and argument are not options for us.  We are not ready to judge what to respond to with our distorted understanding of events.  We must focus on how to be helpful to those people we feel these kind of feelings for and not expect any appreciation or acknowledgement from these people.  I understand that this is easier said than done, but in considering that Christmas is this week it is the best way to go. 

Make this Christmas be about making the holidays better with you around than it would have been without you around and have no expectation of appreciation or acknowledgement.  Do it only as part of your recovery and as part of staying healthy.

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

One more thing… 

Find someone else who is struggling like you and help that person.  The exact things that are going on with you and I during the holiday season will be going on with millions of addicts and alcoholics around the world for similar reasons.  Take the focus off of ourselves and devote some of your time to the service of someone else struggling with the same insanity that threatens us during this season.  Who better to talk to about these things than one of us who knows the same struggles?  You may not feel like you understand all of this all that well, but you may understand it a whole lot more than the next person and be extremely helpful to another person. 

And…

May you have the happiest and most sober Christmas you have had to date,

Wade H.

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 85)

One of the best ways to ensure your recovery survives the holidays with family, partying, Black Friday and Cyber Mondays, crowds, expectations and so on is to be proactive.  There are many reasons that can come up that might cause a person problems with his or her recovery, but the most dangerous are the subtle changes that we do not notice in time to respond to.  If you are waiting until you have a problem with your recovery to take action, you are resting on your laurels as described in this passage.  That means you are headed for trouble.

Let’s take a few minutes and look at one aspect of the subtlety of addiction and alcoholism before we go on with discussing what kind of action we are talking about.

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 pg. 42)

No matter how far you are along in recovery you are there is a fact that remains true of those that are the most severe addicts and alcoholics.  WE ARE POWERLESS!  If you have trouble with this concept and you are working a Twelve Step program, you are stuck.  You are stuck on Step One:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Understanding this idea and responding correctly are incredibly important during this time of year.  A time of celebration for many, a time of incredible stress for many, a time of drinking and using for many, a time for great depression for some, and so on.   Few people go through the holiday season without some profound change of emotion, good or bad. 

If you are totally relying on yourself to remain sober through all that a person encounters, experiences, and feels during the holiday season, you are at terrible risk.  

So what is this “powerless” that the Twelve Step information describes?

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. 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. We are without defense against the first drink.

The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 24)

The reason that I put both of these paragraphs here is because most people hearing the word “powerless” have an understanding that lines up with the first paragraph but that misses the ideas detailed in the second paragraph (as well as a few details in the first paragraph). 

Most people only think of “powerless” as “I cannot stop myself.”  With that limited understanding the next logical thought is that if “I cannot stop myself, then it is not my fault and it is useless to try to stop.”

Let’s look at that concept in detail:

In the first paragraph there are the words “at certain times”.  So whatever is going on here happens periodically and is not a constant.  The idea that; every time I get around someone that is using I just jump in and use, is not a part of the concept of powerlessness as described here.  As a matter of fact, what makes what the authors are describing here so sinister is the fact that it is something that only happens sometimes and you never know when it will happen. 

Think of having something electrical that has a short-circuit.  Whatever it is usually runs okay most of the time, but every once in a while the short-circuit takes over and cuts off the power and whatever it is stops working or has terrible problems.  This can happen with little or no warning and sometimes at the worst possible moments. 

The best example of a short-circuit that stands out in my mind is from a car I have that has a short-circuit in the headlights.  Every once in a long while I’ll be driving at night and the headlamps will just cut off.  When this happens, I just simply reach under the dashboard and jiggle the wires until the lights are on again. 

One night I was comfortably driving up the freeway minding my own business and then at the very same moment that I noticed a California Highway Patrol officer on the side of the freeway watching for speeders, my lights cut off.  I hurriedly reached under the dash to juggle the wires which then made the lights flash on and off until they finally went back to normal.  Could there have been worse timing?  

Without warning and in this case at the worst possible moment, the short-circuit took over.  This is how the “Strange Mental Blank-Spots” mentioned on page 42 are.  They happen without warning and can happen at the worst possible moment.  The biggest difference however is that most of the times that my car lights short out, very little happens and I can just jiggle the wires and move on.  When the strange mental blank spots happen there is usually a full blown relapse to follow.

Every once in a while there is a moment in our thoughts, emotions and resulting actions that will make it impossible to “bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.”  Bluntly put, there are moments that come up randomly, where our minds will not think about the reasons we shouldn’t use with enough force to keep us from using. 

Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

You may be one of the most disciplined people on earth in other things and may think yourself out of using most of the time, but in the short-circuit moments (the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”) those thoughts will either be a distant whisper or will not come up at all. 

Why that is such a problem is that many people in recovery develop only one true defense system and don’t even know it.  That defense system is:  “If I think I am about to use, I will force myself to think about all the reasons I shouldn’t and that will keep me from using.” 

What makes the Strange mental Blank Spots so insidious is the fact that they allow such a defense system to work much of the time so the person gets the idea that the defense system he or she has built works great.  Then without warning it fails miserably and there is this relapse and in some cases there is no sensible reason for the relapse.

…there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

The truth behind the “powerless” idea described in the Twelve Step Information is that it describes a person whose ability to reason sometimes shorts out and at those moments does not have the power to stop the person from absolutely destroying himself or herself. 

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 43)

You may be new to recovery or you may have been in sobriety since well into the last century, but either way this is something that must be at the very foundation of all of your recovery and ultimately your whole life.  With the changes that transpire in the world around us and within each of us in our own lives during the holiday season it is time for a recovery foundation checkup. 

You may hate the words “Higher Power”, you may be working out the idea of a Higher Power, or you may believe you have the whole Higher Power thing all worked out, but it is time to make sure that your defense is founded on a Higher Power idea that will really works even when your brain doesn’t.  A good place to start is to rework the first three steps as you are heading into the holidays and rebuild your foundation as strong as it can be built.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Something else to do at this time is to go back to the basics.  Go to Twelve Step meetings.  Get together with a sponsor, with mentors, with others in recovery etc. regularly throughout the holiday season.  Be open and humble about your problems with those around you so that there is not confusion and discomfort if you chose to leave situations where everyone is drinking, using, or that are otherwise troubling to your recovery.  In other words the holidays are not a time for taking a break from recovery related activities.  ‘Tis the season to increase your recovery activities.

There is one activity I failed to mention that you hear me mention quite regularly…

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Who are you sponsoring and working through recovery.  If you need more recovery efforts during this holiday season, so do others in recovery.  If you are sponsoring someone, that person needs more focus on recovery and particularly the first three steps just like you do.  If you are not helping someone through recovery, now is the time to look.  Be proactive and look for solutions to the challenges to your sobriety before there is a problem (and teach your sponsees to do the same).  Don’t wait till you are desperate and barely holding on to decide to start trying these things. 

I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

The things I have suggested here and many more things mentioned throughout the Twelve Step Materials are not magical activities that if done in a certain order will align the Rubiks Cube of recovery.  They are the elements of new way of living your life that creates the environment that allows you to remain sober.  The holidays are a time for us to focus or refocus on living the way of life that provides the wonderful gift of recovery as a byproduct of that new way of living.

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 13)

Either you take action as part of your new way of living or you are resting on your laurels and heading for trouble.  

 

Seek the New Way of Living,

Wade H.