How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot. Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:
•Resentment
•Jealousy
•Envy
•Frustration
•Fear

frustration.
frustration. (Photo credit: nicole.pierce.photography)

How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Some of us who have been in 12 Step circles for a while will recognize these as a part of what is known to many as “The Promises”.  These particular parts of the promises focus on an important struggle in our recovery; dealing with the rough times in life, and how we are able to be able to overcome them.

To start with, lets look at a basic rule of life that many at the worst levels of using struggle with:  Bad things happen to everybody including you.  This is an important concept.  Life is like playing cards:  You are going to be dealt good hands and you are going to be dealt bad hands, but you have to know how to play both.

To begin with there are the words passed on by generation after generation of Twelve Steppers:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot.  Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

These are a poison to our recoveries, to our lives and to everything and everyone that is touched by our lives at all.  These are the hidden hand grenades that then if allowed to be in our world will explode causing destruction on all sides. 

These rise up in every person, but the reality is that no matter what bad things come up in your life, there are only two options:  Either I can do something about it or I can’t.  Being frustrated, resentful, fearful etc. will fix nothing in either case.  If a bad thing that happens to me is something I can do something about, I need to get up and do whatever I am able to do about it.  That’s the solution.

If it is something that I can do nothing about, then drinking the poisons of frustration, resentment, fear and so on are ABSOLUTELY NOT the solution.  In fact, these attitudes compound whatever the problem is with a whole bunch of new problems.  Having these is simply taking a problem and making it terribly worse.

Picture it this way:

Imagine a person accidently drinking a few sips of spoiled milk.  This person gets so freaked-out about having accidently consumed the spoiled milk that he/she decides to drink rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid. 

Does any of that help with the problem of having accidently consumed the spoiled milk? 

Isn’t this response actually more of a problem than the original problem? 

If this person didn’t freak out, couldn’t better solutions be found?

If resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration and fear are in fact the greatest enemies of alcoholics/addicts, isn’t responding to bad things that happen in our lives with these emotions like drinking rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid

There is one other thing that has to let go of to handle the bad things that arise in every person’s life:

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Selfishness and self-seeking will have to be let go of.  We do not have the luxury of being self focused as it is also a terrible poison to those of us in recovery or those of us who use alcohol/drugs heavily.

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)

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the root of all things 12 Step) are convinced that the root of all of our struggles can be summed up as “selfishness” and “self-centeredness”.

If you look at the list we discussed previously as the enemies of alcoholics/addicts:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

are these all not rooted in being “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?”  This exaggerated self focus erupts in an explosion of self destructive feelings and emotions that can only find expression in the world through destructive and self-destructive actions.  In other words these and their root (selfishness – Self-centeredness) are the poison alcoholics/addicts drink whenever bad things happen to us.   

Instead of letting the poisonous serpent of alcoholic/addict thinking bite us when bad things happen, we have to seek the strength to see which of the two possible solutions is appropriate and take that action. 

When something bad happens I either need to do something about it or accept it as the way things are and move on.

Whenever you encounter bad things in life you either drink the cure or the poison.  To drink the poison is to consume the seeds of misery, destruction and relapse. 

Now look at this portion of the promises:

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

These things are not just promises, they are keys to success.  If these changes of attitude and changes of your whole outlook on life don’t change then you will be shaken to the core of your being every time life deals you a bad hand.  A person who does not have these changes of attitude is doomed.  A person who has a submits to the greatest enemies of his/her recovery every time something bad happens has a terribly weak recovery at best.  

A recovery that cannot handle the bad times is not a recovery at all, because there will be bad times in every person’s life.  Freedom means not poisoning your world when bad things happen.  It means settling in and asking for the peace to accept any things that are beyond your power to change them.  It means asking for the strength and ability to face up to and do something about anything that you can change.  Most importantly, it means asking for clarity on which instances are which.  In other words we need clarity on the facts and to deal with the facts for what they are:  FACTS!  

Do not be like a card player who could be dealt twenty good hands in a row, stacking a huge pile of winnings and suddenly the first time he gets dealt a bad hand he looks at the cards, freaks out and poisons himself.  He should play that hand the best he knows how to and if it’s time to fold from that game, that is the right thing to do.  If it’s time to play that hand out and hope to get a break, than that’s what he should do.  If it’s leave that table time, while he is still ahead, that is also what he should do.  If it’s time to just play out this hand up to the point of losing it and looking ahead to the next hand, then that’s what he should do.  But, drinking poison is probably not the best solution.

If a card player knows how to play and win with the bad hands, that person is truly amazing.  If we can learn to not only stay in the game when life deals us bad hands, but also to play the game of life to win during the bad times, we will also be truly amazing.  

 

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)
To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: “There is a Solution”

Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We went to live with my wife’s parents. I found a job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

One thing that is terribly tough for those of us in recovery and those around us is to find the balance between facing reality and maintaining some kind of hope. 

To even have any idea of the need for recovery, one must usually see how big the problem is.  A serious reality check has to happen to see how desperate the situation is which will lead to a willingness to take desperate measures to change the situation.

On the other hand sometimes those of us in alcoholism/addiction are so fixed on feeling sorry for ourselves that we use such information to throw a self-destructive “pity party”.  Some of us experience these “reality check” moments regularly (particularly after a relapse) and feel it so impossible to get better or change that it gives us the opposite effect.

The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 6)

This may just be an excuse for using or in politer terms an attempt to self medicate unbearable emotions, but the reasoning does not make any of this any less real to the person experiencing it.  The sense of impending calamity is real to us because it is true to some degree in all alcoholics/addicts. 

To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “There is a Solution”

Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

The message to all of us that desperately need recovery has to be both a clear reality of how desperate we are and a solid stand that there is hope.  If you are a person around one of us who desperately needs recovery and would like for a that person to get free then you must stand strong in your conviction to both parts of the message:  “You are a terrible mess” and “There is a way you can get free of all of this and build a better existence.

There is a disclaimer though.  You know what a disclaimer is; it is that thing at the end of commercial for medications, diet pills, and car manufacturers where after they have made the extraordinary claims, they rapidly mumble what the hidden catch is.  Here is the disclaimer as clear and concise as it can be:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

Recovery is a simple process as far as the explanation of what to do and the laying out of the Steps.  Recovery is not easy because the things you have to do, although simple to explain are really hard to do.  The simple steps outline things we simply do not want to do.  Things that are terribly uncomfortable or that outright hurt:  Things that both our unconscious and conscious minds will want to resist at all costs.

Now here is how the balanced messages of honestly facing the truth and continuing to have hope come together:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Another part of the disclaimer is that each person trying to work through recovery has to be brutally and painfully honest with himself/herself or the process is doomed to fail.

As I have repeatedly said in previous posts:  “Facts are Facts!”  Ignoring them, “candy coating” them, lying to yourself and others about them, etc. is a part of the bondage.  Being willing to first face these things and then being willing to do whatever it takes to be free of all of these uncomfortable things is necessity for any kind of recovery.  That is where the hope is. 

There is hope, but you have to be willing to face and fight through terrible discomfort to get there.  This starts with really facing how desperate the situation really is.  Step 1 states that:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 

And that is truly where to begin once a person has discovered the need for recovery, but a certain amount of Step 1 has to have been completed to begin working Step 1.  I know that sounds confusing, but look at this explanation of what to ask someone before you start working him/her through the Steps:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

The hidden connection between understanding the desperation of the situation and having the hope of getting free is being willing to do anything to get free.  That is where the two seemingly opposites meet.  In other words the bridge between understanding it is a hopeless situation and the hope of freedom is willingness.  This is the starting point of freedom.

Now look at this statement again and it should be a clear idea of the role it plays in the recoveries of others:

How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We have to see how dark it really is to look for and truly appreciate the light.

Stay sober my friends…

 

Wade H.

The Solution vs. The Confusion

An Alcoholics Anonymous Regional Service Cente...

The Solution vs. The Confusion

He was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed. Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic insanity. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he would have dinner, and then I could drink openly with him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other days.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

 

The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?

I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.

“Come, what’s this all about?” I queried.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

By the time we hit this point in founding member Bill W.’s story, he has tried to get sober several times, his whole world is coming apart (already has come apart) and he is sitting around waiting to die.

He has a friend (Ebby T.) who was as much an alcoholic as he was, who had sunk so far that he heard he had been committed.  Suddenly this guy shows up and he is sober (apparently a “condition” Bill had rarely ever seen him in).  Bill had been trying and desperately wishing to get sober and when he finds one person as bad as he was his first response is to try and get that person to relapse.  Then when the guy refuses, he is disappointed.

Bill, of all people, knew how strong the temptation to relapse is.  Bill, of all people, should have wanted to rejoice in his friend’s freedom and desperately sought to find the same solution.  Bill, of all people, should have wanted to help his friend instead of attempting to destroy his world with relapse.

The truth is that in recovery the people around you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.  They may not know which they are, but they are. 

Here is a fact to keep in mind:  The fact that a person has good intentions (or thinks they have good intentions) does not mean that whatever he/she does is good.  For example, lots of people have it in their mind that a person who is sober cannot possibly be a happy person.  So if such a person encounters a person who was miserable using and has finally struggled through recovery and has found some short time of recovery, the person who feels that a sober person cannot possibly be happy will try to convince that person to use, believing that getting that person to use is doing them some kind of favor.

The fact is that if a person who uses so heavily that to use is to destroy his/her life get’s sobriety there is no reason to use again.   A person who is trying to get such a person to us, no matter what the intentions are, is attacking that person and everything he/she cares about.  Whether a person intends to attack or unintentionally attacks does not matter when the attack has the potential to destroy your whole world.

What is the difference between a person who gets angry with you and shoots you in the head and a person who mistakenly thinks that the best way to make your headache go away is to shoot you in the head?  Once you are shot in the head, the intentions matter very little. 

If you are a person in recovery, it is very important that you understand that some people are simply not safe for you to be around, no matter what their intentions are or seem to be. 

If you are the friend or loved one of someone in recovery, there is so much more than just what you intend to do or don’t intend to do.  Again; you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.  If you really want to be a part of the solution, you are going to have to learn a lot about recovery also.    You may have to learn about codependence and about how to not be an enabler.  You may have to be more understanding or learn “tough love” as the case may be.  That person’s alcoholism/addiction may have changed you also in ways that need to be changed back.  You may also be an addict/alcoholic and have to seek recovery also.  You may not have had anything to do with their using (or just think you didn’t), but you can be a part of his/her recovery.  If you are not willing to be a part of his/her recovery you probably will become a part of the struggle and resistance to his/her recovery.

Let me be clear however:  The people around the alcoholic/addict cannot make a person recover; keep him/her sober; force him/her to stay sober etc.   What we can do is help make recovery more likely or considerably less likely.  The people around the alcoholic/addict also have the ability to make the person’s life far more miserable than necessary if we are not careful.

A person in recovery needs to limit exposure to the “part of the problem” people as much as possible and spend as much time as possible with the “part of the solution” people as possible (Although some “part of the problem” people cannot be avoided entirely; as a rule, exposure to them should be as limited as possible).  This is what the support groups (meetings) are supposed to be hinged on:

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

These sorts of understanding people who truly engage with each other in this way a an infinite help to anyone in recovery.  A group that meets that is not like this (be it a 12 Step group or otherwise) is lacking something terribly important and helpful to those of us in recovery. 

The kind of people around a person in recovery is of the incredibly important and if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, the kind of person you are is incredibly important.  Founding member of Alcoholics Anonymous describes how he was drawn in to the group of people that wanted to help him this way:

About the time of the beer experiment I was thrown in with a crowd of people who attracted me because of their seeming poise, health, and happiness. They spoke with great freedom from embarrassment, which I could never do, and they seemed very much at ease on all occasions and appeared very healthy. More than these attributes, they seemed to be happy. I was self conscious and ill at ease most of the time, my health was at the breaking point, and I was thoroughly miserable. I sensed they had something I did not have, from which I might readily profit. I learned that it was something of a spiritual nature, which did not appeal to me very much, but I thought it could do no harm.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 178)

I think a clearer way to state all of this is:

The people around the person in recovery and the alcoholic/addict are either part of the solution or a part of the confusion. 

Which are you and which are those around you?

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Relapse and Recovery

Relapse and Recovery

Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station i...
Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station in Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! In reality that was the beginning of my last debauch.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

Some time later, and just as he thought he was getting control of his liquor situation, he went on a roaring bender. For him, this was the spree that ended all sprees. He saw that he would have to face his problems squarely that God might give him mastery.

One morning he took the bull by the horns and set out to tell those he feared what his trouble had been. He found himself surprisingly well received, and learned that many knew of his drinking. Stepping into his car, he made the rounds of people he had hurt. He trembled as he went about, for this might mean ruin, particularly to a person in his line of business.

At midnight he came home exhausted, but very happy. He has not had a drink since. As we shall see, he now means a great deal to his community, and the major liabilities of thirty years of hard drinking have been repaired in four.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 155156)

These tidbits of recovery stories are from the story of Bill W. and Dr. Bob (founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps) respectively.  The point here is that a relapse in recovery is not a death sentence (not necessarily a death sentence, there are people who relapse and die). 

I am not a fan of the idea that relapse is a part of recovery, because although the point is not to say that everyone has to relapse to recover, that is what most people hear.  In other words, the idea that relapse is a part of recovery can be used as an opportunistic excuse to destroy your own recovery.

On the other hand, I think that there are cases (as the examples of Bill W. and Dr. Bob demonstrate) where a relapse clarifies how desperate and powerless you really are and forces a person to desperately seek recovery in way that was otherwise impossible.  In other words the relapse forces the person to work recovery with enough seriousness for it to finally work.

That is not to say that you should relapse to make your recovery work better; that is like telling a suicidal person to shoot himself in the head to get over being suicidal.  But a person who almost kills himself/herself and survives sometimes might finally realize how serious the problem is and desperately seek help.

Some of us have relapsed since starting recovery and a few of us may have just relapsed and be in the process of considering what to do now.  Well, the relapse is a terrible stumble and fall in recovery, but that does not mean you have to lie there until you die.  In the second example above, Dr. Bob was going through a bunch of recovery stuff and getting it.  He felt better and was remaining sober, but then had a terrible relapse.

The key is what he did next:  He finally “saw that he would have to face his problems squarely.”  Dr. Bob had decided that he had to face a part of recovery that he had refused to do prior to this:

When our friend related his experience, the man agreed that no amount of will power he might muster could stop his drinking for long. A spiritual experience, he conceded, was absolutely necessary, but the price seemed high upon the basis suggested. He told how he lived in constant worry about those who might find out about his alcoholism. He had, of course, the familiar alcoholic obsession that few knew of his drinking. Why, he argued, should he lose the remainder of his business, only to bring still more suffering to his family by foolishly admitting his plight to people from whom he made his livelihood? He would do anything, he said, but that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 155)

Dr. Bob was willing to do anything at all in recovery except for what is now known as Steps 8 and 9 which deal with making amends.  Dr. Bob had gotten stuck on Step 8; he was not willing to make amends to them all. 

Due to his relapse he suddenly realized that the pain of continuing to use until his world was completely annihilated was far greater than the pain he faced from making amends.  He finally became desperate enough to do anything to get sobriety even though that is the idea we are supposed to be going into recovery with.

Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

This passage (which is actually discussing Steps 8 & 9) reminds us that we start recovery with the idea that I am willing to do anything to get better.  The idea that “I am desperate and do not have the power to stop myself and am desperate enough t do anything to get better.”  This is the starting point of recovery.

If you do not start with this mindset, you are in deep trouble from the beginning.  Recovery is going to require that you face and do things that are terribly uncomfortable.  Some of these things both your conscious and unconscious mind are constantly trying to keep you from facing in any way.  If you are not desperate, when the time comes to face these things you avoid these things and in actuality we often desperately run from these things at all costs.

If you start with this desperation mindset, there is a point for each of us where we reach something that seems to be too much to ask.  This is really a test of the desperation that is the fuel that powers your recovery work.  Some of us run from recovery at this point, some of us hide it and pretend (ex:  Pretend to have listed all the people I need to make amends to, but leave off the ones I don’t want to do or lie and say I made an amends I did not really make etc.), some of us get stuck in some way or other. 

A relapse can be a wakeup call to you.  YOU CANNOT CUT CORNERS IN RECOVERY FOR ANY REASON. 

Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79)

If you have relapsed, let it be a reality check and do whatever it takes to get better no matter what. 

My father used to always tell me that there are two ways people learn:

  1.    People learn from their own mistakes
  2.    People learn from the mistakes of others

If you are in recovery and have not relapsed, think of how many people (some stronger than you) thinking the same things you are thinking right now have relapsed.  Consider those people and let their example help you understand your own desperation so that that can be the fuel to face the uncomfortable and sometimes painful process of recovery as if your very life depends upon it working.  The truth is that your very life does depend upon it working.

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.