The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

Human brain - midsagittal cut
Human brain – midsagittal cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little chance he can recover by himself.

Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it. Keep his attention focused mainly on your personal experience. Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The chapter containing this passage is the chapter focused on helping us to understand how to work with others in recovery (Working With Others).  In speaking of alcoholism/addiction as a fatal sickness of the mind and body we have already started to look at this in the previous post (The Crux of the Problem: Obviously) with a discussion of the mind as the crux of the problem.

As far as talking about the body, there has been much by way of research to show how the body and the actual physical traits of the human brain are altered by using and how some of those alterations actually create a deep craving for alcohol or other drugs of choice, in some cases for any kind of intoxication or in some other cases for any imbalance in life that might create a feeling that is even similar.

Prior to much of this research that we now have a Doctor by the name of  William D. Silkworth M.D. who was; “A well-known doctor, chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition) describes these bodily changes as being similar to an allergy:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

Simply put, the doctor observed that using seems to make some alcoholics/addicts develop a response to possibly intoxicating substances that is different from the majority of other people on earth.  He is even implying that this is only the most advanced levels of addiction and alcoholism and that other types do not have this response or at least have yet to develop it yet.

Though the aggregate of recoveries resulting from psychiatric effort is considerable, we physicians must admit we have made little impression upon the problem as a whole. Many types do not respond to the ordinary psychological approach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

The type that have this abnormal response to intoxicating substances (which relates to the idea of having an allergy) are described as being bodily different than even other alcoholics/addicts.  Without all of the details we have today, the doctor knew that the body was altered in such a way in some of us that if we get any possibly intoxicating substance into our system we were going to suddenly have a desperate feeling of need to get intoxicated (if not on whatever possibly intoxicating substance triggered it we would take in that substance and get a desire for alcohol or our drug of choice).  This is his basic explanation of what is going on with our body.  He called it the “Phenomenon of Craving.” 

If I get near to the feeling of a buzz, I am going to experience a bodily and mental craving to get intoxicated.

This may seem like an overly simplistic view to those who read research and study things about recovery and all of the scientific details, but it is a basic overarching concept.  That is the condition of the “body” that is to be described in working with others.  Simple and easy to understand is key.

Now back to the conversation we were to have with the person just starting in recovery:

Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The idea of being doomed is centered here on the idea that if you are at a very advanced level of alcoholism/addiction your body has developed this terrible quirk that if you get anything into your system that seems like it could get you intoxicated you are going to have a deep desire to get intoxicated (Allergy, Phenomenon of Craving).  The deeper part of the problem is not that if you get any you are going to want more, the deeper part of the problem is that in sobriety, even with a desperate desire to remain abstinent, your own brain will both fail to stop you from using something potentially intoxicating (Strange Mental Blank Spots) and will in fact be trying to find a way to use safely even though other parts of your mind will know that any using means having relapsed (The Great Obsession).

The basic idea is that your body will drive you to destroy yourself if a certain thing happens (encounter something possibly intoxicating) and that not only will your mind not stop from that certain thing, but a part of your own mind will secretly be trying to trick you into making that certain thing happen then you cannot trust your own mind or body no matter what you learn or stop doing for now.

Now to the stories of “personal experience” that are included in the book to help us all process this information.  Look at this part of an included example of all of this:

We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is his story: “I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years. I had eaten there many times during the months I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to have another glass of milk.

“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36)

All of what we just discussed is contained in this story.  He went to a bar (one that he had been going to for years – clearly to drink for some of those years) with no thought of drinking then suddenly thinks it’s okay to drink if milk is involved (The Great Obsession).  Then the mindset that normally would stop him was reduced to:  I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).  That is an excellent description of the Strange Mental Blank Spots in action.

Then come the Allergy and the Phenomenon of Craving.  The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).

Think about it, he felt it would be okay to take a little bit with certain circumstances in place.  Then, he decides that that little bit did nothing so a little bit more would be okay.  How does all of this end:

Thus started one more journey to the asylum for Jim. Here was the threat of commitment, the loss of family and position, to say nothing of that intense mental and physical suffering which drinking always caused him. He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not drinking were easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk!

Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else?

 (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 36– 37)

 

And there you have the fatal sickness of mind and body that many of those who suffer from it have no idea they have.  This is a major part of understanding and admitting the powerlessness that we are working out in Step 1.  If you are trying to get the through Steps One or Two or think you already have passed them, here is the point:

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)

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Crux of the Problem:  Obviously

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)

This is one of the most key statements in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  To even begin to look at this statement, we have to look at the word “crux” in a bit of detail.  According to merriam-webster.com the word “crux” is defined as:

1:  a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

2:  an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

3:  a main or central feature (as of an argument)

Notice that the exact words used in the Alcoholics Anonymous passage are used in #2 as an example.  So to be the “crux” of the problem means that “the mental state that precedes a relapse” is “an essential point requiring resolution”.  To be the “crux” this mental state is also a “main or central feature” of the problem as well as being a “puzzling or difficult” problem in and of itself.

Something that I find interesting about this statement is that it needs to be stated at all.  It seems perfectly obvious, but it is put out there as if it is a huge change of mindset for many in recovery.  In fact, it often seems to be such a huge change of mindset.

The idea here is that the big problem in a relapse is not the relapse itself, the big problem is what was going on in your mind at the time you were sober and trying not to use that makes you or allows you to use when you should be able to soberly stop yourself.

If a person keeps being barely saved from having consumed poison is the real problem poison in that person’s system or that the person repeatedly makes a conscious decision to take in poison.  In this example, isn’t just saving the person from the effects of the poison just a Band-Aid put on a symptom but doing little to solve the real problem (since the person has a history of just taking in the poison again).

In the same way, isn’t focusing on abstaining from alcohol and drug use and simply fixing the stuff you have done in the past while using drugs or alcohol just a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem.  Isn’t the real “essential point requiring resolution or resolving” what is going on in your mind when wanting to remain sober and while still abstinent that makes you suddenly do the thing that you most want to not do and know has the potential to be the most destructive force in your world. 

In other words, what kind of fool is surprised by anything a person is capable of after he/she is drunk/high?  After a person has chemically distorted his/her thinking it would seem logical to assume that his/her actions would also be twisted or distorted.  If a person desperately does not want twisted or distorted actions that result from this twisted or distorted thinking why do the one thing most likely to case all of that.  That is the real problem not the twisted thinking and actions that happen after you take something that you know will cause twisted/distorted thinking.

All of that being said, what is going on in our heads before a relapse?  If you interpret the information found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two categories described:

  1. Thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have
  2. Thoughts that we should be having that we sometimes don’t have

 

The first one, “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is described best in the like this:

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker.  The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

In other words there is this weird idea in the back of our minds that there will be a way to use or to be intoxicated that will somehow not count as a relapse.  There is some magic formula that will allow me to take some magic “feel good” stuff while not having any negative consequences.

This is the idea behind sentences that begin with things like:  “This does not really count because…” or “Well, this is not the same because…” or “My problem is _______ not ______ so…” and on and on.  There are also ideas such as:  “Well, since I have been sober ______ amount of time, I should be fine if I use a little now” or “Well, it’s a special occasion so a little won’t hurt” etc.

Just speaking from a logical perspective, it’s not only the fact that you could destroy yourself (again) that is the problem.  The real question is, why would you take the risk?  If there is even chance that you might destroy yourself or your life, what is so valuable in relapse that the risk is worthwhile. 

In the most extreme cases, we are talking about a person who has lost everything to using and had no hope.  Then this person rebuilds his/her life through a process of abstinence and some painful work in recovery.  This person gets a deep understanding that using means possibly losing everything again and possibly even more this time.  Then in a moment the person decides:   “This time it’s okay because…” Then no matter how much the person should see that the risk of loss is far greater than whatever it is that’s gained the person still thinks it will be okay.  Even to the point of having some unlikely reason as to why it will be okay.  “This time is different because…”

This is (especially from an outsider’s perspective) an unreasonable train of thought.  It is thinking something that makes no sense and that should probably not be though.  This is “the great obsession” that sucks us in like a black hole.    According to merriam-webster.com the word “obsession” is defined as:

: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly: compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>

So this “great obsession” is a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with the unreasonable idea or feeling that it is somehow there is a safe way to use. 

Let’s be clear:  There is no such thing as kinda using or kinda sober or kinda abstinent.  You are either abstaining or not.  You are either using or you are not.  “Just a little” does count.  Whatever you use may not be exactly the same as before, but you are either using or you are not.  If you are seeking sobriety, any using at all is the enemy, no matter what reason or excuse you have.

The problem is that PRIOR TO USING our brain has a section that keeps trying to convince us that there is a reason or a way to make using not count.  That little voice in our heads and in our hearts is this “Great Obsession.” 

The Second one “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is best described in these passages:

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. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

These moments in time where a person cannot seem to muster up any serious or effective thought of what the terrific consequences might be have a name:

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 pg. 42)

They are called “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  They happen “during the period of premeditation” which means that this phenomenon also happens prior to using.

But, let’s slow down and look at this concept.  In spite of all of the information and advice a person might get on various things a person should do to remain abstinent or sober most people ignore all of that and use one very simple method:  Whenever a craving or temptation arises the person forces him/herself to think of all of the reasons he/she should not use and that consciousness of what could be lost and pain might be caused will be enough to repel the person.

The trick that gets people obsessed with this method of remaining abstinent is that it will work much of the time for a majority of us in recovery.  The fact it works most of the time convinces us that it works all of the time. 

A person using this defense who relapses often comes up with some reason why he/she relapsed and then convinces himself/herself that the same defense system should be put up.  

Think of an ancient city that was protected by a large wall.  When most armies would come to attack it they would not be able to get around the wall.  But there was this one army that would come once in a while and somehow could just cut a hole in the wall, march right in and start killing and destroying.

If the government of that ancient city kept rebuilding the wall exactly the same way, because it worked most of the time, wouldn’t they be fools.   The fact it worked most of the time did not make it good defense system if once in a while it would fail completely.

This is the idea of the “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  If your only defense is to force yourself to think of reasons not to use at moments when some part of you desperately wants to use you will have success sometimes, but at other times you will feel like you had no defense system at all.

Now lets relook that passage that describes the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”:

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 pg. 42)

There are moments where the urge to relapse is so strong that you will not be able to force yourself to think about consequences, losses, pains, etc. at all.  If this is your only defense system you will be doomed in those moments.

So, what we have discussed so far is that a serious alcoholic/addict has a hidden obsession (often hidden from himself/herself) with the idea that there will be a magic way of getting intoxicated without any consequences.  Then, with the ability to lie to yourself about there being any consequences there come strange phenomenon of not being able to force yourself to consider the consequences (the ones you are trying to convince yourself are not there).  Once you convince yourself of the first lie and then stop fighting the lie with the second; YOU ARE DOOMED TO RELAPSE!

So the “crux” of the problem or “the mental state that precedes a relapse” and that is “an essential point requiring resolution” are described as “The Great Obsession” and these “Strange Mental Blank Spots.” 

The real problem is even simpler than “the mental state that precedes a relapse.”  The real problem is that you cannot trust your own brain or thoughts before you relapse to stop you from relapsing.  If you cannot trust your own brain and your own thoughts then your defense system cannot be based on what you can think or force yourself to think.  Recovery must be more than forcing yourself to think a few things or it will fail.

This is a big part of what it is to be POWERLESS.  In other words, this is a huge part of what you must understand to truly work Step 1.

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.