Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 - D for Dying Flowers
Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 – D for Dying Flowers (Photo credit: Creature Comforts)

Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 78)

As we head towards Valentine’s Day, we should all stop and ponder those we care about and those that care about us.  Many alcoholics/addicts are like Bill W. was doing in the passage above and wait until the point where everything seemed doomed and hopeless before even having time to even give any thought to those people.  In other words it’s time for a Valentine’s reality check and a Valentine’s recovery check.  We must look at the people we interact with or should be interacting with and be willing to do whatever is right.

Some of us claim that the people we care about and those that care about us do not exist.  Some of us have reasons (real or imaginary) to be so mad at these people that we forget that we care about these people or that they care about us (that means also forgetting that “resentment is the number one offender pg. 64).  Some of us are so busy being pitiful and feeling sorry for ourselves that we come across as liars or wishy-washy whenever we try to talk to these people.

Whatever the distorted reasons, this is a time of year where there are expectations that true feelings will be shared.

Each of us needs to take this opportunity and be honest to ourselves and to those who care about us as well as those we care about.

That means taking an inventory of our treatment of those who care about us or those we care about.  This also means getting others of more wisdom involved that can help determine what actions to take immediately, but make sure those are people who are truly wise and are not just the “yes-man” (or woman) who repeatedly nods and directs towards the softer easier way which is to avoid dealing with the issues.

There is something I call “The Rule” when it comes to recovery and how we must relate to others if we are to have any hope of recovery:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Way too many people (and way to many of them who call themselves sponsors or recovery experts) think the rule is that we are hard on others while always being considerate of our own comfort levels.

The fact is that you need to be hard on yourself and considerate of others.  That also means that the people who you enlist as guides on your journey towards sensibility and recovery need to be on that page also.  They nee to be the types of people that are hard on you while also giving you direction that is always considerate of others.

It is surprisingly easy to find so-called experts or iffy sponsors that will tell you; “Oh, you don’t have to do _____ , that’s too much” etc.  These people are often doing more to damage your recovery than to help whether they mean to or not.

Founding member, Bill W. was plugging right along until he thought the end was near and then he wished he had done all of this differently now that it seemed to be too late.

This all falls into the area of making amends.  Let’s look at a couple of definitions from the dictionary for “amends”:

1.  reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense.

3.  make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult: I tried to make amends for the misunderstanding by sending her flowers.

One thing that obvious is that using these definitions of “amends”, it would be incredibly rare that just saying that you are sorry would qualify as making amends.

The question in this context is how do you make amends for not showing appropriate emotions towards someone who has been caring towards you are someone who you really do care about (like a child that you are the parent of who you love deeply, but they do not seem to see it or know it)?

Saying how you feel is a great starting point, but it is definitely by no means an amends or simply put it is definitely not enough.  It takes a lot of work to repair the hurts of the past.

I know that there are a few out there reading this who are thinking:  “I have done enough that that person should have gotten over it by now and what about my hurts from them.”  Before going on in that conversation I would like to refer you back to what I call “The Rule”:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Before you begin, start with the expectation that there will be far more work and struggling to make amends on your part than on the part of the other people involved.  This is just a part of what it takes to overcome the damage you have done to yourself and others through alcoholism/addiction.  IT IS WHAT IT IS!!!

Not to be rude about it, but if you didn’t want to have the pain and suffering that it takes to repair everything when working recovery than maybe you shouldn’t have started using alcohol and drugs in the first place.  This sort of attitude is necessary to create the change in your world that can facilitate and sustain your sobriety.

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77 – 78)

There is no focusing on what is wrong with the other person or on what they need to do first before I would consider being open and honest with the person, there is just the need for you to do the right thing no matter what the consequences and no matter what the other person’s response.

I understand that there may be a few incredibly extreme cases where a person is physically abusive, or a murderer etc. where the situation would call for this to all be looked at differently and some of these interactions may require the assistance of a professional counselor, but the norm is the direct route with careful consideration for how the other person would be affected.

This may need to be an inventory of its own each year or a part of your other inventories (or both), but Valentine’s Day seems like an excellent time to look at the people that care about you and who you care about (whether secretly or openly) and do something about it.

This is not limited to people you date, are married to or having some kind of intimate relations with; this is for all of those who care about you or who you care about at all.  Use this time of year as a recovery check and a reality check.

Do not wait until you are finished to mirror the words of founding member Bill W.:

There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 8)

AND DON’T FORGET TO SHOW APPRECIATION TO ALL OF THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU OR WHO YOU CARE ABOUT NO MATTER IF YOU NEED TO MAKE AMENDS OR NOT!!! (or you will owe an amends the day after Valentine’s Day).

Stay Sober my Friends;

Wade H.

Advertisements

Treated as an Alcoholic/Addict or Weirdo During the Holidays

Treated as an Alcoholic/Addict or Weirdo During the Holidays

In time they will see that he is a new man and in their own way they will let him know it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 134)

Baretta

With the holidays whizzing by us at a pace that is too much for many of us to handle, that statement is one that every one of us who has ever used alcohol or drugs must keep in the front of our minds.  In time, our loved ones (and some not so loved ones) will finally understand that we are new people.  In time those around you will believe that you are a completely different person than you were when you were using.  That is, if in fact you have actually been changed through recovery, which is clearly implied as the objective in this passage.

I find that the words that need to be keyed in on the most in this passage are the words “in time.”  The implied fact being that it will take some time and will not be immediate because you tell those closest to you that you did some recovery things and now think you are all better.

The flip side of that statement is the idea that there will be a period of time (possibly a long one) where the people around you will not believe that you are a new person and will treat you in a way that you will have to be reminded that “in time” they will see you as a new person and act differently.

Guess what that means for gatherings of family and friends.  That means they may treat as the most jacked up person in the room because of your past or because of what they think your past means.

As each member of a resentful family begins to see his shortcomings and admits them to the others, he lays a basis for helpful discussion.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

Notice that the passage does not say:  “As each member of a resentful family tells other members to admit their shortcomings.  The passage speaks of “each member” admitting his/her own difficulties to the others.  Each person is responsible to admit his/her own difficulties regardless of what the other people are doing in the hopes that sooner or later a conversation will occur that has no criticism or resentment but is actually constructive to everyone involved.  This could mean years of gatherings and talks before it is helpful at that level.

There was a saying when I was a child (I believe it came from the television show Baretta’s theme song):  “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”  That I believe to be a fitting statement for this topic.

The crime is becoming an alcoholic/addict and the time is the seemingly insane amount of effort it takes to be free of this seemingly inescapable bondage.  That makes the saying:  Don’t become an alcoholic/addict if you cannot handle the insane amount of effort and discomfort it takes to later get free.

I know that may be a little on the harsh side and that those of us who are already alcoholics/addicts reading this get that now, but it still has to be stated.  In talking to the proverbial “man of the house” alcoholic in the Alcoholics Anonymous book this idea is stated:

The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

The “head of the house” here did the crime so he has to do the time, however much it is because no amount of time is enough and any amount of time is being let off easy.

I you are treated as an alcoholic/addict or weirdo during the holidays, whose fault is that really?  Is it the fault of the people who think you are an alcoholic/addict or is it the fact that you have been the alcoholic/addict they suspect you still are?

Such it is with all of our loved ones.  Is it possible that we may find some or all of those closest to us seemingly unfairly looking down on us or otherwise treating us badly.  ABSOLUTELY!  Is it our responsibility to desperately try (for however long it takes) to clean up what we did either directly or indirectly to them:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

We focus of what it takes for us to get better and not on what it will take to make them stop doing this or that.  We are to focus on undoing what we did to them and on what is wrong with ourselves.  That probably means, lots of uncomfortable, family gatherings, conversations and interactions, but that is a part of the price we pay for freedom.

Some of us have family and loved ones that can already accept that we are completely different.  How awesome that is and we need to continue changing so as not to dash those hopes and make it considerably harder for them to trust change in us later.

Those of us who have family and loved ones that have yet to accept you as completely changed, start with the BIG question first:  AM I REALLY A COMPLETELY CHANGED PERSON OR AM I JUST THE SAME PERSON TRYING TO BE ABSTINENT?  Because, if you are the same, it is insanity to expect people to see you as different!  The same person, thinking in the same way will sooner or later do the same things.

If you are convinced that you are a totally different person on a completely different footing then the fact that others do not believe it is actually part of the process of continuing to change.  It is a matter of time.  Time in which you sustain this change to the point that those around you can actually and honestly say, that the old you is completely gone and clearly will never return.  If you used heavily, that might be a bit of time because of what those around you saw from you.  If you even consider the concept of a person being an alcoholic or addict, then you have to accept that even the words convey the idea that change is elusive and should be trusted with caution.

In case nobody has ever told you:  DO NOT TRUST EVERY PERSON WHO IS AN ALCOHOLIC/ADDICT WHO SAYS THEY HAVE BEEN THROUGH RECOVERY AND ARE COMPLETELY CHANGED.  The proof is in the test of time.

It is also true of each one of us.  So, if your family and loved ones do not fully accept that you are a different person, do not be angry at them.  In actuality that would do more to prove their disbelief to be true.  Stand strong in knowing that you are one day closer to the day that each one of them will believe and be thankful for the opportunity to grow.

Happy Holidays and Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.

Sober is “But a Beginning”?

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

Sober is “But a Beginning”?

He is straining every nerve to make up for lost time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation and feels he is doing very well.

Sometimes mother and children don’t think so. Having been neglected and misused in the past, they think father owes them more than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect him to give them the nice times they used to have before he drank so much, and to show his contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn’t give freely of himself. Resentment grows. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126)

This all describes a normal part of the family recovery process while also revealing some other aspects of the problem that may not be dealt with directly in recovery.  By family recovery process, I mean what the entire family experiences when an individual in that family is working through the process of recovery.   This example is specific in using the husband/father as the person in recovery, but the results are often similar with any family member.

But, let’s not focus on the other family members (in this description the wife and children), let’s focus on the trouble facing the person working recovery and what problems he/she may have that abstinence in and of itself may not fix.

What I am talking about are problems that the person in recovery may have had long before recovery and possibly even before using.

If a person has a collection of bad habits that existed prior to or outside of his/her using, it is possible that the bad habits are a separate set of problems from the using  (although they may contribute to one another).   In other words: If you had the problems before using alcohol/drugs or when without alcohol/drugs then simply going without alcohol/drugs, logically speaking, will not solve those problems.  ABSTINENCE WILL NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE HAD WHEN ABSTINENT IN THE PAST.

One of the reasons for the entire chapter that the passage above is in (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126 – The Family Afterward) is to help both the family and the person understand the fact that there is a lot work necessary for that person’s recovery and for the sanity of everyone in the family as part of the recovery process.  Abstinence is not the end all, be all of recovery.

We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

Many people get frustrated with the feeling of doing everything he/she can to be functional and abstinent because people around them seem to still not be satisfied.   It is awesome that you may feel like you are doing everything you can to fix everything, but even if you do not get the reception you think you deserve, there is no excuse for running back to dysfunction.  Recovery is about change and if you are not getting better, then you are staying the same and you should expect the same.  By the same I am describing the expectation that if you have not change you are still in your alcoholism/addiction.

In the example we started with, getting the wrong response was a trigger to resentment for the man in the story.  The expectation of a certain response was not met, leading to frustration and eventually leading to deeperand far more self-destructive feelings.  Ponder this thought:

First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

This man in the first story’s response to what he saw as his family’s inability to look at the efforts he is making and leave him alone (in other words, for them to bow down in worship of how awesome he is now) could be considered alcoholic/addict suicide.   I mean, after all, if the recovery information states that something destroys more alcoholics than anything else, it is assumed that you will do your best to avoid that something.   That something is having resentment and this guy’s expectation (unrealistic expectation) led to frustration and then to this destroyer that has the possibility of eating his recovery alive and in the end, eating his life up too.

Now here is a huge thought: a lot of people always think that their friends and family are not being fair to them because they keep focusing on the past.

The truth is: If the problems are not resolved for everyone involved, whatever problems you are talking about are not the past.  If those problems are things that are not resolved with someone in your home; that goes double!   If it something you have done, been doing, or did two minutes, two days, two weeks, two years or two decades ago is still bothering someone around you it cannot be called the past; it is a problem for them NOW!  If it creates a problem in the present, then it is a present problem not a past problem!

Let’s put this idea into family perspective:

The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded.

Since the home has suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under his own roof. We know there are difficult wives and families, but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much to make them so. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

We all have our shortcomings and once a person begins to use heavily, those problems are multiplied exponentially.  This brings us back to the key change necessary for each of us to have any hope:

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

Self-focus is the enemy.  The idea that these problems are the past is based on the fact that you simply don’t want to deal with those things or to discus those things.  If they are coming up the people around you feel differently about those things.  They want to make some attempt to deal with those issues that they have right now that may have to do with things from the past.  Ignoring these things is to say that you would like to ignore dealing with the things they want to deal with and that you do not care if they work through the things that they are going through simply because their desired topics make you uncomfortable.  Your comfort is far more important to you than their resolution of the problem they have right now (at least in your mind that is true).

That can only lead to disaster and that kind of selfishness is recovery poison.  It is a wholesale plunge into the fiery abyss that is the root of our troubles:  Selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let’s look at another side of the problem the guy in the story had.  Another problem he has is this idea that that focus on recovering fortune and reputation were good enough focuses to say he was doing all he could.  The truth is, if a person is truly trying to repair the damage of the past with the family start by looking at what they would like you to do to repair the damage done and not just on what you feel like doing for them or what you think is enough.

If they are not onboard with the plan to fix everything that you have is it really a plan to fix everything or just to make you feel good about yourself.  Isn’t this man’s plans described as a desire to feel responsible and respected.  Not evil things in and of themselves, but if there is no balance of efforts to repair the damage done in the home, you are failing in some pretty serious recovery tasks (such as Steps Eight and Nine for example).

I do also understand that some people are unreasonable etc. (and that may go double for some of our family members) , but as a person recovering from alcohol/drug abuse, you have to constantly remind yourself that it is not okay for you to allow other people’s crazy to be contagious.  We do not have such luxuries as building resentment or being crazy because my family is being crazy.   Those are high dive plunges into the fiery abyss of misery and possible relapse.

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book described the proper attitude for dealing with all of this as part of the latter stages of the recovery process (particularly at the point of working Step 10 but also parts of Steps Eight, Nine and Four) starting with:

Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This is your response no matter how they are acting.  This is our code, not theirs.

There are actually some instructions for the families, but there is no guarantee that they will follow these instructions:

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

If you are the one of the family members, it is important to consider the incredibly positive or incredibly negative role you can play in this person’s recovery.  Everyone plays a part in the growth and change, it is just that an unselfish and not dysfunctional environment is key.  The challenge for everyone involved is to not slip into a self focus which then is converted into the “What have you done for me lately” mindset or into resentments.  If you are the family member, please do not transform into a relapse generating machine as soon as we start trying to change!

There is much more to all of this  and I could go on and on, but remember this (which is not just about a husband, but anyone in recovery can be substituted:

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

Reality is reality and it a much easier pill to swallow if you are realistic with yourself and with others. There is a great hope of freedom, but just being abstinent, although a very hard point to get to, is not enough. There is so much more to recovery and in knowing that there is so much more, there is so much more hope.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Past Experience vs. Your Present Experience

Past Experience vs. Your Present Experience

Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The alcoholic’s past thus becomes the principal asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only one!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 124)

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Ghosts of Christmas Past (Photo credit: KM&G-Morris) DEAL WITH THE GHOSTS OF YOUR PAST!!!

Something that has to be a change in the way we think for all of this to work is how we see the past.  It is astonishing how many people will skirt around truly working the steps as outlined simply to avoid having to look at the darkest areas of their past.  The fear of looking at the past makes it clear that what we are calling the “past” is still the present.  If it was not a problem in the present, there could be long detailed discussion and the angry, deeply saddened or seriously uncomfortable feelings would not come up.

In other words the things in your past are either resolved or they are not.  If they still create some kind of negative emotions, these are still problems.  If you find yourself having to manipulate the way you work your steps to avoid even talking about this and that from your past, then those things are some of your deepest unresolved problems in the here and now.

We cannot remain afraid of our past and hide that fact by saying things like:  “Nothing can be done about that, why bring it back up” or “I’m over that, I just don’t feel like talking about it” or “Why do I need to talk about that, I’m not the person who did something wrong there” etc. 

Then there are those who think that all of this is right and that the people working them through recovery and the people who wrote the Twelve Steps didn’t really understand this particular situation so I just won’t say anything to these people and will not put it on my Fourth or Eighth Steps and ignore it.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs.83– 84)

For those who are familiar with what are called the Promises, this is the first part of these “Promises.”  Did you notice the “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Part?  If you are trying to ignore parts of your past of just act like these major events did not happen, you are heading in the wrong direction.  You are choosing to stay in bondage to alcohol/drugs and to painfully limp along to a slow and dragged out, miserable death with nothing but insanity and pain along the way.

A few might be strong enough to get many years of sobriety with this same misery only to eventually find that nothing satisfies your life and eventually relapsing.  These may seem like sweeping generalizations, but they do happen to be my observations and also happen to be the point the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book are making here.

If you are even beginning to think that you should just not talk about or deal with some things from your past, freak out and begin trying to deal with those specific things with a sponsor right then and there.  The freaking out is warranted if you actually grasp the seriousness of the consequences if you do not deal with these things.

THE PAST IS ONLY THE PAST IF THESE THINGS DO NOT AFFECT YOU NEGATIVELY IN THE PRESENT AND WILL NOT IN THE FUTURE!!!

If you need to avoid just talking about something because the feelings that arise are too uncomfortable, then not only are you imprisoned by this thing from your past, but you have left a time bomb in your life that can go off at any moment and destroy you.  It will eventually come up and you will probably not be in an environment where you are working through those sorts of things when it does.

Leave no stone unturned, leave no incident from your past off of your inventories and leave no past issue in your life unresolved. 

If you deal with all of these things and resolve them to the point where they can come up without those destructive or fearful feelings then the rest of this “Promises” stuff will apply to you (the promises appear at the end of Step Nine in the Alcoholics Anonymous book).  You are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  You will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace; and so on.

To set up a better future you will have to deal with those things from the past that are waiting to subtly destroy that future.

A final note to consider about the first passage here is that the passage is speaking of the entire family, not just the alcoholic/addict.  If there is to be any healthy growth in the family, all will have to deal with the past until all things are resolved in this manner.

The excuses that “He/she is the alcoholic/addict, I shouldn’t have to do this” is a cop out.  You are protecting your own self destroying time bomb that will destroy your family, the person working recovery and possibly you too.

The bottom line:

DEAL WITH IT BEFORE IT DEALS WITH YOU!!!

 

Stay sober my friends;

Wade H.

The “No Matter What The Consequences” “Go To Any Length” Promises

Arguing

 The “No Matter What The Consequences” “Go To Any Length” Promises

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

I have discussed this before a few times in various ways (see Relapse and Recovery & Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future. & “In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”), but it seems to be a never-ending debate (especially with those who are supposed to be working Steps Eight and Nine).

It is always amusing to me how many people ask me, doesn’t the Big Book tell you to, “make amends unless making it will harm you or them?”  They always have this look as if I have suddenly had my mind wiped clear of all recovery knowledge when I firmly answer them with a flat-out “NO!”  Then they always want to convince me that it does say that.  Then I casually refer them to page 79 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book and read:

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)

Then to page 59 which is the step they are terribly (and possibly fatally) misquoting:

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

The correct quote is “except when to do so would injure THEM or OTHERS.  The Step and the book say absolutely nothing about avoiding the making of an amends because it might harm you.  As a matter of fact, the passage we looked at from page 79, we are to make all emends, “no matter what the personal consequences may be.” 

The conversation itself is an attempt to convince me of a path to recovery that is completely opposite to we are being told.

All those “Promises” that we are all taught through repetition to use as the carrot on our recovery stick.  These “Promises” are waved around as the big happy ending for us.   The point in our story where we got to the “and he/she lived happily ever after” part. 

I am not saying these promises are not true or that they are not a good goal to shoot for.  These are the truth and definitely an awesome goal to shoot for.  The problem is that people miss the fine print.  The disclaimer like the mumbling at the end of a commercial that tells you what is really going on with this contest, free gift or potential side effects of this medication.

The fine print that so easily slips by particularly clear in the first sentence of the paragraph containing these “Promises”.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

For some of you that are reading this, it is not the first time you hear me discussing this, but it is important to ask yourself; “Which phase of my development is the “this phase” that is described here?”  That is because the promises are only for those who are painstaking about that “this phase”.

But before we get to that lets look at another passage that many of us may be familiar with, but often miss what it is really saying.  The paragraph after the paragraph containing the promises:

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Notice the “work for them” part.  If there is a “this phase of our development” then that is really the focus of what we are working hard at to get these “Promises”.

The next two sentences are a change of thought but also a continuation of the same thought. 

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The change of thought is that we are transitioning from a discussion about Step Nine and moving into a discussion about Step Ten.  The continuation of the same thought is the fact that it states that you started to really work on your Step Ten as you were working on your Step Nine.

Making your amends is not just a step you check a box for, it is a major part of starting your new “way of living”.  If you only do a partial job of making amends, you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.  That means that the amends you leave out has left behind some of the old you and that is the old you that will drive you to do what the old you does.  That means a relapse or other fits of stupid. 

IF YOU ARE PAINSTAKING ABOUT STEP NINE – NO MATTER WHAT THE PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES MAY BE – THEN THE PROMISES ARE WHAT ARE BEING PROMISED TO YOU!  That does not mean however that not getting beat-up, not getting yelled at, not getting spit on, not going to jail etc. are promised to you.  Those are contained on the promises.  Freedom that comes from being an entirely new you is what is promised unless you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.

So, to answer that question once-and-for-all (yeah right, someone will read this and immediately try to tell me I am not reading it right):  There is no passage that says to make amends unless it might hurt you or make you uncomfortable.

In fact the amends that will have the most effect in your life are the ones that are the most uncomfortable and the most risky.

That whole concept that you don’t do it if it is somehow uncomfortable or risky is a lie from the darkness of your root problem:

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

Not making amends to someone you did something to is totally about protecting yourself from physical harm or from being emotionally hurt in some way.  It is a completely selfish act.  If you have so latched on to the root of your problem you are locked on to the very thing which is destroying you, but you don’t want to let go. 

There are awesome promises for you, but only if you are painstaking bout making ALL OF YOUR AMENDS!!!

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. 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. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83– 84)

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.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future.

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

Dealing with “the past.”  On hearing these words or pondering this concept many people immediately find resistance rise up from deep within themselves.

“Why do we have to talk about things that happened a long time ago?”

“I don’t think about those things, why bring them back up?” 

“The past is not my problem; it’s the stuff going on now?”

..and on and on.

These kinds of thoughts and statements are common for those of us trying to get through recovery, but simply are another part of the problem that must be solved. 

To start simply:  If your “past” affects the way you act, interact with others, think etc. in the present then it is not really your past.  It is your present! 

You do not have to be in constant conscious thought about things from your past for these things to have a profound effect on your present.  Something like an abusive first relationship can change the way you see the opposite sex, dating, relationships, marriage, and yourself even if you refuse to let yourself have any thoughts about that person or that relationship.  Another example could be growing in a terribly abusive home with abusive parents.  A person might refuse to spend any time pondering his or her childhood or parents but is completely misled if he or she thinks those things do not have a major influence on how he or she interacts with others.  Every relationship and interaction this person has will have some influence from this sort of childhood and it is foolish to deal with major problems in this person’s life and not touch on the the root reasons behind the thoughts and behaviors.

On the other hand, camping out in the past is not a solution either.  There is far more to recovery and in fact growth of any kind than just looking at the past, but to not deal with these things is to leave a huge hole in any recovery through which “crazy” can creep into our lives through.

The passage we are talking about here is not only talking about looking at the past, it describes doing everything that is humanly possible to fix these things.  Step 4 is where we look at the more destructive things from our past (particularly those we prefer not to think about or deal with).  Step five is where someone else helps us to take a deeper look at these things and admit the truth behind my problems in these situations.

Steps 8 and 9 are where we not only deal with these things from the standpoint of what is going on inside of each of us, bet we actually go to the people involved and undo our part in all of this.

For some hearing this or reading this the idea is unfathomable.  How are you expected to take the craziness of the people that hurt you the most and turn it into your problem and go try to fix it?  That is a valid concern if we were talking about taking someone else’s crazy and simply converting it into something to blame yourself for and running back to them crying about how sorry you are.  That however, is not what we are talking about here.

Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I don’t want to travel to far into too many of the Steps as it would take us down way too many “rabbit trails” but, our recovery is about fixing the “us” not the “them.”  Your recovery is about fixing “you” not about fixing everybody else so you can finally stay sober.

In other words, if your idea of a Fourth Step is writing a list of what is wrong with a bunch of other people and your idea of a Fifth Step is to take some time to talk to someone else about what is wrong with a bunch of other people, you are not working “Steps” or working in recovery.  You are simply complaining. 

The way you see these situations is a huge part of the problem and writing that mess down and vomiting it all over some other person is not a “fix” for how you see these things.

Let me slow down and break this down a bit:

Lets see that you have a huge trauma like someone you care about being shot and killed in front of you.  Acting like you can really convince yourself it never happened (“I just don’t think about it”) is an outright lie.  The idea that you can just “suck it up and deal with it” is a Band-Aid placed on a major injury.  (There is a place for this mindset but it is simply a temporary and unsustainable short-term solution to a long-term problem).

The idea that you are not going to think about this event ever again and feel some of the associated negative emotions etc. is foolish.  It will come up again and it will somehow influence your world when it does.  The challenge is not trying to get it not to come up again.  You will never be successful.  Even if you convince yourself it isn’t coming up again, you are probably just disguising it when it does come up as something else.

The truth is you have to somehow change the way you see this even when the memories or related emotions do come up again.  In other words you have to deal with and change the way you see these things so that when they do come up the effect they have on you is different.  Much of the change that has to be done in our lives is the changing of our own perspectives and perceptions.  The other activities such as the amends we make in Steps 8 and 9 are simply a test of how much we really have changed those perspectives and perceptions.  As a matter of fact if a person’s perspectives and perceptions are changed in the way we are describing here then making amends would be a logical next step and wouldn’t even need to be described as a separate step or steps.

The main points here are:

  • If you are a heavy user of drugs or alcohol then no stone of your past may remain unturned.  If you are having major problems of any kind in your life then assume there is no past as everything is potentially affecting you negatively now (in the present).
  • Other people do crazy things that are hurtful to us and that is in fact their problem.  How you see these things and if they negatively influence the way you think and act now is your problem.  As such, they are responsible for dealing with their part and you do not control that. You however, are responsible for dealing with your part (YES THAT MEANS DEALING WITH YOUR PART OF THEIR CRAZY BECAUSE THEIR CRAZY HAS SPREAD INTO YOUR CRAZY AS IF CONTAGIOUS)
  • We look at what other people do or did to us while we are in recovery not to somehow “fix” them or to simply feel better because we talked about this stuff, but to find what we need to “fix” about ourselves.
  • If you are uncomfortable with (or outright afraid of) looking at something “from the past” or resistant to seeing particular situations differently that is often an indicator that this might be one of the more important situations from your past that you need to look at and deal with.
  • Just “sucking it up” and “just dealing with it” may be a part of the process but is triage (stopping the bleeding) so you can deal with these things later.  If you stop there you are just kicking the “craziness” can down the road to come up again later.
  • You have to fix the past in the present as part of changing your future.
  • You are not to camp in the past, but you do need to go to the past and change your view and your part (or secretly you are still camped there). 

Please don’t let discomfort with dealing with your past stop your recovery!!!  I leave you with these words from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6566)

 

Wade H.