The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will? (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question! This is a huge question in you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict. This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict. This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

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The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Creepy Clown Doctors
Creepy Clown Doctors (Photo credit: Chris Kealy)

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question!  This is a huge question if you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict.  This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict.  This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

Before you talk to or about this person;  can you get past the feeling that this person is just weak, just an idiot, stupid etc.

When dealing with an alcoholic, there may be a natural annoyance that a man could be so weak, stupid and irresponsible. Even when you understand the malady better, you may feel this feeling rising.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 139)

This is a natural feeling to have and to some degree or other may be rooted in some level of truth.  The question you have to ask yourself is are you going to be another part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Lately I have noticed more and more of these negative conversations taking place with, around or about people in desperate need.  As I stated a second ago, these feelings and discussions may hold some elements of truth or even be entirely true, but the mere fact of these discussions may reveal deeper problems.

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)

This passage is speaking specifically about alcoholics/addicts and the root of the problem, but is it possible that this is the root of some of the problems that some of the people around the alcoholic/addict.  Not to make anyone uncomfortable, but if you are participating in activities like that is it possible that you may be a contributor to the problem by vomiting your own sickness all over the sick person in need.

Let me explain.  One big question about these conversations is why?  Why are you saying what you are saying or even thinking what you are thinking?  Is there some way that this conversation helps the person or is that in reality incredibly unlikely.

It’s amazing how many times we who are supposed to be the friends, loved ones or helpers of a person in need see them wounded and decide that the best help we can give is a series of poison darts shot from our mouths.

Why would a group of people that know a person in need have a conversation focusing on what is wrong with the person and spend little if any time discussing what things any of them could do to help the person.  Wouldn’t that be just about getting each one of their feelings communicated to someone, about making sure that the others understand why you feel that way and to ensure that they are converted to feeling the same way as you do (in other words compounding the hurts and harms that this person has caused to each of the individuals in the conversation with the harms and hurts of the others).  Remember what is at the root of the person’s problem:

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)

If this is the wellspring of stupidity in the life of this person, are you sure that it is the best choice of possible contributions you can make to their life?

In some cases it is an individual conversation with the person, that is the culprit.  Someone who has real problems with this person (real or imagined) that he/she wants to express right now.  Right now: even if the person is not listening or will be terribly damaged by the conversation etc.

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that these conversations need to be had.  I am also fully aware that there are times when full-blown reality checks are needed.  It is the when, why and how that I am questioning.

Talking smack about or to a person and using “It’s for their own good” to justify it.  Or should I say to justify the fact that it is for your own good no matter how it may damage the person or the person’s relationship with others including you.

Here is a reality check for each one of us:  To some degree alcoholism/addiction is contagious.  I don’t mean that in the sense that if you get around an alcoholic/addict you automatically become one also.  I meant that in the sense that if a person who is sick with this disorder is around you the tendency is to pick up some of the symptoms (such as selfishness and self-centeredness).

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

There are appropriate times, places and ways to have necessary conversations about real concerns and wounds.  There are also times when we want to engage in such conversations mainly because we are “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity”.

A good reality check for all of us is to look at ourselves and how sick we are ourselves before we get busy about relieving the pressure inside of each one of us to erupt into an explosion of what’s wrong with another person.

Those who work in medicine have an obligation to “do no harm”.  It would seem that it is a good rule in general and a great way to measure when it is right and wrong to express these things.  After all, what right do you have to rant about the problems that person has if you are a part of the problem yourself (that includes even just influencing the other people this person encounters by talking about that person “behind their back”).

It is not a matter of if the alcoholic/addict person is indeed a sick person.  It is a question of if you are so sick that you are going to make the sick person sicker instead of better.

Think of the reality involved in reality checking like you think of nuclear energy:  It can be used (carefully) as a cheap and powerful source of energy and a huge benefit or it can be unleashed in a way that creates chaos and global annihilation.  The reality check is not good or bad in and of itself it is a matter of how it is used.

That brings us back, full circle, to our original question:

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

Can you deal with this person and with those you discuss this person with in a way that is focused on not doing harm to him/her or how others view him/her.  If you find that not to be possible, you may be at a point where you are a part of the problem also.  You may have gotten there because of that person and what he/she has done to you, but the reasons do not change the facts.  If you do not like the problems and want to be free of the problems, one of the first things you need to do is see if you are a part of keeping the problem going and if so STOP!

If you are supposed to be helping the problem and you are dong things that make the problem worse are you not like a person who sees a person dying of thirst and gives that person poison to drink.

I was going to stop there, then a thought occurred to me:  “There are going to be some of us who suffer from alcoholism/addiction that are going to weaponize this article and use it to attempt to fend off any attempts that a person would make to reality check him/her.

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

If you are in recovery, you must not forget “The Rule”:  you have to be considerate of how others feel and at the same time be hard on yourself.  If a person is inconsiderately vomiting their hurts and other problems they have with you at the wrong time in the wrong way, you may have to deal with it as if your life depended on what they have to say (it might).

The key in that case is to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”  You need to find ways to sift through the crazy and find the elements of what that person is saying that is true and is a fact that you have to face if you are to get better.

What you cannot do, in attempting to deal with your own problem, is to lose focus on what you are working on by hiding behind or whining about the problem another person has (like not communicating with you properly).

What I am getting at is that everyone involved has to think of himself/herself as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.  Every person involved also has to think of every other human being as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.

I am not saying that anyone is to be a verbal or emotional punching bag for another individual.  What I am saying is that times, places, approaches and reactions need to be considered carefully with the question:  “Am I being selfish and self-centered in some way or am I seeing a problem and trying to be a helpful part of the solution?”

There are the sick and there are the sick that make them sicker.  Both need to work on getting better and all of us need to work on avoiding living as either.

Stay sober my friends!

Wade H.

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Ha...
Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.  All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals – usually brief – were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

 

I have been pondering this idea for a couple of weeks in the midst of several encounters with people struggling with alcohol/drug challenges who insist that the alcohol/drugs are not the problem.

Many of these encounters were conversations I was not directly involved in, but were taking place in a way that I was allowed to observe or I simply was not noticed.

As I watched these conversations I kept thinking to myself:  “If it is such a small thing to you, that you can take it or leave it, why don’t you just stop, just in case you are wrong?”

Then the word “delusion” from the preceding passage had new meaning to me that a definition cannot truly capture.

The cases I was observing were extreme cases where extreme cases where there were things like physical problems associated with excessive alcohol/drug use, history of excessive problems like arrest, violence, public and family embarrassment, spouse and family distress and complaining and on and on.

All of the people I witnessed had some level of functionality and thought they were managing their use.  I suppose in terms of the clinical idea of “harm reduction” these people are not nearly as bad off as they could be and their ideas of “managing” their alcohol/drug use have yielded some change in their amount of use.

The challenge I was noticing with these particular situations is that there were other people who had both past and more importantly present problems related to alcohol/drug use.

This is not always a perfect measure of ones using as the people around us as alcoholics/addicts could just be messed-up too and as such be just vomiting their crazy on us as we try to get better, but as I listened to these particular situations, I had to say that the basic points the friends and family in each situation were making sounded like valid concerns.  The problems they mentioned sounded like valid and immediate problems.

Then I remembered a couple of concepts that I was told in my recovery that I found to be key:

“I am not the right person to determine how good or bad my using is or my recovery is going”

“One of the first indicators that I am getting out of control or that I am out of control is that my using begins to bother others around me.”

“The self-diagnosis that I have it all under control is a part of the sickness of being an alcoholic/addict.”

“Lying to myself and others is a major part of the sickness and one of the biggest obstacles to recovering.”

These key concepts as a backdrop change the way I would have the same conversations if I was the person who was using.  If my relatives, friends, spouse, children, parents, etc. say that my drinking is starting to concern them, I have to assume that that is true, because I HAVE PROVEN THAT I AM NOT CAPABLE OF JUDGING IF I AM MANAGING ALCOHOL/DRUG USE MYSELF (one of the reasons I simply don’t use at all and plan to never drink alcohol or use drugs again).  I would be forced to respond as if it is a proven fact and stop, assuming that my drinking/using is at least a major part of the problem(s) if not the source all together.

This brings me back to a story I have used a few times here in different posts that I think has to be considered in this conversation:

Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.

On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?

You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, the illustration would fit us exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language – but isn’t it true?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 37 – 38)

As I listened to these various conversations, I had to ask myself a huge question:  “At what point does a person have to face the fact that their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use are failing and look at stopping altogether?”

When each person I listened to was planning their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use their mind allowed them “set the bar” at “As long as annihilation of my entire world has not happened ALREADY, I am doing a good job of managing.”

The conversations I overheard involved ideas such as divorce, death and other terrible occurrences in a way that sounded imminent.  The persons in question seemed to feel that as long as they could make some kind of argument that either shut the worried person(s) up or that made some other problem seem like a bigger problem alcoholism/using can be taken off of the table completely.

To be completely honest, the best way I can describe the conversations I was hearing is to LOOSELY quote an old saying that many of us have heard:

“IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH BULL-DROPPINGS!”  

The conversations sounded like one person grasping at every straw imaginable, and using every trick in the book to avoid one possible conclusion at all costs.  That conclusion is the one that says:  “My alcohol/drug use is a part of and possibly the source of this problem.”

I have come up with a new concept that may be a general rule for all of us:

If you have to argue, discuss, debate or otherwise convince others that your drinking/using is not a problem then it most likely is a very serious problem!

I believe there are people who are not as advanced as I was who can moderate or stop drinking/using with a little guidance, but I also believe there are those of us so far advanced that there is no longer a safe amount of alcohol/drugs we can use ever.  Those of us in the second category seem to often believe ourselves to be in the first category and this is what is known as “The Great Obsession”.

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. 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. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

If you are not sure where you stand and others are concerned, I would advise assuming the worst and seeking treatment that will help you learn to stop using alcohol/drugs all together.  It would seem considerably better for a few people who could have moderated to stop completely then for several people who might have been saved to absolutely destroy their own lives and possibly even die thinking they are “moderating”.

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

What Do I Do One Day At a Time?

 

What Do I Do One Day At a Time?

 

Picture Collage Maker 2013 Calendar
Picture Collage Maker 2013 Calendar (Photo credit: Squidooer)

 

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 86)

 

In recovery circles, people often throw around the idea of living “one day at a time”.  This passage is one of the descriptions of what you do one day at a time and hopefully at some point what you do all of the time.  The passage is specifically describing Step 11 and is tied to Step 10, but is way more important than just that.  Recovery is not about being able to check twelve boxes that indicate you have completed twelve magic steps and then living happily ever after.  Recovery is a process of gaining much more than that:

 

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. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

 

Recovery is not a matter of just doing a bunch of things; recovery is about “grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.”  The things you do in recovery have been designed to guide you to that end.

 

Working the Steps is designed to help each of us understand and to develop a way of living your life and that way of living is centered on being brutally honest.

 

The passage we started with gives us a key example of some of the things we are to be brutally honest about and by being brutally honest about these things on a daily basis we are working on making this the way we live our lives.

 

According to that passage on page 86, we are learning to live a life:

 

  • free of being resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid
  • where whenever you have done any of these things or anything that may have hurt another person you apologize to them
  • where you are open and honest with others about even the deepest and darkest areas of your life and you cease to have those secret destructive areas in your life
  • where you are kind and loving towards all people
  • where you not only live positively, but you are always looking for how you can improve
  • where you no longer focus on how comfortable you are or are not and live a truly unselfish life
  • where you check on these things in the morning, in the evening and throughout each day to quickly catch when you are messing up in one of these areas and fix the problem immediately.

 

In other words:  RECOVERY IS THE PROCESS OF CHANGE.  THE AMOUNT OF RECOVERY YOU EXPERIENCE IS EQUAL TO THE AMOUNT OF POSITIVE CHANGING YOU DO.  Areas in your life that you are not willing to change are areas in your life that are keeping you from recovery.  UNWILLINGNESS TO CHANGE IS UNWILLINGNESS TO RECOVER.  UNWILLINGNESS TO CHANGE IS A DETERMINATION TO STAY THE SAME.   If you are determined to stay the same you can only expect the same results.  If you stay the same, you will do the same and relapse is inevitable.

 

Change is an incredibly hard thing to do and few people have the desire to completely change the totality of how they think and act.  Most people are willing to change a few particularly bad areas of their lives.  Most people just want to change a few isolated areas and somehow live happily ever after somehow getting vastly different results while still living basically the same way they have been.

 

A key ingredient required for all of this is the “rigorous honesty” that is required for all of these things.

 

Not only do you need to be brutally honest with yourself about the all of these areas, but you need to regularly talk with others who are brutally honest with you.  I don’t mean periodically either.  That passage describes discussing these things with these people at once in an effort to gain their outside “rigorous honesty”.

 

A person who is incapable of this kind of rigorous honesty an particularly those incapable of being brutally honest with themselves are one of those unfortunates that will not experience recovery.

 

YOU CAN HAVE RECOVERY IF YOU CAN SEARCH FOR, FIND AND ACCEPT THE FACTS THEN DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO CHANGE ACCORDINGLY.

 

This describes one of the main struggles of recovery while at the same time describing the facts that are the hope for recovery.  Recovery is change and change is hard yet can be achieved.

 

Think of how all of this is tied to “The Promises” you hear recited at many Twelve Step meetings:

 

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

 

The question is not: “Are these things possible?”  The question is, are you willing to work for them.  That means are you willing to be brutally honest and are you willing to be completely changed in the process?

 

Make this year, make each day, make each minute, make each interaction, make even each thought an experience of brutal honesty and an opportunity for significant change in your life.  Live the new lifestyle “one day at a time” and one rigorously honest change at a time and have a rigorously honest, happy New Year.

 

 

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

 

 

 

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: volantwish)

Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol.  (Alcoholics anonymous pg. 33)

Here we are, it’s almost New Years Eve.  If you are reading this, you have survived the Mayan calendar end of the world, Y2K, the 1999 end of the world, the cold war and if you are in the United States you might be bracing yourself t go over a “fiscal cliff”, yet you are a survivor.

If you are recovering from alcohol or drug use however, you need to know that these things are not your biggest concern.  Your end of the world can be summed up in seven letters:  R-E-L-A-P-S-E.

As the world prepares for the new beginning that is signified in a new year one of the biggest dangers to people in recovery looms on the horizon:  New Year’s Eve.

That night in many places is a time of celebration that is unmatched throughout the rest of the year.  For many of us in recovery, that same night might contain danger that is unmatched throughout the year.  How many people in my life (some well meaning, some for some evil reason and some just not caring or paying attention) have tried to offer me alcohol and drugs on New Year’s Eve?  Some have gone so far as to apply peer pressure and the power of public humiliation to attempt to nudge me into the direction of relapse and inevitable self-destruction.

Conversations about why this or that substance or this time doesn’t count. Why champagne does not count or why New Year’s Eve is somehow a magic time where using will not affect my recovery.  Why the New Year’s Eve celebration is somehow a safe environment to use and on and on.

Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. 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. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There is no safe reason for or safe place for a person in recovery to use.  ANY USE AT ALL IS A RELAPSE NO MATTER WHERE OR WHEN IT IS.  YOU ARE EITHER SOBER OR NOT!  Any hiding place you find that you think makes it safe for you to use is only a hiding place from reality.  Any magic formula you find to use safely is only a formula for foolishness.

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)

Any reason for using (even on New Year’s Day) is “insanely insufficient” in light of the reasons you are in recovery in the first place.  There is no magic minute, hour, day, place or group of people that makes it safe for an alcoholic/addict to use again once in recovery.

Every use in the life of a person in advanced alcoholism/addiction comes with the probability of unleashing a tornado of chaos in the lives of every person who’s life has any contact with the person (including that person himself/herself) that may end with the absolute annihilation of any environment this person comes into contact with.  RELAPSE IS OUR END OF THE WORLD.

Once a person is in recovery, that person is on a path that is founded on two basic thoughts:

  1. Using intoxicating substances is absolutely destructive to my life and the lives of those around me.
  2. I must stop using intoxicating substances at all costs to be free.

Any reason you have for using or for feeling it is safe to use is an “insanely trivial excuse” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37).

No matter what you hear, where you are at, what everyone else is doing, how miserable or happy you may be at the time:

The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There may be champagne drinking, drug using people who appear just fine by the next day and seem to move on with life.  That I of no matter to those of us in recovery simply because:  WE ARE NOT THEM!

There have been people who have jumped off of bridges and lived, should I go and do it too and expect to be fine.  There have been people that have been shot in the head and lived, should I shoot myself in the head.

The question is not if other people can or cannot use safely.  The question for those of us in recovery is if I have accepted that I can never use alcohol/drugs safely.

If you have not fully accepted this then New Year’s parties are among the worst places on earth for you to be.  If you have accepted this then keep in mind that New Year’s parties are still one of the most dangerous places on earth for you to be.  Even in these cases you may find temptation so great that you have to excuse yourself, make your way to an exit and run for dear life as fast as you can.

If these facts bother you (as it does most of us at some point) look at these words from founding member Dr. Bob had to say about those feelings:

I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181 – Dr. Bob’s Nightmare)

No matter what we were like before or how well others seem to handle it, we can never safely use again period.  Any of us who do not completely get this must not risk such events or gatherings.  It would be far better to spend New Year’s Eve with others in recovery and around strong support to carry us through this challenge.

If you have accepted this, it is still important to have people in place wherever you are that know if you are struggling and are strong enough to stop you if you begin to walk down the road to the stupidity of relapse.

One important point to remember also is that no matter if you decide it is safe to go out on New Year’s Eve or not, you must be willing to be a support for others in recovery also:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Sober Christmas, Sober Holidays, and Sober New Year’s…

Stay Sober My Friends…

 

Wade H.

The Holidays “One Day at a Time”

The Holidays “One Day at a Time”

One Day At A Time
One Day At A Time (Photo credit: sidewalk flying)

Now that most of us are relatively sure that December 21, 2012 is not the end of the world, we have to get back to living one day at a time through the holiday season.  There are insane occurrences and problems in the news:

There are fiscal cliffs to fall off of, people freaking out and shooting people, children being horribly killed and on and on.  The problem we have is that we have to remain clean in spite of anything that is going on.

I wonder how many people who were in recovery and really believed that the twenty-first was the end of the world decided that it was okay to relapse before dying in global destruction.  The “one last party before I go” thing since “we’re all going to die anyway.”  Now, as we head into December 22, those people are simply people who relapsed over some “insanely trivial excuse”.

As for the rest of us, we still have to make it through the usual chaos of the holidays plus all the added stresses of the economy and all of the things going on around us.  Like I said, just like before our supposed end of the world and just like any other time that is not the holiday season, we have to take life “one day at a time.”

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 86)

According to this passage, one key aspect of “living one day at a time” is to re-look each day and honestly look at your actions.

The first thing to notice is the implication that we are all going to mess it all up sometimes.  In all of our gathering together, fighting our way through shopping malls, fighting with holiday traffic and so on we still cannot allow ourselves to slide back into stupidity.  The problem is that at some point many (if not most) of us will slide back into stupidity.

It is not okay to let this happen, but at times we all fall short.  According to this passage we have to catch it as quickly as possible and fix the situation as soon as possible.

In the heat of the moment, many of us will feel justified in whatever crazy action we take and probably will not notice how crazy we are being.  The idea is to stop at the end of the day, step out of your current perspective and take a brutally honest look at your actions from the day.

The passage doesn’t stop there, it goes on to instruct us to involve someone else.  It implies that the “someone else” is not just anyone however.  The passage implies that it is a person of good sense.

I have seen many people pick such accountability partners, mentors, sponsors and various kinds of spiritual guides by looking for the person most likely to go along with whatever crazy trip that you go on without ever telling you you are wrong.

This person (or group of people) needs to be a person that can be brutally honest with you if you are being crazy in the moment and you need to be ready to listen even if you disagree.

That means a daily assessment of if you are being: resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid in anything.  Are you hiding something?  Were you kind and loving toward all people?  Do you owe someone (an immediate) apology for something?  Were you thinking of others or just yourself in all situations?

All of this is really just a part of Step Eleven which is really tied to working your Step Ten:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The same methods for reviewing the day are what you are supposed to be doing throughout the day.  If you do notice yourself drifting off into crazy land, stop right there, stop yourself, talk to whoever you have put in place to reality check your crazy moments and make any amends you need to make right then to whoever you owe them to.

These two things are key to our staying clean and to our staying away from our own self-destructive silliness.

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)

These things are not just good ideas, they are major parts of the new way of living that is recovery.  In harder times (such as the holiday season) we simply work harder at focusing on these key elements of our recoveries.

We each have to have a means for honestly (brutally honestly) taking an inventory of our actions and be willing to fix anything that is discovered to be wrong immediately.

We are not only supposed to do these things, we are supposed to vigorously live this way.  The word “vigorously” is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

: done with vigor : carried out forcefully and energetically

We don’t just live this way, we force ourselves to live this way energetically.

Living one day at a time is not just about focusing on not drinking/using today.  Living one day at a time is about living your life in this whole new way each day.  Not only living this way, but assuming there will be challenges and failures and putting measures in place to stop and immediately fix these things when they come up.

We can all live our recovery one day at a time if we first know what that means.  Once we know what that means each of us must “vigorously” live this way and even more so during more challenging times.

All of this may seem completely unlike your normal personality, but member:  “If you keep doing the same things, you can expect to keep getting the same results.”  If you are going to get different results (i.e. recovery) then you are going to have to do different things.  The fact that this does not sound like who you are naturally is not necessarily a bad thing.  The idea is that there is “way of living” that is “commenced” because it is new to you.  You are trying to live a new way of life that is dramatically different than the way you have lived in the past which by nature is uncomfortable.

This is why all of this is carried out “vigorously”.  It is uncomfortable to do and at times, you have to force yourself.

The very next paragraph from the passage I just quoted contains what most of us in recovery call “The Promises”.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 84 – 85)

This is the “way of living” that brings you to these promises and that can sustain these promises through the holiday season.  These are why you would force yourself to do things that are so uncomfortable.

If you do what the passage says will lead to these promises, you will then get the promises.  If you live this way one day at a time then you will get the promises one day at a time.

Live this way of living and you will get through the holidays one day at a time.  Live this way and you will also find yourself getting through every day one day at a time.

May you have the happy holidays as promised in the promises and…

Stay sober my friends;

 

Wade H.

Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

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

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

 

Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. (Alcoholics Anonymous page_58)

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

I know that many of those reading this may have to substitute alcohol with all sorts of things in Step 1 but that is not the point I was focused on.

Ladder Nemesis
(Photo credit: Trevor Dennis)

Obviously the common idea here is the unmanageable, letting go of old ideas part of these passages.

These are the kinds of cliches that we all regularly hear around recovery, but we rarely take the time to consider the depth of such concepts. What does it mean to understand you are powerless and let go of all of your old ideas. Many people unknowingly try to reduce these concepts to something you have to do in early recovery and can avoid thinking much about later.

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 60)

Self focus is a one of the main reasons we cannot “let go absolutely” or accept powerlessness and that our lives are completely unmanageable.

We all have to ask ourselves if we are truly ready to accept total powerlessness and let go of everything absolutely including everything I think I know and can control. After all, if I am powerless and my life is completely unmanageable what I know has no power and cannot help me control anything and I have to let go of those ideas. I have to be willing to let go of everything and start over.

I was reading over one of the stories in the back of the Fourth Edition; “The Man Who Mastered Fear”, and I was struck by how this man was a huge go getter who traveled and dated quite a bit and even with a debilitating set of fears could still make money selling things from his car and so forth and yet found the need to let go of everything he thought and rebuild himself from the ground up.

Within a year of my return to Detroit, A.A. was a definitely established little group of about a dozen members, and I too was established in a modest but steady job handling an independent dry-cleaning route of my own. I was my own boss. It took five years of A.A. living, and a substantial improvement in my health before I could take a full-time office job where someone else was boss.

This office job brought me face to face with a problem that I had sidestepped all my adult life, lack of training. This time I did something about it. I enrolled in a correspondence school that taught nothing but accounting. With this specialized training, and a liberal business education in the school of hard knocks, I was able to set up shop some two years later as an independent accountant. Seven years of work in this field brought an opportunity to affiliate myself actively with one or more clients, a fellow A.A. We complement each other beautifully, as he is a born salesman and my taste is for finance and management. At long last I am doing the kind of work I have always wanted to do but never had the patience and emotional stability to train myself for. The A.A. program showed me the way to come down to earth, start from the bottom, and work up. This represents another great change for me. In the long ago past I used to start at the top as president or treasurer and end up with the sheriff breathing down my neck. (Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition page 255The Man Who Mastered Fear)

We all have to learn how to “start from the bottom, and work up.” That is a fear for many of us. The fear of not having things the way I want them, when I want them and how I want them. The fear of letting go of the few things you feel you control or do not have to let go of.

If you have areas of your life that you think you can control or things from the past that you feel you cannot let go of you have not “let go absolutely.

How can you get free of a bondage if you are clinging to things from the bondage. It’s like a person who was in jail, getting released but trying to hold on to the bars on the way. That person will have to let go completely to actually get free.

There is freedom in recovery and it is offered to us, but one of the prerequisites is that we accept that we are powerless and let go completely. That means for all of us who are in recovery, starting recovery, or who have a friend or loved one in recovery we each have to ask ourselves if we are ready to let go completely and start from the bottom and work up (possibly several times).

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.