He was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed. Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic insanity. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he would have dinner, and then I could drink openly with him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other days. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)
The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?
I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.
By the time we hit this point in founding member Bill W.’s story, he has tried to get sober several times, his whole world is coming apart (already has come apart) and he is sitting around waiting to die.
He has a friend (Ebby T.) who was as much an alcoholic as he was, who had sunk so far that he heard he had been committed. Suddenly this guy shows up and he is sober (apparently a “condition” Bill had rarely ever seen him in). Bill had been trying and desperately wishing to get sober and when he finds one person as bad as he was his first response is to try and get that person to relapse. Then when the guy refuses, he is disappointed.
Bill, of all people, knew how strong the temptation to relapse is. Bill, of all people, should have wanted to rejoice in his friend’s freedom and desperately sought to find the same solution. Bill, of all people, should have wanted to help his friend instead of attempting to destroy his world with relapse.
The truth is that in recovery the people around you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. They may not know which they are, but they are.
Here is a fact to keep in mind: The fact that a person has good intentions (or thinks they have good intentions) does not mean that whatever he/she does is good. For example, lots of people have it in their mind that a person who is sober cannot possibly be a happy person. So if such a person encounters a person who was miserable using and has finally struggled through recovery and has found some short time of recovery, the person who feels that a sober person cannot possibly be happy will try to convince that person to use, believing that getting that person to use is doing them some kind of favor.
The fact is that if a person who uses so heavily that to use is to destroy his/her life get’s sobriety there is no reason to use again. A person who is trying to get such a person to us, no matter what the intentions are, is attacking that person and everything he/she cares about. Whether a person intends to attack or unintentionally attacks does not matter when the attack has the potential to destroy your whole world.
What is the difference between a person who gets angry with you and shoots you in the head and a person who mistakenly thinks that the best way to make your headache go away is to shoot you in the head? Once you are shot in the head, the intentions matter very little.
If you are a person in recovery, it is very important that you understand that some people are simply not safe for you to be around, no matter what their intentions are or seem to be.
If you are the friend or loved one of someone in recovery, there is so much more than just what you intend to do or don’t intend to do. Again; you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. If you really want to be a part of the solution, you are going to have to learn a lot about recovery also. You may have to learn about codependence and about how to not be an enabler. You may have to be more understanding or learn “tough love” as the case may be. That person’s alcoholism/addiction may have changed you also in ways that need to be changed back. You may also be an addict/alcoholic and have to seek recovery also. You may not have had anything to do with their using (or just think you didn’t), but you can be a part of his/her recovery. If you are not willing to be a part of his/her recovery you probably will become a part of the struggle and resistance to his/her recovery.
Let me be clear however: The people around the alcoholic/addict cannot make a person recover; keep him/her sober; force him/her to stay sober etc. What we can do is help make recovery more likely or considerably less likely. The people around the alcoholic/addict also have the ability to make the person’s life far more miserable than necessary if we are not careful.
A person in recovery needs to limit exposure to the “part of the problem” people as much as possible and spend as much time as possible with the “part of the solution” people as possible (Although some “part of the problem” people cannot be avoided entirely; as a rule, exposure to them should be as limited as possible). This is what the support groups (meetings) are supposed to be hinged on:
We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)
These sorts of understanding people who truly engage with each other in this way a an infinite help to anyone in recovery. A group that meets that is not like this (be it a 12 Step group or otherwise) is lacking something terribly important and helpful to those of us in recovery.
The kind of people around a person in recovery is of the incredibly important and if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, the kind of person you are is incredibly important. Founding member of Alcoholics Anonymous describes how he was drawn in to the group of people that wanted to help him this way:
About the time of the beer experiment I was thrown in with a crowd of people who attracted me because of their seeming poise, health, and happiness. They spoke with great freedom from embarrassment, which I could never do, and they seemed very much at ease on all occasions and appeared very healthy. More than these attributes, they seemed to be happy. I was self conscious and ill at ease most of the time, my health was at the breaking point, and I was thoroughly miserable. I sensed they had something I did not have, from which I might readily profit. I learned that it was something of a spiritual nature, which did not appeal to me very much, but I thought it could do no harm. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 178)
I think a clearer way to state all of this is:
The people around the person in recovery and the alcoholic/addict are either part of the solution or a part of the confusion.
It is not to be expected that an alcoholic employee will receive a disproportionate amount of time and attention. He should not be made a favorite. The right kind of man, the kind who recovers, will not want this sort of thing. He will not impose. Far from it. He will work like the devil and thank you to his dying day. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 149)
This chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book is speaking directly to employers working with alcoholics and addicts that are their employees, but this passage reveals something that is much more of a general concept for all involved. Many of us, when we are working through recovery expect the people around us and in some cases the world around us to give us special and delicate treatment because of the fragile nature of recovery. Many of us reached this level of using because of various things that happened in our past etc. and feel as though we are entitled to a special period of a gentle world to get back on track.
That is a wonderful concept and makes some sense, but the truth is that that just aint gonna happen and in reality shouldn’t. The truth is that it is destructive to your long term recovery to build your recovery in this fantasy land and then suddenly after some extended period thrust you into the real world where people are not going to have time to baby you as an individual and expect you to suddenly be able to suck it up and stay sober.
I am not saying that many in recovery do not need to take a break from the extreme chaos of life and start fresh, that a big part of what residential recovery is all about. The thing is that even in residential recovery there should not be a complete babying of a person, then a graduation where that person is suddenly thrown overboard to brave whatever comes and swim to safety somehow. There has to be a level of reality all along to be prepared to deal with the reality of the world when leaving the sheltered environment of a residential recovery program.
For the family and friends around a person in recovery, this is very important for you to understand. There are probably changes that everyone needs to make in terms of interacting with this person and being realistic with this person, but codependently coddling a grown person is not helpful to anyone involved.
For example if a person who has just finished a residential recovery program is perfectly capable of working and paying his or her own bills, it is usually not helpful to have that person sit around the house watching television while you kill yourself trying to pay your bills and theirs also. Some get it in their heads that this is good because we wouldn’t want the person in recovery to get too much stress he or she cannot handle. That might lead to relapse.
The fact is, if that person just finished residential recovery and cannot handle the stress of having a job and paying his or her own bills, that person was not ready to leave that residential program. There is considerably more treatment needed. This person is set up to manipulate and use every person that cares about him or her until they all burn out and that person is left alone and without the abilities and skills needed to survive in life.
A huge part of being able to maintain sobriety is learning how to pull your own weight in life. There are some that are able to do this throughout their using and that is great, but many cannot. Nobody around a person that is struggling to learn to take care of him or herself should make the problem worse by helping a person avoid the very things that will teach the person how to live life.
Recovery is not about learning how to avoid living a normal life particularly the problems that everyone in the world faces. Recovery is learning how to live a sober life in the midst of the ups and downs of life that everyone faces. If a person’s recovery cannot handle the ups and downs of life… THAT PERSON’S RECOVERY CANNOT HANDLE LIFE!!! A recover that cannot handle the tough times is a recovery that is doomed to fail. YOUR RECOVERY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS HOW IT CAN HANDLE THE TOUGH TIMES!!!
For those around us working through the process, your biggest struggle is how to help us face the normal problems of life without either stepping in and doing everything for us or without turning into the angry Grinch that acts like some Marine Drill Instructor always pointing out every wrong and putting us down at every turn in the hope that it makes us tougher. You must be gentle but firm in your own way. You need to stick to your guns as politely as we will allow and in the times where you have to save us from a failure, you need to make sure it is not something we should be saving ourselves from.
Never reduce recovery down to a process of learning how to avoid life. Recovery is the process of learning to face life soberly no matter what life throws at you.
WE ARE THAN LEARNING THAT WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS WE DO NOT USE THEM TO GARNISH A MARTINI… WE MAKE LEMONADE TO KEEP US HYDRATED AS WE WORK HARDER.
Many people have all kinds of things to say about things that are important to recovery, yet this extremely important point is often missed. All of us using at these heavy levels are concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity.”
This is one of the most key messages that we all need in recovery, yet is the one people ignore the most. Here is the problem; there are few times throughout the year as tempting to a person overly concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity” as the Christmas holiday.
If a person is selfish and self-centered in the most traditional sense of the words that person will be completely focused on what others give to him or her. If that is your focus there can only be a tremendous let down.
If a person is more of a self-pity type, that person may be a codependent who is obsessed with getting others stuff for Christmas and find himself or herself depressed at the inability to get purchase the happiness or appreciation of others. This is a person who will believe himself or herself to be as unselfish as you can be with the obsession for doing things for others when in fact there is something that person is looking for in return for the gifts and services rendered etc.
If a person is seething with resentments or in bondage to the hurts of others from the past, then the family gatherings and Merry Christmas stuff from the very same folks you are uncomfortable with (openly or secretly resentful towards) are the recipe for inner turmoil and torment. This person may not have any problems with the gifts received or given as there may be neither to worry about.
Before going any further into this, it is important to remember just because you feel something that does not mean it is true or sensible. Some of the things you feel may just be a part of your being an addict or alcoholic.
If the root source of all things Twelve Step states that “the root of our troubles” is “selfishness – Self-centeredness” then it is probable that as an addict or alcoholic everything you feel may be filtered through an exaggerated focus on yourself. That also means that one of the main focuses of everything in the Twelve Steps is to overcome this “root of our troubles.”
Wherever you are in working your steps, you may not overcome this struggle prior to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. A good place to start is by first recognizing that the problem may be simply a problem of your perspective and not one dealing with the reality of the situation or situations.
A problem so big that it is described as “the root” of your problems is not the kind of thing that you can read a cure in a two or three page blog posting: But, the steps were originally written as a cure for this root struggle. I understand that each of us may be in different places in our recoveries, but before you even consider dealing with the whole Christmas thing, this is an excellent time to greatly increase your efforts in your recovery. Do more of and more quality recovery activities. From Steps to meetings with your sponsor and other mentors to general recovery meeting attendance increase the amount and quality during the holiday season. Get some strong people in place that you can meet with regularly to reality test your thoughts (because we cannot trust our own interpretations).
We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)
In an extremely simplified most basic sense retaliation and argument are not options for us. We are not ready to judge what to respond to with our distorted understanding of events. We must focus on how to be helpful to those people we feel these kind of feelings for and not expect any appreciation or acknowledgement from these people. I understand that this is easier said than done, but in considering that Christmas is this week it is the best way to go.
Make this Christmas be about making the holidays better with you around than it would have been without you around and have no expectation of appreciation or acknowledgement. Do it only as part of your recovery and as part of staying healthy.
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)
One more thing…
Find someone else who is struggling like you and help that person. The exact things that are going on with you and I during the holiday season will be going on with millions of addicts and alcoholics around the world for similar reasons. Take the focus off of ourselves and devote some of your time to the service of someone else struggling with the same insanity that threatens us during this season. Who better to talk to about these things than one of us who knows the same struggles? You may not feel like you understand all of this all that well, but you may understand it a whole lot more than the next person and be extremely helpful to another person.
May you have the happiest and most sober Christmas you have had to date,
The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable. If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.
If you are the friend or loved one of a person in need of recovery you are probably well acquainted with the fact that that person is concerned with his or her own comfort at the expense of others including you.
In the last post we explored that self-centeredness, but what does the desired objective look like. What does a person free or well on the way to being free of self-centeredness look like?
Here is a conversation from the “Working With Others” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book instructing us how to describe this to a potential newcomer:
Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him. Make it plain he is under no obligation to you, that you hope only that he will try to help other alcoholics when he escapes his own difficulties. Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own. Make it clear that he is not under pressure, that he needn’t see you again if he doesn’t want to. You should not be offended if he wants to call it off, for he has helped you more than you have helped him. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 94)
Notice how unselfishness is the message. The person trying to work with the potential newcomer first describes how unselfishness actually is a huge part of helping yourself. Then that person describes how the biggest reward he or she is looking for is for that potential newcomer to get better through gaining the same unselfishness.
In other words the message is that if I want to help myself I have to get you to get it and to help others in the same way.
Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)
Notice the words “to see a fellowship grow up about you.” The “host of friends” and the people you will watch recover are the people you work with. Getting outside of yourself and helping others to recovery becomes “the bright spot” of your life.
Working with others is not the only evidence of unselfishness, but it is a very key one. That is why this statement is true:
Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 20)
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)
I understand that there are people who do not get the unselfishness aspect of all of this and do some attempts at working with others (usually because he or she feels forced). What I am talking about looks and sounds more like this. (if it is you going through recovery this is a feeling you should experiencethat becomes a part of who you are):
While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.
My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 14)
It was a feeling and thought that Bill W. had and his sponsor reinforced. Working with others is one of the key evidences that a person is at least growing in unselfishness. For those of us who have traveled Alcoholics Anonymous circles we are probably at least somewhat familiar with what are known as “The Promises.” Listen to this part of “The Promises”:
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)
The death of selfishness is a huge goal in for all of us looking to remain sober. As we come to see that our experience can benefit others we “lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.” Then “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)
If you think you have reached some major milestone in recovery (finishing a program, someone says you have finished all the steps, you are abstinent currently and feel fine) and you do not feel or think in the manner described here, there is much more to do. You seem to have missed something.
If you are the friend or loved one of person who has reached one of these milestones and that person has no desire to reach others, that person is in deep trouble.
Here is an end note for the friends and loved ones. If the person does get this change of focus and begins to focus on working with others be as supportive of those efforts as you can. Do not hinder their work with others or you may be choking the life out of that person’s recovery.
The following passage was written “To Wives” bit applies to all friends and loved ones:
Still another difficulty is that you may become jealous of the attention he bestows on other people, especially alcoholics. You have been starving for his companionship, yet he spends long hours helping other men and their families. You feel he should now be yours. The fact is that he should work with other people to maintain his own sobriety. Sometimes he will be so interested that he becomes really neglectful. Your house is filled with strangers. You may not like some of them. He gets stirred up about their troubles, but not at all about yours. It will do little good if you point that out and urge more attention for yourself. We find it a real mistake to dampen his enthusiasm for alcoholic work. You should join in his efforts as much as you possibly can. We suggest that you direct some of your thought to the wives of his new alcoholic friends. They need the counsel and love of a woman who has gone through what you have. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 119)
How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)
This passage is written specifically to wives of alcoholics (the chapter is named “To Wives”) but it really is a message to all who have a loved one or friend who has serious alcoholism or addiction issues.
People around us that don’t suffer from the same addictions as us often have these or similar questions bouncing around in their minds. “How could we be so unthinking or uncaring?” The actual answer is that in most cases, we don’t know. This is not (or at least not always) an attempt to excuse some bad behavior; this is often the actual answer. As a matter of fact, in many cases we were asking ourselves the same questions.
My point here is not to excuse any behaviors or actions, but to help those who have a loved one or a friend who is suffering to understand that much of this is not personal, it is just part of what addicts and alcoholics do. That by no means implies that you have to just sit back and let it happen, it just means that often it is not that we don’t care or want to hurt anyone, it is often just a crazy that seems compulsive to us.
In this post I hope to help those around an addict or alcoholic see what we do more clearly and for the addict or alcoholic to get an idea of how crazy our behavior seems to others.
Let’s look at a few of these common things we do that confuse or hurt those close to us. We will start with the progression that Bill W. (Bill W. one of the founding members) went through as his using got to be worse and worse. You may see close similarities to your friend, loved one or to yourself if you suffer from addiction or alcohol problems.
1. We ignore discussions and signs that we might be getting worse or “going overboard”
Though my drinking was not yet continuous, it disturbed my wife. We had long talks when I would still her forebodings by telling her that men of genius conceived their best projects when drunk; that the most majestic constructions of philosophic thought were so derived. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 2)
In this case he was starting to show signs of that his using might be developing into a serious problem. His wife, who would know, was disturbed and would try to have discussion about it with him. He not only wouldn’t consider what she was concerned about, he tried to convince her that it is better for people to be drunk because they somehow work better.
This is a part of being a serious alcoholic or addict. One of the first signs that we are losing our grip is that someone outside of you begins to be bothered or concerned. According to this, she didn’t go nuts; she even had reasonable discussion about it. Someone close to him was showing loving concern and it was as if they were speaking different languages.
Old Bill also made sure he explained how geniuses and great philosophers were not on users of alcohol, but did their best thinking and working while drink. I suspect that he was convincing his wife and himself at the same time. Oh what a cloud of nonsense that we can disappear behind when confronted. This is also a normal part of what it is to be an addict or alcoholic. Not only do we not listen, we blurt out almost reasonable sounding excuses for our using.
2. Everything seems like it is just better when using. In Bill’s Story, Bill simply put it this way
Using takes an important role in the life of the person. I starts to become the source of excitement no matter what the person is doing. If the person is doing something exciting, he or she feels like it would be a little more exciting if he or she were using and it is missing something if he or she doesn’t use.
If we are in an environment where it is not socially acceptable to use we slip off to use or we just don’t enjoy ourselves. It is a feeling like something is missing even in the most exciting of activities.
3. Using moves from important to dominant. It begins to take over as most important in the person’s life.
My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in our sumptuous apartment. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)
So now, Bill is almost always drunk. What that means is where it used to be that drunk was added to whatever he was doing, now, whatever he is doing is being added to the fact that he is drunk. It no longer is just there to make other things better, the other things have to be reduced to things that make being drunk better (or they are not to be done).
What all of that means is that the world becomes measured by how it interacts with my high or attempts to get high. Getting high or drunk now dominates my thoughts and desires and everything else is in servitude to my new master; intoxication. The way I like to see this is that it is not that person necessarily loves you or whatever he or she loved before less, he or she has just started loving being high or drunk more.
Then there is this remonstrances of his friends terminating in a row stuff. What is all that? Lets define two of the terms used using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Remonstrances = an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance
So that translates to: “The presentation of reasons opposing the amount of drinking Bill W. was doing let to quarrels or fights and he ended up being a loner.” Every time people tried to bring to his attention how bad his using was getting, he would get into a fight with them to the point of chasing them off. The fights would be so bad and his level of using so bad that the people who cared enough about him to say something to him decided to stay away from him all together.
That’s when our crazy really starts to come out. There are these people who really care about us, enough to try and talk to us about our obviously growing problem, and we push them away. We scream, holler, say stupid things, insult them, whatever it takes, just so they do not interfere with or try to interfere with our using. Because remember, we usually haven’t started caring for the person who confronts us less, we just care about being high or drunk more. So if that person is interfering, high or drunk must be protected at all costs.
One more thing from this passage, notice the change of tone in his relationship with his wife. Before, they were having “long talks,” now they are having “unhappy scenes.” Those of us who get to this level of using start pushing anyone who cares about us away, but some people are more tied to us than others. So even though he had become a loner, his wife was there whenever he decided to be home. It’s probably not about loving her less; it’s probably about loving being high or drunk more. She may be second on the list, but if she is in any way going to interfere with his high or with his comfort, she is immediately a problem. She probably stays in second place, but a very distant second place.
The pushing away of people is a normal part of the alcoholic’s or addict’s life. There may seem to be many different reasons (such as to not think about how much we hate ourselves, to avoid facing the problem, to avoid the stress, etc.) but, the real problem is that sick as it may sound, in our heads, the high becomes the most important thing to be protected in our lives.
None of that excuses it, but it is a fact at this level of using.
This will vary between alcohol and other drugs of choice and will even vary between different people. Different things happen. It may be the shakes, bags under the eyes, breaking out or rashes, extreme weight loss or gain, lots of minor illnesses (colds, flu’s, etc.), and many other physical symptoms.
These are some of the signs that the person’s body is having some troubles with the chemicals the person is ingesting. The odd part is we rarely even notice these signs of problems and if we do we tell ourselves they are somehow normal. As a rule if our bodies are trying to reject something or are have a negative response to something, it is a bad idea to continue taking in whatever it is. Yet we always find some reason to go on anyway.
When these signs start to appear, we are on the verge of serious problems (beyond whatever other serious problems we are causing ourselves). This is the point that those around us should feel an urgency and a desperation for us, the problem is that by this time they are pushed away from previous attempts to talk to or deal with us. We on the other hand, are at this point thinking in such a distorted way that we would be willing to have some physical problems as long as we can be drunk or high.
5. It eventually progresses from being the most important thing in our lives to the totality of our life. We have been pretty bad by this point and it is clear to those around us that we are an alcoholic or addict, but at some point it gets even worse.
The way Bill W. observed this is that his addiction became as important as breathing, his heart beating and eating in his mind. It was no longer something that he did, it became a must. He was not able to function if not using. This is another area that will look different depending upon the addiction and the person, but this is another sign that the problem has progressed to incredibly desperate levels.
At this point it is incredibly hard to stop, to want to stop, to see any way to stop or even to take a break. IN previous levels in this progression, if a person wanted to stop there would be struggle and some confusion etc. but at this level, it is a much bigger challenge. When a person tries to stop there is so much confusion and inner resistance to stopping that the person will have a terrible time mustering any desire to stop.
If the person was one of those people who could quit for a year here or there or six months here and there, that becomes increasingly difficult from here on. It’s like asking them to quit breathing or to want to quit breathing.
The thought life of the person also becomes monopolized by the desire to use. It is as if the person only lives to use. Work becomes only a way to get more (if work is even an option at this point). Interactions with loved ones become ways to keep their world together so as not to hinder their ability to continue to get high. For example one of the main reasons someone like this might not want a divorce is because he or she may end up paying child support etc. and have a harder time finding money to use with.
It may have started at an earlier place in this progression, but it is common by this stage to lie about the using or to sneak using if there are still people around that would be seen as somehow interfering with the using.
6. Serious physical dependence
I began to waken very early in the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of sobriety which renewed my wife’s hope. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)
At this point not only his mind acts as if using is as important as breathing or the heart beating, his body now reacts as if something important has stopped working properly whenever he is not using. Think about what he has just stated. When he did get to sleep (whatever time that happened at) the amount of time he spent sleeping (not using) created such a stress for his whole system that he awakened early to get more. When he awakened his body would be shaking violently desperate to use even a little bit. After that he even had to use if he wanted to eat his breakfast without throwing up. His body would not even allow him to eat if he wasn’t using.
At this point it is hard to even imagine quitting as an option. Think of it this way: “If I can’t be sober long enough to sleep, how am I gonna be sober longer?”
Now lets do a little reading to look at some occurrences in Bill W’s life at this point in the hope of getting some more understanding:
Then I got a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in the profits. Then I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished. I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did. Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near being just that. Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cock-sureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well get good and drunk then. And I did. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 5-6)
So Bill had promising work that could put him back on his feet, but couldn’t stay sober long enough to go through with it. He finally “gets it” and knows how bad he has gotten and that he no longer has control and focuses himself on quitting. He meant business and could only hold on a short time before coming home drunk again.
Did you notice that the same questions that we would have for him, he had for himself. Where was all that “resolve?” What was going on in his mind when he relapsed? Is he crazy? Did you notice he could provide himself with no answer? That is why he or she doesn’t give a reasonable answer or any answer to those strong enough to still care after all of this: the person doesn’t have an answer!
Then there was a period where it looked like he had figured it out. He had done it all on his own and gave great hope to those that still cared about him. Then without warning, another relapse.
The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 6)
He had given up on the idea of sobriety and was scared while using too. The only escape he had prior to this was no longer an escape. Even using would not bring the desired escape any more yet sobriety even more unbearable. There was no place to escape from the results of using so he went and used.
For those who have never used or have never been this far along in their using, welcome to the insanity that is bouncing around the head of a person living at this level. After this reality, sometimes a person reaches what seems to be the only logical conclusion (this may have been a problem previously and may have even preceded using, but it does seem to be supported by this twisted logic now).
This is pretty serious hopelessness. Once you completely give up on yourself, there is really no place to hide from that fact. You cannot truly hide from yourself. The closest you can get to hiding from yourself is the mental fog spoken of here. That’s not just being tipsy or a little high; that is being completely blitzed.
In the case of Bill W. he reached this point and stuck it out for years he describes hi mind and body as having to endure “this agony” for two more years and described it as “physical and mental torture.”
Eventually his alcohol was not enough to get enough of a mental fog and watch what happens:
A doctor came with a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative. This combination soon landed me on the rocks. People feared for my sanity. So did I. I could eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was forty pounds under weight. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)
Bill W. who seems to have been content with only using alcohol, and never showed an interest in doing any other drugs, suddenly is mixing drugs with his alcohol use. In other words, just when it looks like it couldn’t get any worse, those of us who use at this terrible level as if by magic find a way to make it worse.
In brief, Bill goes through recovery at a hospital and does quite well. He leaves and gets a period of sobriety. He thought he had the answer and that he had enough self-knowledge to remain sober. He thought this was the end of his using.
But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum. They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)
Those who have lived this know the feelings, the thoughts, the despair, the hopelessness and everything else that comes at this point. Those who use heavily but have not gone this far (yet) may not recognize some of the latter details, but if you think about it, you can see how these things are the logical end to the continued using. They may not look exactly like this or be in exactly the same order, but this sounds like the stories of many, many others who have gotten this far along in addiction.
Now, for those of you who are the friends and loved ones of the person like this or somewhere in the process of getting more and more like this, this has been outlined mainly for you. This is not a scientific analysis of addicts and alcoholics, or a series of long term studies: This is one of us describing the process exactly as we experience it. This is a glimpse into the mind of the person you are worried about. This is his or her perspective.
Every situation is different and your response to this information in every case probably needs to be different also. Some of you may not be as intense in harassing the person, and some of you may need to be more direct and blunt due to your new realization about how serious the situation is. That is a detail that you probably need to work out with a local professional in the field or a local support group etc.
I hope this post is simply a new look at the person and the struggles that person is facing. So now back to the passage we started with:
How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)
When you reread this with the insights we have just gone through, we get answers to those questions. Not the perfect answers and possibly not even satisfactory answers, but at least an understanding of what is going on.
I hope that this information is helpful for all who read it.
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. We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. There are many. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)
With those of us working the Twelve Steps who suffer from drug or alcohol addictions this may be painfully obvious. This also applies to many other addictions in a similar manner. For those of us reading this who are the friends or family of an addict or alcoholic you may or may not understand what this passage is trying to communicate.
Elsewhere in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (which was the origin of all things Twelve Step) it uses this description of the alcoholic specifically which translates to all addictions also:
The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)
If you are the friend or loved one of a person that is and addict or an alcoholic their using does not just create problems in his or her life. This person’s sickness rips through the lives of every person in contact with him or her creating problems for all.
If you are one of these loved ones, one point that you must completely understand is that, “YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON!” They have to change themselves or at the least allow you to give the input that they will use in changing. If you want to force another person (especially an addict or alcoholic) to change it will end only in great disappointment for you.
The real question is what, should you do as the friend or loved one of an addict or alcoholic. Another point to remember is that, “ALTHOUGH YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON, YOU CAN ALWAYS CHANGE YOURSELF!” Start working on you.
One great way to begin is to learn as much as you can about the addiction or alcoholism, about recovery, and about what parts you play in the person’s problems as well as what parts you have nothing to do with. The passage we started with from page 18 stated:
We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 18)
The Book was not only written for the person in recovery to read and learn from, but also for all of the people around that person to gain an understanding of the person and the process of change. There are specific chapters in the book written directly: To Wives, to The Family Afterwards and To Employers. The rest of the information in the book also informs the friends and loved ones also.
However, not only should those around the addict or alcoholic be informed about these things there is more that recovery has to offer to them.
Though an alcoholic does not respond, there is no reason why you should neglect his family. You should continue to be friendly to them. The family should be offered your way of life. Should they accept and practice spiritual principles, there is a much better chance that the head of the family will recover. And even though he continues to drink, the family will find life more bearable. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 97)
The “spiritual principles” spoken of here are the ones outlined in the 12 Steps. The family ought to work the program also for 3 reasons:
To just grow in a more healthy way of living
There is a better chance that the friend or loved one will recover if those around him or her are making the same changes and going through the same struggles to be better
No matter what the person in recovery or in need of recovery does, it will be more manageable for the friends and loved ones who do the Steps.
As for the person in recovery who does not want to involve his or her friends or loved ones in the process because: “That is all the past,” “It is embarrassing” “I’ve already put them through enough” etc, their involvement is not optional, it is a part of the recovery process.
Sometimes we hear an alcoholic say that the only thing he needs to do is to keep sober. Certainly he must keep sober, for there will be no home if he doesn’t. But he is yet a long way from making good to the wife or parents whom for years he has so shockingly treated. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)
If either the person in recovery or the friends and family are under the impression that all that is needed is to abstain from the addiction or alcohol the person thinking this way is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.
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. These family talks will be constructive if they can be carried on without heated argument, self-pity, self-justification or resentful criticism. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 127)
Recovery from heavy drug or alcohol use is often not just a recovery process for the individual who is the “recovering person.” Often, it is those close to him or her that also need to adjust the way they think, act etc. also. This is a post that is directed mainly at the loved ones around the person in recovery.
Some people have done things that have hurt the person and have never allowed that person to discuss or process it. Some of the loved ones around the person were victims that adjusted to accommodate the alcohol or drug use so much that those loved ones have had their whole lives changed. Some have suffered the same things that the person recovery struggles to deal with but they do not fall as far or as obviously as the person now in recovery. Sometimes the loved ones around the person are doing everything right and the person in recovery has never taken the time or may have never had the opportunity to sit down and try to see the other perspective.
Whatever the case an open discussion, done with the right mindset and heart may be a huge step in the right direction. It is great if all involved are more focused on themselves and not on others. That also means that each person is focused on him or herself and his or her shortcomings, without “self-pity” or “self-justification”
Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 128)
If the focus of the group is an honest concern for each other and not self-protection or codependence, then there is a good chance something helpful will be discussed. Let’s discuss those three things: 1) Not speaking out of self-protection, 2) not speaking out of codependence, 3) something helpful being discussed.
Not speaking out of self-protection. Many in recovery have built a world of defensiveness to hide whatever else is going on in the heart and mind. If everyone around this person gets together and does the same thing what really happens is everyone blaming each other for what has taken place.
The other side of this is the “poor me” person that really believe that he or she is is totally responsible for keeping everyone around happy and will agree with whatever you blame on him or her. This defensiveness on the parts of a whole group of loved ones will translate into: “You are the worst person who ever lived and you are the only real problem that all of us have.”
The truth is each person needs to be honest about where he or she is wrong and where it actually was the person in recovery that was wrong. A little reality and truth all around is a must for this type of discussion. This is not only good for all, but even if the person in recovery thinks the whole thing is stupid it is a great example of what it looks like that will help his or her recovery.
Not speaking out of codependence: One of the worst thing that could happen in such discussions is one or more people that blame themselves for everything the addict or alcoholic does. If you were in fact this person’s entire problem, why is that person and not you in recovery. Even if you were, are , or will be in recovery this person’s recovery is totally separate from yours. He or she has his own set of problems and struggles that you may have played a part in, but they are uniquely his or hers.
If you take too much credit from the person in recovery, you give that person a way to avoid the truth or in other words to not work recovery.
Something helpful being discussed: Notice that something helpful is to be discussed. There is no guarantee that the person will respond well or get it right away. All such a discussion is supposed to do is to give such a person a chance to deal with reality and see those around him or her do the same. If you are one of the other participants it is both your way of participation in the person’s recovery process and your process of healing also.
Your goal is to see your REAL “shortcomings” and admit them to the others in the group and hopefully the person in recovery will do the same. But, if not, you have planted a seed that will hopefully be watered throughout recovery and you have had a chance to see and begin dealing with a shortcoming of your own.
The idea here is not blame or codependently taking the blame for that person so that he or she will not feel pain. The focus is the healing of everyone involved and of the group as a whole. This kind of connection with the friends, loved ones, family etc. can be helpful to all and especially for the person in recovery, the attitude of all is what determines how helpful it really is. So if you have been feeling like you need to blame the person in recovery for everything or that you need to not speak of such things because he or she may not be able to handle it remember:
Perhaps they created the impression that he is to be wrapped in cotton wool and placed on a pedestal. Successful readjustment means the opposite. All members of the family should meet upon the common ground of tolerance, understanding and love. This involves a process of deflation. The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 122)