To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 2

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!  Part – 2

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

If you are in recovery self-centeredness is a challenge that needs to be overcome.  As I stated in the previous post (To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!) I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

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 experience that 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)

Wade H.

Inside the Head of the Addict or Alcoholic

Do you find my brain? - Auf der Suche nach mei...
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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

Drink was taking an important and exhilarating part in my life. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

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
  • Row = have a quarrel

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.

4.   There starts to be small physical changes

I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

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

Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)

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.

This may seem pretty bad but it gets worse. 

7.  Complete hopelessness (and possibly suicide attempts)

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).

Should I kill myself? No – not now.  Then a mental fog settled down. Gin would fix that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 6)

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.

Wade H.

Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???

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:

  1. To just grow in a more healthy way of living
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Continue reading “Where Should a Friend or Loved One Start???”

The Needed “Helpful Discussion” With Loved Ones and Close Friends

  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.

  1. 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. 
    1. 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.”
    2. 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.
    3. 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. 
      1. 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.
      2. 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.  
        1. 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)

Family, Dating and Marital Relationships in Recovery

In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish. As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain. This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

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

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish.  As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain.  This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

The truth is that the pains of the past are yet to be fully resolved if resolved at all.  For example, if a person was cheated on and one or the other finishes a recovery program, there will still be pain.  One or both of the parties may be better prepared to start working through the pain involved, but there is still hurt and confusion.  As the passage on page 117 states:  “Many of the old problems will still be with you.”  This is the absolute truth.  There will still be some of the old problems and, “This is as it should be.  ”

Why is it that this “is as it should be”?  Because, the discomfort and pain one feels when these old problems come up are not evil, they are actually opportunities in disguise.  Here is the fact:  Pain and discomfort are not your enemy!!  Pain and discomfort are neutral. 

Think of a thermometer.  If you stick on in your mouth and it states that your temperature is 98.6˚ you are doing fine.  If however, you stick the thermometer and it reads 106˚, you have a problem.  It would be foolish to get mad at the thermometer and yell at it or do everything you can to avoid the thermometer or to avoid talking about what the thermometer says.  The thermometer reading 106˚ simply indicates that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with just like the coughing, sneezing, stomach ache etc. that probably brought that person to the thermometer also were indicators of a problem that had to be dealt with.

These uncomfortable feelings and emotional pains that will come up are the same.  They are not evils to be yelled at or avoided, they are indicators of something that is wrong and needs to be properly dealt with.  Just like yelling at or avoiding the information on the thermometer, not only do such actions not help, the problem usually gets worse when not properly dealt with.  The discomfort and pain are not the problem.  That is what the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book mean when they say “This is as it should be.  ”

The faith and sincerity of both you and your husband will be put to the test. These work-outs should be regarded as part of your education, for thus you will be learning to live. You will make mistakes, but if you are in earnest they will not drag you down. Instead, you will capitalize them. A better way of life will emerge when they are overcome.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

These uncomfortable events that arise are called “work-outs” here.  Think of what working out is.  In the case of weight lifting, a person gets resistance in the direction a muscle moves which tears down the muscle tissue.   This tearing down of the tissue allows the muscle to be rebuilt larger and stronger.  These uncomfortable events may feel like they are tearing you down, but they are simply allowing everyone involved the opportunity to be rebuilt stronger if confronted.

But what about if not confronted or if confronted improperly? 

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

What may seem like a little thing can be blown way out of proportion in a hurry and the result will be far more tearing down than building up for everyone involved.  As far as the resentment or improperly handled issues every person in the situation, including the person in recovery carries “the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control.”  That does not mean not confronting things, that simply means; “be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.”

Notice in the beginning of this passage I quoted:  “If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy.”  That is because every person has growing that he or she should be doing.  If you have been around an addict or an alcoholic, it is often the case that you have problems that either helped in making this person worse or that are a result of this person’s problems.  Blame, anger, resentment and so on will not do you or that person any good and may erupt into terrible harm.  The absolute truth is:  YOU CANNOT FIX ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, BUT YOU CAN WORK ON FIXING YOURSELF!!!  Along with that is the fact that you cannot fix another person, you can however do great harm to another person. 

The bottom line is that the discomfort, pain, disagreement and such are probably not bad; they are most likely just opportunities in disguise.  Confronting things in a “resentful or critical spirit” is the evil that will keep all involved from the “very happy” described here.

 Wade H.

Can I Go To Family and Work Gatherings Where There is Drinking

From – Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Every year I get rush of questions about going places where people are drinking (like family gatherings, company parties etc.).  I hope the following thoughts may be of help.  If you have some sort of mentor, counselor, sponsor or someone otherwise working with you in your recovery, please consult with them before going to any gathering that may be a danger to your recovery.

Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn’t think or be reminded about alcohol at all.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 100-101)

Going into the holiday season, we need to have a good idea how far along each one of us is in our recoveries.  This also means ensuring the proper safeguards are in place if you are somehow obligated to be in a situation dangerous to your sobriety.

  • Will you never again be able to go to a Christmas party or a Thanksgiving dinner because there is alcohol there?
  • If there are one or two members of your family who still use heavily does that mean you can never again attend a family function?
  • Can other members of your family have a glass of wine with a holiday dinner at your home?

There is no perfect answer to these questions.  One of the main points to make here is that the answers to these questions depend completely upon where you are in your sobriety.

I am not totally convinced that each of us is capable of making a full assessment of our ability to be around these things, but there are some who are better able.  Some examples include:

  • A good sponsor who knows you real well
  • Any person that has been given a mentoring role in your life such as a pastor, priest, adviser, and so on.
  • A Professional counselor if you have one that you have been seeing for a while.

If you find that you have nobody in this sort of mentoring role in your life you have a gaping hole in your recovery and need to deal with that first.

The next thing to ask is why do I want to be in this place?

  • So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 101)
  • You will note that we made and 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?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 101-102)

The question to ask yourself is why am I going to this function when I know it may be dangerous for me?

Are you only thinking about yourself in attending.

  • Selfishness – Self-centeredness! That we think is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)
  •  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 pg 102)

Can you be there focusing on helping someone else and not just to have fun?  In other words, just because there is darkness does not mean that you have to be dark also; why not be a light in the darkness?

  •  Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful. You should not hesitate to visit the most sordid spot on earth on such an errand. Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Can you be open about why you will not use to everybody?

  •  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)

If you tell everyone why you are not using and that you need their help you should either get a positive response at least from most of those in attendance or the people you are going to be around may not be the safest people for you.  If they cannot respect your desire to be a better person they do not truly care about you.

Is your spiritual condition solid?

  •  But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)
  • Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Do you have a spiritual advisor or mentor who can help you assess your spiritual condition

 These are just some ideas from the Big Book.  I am quite sure there are other things to look at and to think about.  I am hopeful that these tidbits will help you and anyone you may be working with in decided what is appropriate and not appropriate.

These types of gatherings can be an important part of life and of your recovery when you are ready.  The very same gatherings can be destructive and hurtful if you are not.  May God keep you.

—————————————————————————————————– 

Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Relationships in Early Recovery

I remarried in Alcoholics Anonymous, to a man who believes in A.A. the way I do.  (I knew we were off to a good start when he didn’t get angry that I stood him up to go on a Twelfth Step call.) We agreed to never be higher than third on each others list, with God always first and Alcoholics Anonymous second. He is my partner and best friend. We both sponsor several people, and our house is filled with love and laughter. Our telephone never stops ringing. We share the joy of a common solution.
(Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Edition pg 521)

I regularly get questions and encounter people in recovery who are struggling with dating or marriage relationships. There are many in the recovery field that feel that a person should be a year, three years, five years, or more in recovery before starting a relationship. The problem is that many of us going into recovery are married or have children with the person we have been with and so on and this may not be practical. Truthfully many of us also will simply ignore some parts of the recovery program we are in to do what we want anyway, so what do those of us who have relationships do to make them work?

I cannot tell you how to magically make these relationships work, but the “Big Book” does mention some of the key issues that will help.

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

The same root problem that is described in the Big Book as the root of our
addictions is also poison to our relationships. Some people take from the
other person and don’t give back. Some people give to the other person as a way to force that person to respond in some way you wish him or her to (such as appreciation, compliments, etc.). That is also a sort of selfishness it is just disguised as giving. It is manipulating another person to get your own needs met. Some people want someone to make the tough decisions, and help direct them in some way. In other words some of us like to be told what to do. The selfish behavior here is in finding a person you can use by allowing them to be in charge so you yourself feel comfortable.

First God, then your own work on recovery and sanity, then the relationship
(each other and yourself), that is the order outlined above. Steps 10, 11, and
12 must be practiced in all our affairs including these relationships. Such
concepts as forgiveness as in Steps 4 and 5 or making amends as in Steps 8 and 9 are key. Being completely willing to have God fix all of your own shortcomings and then asking Him is a must. Focus on the word “your” and no mention of the other person’s shortcomings in the previous statement and in the steps. Of course you cannot ignore Steps 1,2, and 3 in your relationship. You are powerless over your own foolishness in a relationship, but God can and will work in your relationship if He is sought.

But:

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 a collision with something or somebody, even if our motives are good. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 60)

One more thing is to get help in the area of relationships in the same way you
get help in your using. Get the guidance and example of someone who is far more advanced in relationship issues just like you have to get a sponsor and have a strong group around you in recovery.

Annoyance and the Alcoholic, Addict, and Those Around Them

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 the tendency for anyone who is around an alcoholic or addict for any period of time.  Even those who work in recovery find themselves periodically experiencing this felling of “annoyance.” 

Let’s look at this from two perspectives.

 First of all, from the perspective of a sober person who is around a person with addiction or abuse problems

The person we are discussing must in fact be responsible in some way or other for what you feel and I would never try to say that that person can just blame anything he or she has done on the fact of the “disease” or just to say it is the past. 

If that were the intention of 12 step programs there would be no reason for a person working step 4 to look for his or her own part in all of the resentments listed (Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s…We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight. – Alcoholics Anonymous pg 67)

There also would be no use for Steps 8 and 9 for if a person was not responsible for his or her actions when using or due to the “disease” there would be nothing to make amends for.

The thing to consider as any person dealing with or encountering someone in the process of recovery is:  “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

If someone is actually working through the steps properly, conviction for wrongs done to others is a natural and necessary part of the process.  Attacking a person who is trying to go through this may take a deeply uncomfortable situation and turn it into too much to handle.

If you happen to be a person who is working with a person or persons in recovery, you have to understand that your goal is to do no harm.  If you have are going to hurt someone else’s recovery who is looking to you for help by some action, you must not take that action.

I am not saying not to confront these issues, but I am saying to find ways to confront these issues in a way that helps the person and does not hurt.  A good way to start is to talk to that person’s sponsor, counselor, etc. about the situation and plan for an appropriate point in the recovery process to have the confrontation.

For the bottom line look at what it says on pg 108 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

“He is just another very sick, unreasonable person.  Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia.  When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.”

 Now from the second perspective which is the perspective of the person who is going through recovery and others are experiencing this annoyance and it’s directed at you.

First and foremost take a moment to look at what it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous book on page 103

After all, our problems were of our own making.  Bottles were only a symbol.  Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything.  We have to!

This is the basic mindset.  We have hurt these people and have actually done (and may still be doing) things that to many who are not addicts or alcoholics can only be seen as stupid.  The fact that people that we encounter are angry and hurt should come as no surprise.  When it is someone we have been around for some period of time while using he, she or they may have been trying to tell us but we were never mentally in a place where we would listen.  Now that we are sober and at least somewhat coherent some of those people around us may try to seize the moment of clarity to let loose all of the pressure that has been building up in a volcanic eruption of complaints about things you may not even remember and a rush of angry frustration.  It is not okay to try to ignore this person’s (or these people’s) hurt feelings when in fact they are valid feelings from problems we probably caused by our own foolishness. 

You may feel that you said “I am sorry” for these issues and they should just get over it.  This is completely NOT what making amends is about.  “We must take the lead.  A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit that bill at all.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

If we hurt someone badly, it may be that the only way that person may begin the process of healing from what we have done is to yell and scream.  Within reason, this may do more to “make amends” than apologizing.  The tendency is to protect yourself from anything that is attacking and to put self first.  But the truth is that it is likely that selfishness and self-centeredness are the true root of most of your problems (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62) and that this would simply be doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Instead of completely focusing on self-preservation, consider “The Rule”:

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

If it is helpful to the other person this may be the best thing for that person and for you as it is a part of a good Step 9 amends.

I am not saying however to allow abusive people to just be abusive to you, it may also be that the person is just an abusive person and you will have to confront the issue in another way.  You must not however shy away from confronting the issue. 

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

If you need to explain to a person that you would like to confront the issue he or she has with you when it can be discussed calmly, that may help with a person who is particularly abusive or in some cases it may not.  No matter what, however, each issue must be confronted and no matter how much you may think the person is just crazy there is at least some element of truth to what he or she is agitated about.

 To sum up all of this, no matter which of the above you are focus on “The Real Purpose”:

“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)

 

Happy New Year and may your new year be the symbol of a new beginning.