The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

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

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

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

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

 

Wade H.

“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

AA meeting sign
AA meeting sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

Many of Alcoholics Anonymous were like that. Everybody had given them up. Defeat seemed certain. Yet often such men had spectacular and powerful recoveries.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 113)

You may already have asked yourself why it is that all of us became so very ill from drinking. Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The second passage listed is in a chapter named “There is A Solution”.  The idea is that there is hope:  Even if you are amongst the most hopeless and most desperate of alcoholics/addicts, there is hope. 

What it does not say in these statements is that it is this kind of miraculous change is going to be a magically easy process.  Nowhere are you promised that the magic recovery fairy will sprinkle magic recovery dust on you and you will never use or even wish to use again.  There is hard work, a great deal of discomfort, a complete change of who and what you are and a desperation to be free that drives you to continue through all of this.

In the statements above, it is implied that those around you even those closest to you and some experts in the field might even feel it is impossible for you to even change a little.  Using those of us who have walked this path and experienced such impossible change:

  “…in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The question a newcomer should have was stated above:

“What do I have to do?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

There are many paths that claim to lead to freedom many of which even call themselves Twelve Step Programs.  Without going into a major history lesson on Twelve Step Programs just understand the Alcoholics Anonymous book itself to be the source of all things Twelve Steps (there are other sources and observations led to the creation of the Twelve Steps, but they were first seen in the manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous book).

So anything claiming to be doing Twelve Step recovery should line up with the concepts outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book or whatever it is has just hijacked the Twelve Step name as a marketing scheme.  Example:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

There are many I have encountered who think the more complicated the program sounds the more legitimate it must be.  There are self-proclaimed experts coming up with all sorts of complex and deep sounding recovery tasks that are supposed to be the series of puzzles and adventures you are supposed to solve and complete to get the magic of recovery.  As if this were Indiana Jones and the Twelve Step Temple of Recovery.

“Simple but not easy” means that the concepts are simple it is that hurts, fears, angers etc. that make these simple tasks hard for the individual to do.

Do not be put off by the idea that there is this super-intellectual Rubiks-cube that you must solve to work recovery.  The struggle is not in the complexity of the Twelve Steps.  The struggle is in the desire to face hurts, fears, angers, facts, yourself, others, your past etc. on such a deep level and to be willing to finish a completely different person than when you started.

All of this packing on of super-complicated work to be completed and long, drawn out, overly complicated describing and pontificating about what the each sep is to contain in detail is a hiding place to avoid the real struggle each of us has in recovery:  OVERCOMING MYSELF!

In other words, the focus on complexity and the logistics of Twelve Step recovery is often a complete failure to truly have accepted Step 1.  A failure to accept that your situation is so desperate that “I must do anything it takes IMMEDIATELY with all of the desperation of a drowning person.”  This focus on complexity and triviality is simple a distraction to put off or to completely avoid the inner discomfort of working recovery.

We must not hide behind complexity and confusion to avoid truly dealing with ourselves.

We must focus on doing that which we find extremely hard to do or that we desperately do not want to do.

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)

Your recovery hinges on this and you “must not shrink at anything.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79). 

There is hope beyond what seems reasonable and beyond what seems possible.  The direction of this hope is not hidden behind some secret, super complicated series of riddles and adventures that you must undertake and solve; the process is not complex at all.   The challenge that must be overcome to gain what is hoped for is the challenge of overcoming yourself using that uncomplicated process as a tool. 

You must be willing to do the things that your mind and your heart will try all means to avoid. You must be willing to resist fear, to resist your own anger and resentment, to resist your own resistance and to overcome your own foolishness, stupidity, crazy etc.  Do not be distracted by other people’s confusion and so on that keeps you from this focus or your own attempts at creating confusion. 

You are in a desperate situation looking for a miraculous solution to an extremely desperate situation.  There is simply no time to waste in weird endeavors that put off dealing with the real problems.  The mindset needed to work (or even to start working) the Twelve Steps is best described in these 2 questions:

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

A spectacular and powerful recovery is a possibility for all of us.  There is great hope.  YOU JUST HAVE TO BE DESPERATE ENOUGH TO AVOID CONFUSION AND OVERCOME YOU!  That is the how and why that will allow what is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book to work for you.    

Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

When you have the right mindset and focus, then you are ready to start to be changed by what is in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

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

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 36– 37)

 

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

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 43)

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Crux of the Problem:  Obviously

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

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

1:  a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

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

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)???

3rd Rescue Method. If the arms be difficult to...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)??????

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

If you are trying to get or hoping to get recovery, then you absolutely need to ponder these two thoughts. 

  1. Do you want what we have and if so
  2. Are you willing to do anything, including some things you absolutely do not want to do, to get the lifestyle of freedom we have.

These questions are vital to any hope of recovery.

Over the past few weeks I have encountered an inordinate amount of people that are trying to begin recovery who are court ordered or otherwise brought to recovery by another individual.  When I see people like this I usually wonder what their answer to these two questions is.

I heard one fellow, when asked if he considered himself desperate say that he didn’t know.  My immediate first thoughts were, “If you do not know if you’re desperate or not; you probably are not.”   A desperate person usually knows that he/she is desperate.

I have discussed this previously, but desperation is key to being willing to do all of the uncomfortable, unpleasant and sometimes outright scary things that are asked of you in recovery.  For example:

  • People who are not desperate will not be thorough and honest about their Fourth Steps.  There will always be some things that are left off of it, minimized, softened or only partially described on it. 
  • People who are not desperate will not have the strength or desire to make amends to the people that are hardest to make amends to. 
  • People who are not desperate will not take a brutally honest look at themselves as it is too painful.

Desperation is the motivation to go towards and fight through the most uncomfortable parts of working through recovery.

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

That is desperation:  The desperation a drowning person for oxygen.  In light of this example, the idea of being desperate and not realizing you are desperate is a completely foolish idea.  If a drowning person was somehow completely unaware of how desperate the situation is, that person would have no motivation to seek air. 

  • “I probably need air, but I can probably wait.” 
  • “Yeah I know I need air and could drown, but I’m just not ready yet.” 
  • “I wish I could be desperate for air like other drowning people, but I just can’t see it like them.”
  • “Yeah, I know I need air, but I’m not like those other drowning people”

All of that sounds really silly.  Well that is how the idea of recovery without understanding the concept of how desperate you are sounds.  This understanding of desperation is a big part of working Step One and is necessary to even begin the Twelve Steps.

For those of us who sponsor others or are looking to sponsor others, this is an extremely important concept.  It is how you are to know if somebody is even ready for you to work with them.  Look at this passage explaining how to get sponsees:

Do not be discouraged if your prospect does not respond at once. Search out another alcoholic and try again. You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness what you offer. We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy. One of our Fellowship failed entirely with his first half dozen prospects. He often says that if he had continued to work on them, he might have deprived many others, who have since recovered, of their chance.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 96)

The implications of this passage are that if a person is not desperate there is no sense in working with that person.  That person is better off being released to discover how desperate his or her situation is. 

On a deeper level, if you are willing to give of your time, your life and your knowledge to someone why invest all that effort on a person who is not ready.  What about the people who are ready that cannot find someone to help them while you are off wasting time with someone who is not truly ready.  It’s literally letting a desperate person who could be saved die slowly while you are trying to save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.

If you are a sponsor or otherwise work with people in recovery, this must be a major consideration.  If a person does not have this level of desperation for recovery you have to try to get that person to understand how desperate his/her situation is.  If that person cannot reach that level of desperation, you have to be strong enough to let that person go and hopefully get that understanding through life experience.

If you are a friend or loved one who is trying to help a person who needs recovery then trying to make that person work recovery in a way that he/she is not interested in is expecting that person to succeed in recovery without that desperation.  That person has to realize how desperate he/she already is and you can try to explain it to him/her.  If you cannot talk that person into that understanding then you may have to use what many people call “tough love” to help that person understand.  That does not mean punishing that person, but that does mean letting the person suffer from the natural consequences of his/her actions. 

If that person get’s locked up, he/she needs to find bail elsewhere.  If you told that person that, “Next time you are out” then the next time you have to put that person out.  If every time you give that person money for something responsible that money disappears, you are going to have to stop giving him/her money etc. all of that in the hope that he/she will realize that he/she desperately needs recovery at all costs. 

That is what people are describing when they use the term “hitting bottom”.   The understanding that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of going through recovery. 

If you are the person that is starting recovery or even if you have been working recovery, you need to look at your own desperation and ask yourself are you this kind of “ready” for recovery.  That requires some deep honesty and searching and if you cannot say a definitive “yes”, that means some deep changing of your entire mindset is necessary.

It may seem like we are telling you that complete misery must be a part of someone’s life before recovery is possible and that only the miserable recover.  In some ways that is true, but it is not the misery that is key; it is the desperation which in many cases can only be realized when miserable.  That misery can force a person to realize that he/she wants change and more importantly make that person desperate to get it.  Then that person is ready to take the steps.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)
To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: “There is a Solution”

Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We went to live with my wife’s parents. I found a job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

One thing that is terribly tough for those of us in recovery and those around us is to find the balance between facing reality and maintaining some kind of hope. 

To even have any idea of the need for recovery, one must usually see how big the problem is.  A serious reality check has to happen to see how desperate the situation is which will lead to a willingness to take desperate measures to change the situation.

On the other hand sometimes those of us in alcoholism/addiction are so fixed on feeling sorry for ourselves that we use such information to throw a self-destructive “pity party”.  Some of us experience these “reality check” moments regularly (particularly after a relapse) and feel it so impossible to get better or change that it gives us the opposite effect.

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)

This may just be an excuse for using or in politer terms an attempt to self medicate unbearable emotions, but the reasoning does not make any of this any less real to the person experiencing it.  The sense of impending calamity is real to us because it is true to some degree in all alcoholics/addicts. 

To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “There is a Solution”

Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

The message to all of us that desperately need recovery has to be both a clear reality of how desperate we are and a solid stand that there is hope.  If you are a person around one of us who desperately needs recovery and would like for a that person to get free then you must stand strong in your conviction to both parts of the message:  “You are a terrible mess” and “There is a way you can get free of all of this and build a better existence.

There is a disclaimer though.  You know what a disclaimer is; it is that thing at the end of commercial for medications, diet pills, and car manufacturers where after they have made the extraordinary claims, they rapidly mumble what the hidden catch is.  Here is the disclaimer as clear and concise as it can be:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

Recovery is a simple process as far as the explanation of what to do and the laying out of the Steps.  Recovery is not easy because the things you have to do, although simple to explain are really hard to do.  The simple steps outline things we simply do not want to do.  Things that are terribly uncomfortable or that outright hurt:  Things that both our unconscious and conscious minds will want to resist at all costs.

Now here is how the balanced messages of honestly facing the truth and continuing to have hope come together:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Another part of the disclaimer is that each person trying to work through recovery has to be brutally and painfully honest with himself/herself or the process is doomed to fail.

As I have repeatedly said in previous posts:  “Facts are Facts!”  Ignoring them, “candy coating” them, lying to yourself and others about them, etc. is a part of the bondage.  Being willing to first face these things and then being willing to do whatever it takes to be free of all of these uncomfortable things is necessity for any kind of recovery.  That is where the hope is. 

There is hope, but you have to be willing to face and fight through terrible discomfort to get there.  This starts with really facing how desperate the situation really is.  Step 1 states that:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 

And that is truly where to begin once a person has discovered the need for recovery, but a certain amount of Step 1 has to have been completed to begin working Step 1.  I know that sounds confusing, but look at this explanation of what to ask someone before you start working him/her through the Steps:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

The hidden connection between understanding the desperation of the situation and having the hope of getting free is being willing to do anything to get free.  That is where the two seemingly opposites meet.  In other words the bridge between understanding it is a hopeless situation and the hope of freedom is willingness.  This is the starting point of freedom.

Now look at this statement again and it should be a clear idea of the role it plays in the recoveries of others:

How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We have to see how dark it really is to look for and truly appreciate the light.

Stay sober my friends…

 

Wade H.