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.

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How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 85)

One of the best ways to ensure your recovery survives the holidays with family, partying, Black Friday and Cyber Mondays, crowds, expectations and so on is to be proactive.  There are many reasons that can come up that might cause a person problems with his or her recovery, but the most dangerous are the subtle changes that we do not notice in time to respond to.  If you are waiting until you have a problem with your recovery to take action, you are resting on your laurels as described in this passage.  That means you are headed for trouble.

Let’s take a few minutes and look at one aspect of the subtlety of addiction and alcoholism before we go on with discussing what kind of action we are talking about.

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. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

No matter how far you are along in recovery you are there is a fact that remains true of those that are the most severe addicts and alcoholics.  WE ARE POWERLESS!  If you have trouble with this concept and you are working a Twelve Step program, you are stuck.  You are stuck on Step One:

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

Understanding this idea and responding correctly are incredibly important during this time of year.  A time of celebration for many, a time of incredible stress for many, a time of drinking and using for many, a time for great depression for some, and so on.   Few people go through the holiday season without some profound change of emotion, good or bad. 

If you are totally relying on yourself to remain sober through all that a person encounters, experiences, and feels during the holiday season, you are at terrible risk.  

So what is this “powerless” that the Twelve Step information describes?

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 24)

The reason that I put both of these paragraphs here is because most people hearing the word “powerless” have an understanding that lines up with the first paragraph but that misses the ideas detailed in the second paragraph (as well as a few details in the first paragraph). 

Most people only think of “powerless” as “I cannot stop myself.”  With that limited understanding the next logical thought is that if “I cannot stop myself, then it is not my fault and it is useless to try to stop.”

Let’s look at that concept in detail:

In the first paragraph there are the words “at certain times”.  So whatever is going on here happens periodically and is not a constant.  The idea that; every time I get around someone that is using I just jump in and use, is not a part of the concept of powerlessness as described here.  As a matter of fact, what makes what the authors are describing here so sinister is the fact that it is something that only happens sometimes and you never know when it will happen. 

Think of having something electrical that has a short-circuit.  Whatever it is usually runs okay most of the time, but every once in a while the short-circuit takes over and cuts off the power and whatever it is stops working or has terrible problems.  This can happen with little or no warning and sometimes at the worst possible moments. 

The best example of a short-circuit that stands out in my mind is from a car I have that has a short-circuit in the headlights.  Every once in a long while I’ll be driving at night and the headlamps will just cut off.  When this happens, I just simply reach under the dashboard and jiggle the wires until the lights are on again. 

One night I was comfortably driving up the freeway minding my own business and then at the very same moment that I noticed a California Highway Patrol officer on the side of the freeway watching for speeders, my lights cut off.  I hurriedly reached under the dash to juggle the wires which then made the lights flash on and off until they finally went back to normal.  Could there have been worse timing?  

Without warning and in this case at the worst possible moment, the short-circuit took over.  This is how the “Strange Mental Blank-Spots” mentioned on page 42 are.  They happen without warning and can happen at the worst possible moment.  The biggest difference however is that most of the times that my car lights short out, very little happens and I can just jiggle the wires and move on.  When the strange mental blank spots happen there is usually a full blown relapse to follow.

Every once in a while there is a moment in our thoughts, emotions and resulting actions that will make it impossible to “bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.”  Bluntly put, there are moments that come up randomly, where our minds will not think about the reasons we shouldn’t use with enough force to keep us from using. 

Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

You may be one of the most disciplined people on earth in other things and may think yourself out of using most of the time, but in the short-circuit moments (the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”) those thoughts will either be a distant whisper or will not come up at all. 

Why that is such a problem is that many people in recovery develop only one true defense system and don’t even know it.  That defense system is:  “If I think I am about to use, I will force myself to think about all the reasons I shouldn’t and that will keep me from using.” 

What makes the Strange mental Blank Spots so insidious is the fact that they allow such a defense system to work much of the time so the person gets the idea that the defense system he or she has built works great.  Then without warning it fails miserably and there is this relapse and in some cases there is no sensible reason for the relapse.

…there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

The truth behind the “powerless” idea described in the Twelve Step Information is that it describes a person whose ability to reason sometimes shorts out and at those moments does not have the power to stop the person from absolutely destroying himself or herself. 

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)

You may be new to recovery or you may have been in sobriety since well into the last century, but either way this is something that must be at the very foundation of all of your recovery and ultimately your whole life.  With the changes that transpire in the world around us and within each of us in our own lives during the holiday season it is time for a recovery foundation checkup. 

You may hate the words “Higher Power”, you may be working out the idea of a Higher Power, or you may believe you have the whole Higher Power thing all worked out, but it is time to make sure that your defense is founded on a Higher Power idea that will really works even when your brain doesn’t.  A good place to start is to rework the first three steps as you are heading into the holidays and rebuild your foundation as strong as it can be built.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Something else to do at this time is to go back to the basics.  Go to Twelve Step meetings.  Get together with a sponsor, with mentors, with others in recovery etc. regularly throughout the holiday season.  Be open and humble about your problems with those around you so that there is not confusion and discomfort if you chose to leave situations where everyone is drinking, using, or that are otherwise troubling to your recovery.  In other words the holidays are not a time for taking a break from recovery related activities.  ‘Tis the season to increase your recovery activities.

There is one activity I failed to mention that you hear me mention quite regularly…

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Who are you sponsoring and working through recovery.  If you need more recovery efforts during this holiday season, so do others in recovery.  If you are sponsoring someone, that person needs more focus on recovery and particularly the first three steps just like you do.  If you are not helping someone through recovery, now is the time to look.  Be proactive and look for solutions to the challenges to your sobriety before there is a problem (and teach your sponsees to do the same).  Don’t wait till you are desperate and barely holding on to decide to start trying these things. 

I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

The things I have suggested here and many more things mentioned throughout the Twelve Step Materials are not magical activities that if done in a certain order will align the Rubiks Cube of recovery.  They are the elements of new way of living your life that creates the environment that allows you to remain sober.  The holidays are a time for us to focus or refocus on living the way of life that provides the wonderful gift of recovery as a byproduct of that new way of living.

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 13)

Either you take action as part of your new way of living or you are resting on your laurels and heading for trouble.  

 

Seek the New Way of Living,

Wade H.

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

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

We have been discussing the importance of overcoming selfishness for the past few posts.  That may mean learning to think about someone other than yourself to those of us who are quite obviously self focused.  But, with the definition of selfishness that I used for this study:

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.

…there are other changes from different personality types.  Some of the most giving people or those that spend the most time taking care of others do so simply because of compulsive need to feel needed or to have a person rely upon you which is a passive way of controlling a person.  This is actually not about the other person this is also about being focused on yourself.

I suppose there are many other subtle variations of this, but the variations are not the issue as all of these must be changed.

Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

The actions are not the focus of the change.  The motivations behind the actions are the focus of the changing that we must do and once the motivations behind the actions change, then the actions change also.

In the last post we looked at some of the key actions that must change and touched a bit on a couple of the motivations behind those actions.  The thing we haven’t really looked at is HOW to change the motivations behind what we do.  After all we are talking about changing selfish motivations and we have no idea yet of how to do that.

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

According to this passage, nothing is more important to our recoveries than overcoming the selfish motivations behind what we do.  “Above everything” else we “must” be rid of it or what?  That is the real question.  The answer is most plainly outlined in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the founda­tion principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.  (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

One word best encompasses the change of motivation that we must have to be “rid of this selfishness”:  “Humility!”  According to this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Getting this “humility” is the deepest point behind each step of the Twelve Steps.

This stands to reason in light of the information that we have been studying from the Alcoholics Anonymous book which states several different ways that the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is selfish motivations.

I Googled the word “humility” and here is the main definition I found in return:

A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness (Google search=humility)

In light of my previously stated definition of selfishness I would define humility as:

Having a mindset that does not see one’s own comfort as most important, but that sees the comfort of others as at least as important.  This mindset also understands that experiencing discomfort is a necessary part of life and growth not some ultimate evil to be avoided at all costs.

The gaining of this mindset of humility is key to the Twelve Steps and key to any part of the Twelve Steps.  In other words (according to this passage), anything that you do from the Twelve Steps or as a part of working a Twelve Step program that does not help you gain more humility is not being done correctly.

Something else found in this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book that is interesting is the idea that you can get enough humility to remain sober, but still need to gain more to find happiness.  According to this passage there is a level of sobriety that involves simply being abstinent from drugs and alcohol, yet lacks happiness.  Then there is a higher level of sobriety that has both abstinence and general happiness.  Both levels require attaining some degree of humility but what determines which kind of sobriety you get is the amount of humility one gets.

Plainly put, what this passage is trying to communicate is that the more (genuine) humility you gain the better the quality of your recovery experience.  The more humility you gain the better you will be able to overcome adversity through summoning “faith.”  The more humility you gain the more you can live to useful purpose.

It is a misconception that the point of the program to get you to act differently.  If all you do is “act” differently you are the same at the core of your being and forcing your outward expressions to be something different.  The point is to change the source of the ideas and reasoning behind your actions and the natural result will be the changing of your actions.  If you want to really be different and not just act differently you will have to change the source of the actions and not just change the actions.

Here is the catch.  You know how commercials have that part where the tell you the catch or if it’s a medication they will tell you all of the terrible possible side effects.  Here is that moment in this overcoming selfishness discussion.

Gaining humility will most often require situations that force us to gain more humility or force us to see the need for more humility.  A good word for situations that will nudge us towards gaining more humility is “humiliating”.  Recovery is humiliating to the point of humility.

I Googled the word humiliating and found:

  1. Causing someone to feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect  (Google search = humiliating)
    • – a humiliating defeat

Think of the injuring as not just an injuring of one’s dignity and self-respect, think of it as tearing down one’s unhealthy levels of dignity and unhealthy levels of self-respect.

Another definition in that same Google search was:

    • demeaning: causing awareness of your shortcomings; “golf is a humbling game”

…which I think best captures the idea of the word “humiliating” in reference to the experience of our recovery.  The experience of taking actions and encountering situations that cause awareness of our shortcomings as part of a process that leads you to real change.

The problem is that we are resistant to being humbled and many of our attempts to be humble are surface deep, simply covering selfish motivations which lie below.  How do we overcome the desire to be self focused, self-protective, self-driven, etc.?

Well let’s just look at where you start.  In Step 1, you get the humbling experience of admitting you are “powerless” and that you are “not like other people, or presently may be”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30).  Then you move to something we have just touched in the quotes from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, but have not really discussed in this selfishness conversation yet:

Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This is the obvious answer if you ask yourself one question:  “What comes next after Step 1?”  The answer is obviously Steps 2 and 3:

2.        Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.        Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

When you see the words “we had to have God’s help” above describing the way that we overcome selfishness, we are discussing Steps 2 and 3.  Step 2 is accepting the idea and Step 3 is committing to the idea.  Let’s take these three steps and simplify them by reading more from page 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

The beginning of unselfishness and selfish motives is find a higher motivation for your life.  If you are to stop believing that the world is here to keep you comfortable, you have to focus on the comfort of one other than yourself.

Step 2 is about who that somebody else is and Step 3 is about changing your focus from your own comfort to a focus on the comfort of that “somebody else.”

Look at this passage from the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

The point this section of the book is trying to reveal to you is that everything that one has read prior to getting to this point was focused on convincing the reader of three things:

  1. That the reason that you are reading this and working Twelve Step stuff is because you cannot fix yourself.
  2. That nobody else seems to be able to help you
  3. And that God can help you and will.

That is Steps One and Two.  If you are convinced and truly know you are powerless and are convinced that God can and will help you, then you are ready to look at working Step Three.  The next couple of pages discuss the biggest challenge to this before really discussing Step Three.  That biggest challenge to working Step Three that keeps a person stuck at Step One or Step Two is “selfishness” and “Self-centeredness.”

This is just a taste of what it takes to overcome the selfish motives and selfish desire to be comfortable at all times that we suffer from and a demonstration of how a couple of the steps focus on this, but it is a good place to start.  This is a brief description of the battle with selfishness we have in the first three steps.

The real question is not about this information, but about where you are in readiness to truly let go of control of your life and your attempts to control others for your own comfort.

The key to freedom is letting go of control.  The key to bondage is trying to hold on to control.  The key to the whole thing is God control!!!

Wade H.

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

We have been discussing the first three Steps of Twelve Step programs (please read part 1 before continuing to read this post which is part 2).

If you understand that you are in a desperate situation that has grown so desperate that you have placed yourself beyond human aid, than you are at the point of deciding if you can accept “spiritual help” or not.  Can you or are you not willing to deal with spiritual tools and the topic of God or not?

We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 44)

Did you notice that the terminology of previous quotes (“spiritual tools” “spiritual help” etc.) has now changed to living “on a spiritual basis.”  You may not have caught what just happened, but they just laid out what the desired end result of the program is:  THAT YOU LEARN TO LIVE ON A SPIRITUAL BASIS!   If you cannot deal with any spiritual topics or even discuss such things without tuning out or getting mad, how are you going to “live on a spiritual basis?”

Some people at this point try to say that I can talk of spiritual stuff on my terms, I just don’t like to talk about God.  As long as I accept that something is greater than me (get some humility) I can do everything.

This is true of working Step 1 and for starting Step 2, but is not the case for working Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 and in fact is not even true for being ready to go from working Step 2 to starting Step 3.  I know some feel that God discussion is not necessary and some think it is somehow outlawed in all things 12 Step and that a person at most has to say blurbs about a “power greater than ourselves” of some sort.

I am proposing here that there must be discussion about “God” and that even the “power greater than ourselves” talk is really just a part of beginning the discussion about “God.”

Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?

Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought he had neatly evaded or entirely ignored. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 45)

According to this passage, the Alcoholics Anonymous book and all it contains (including the Twelve Steps which are the source of all other Twelve Step programs) are based on the idea of helping a person find God and learn to live by the principles of God.

Did you notice that God is mentioned directly and bluntly?  In this passage the authors mention that the struggle with the idea of or discussion of God is a problem for many in recovery at this point.  If you are having trouble with what you are hearing right now, it’s okay.  Many people do.  It is something that you are going to have to work through.

You may have to start with terms like “higher power” or “power greater than myself” but you are going to have to understand that we are talking about God and you simply are not there yet.

Did you notice that the word “God” is part of  Step 3.  Before you can start on Step 3 you are supposed to have started turning that corner.  In other words, if you cannot handle the topic of “God” or even the mention of the word “God” how can you work a Step the has “God” as part of its description?

The challenge of Step 2 is to not only believe, but to believe that he can and will free you of all of this alcoholism and addiction stuff.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

Notice the words “Being convinced, we were now at Step Three.  If you are not thoroughly convinced on these three ideas, you are not ready to start working on Step 3.  That means you can only go as far as Step 2 and that is where you are stuck.

  1. Are you an addict or alcoholic who cannot manage his or her own life?
  2. Are you so advanced in your addiction or alcoholism that nothing that normal human power has to offer seems to be able to help you?
  3. Do you believe that “God” can and will help you if you seek Him?

Until you can answer yes to all three of these questions because you are absolutely convinced that they are all true about yourself, you are stuck at Steps 1 and 2.

These two questions are like a test on Steps 1 and 2 and if you are not convinced you have failed the test and have to redo the previous classes before you can go on.

I leave you with thought in summary from the chapter in the Alcoholics Anonymous book that is supposed to teach us how to work with a newcomer:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 98)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

Once a person accepts that he or she is actually an alcoholic or an addict, the next question is obvious…  WHAT NOW?  Well, in reality, knowing you have a problem that you cannot seem to solve is only Step 1.  That means that the answer to what is next is to do whatever Step 2 is.

Look at the first 3 Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.   (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Step 2 is a polite way of stating the fact we started with from page 25:  “

…we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

The key is that the statement we started with from page 25 must be looked at first:  “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were.”  So if you are as far along in your addiction to be one of the people who feel that

  1. Life is becoming impossible
  2. You have passed into the region from which there is no return through normal human aid

You may require more than what people who have not gotten this bad need to overcome your addiction.  A person this advanced in addiction or alcoholism has only two choices according to this passage.

  1. Keep getting more and more miserable on the road to a slow miserable death or
  2. Accept something called “spiritual help”

If you are a person in need of recovery and you do not know if you are “that bad” then you are still at Step 1.  That is why Step 1 has the wording it does.  Think about the idea of being “powerless” and admitting that your life is “unmanageable” when compared to the wording used on page 25 and you see that there is far more to Step 1 than just realizing you have a problem.

Either you life is becoming impossible and you cannot find your way back through human aid or this is not true.  That is Step 1.

A person who is deeply resistant to “spiritual help” or to talk of God is a person who is not finished with Step 1.  This is not necessarily the end of the world (that person may just need more Step 1 work), but there is no reason for that person to be trying to work other steps.

If the authors felt that the only solution is something called “spiritual help” then everything they put together is “spiritual help.”  A person who will not accept or even discuss such things does not want what the authors of the Twelve Steps felt was the only way out.

With that mindset, working steps is taking actions you don’t believe in or want and expecting the good results to come from something else completely. 

The sentence sounds complicated and ridiculous because it is.  The results you are looking for are supposed to come from the “spiritual help.”  The whole program is supposed to be “spiritual help.”  “Spiritual Help” is described as the only way out for people who are this advanced in alcoholism or addiction.

Either “spiritual help” is the only hope or it is not.  If it is the only in fact the only hope, then you  either are that advanced in your addiction or alcoholism or you are not.  If you are, your only choice is if I want to be more and more miserable or accept “spiritual help?”

If you have accepted that you are that desperate, but are having some challenges with the ideas we are talking about, consider this:

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

It is the only option and the longer you resist, the longer you are resisting even starting your journey towards freedom.  If you cannot turn the corner and still find yourself completely uncomfortable with this topic, YOU ARE STILL ON STEP ONE.  It is okay to realize this if you plan to work through it.  If you just want to avoid the topic and move on to other steps, you are simply running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage running in place.  You are doing stuff and getting no place.

If you are one of those people, you should probably spend some time reading all of the previous posts on this blog and reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book (where all things 12 Step found their start) before reading part 2 of this post.  Part 2 will only disturb you more by belaboring the point more and by taking a far more detailed look at the facts behind Steps 2 and 3.

Pink Clouds & Pink Sevens? (Part 2)

 And the first thing you know I was lifted right out of the A.A. group, and I floated higher, and higher, and even higher, until I was way up on a pink cloud which is known as Pink Seven, and I felt miserable again. So I thought to myself, I might just as well be drunk as feel like this.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 304 – “Physician Heal Thyself)

“Why, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve been sober for three months, been working hard. You’ve been doing all right.” But then he said, “Let me say something to you. We have here
in this community an organization which helps people, and this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Why don’t you join it?” I said, “What do you think I’ve been doing?” “Well,” he said, “you’ve been sober, but you’ve been floating way up on a cloud somewhere. Why don’t you go home and get the Big Book and open it at page seventy and see what it says?” So I did. I got the Big Book and I read it, and this is what it said: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” The word “thoroughly” rang a bell. And then it went on to say: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.” And the last sentence was “We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”
“Complete abandon”; “Half measures availed us nothing”; “Thoroughly follow our path”; “Completely give oneself to this simple program”—rang in my swelled head.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 304-305  – “Physician Heal Thyself)

So, what is the solution to this “pink cloud” and the worst cases of this “pink cloud” called “the Pink Seven?” 

Let’s break down the page he was referred and see how it relates to solving this issue:

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.  Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 58-59)

The first point seems to be that it is “too much for us.”  We cannot recover on our own.  But, why was that so important to getting past the “pink cloud” experience?  If you
glance at the rest of page 59, the rest of the page lists Steps One through Eleven this idea seems to revisit Step 1.

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

The “old-timer” that had gotten a hold of him led him to a place where he could see that first and foremost, no matter what Steps or recovery stuff he thought he was doing, he had drifted to a place where he thought he had found the power to stay sober on his own power.  He may have been working Step 4 or 5 maybe 8 or nine, but the “old-timer” felt the breakdown in his recovery that led to his “Pink Seven” was a breakdown in Step 1.

People who have been around me in recovery settings have probably heard me say this “Many of the times that people experience breakdowns of some kind in their recoveries are really experiencing a breakdown in Step 1.”  I am not saying that this is the magic fix all, but whenever I start to struggle, I start by looking at Step 1.  In other words I refocus on the idea that I cannot overcome this on my own power.   All the recovery “stuff” I do or am doing does not give me the power, all of it gives me access to the power or more specifically better access the one who has the power.

Here is the real question to the person riding the “Pink Seven” is:  “What are you so excited about?”  Being sober for a bit is a huge accomplishment for many of us, but any excitement should be about the long journey I am about to take not as much about the journey I have already taken.

Think of it this way, I am about to fly overseas on a trip I really want to take.  Starting recovery and remaining sober for a period of time is like buying the ticket.  It is an exciting moment, because the journey is finally real.  Now, imagine being so excited that you bought the ticket that you go out and celebrate having the ticked so hard that you never actually make the journey.  You would be so busy celebrating the journey and the progress you had made towards making the journey, that you lose focus on the rest of the journey.  The excitement itself is not a problem until it becomes so much of a focus that it becomes a distraction from taking the rest of the journey.

The point is that this distraction is another part of our addiction or what keeps us in our addictions.  Simply put distractions that keep us from working on our recovery are a part of the problem and a normal part of our recovery that must be overcome.

Then this short paragraph moves on to Step 2:

Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

Part of looking at the rest of the journey and a big part of refocusing on being powerless is to realize that there is power available so you can refocus on deepening your connection to that power instead of celebrating out on “the Pink Seven.”

The Second thing that “old-timer” was trying to show this man through this short read was Step 2:

2.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

If there is no escape from something terrible, and suddenly you find out there is a possible escape, should you celebrate the fact there is a possible escape so much that you never actually escape.  That is what “pink cloud” riders are doing.  The truth is that if you are stuck in something terrible where there is no escape and suddenly you hear that there is a possible escape, celebration should be brief if there is any celebration at all.  You have to get on with the business of actually escaping.

Then the passage this man was referred to goes on to say:

…there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. 
(Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

This man was at the “turning point.”  He either had to do something different or keep doing what he had been doing and expecting different results.  Two key points here seem to be:  “asked His protection and care with complete abandon. And “Half measures availed us nothing

All of this brings us to Step 3:

3.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

The one who has “all power” is God and we each need to focus on deepening our relationship with Him.  Some of us know nothing about God, some of us know a little about God (or at least think we do) some of us know a lot about God (or at least think we do), but whatever level of access to this power that we each have, we need more.  You do not have to have a super-deep and super-clear understanding of every detail about God to be able to work all of this out, but you do need to focus your efforts on deepening your relationship with Him.  As it is stated on Pages 99 and 100 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 99-100)

This relationship is stated as what your whole recovery depends upon.  You may not have it, understand it, and in some cases may be opposed to it, but that does not change the fact that this relationship is the point: 
May you find Him now.

Those were three of the points that the “old-timer” seemed to be making to this man, but there is one more point that is much more overarching. 

We have here in this community an organization which helps people, and this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Why don’t you join it?” I said, “What do you think I’ve been doing?”  “Well,” he said, “you’ve been sober, but you’ve been floating way up on a cloud somewhere.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 304-305 – “Physician Heal Thyself”)

The funny thing about this part of the conversation is that if you read through page 304 the man on the “Pink Seven” is already a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and has all the literature etc. that is a part of it.  As a matter of fact he was one of the people most excited about Alcoholics Anonymous.  That explains his response:  “What do you think I’ve been doing?” 

So, why did this guy describe Alcoholics Anonymous to him as if he had never heard of it?  He was being sarcastic as a way to make a huge point.  He had all the Alcoholics Anonymous stuff that the others used and went to meetings and talked the lingo, but he was not actually even close to doing what the others were doing.  He was just acting like he thought a person in recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous should and “talking a good game.”  He had all the emotion and little of the correct action.  Even with the right things he was doing, he was not ding those things correctly or with the right mindset.  That is why the page he referred him to not only covered some very important points about why he was struggling but also was the page that included the steps.

Working recovery is not about acting like your sober, or like your in recovery, it’s not about acting like you are an expert in recovery, it’s not about acting like you are an expert in recovery; it is about
really working on the recovery.  I understand the concept of “faking it til you make it,” as a starting point, but faking it will not give you recovery.  It will only work if you work it. 

I suppose the big underlying point to take away from this is that feeling sober and better is not the same as being sober and better.  Sometimes the “crazy” of our addictions or alcoholism can give us a false feeling of great success that is actually intended to keep us using.  This is the “pink cloud” and in the worse cases the “Pink Seven.”

If you are there are you are wondering if you are there, go to pages 304-305 and 58-59 and take some time to ponder them.  Get with your sponsor or a sponsor and begin working/reworking the Steps beginning with focused work on the first three Steps.

If you are a friend of loved one of someone that may be on a “pink cloud” where he or she is feeling great, talking recovery, and even looking better, but is not doing anything to grow his or her recovery, you may be right to be concerned.  Conversations about the first three Steps are good place to start.  Think of your friend or loved one’s recover like a person walking the wrong way up a down escalator.  To make progress the person has to do a lot of work.  For that person to stay where he or she is requires continued work also. 
The moment the person decides he or she can stop working, that person will immediately begin going backwards (Happy or not.  If happy, the person will just be going backwards with a smile).

If your friend or loved one starts recovery and after a few days or weeks says something like; “I don’t need that stuff any more, I have this under control” or “I feel better now that the problem is gone” there is a good chance that person is off on a “pink cloud” and possible on “the Pink Seven.”  It may take a sudden depression or a relapse (or two) for the person to realize that there is far more to be done.  My advice to you is to talk to this person about these things (although it is highly unlikely they will get it yet) and for you to keep your hope in that person’s recovery but always keep a
watchful eye for things like this so you can be helpful as well as hopeful.  The hope without the help will lead to terrible disappointment for you.

Pink Clouds & Pink Sevens? (Part 1)

And the first thing you know I was lifted right out of the A.A. group, and I floated higher, and higher, and even higher, until I was way up on a pink cloud which is known as Pink Seven, and I felt miserable again. So I thought to myself, I might just as well be drunk as feel like this.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 304 – “Physician Heal Thyself)

A “pink cloud” that is called the “Pink Seven,” what does that mean?  If you have never really experienced these terms in the recovery sense, they may be a little strange and alien to you.  But, many of us know or may even be experiencing the emotion that these terms describe.

I have stumbled across these terms periodically in older 12 Step literature and in my travels inn recovery circles (mostly used by “Old Timers”).  The usage suggests that the term describes a feeling of being better since starting recovery that comes soon after starting recovery.  It isn’t just a normal feeling good that is a result of being sober, the usage describes a euphoric feeling that convinces a person that he or she is better than cured.  It is often described as an “emotionally high” that often convinces a person new to recovery that he or she is so strong n his or her recovery that relapse seems impossible and that he or she is now some kind of expert in recovery.

Part of the idea conveyed in this term is the idea that this “pink cloud” is just the build up to a big letdown.  The point is that it is an overly emotional feeling that makes a person think he or she already has what he or she desperately needs and thus that person will not work his or her recovery. 

I have periodically (mostly with younger 12 Steppers trying to use the term) heard this term used for anyone that is felling better at all in early recovery.  I don’t know that I would use a term like this for everyone that feels a little better due to sobriety, but it is something that all of us should watch for in early recovery.

The author above is describing the worst cases of “pink clouds” as the “Pink Seven” (like the term “Seventh Heaven” = extreme happiness or bliss) and gives us a brief description of the feeling.  A feeling like he was lifted out of the group and such joy that it could only be described as floating.  Then suddenly, he felt miserable and some of know that crazy idea that comes next:  “If I’m gonna be miserable anyway, why not be high or drunk?” 

Then someone who had more “clean time” and had seen all of this a few times helped him understand:

“Why, there’s nothing wrong with you.  You’ve been sober for three months, been working hard. You’ve been doing all right.” But then he said, “Let me say something to you. We have here
in this community an organization which helps people, and this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Why don’t you join it?” I said, “What do you think I’ve been doing?” “Well,” he said, “you’ve been sober, but you’ve been floating way up on a cloud somewhere. Why don’t you go home and get the Big Book and open it at page seventy and see what it says?”
So I did. I got the Big Book and I read it, and this is what it said:
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” The word “thoroughly” rang a bell. And then it went on to say: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.” And the last sentence was “We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”
“Complete abandon”; “Half measures availed us nothing”; “Thoroughly follow our path”; “Completely give oneself to this simple program”—rang in my swelled head.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 304-305  – “Physician Heal Thyself)

This person was giving him a hard time, but he definitely made his point.  The guy in the story had been working on recovery and started feeling great until he “felt miserable.”  He was feeling kinda better but he was having a “Pink Seven” experience and the whole feeling was more of a fake experience that can only lead to bigger problem.  The guy who pulled him to the side lets him know that he had been doing good stuff and had a few months of sobriety but, that he was not yet down to earth

The man in the story had been working through recovery stuff but had gotten so excited in recovery he had separated himself from what the program actually was.  He had been feeling so good that in his feeling good he had missed the point. 

The guy who redirected him in his recovery referred him to page 70 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  If you go to page 70 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book you will not find any of these terms there.  That is because in the first printings of the Alcoholics Anonymous book “The Doctor’s Opinion” which is currently not on normally numbered pages was the beginning of the book at page 1.  In the current editions of the Alcoholics Anonymous book, the page that is referred to is page 59:

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. 

Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
(Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 58-59)

So, what is the solution to this “pink cloud” and the worst cases of this “pink cloud” called “the Pink Seven?”  So far this is just food for thought, In my next post, we will look at this a bit deeper to get a better understanding.