Recovery: More Than Information and Memories
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)
Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse? We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back. I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.
Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:
“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. 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 pgs. 41-42)
Here is the issue that this man is describing. This man did what many of us do in
recovery. He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan. Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.
He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 40)
The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking. If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold.
I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie: They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission. I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs. In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.” No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it.
Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice. This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”
The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all. In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)
The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored. The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?” Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.
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 pgs. 42)
Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”). That is why so many of us are fooled: The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using. Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.” The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.
Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough. The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough.
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 pgs. 42)
To put it bluntly:
INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change. More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.
The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1. If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless.
I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use. I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.