The Solution vs. The Confusion

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The Solution vs. The Confusion

He was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed. Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic insanity. I wondered how he had escaped. Of course he would have dinner, and then I could drink openly with him. Unmindful of his welfare, I thought only of recapturing the spirit of other days.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

 

The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?

I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.

“Come, what’s this all about?” I queried.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

By the time we hit this point in founding member Bill W.’s story, he has tried to get sober several times, his whole world is coming apart (already has come apart) and he is sitting around waiting to die.

He has a friend (Ebby T.) who was as much an alcoholic as he was, who had sunk so far that he heard he had been committed.  Suddenly this guy shows up and he is sober (apparently a “condition” Bill had rarely ever seen him in).  Bill had been trying and desperately wishing to get sober and when he finds one person as bad as he was his first response is to try and get that person to relapse.  Then when the guy refuses, he is disappointed.

Bill, of all people, knew how strong the temptation to relapse is.  Bill, of all people, should have wanted to rejoice in his friend’s freedom and desperately sought to find the same solution.  Bill, of all people, should have wanted to help his friend instead of attempting to destroy his world with relapse.

The truth is that in recovery the people around you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.  They may not know which they are, but they are. 

Here is a fact to keep in mind:  The fact that a person has good intentions (or thinks they have good intentions) does not mean that whatever he/she does is good.  For example, lots of people have it in their mind that a person who is sober cannot possibly be a happy person.  So if such a person encounters a person who was miserable using and has finally struggled through recovery and has found some short time of recovery, the person who feels that a sober person cannot possibly be happy will try to convince that person to use, believing that getting that person to use is doing them some kind of favor.

The fact is that if a person who uses so heavily that to use is to destroy his/her life get’s sobriety there is no reason to use again.   A person who is trying to get such a person to us, no matter what the intentions are, is attacking that person and everything he/she cares about.  Whether a person intends to attack or unintentionally attacks does not matter when the attack has the potential to destroy your whole world.

What is the difference between a person who gets angry with you and shoots you in the head and a person who mistakenly thinks that the best way to make your headache go away is to shoot you in the head?  Once you are shot in the head, the intentions matter very little. 

If you are a person in recovery, it is very important that you understand that some people are simply not safe for you to be around, no matter what their intentions are or seem to be. 

If you are the friend or loved one of someone in recovery, there is so much more than just what you intend to do or don’t intend to do.  Again; you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.  If you really want to be a part of the solution, you are going to have to learn a lot about recovery also.    You may have to learn about codependence and about how to not be an enabler.  You may have to be more understanding or learn “tough love” as the case may be.  That person’s alcoholism/addiction may have changed you also in ways that need to be changed back.  You may also be an addict/alcoholic and have to seek recovery also.  You may not have had anything to do with their using (or just think you didn’t), but you can be a part of his/her recovery.  If you are not willing to be a part of his/her recovery you probably will become a part of the struggle and resistance to his/her recovery.

Let me be clear however:  The people around the alcoholic/addict cannot make a person recover; keep him/her sober; force him/her to stay sober etc.   What we can do is help make recovery more likely or considerably less likely.  The people around the alcoholic/addict also have the ability to make the person’s life far more miserable than necessary if we are not careful.

A person in recovery needs to limit exposure to the “part of the problem” people as much as possible and spend as much time as possible with the “part of the solution” people as possible (Although some “part of the problem” people cannot be avoided entirely; as a rule, exposure to them should be as limited as possible).  This is what the support groups (meetings) are supposed to be hinged on:

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

These sorts of understanding people who truly engage with each other in this way a an infinite help to anyone in recovery.  A group that meets that is not like this (be it a 12 Step group or otherwise) is lacking something terribly important and helpful to those of us in recovery. 

The kind of people around a person in recovery is of the incredibly important and if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, the kind of person you are is incredibly important.  Founding member of Alcoholics Anonymous describes how he was drawn in to the group of people that wanted to help him this way:

About the time of the beer experiment I was thrown in with a crowd of people who attracted me because of their seeming poise, health, and happiness. They spoke with great freedom from embarrassment, which I could never do, and they seemed very much at ease on all occasions and appeared very healthy. More than these attributes, they seemed to be happy. I was self conscious and ill at ease most of the time, my health was at the breaking point, and I was thoroughly miserable. I sensed they had something I did not have, from which I might readily profit. I learned that it was something of a spiritual nature, which did not appeal to me very much, but I thought it could do no harm.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 178)

I think a clearer way to state all of this is:

The people around the person in recovery and the alcoholic/addict are either part of the solution or a part of the confusion. 

Which are you and which are those around you?

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. 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)

Things you can't do at the Scenic Overlook
Things you can't do at the Scenic Overlook (Photo credit: maveric2003)

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. 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)

For some of us who are in recovery this rings very true to each one of us.  For others of us who suffer with these kinds of cravings, we are not familiar with the idea because our cravings are disguised as what we believe to be logical thoughts.

In other words some of us are having deep cravings to relapse but we keep telling ourselves that the “crazy-talk” going on inside our head is really sensible reasoning.  Thoughts like: 

“That person uses and seems to be doing fine, I just need to use like them.” 

“If I change to _______ it is not what I normally use so it doesn’t count.”  

“I cannot handle life like this; I just need a little to mellow out.”

“I cannot handle life like this; I just need a little to help me focus.”

These and similar thoughts are the proverbial “devil on your shoulder” trying to talk you into self destructive craziness.  Anytime we find ourselves listening to that voice or pondering what it has to say, you are well into the kind of cravings we are describing here.

For some of those around us, we may even seem to be more fun or somehow better when using.  These people may even try to help us find reasons or ways that we can use safely.  They become (whether knowingly or unknowingly) the voice of the devil on our shoulder.   Look at this passage:

He enjoys drinking. It stirs his imagination. His friends feel closer over a highball. Perhaps you enjoy drinking with him yourself when he doesn’t go too far. You have passed happy evenings together chatting and drinking before your fire. Perhaps you both like parties which would be dull without liquor. We have enjoyed such evenings ourselves; we had a good time. We know all about liquor as a social lubricant. Some, but not all of us, think it has its advantages when reasonably used.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 110)

The fact is, if you find yourself in recovery, in jail, in a hospital due to your using, being told by recovery or psychological professionals that you have an alcohol/drug problem, you have legal, social or family problems that others tell you are because of your using etc. you can never safely use. 

All of the ways we looked at before that disguise the craving or if you are just fighting an obvious craving, the focal point is should not be what the reasons, reasoning or feelings are to use.  The focal point is one question:  Can I ever use safely? 

Let’s focus on the idea of comparing ourselves to other people that use and seem to still function reasonably or who in some cases seem to function perfectly.  There are many reasons a person could give why this may just be appearances or that these people are only functional in some ways etc., but these arguments have little to do with the real point that is being missed.  It doesn’t matter if that person is the smartest rocket scientist on the planet who smokes crack for breakfast, drinks moonshine for lunch, shoots heroin for dinner and is a tenured university professor in the evenings while smoking methamphetamines during class breaks.  That is them!  The point is you are not that person.

This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

All of this is tied to Step 1 of any Twelve Step program:

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

Part of recognizing that you are powerless is the idea that you are not like that person or any other person:  YOU ARE YOU!  EITHER IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO USE OR IT IS NOT!  No matter what you see others doing, no matter what ideas you can come up with that make this time or this way different, no matter what someone else is telling you makes it safe for you; EITHER IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO USE OR IT IS NOT!

Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore nonalcoholic.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 31)

Neither does there appear to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of our kind like other men. We have tried every imaginable remedy. In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30– 31)

All of us at this level of using have a problem:  WE ARE DRAWN TO BEING INTOXICATED.  We have a particular way of getting there and type of “high” that we prefer (A.K.A. our drug of choice) but our true love is the “high”.  There are different reasons, and different preferences, but we have one thing in common:  the deep, compulsive desire to be intoxicated. 

Whenever we give in and use something that can get us intoxicated we are in terrible trouble.  No matter what the reason, no matter who else can do what with no problem, no matter if it is your preferred “high” or not, no matter if it is strong as what you usually drink/use and on and on.  In recovery a key rule to remember is:  YOU ARE EITHER SOBER OR YOU ARE NOT!  There is no “kinda sober” or “partially sober” or “almost sober”:  EITHER YOU ARE OR YOU ARE NOT SOBER.

If you are at the more advanced levels of alcoholism/addiction then any time that you are under the assumption that you can control your desperate desire to be intoxicated you are convincing yourself of a lie.  That is a complete breakdown of Step One in your recovery.

In the original Twelve Step materials (the Alcoholics Anonymous book) the authors described this as “The Great Obsession”:

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)

This terminology is a great description.  The word obsession is defined at Dictionary.com in these ways (Obsession @ Dictionay.com):

  • the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
  • psychiatry – a persistent idea or impulse that continually forces its way into consciousness, often associated with anxiety and mental illness
  • Compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
  • A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.

The big persistent idea that continually forces itself into your consciousness and dominates your thoughts is the ridiculous illusion that there will be some way to use that will somehow not be destructive to you.

I had some discussions today about things like drinking when that is not your “drug of choice” and how smoking marijuana is not destructive like other intoxicating substances so it should not count (“after all you don’t hear about people killing people on marijuana…”).  It is not the various arguments that are the sign of a problem or the truth/lack of truth of the arguments that is the problem:  it is the fact that a person in recovery is having to try to justify some reason for getting high that is the evidence of a problem.  If it really wasn’t a problem then first off you would not be in recovery, discussing recovery, etc.  Second if these things were really a problem than the obvious thing to do, considering that several people who call themselves experts say it might be a huge risk, if you could really take whatever or leave it would be to leave it all alone just because it is too much risk with too little to gain. (Yet many of us can find the small group of people and experts who have some theory that you can somehow use safely and we run to that with desperation and a sense of relief – another sign of a problem).

I love the arguments for marijuana.  The question I always ask is what would you do if all the marijuana you smoked had no THC and did not get you intoxicated at all.  Most people hate that idea at the core of their pot smoking beings.  The real reason almost all people use marijuana is to get a high.  If you are an alcoholic/addict in recovery then that is the worst possible scenario.  Picture a recovery program with classes all day and group sessions at night and all of the people there are drunk and high.  It might be quite entertaining, but probably not really productive.

The real problem here is not if some people can drink/use safely, the real question is if you can drink/use safely.  If you are in recovery the answer is NO!  The point is to stop using and you want part of your recovery to be using.  You can’t love Mary-Jane, Capt. Morgan, and recovery at the same time.

If other people can use safely then that’s good for them; YOU AIN’T THEM!  It’s you that cannot use safely.  Even the need to argue about what you can use and not use is a part of the craving and the insanity that we all need to be free of.

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

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Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84) 

This change is a huge one for many of us in recovery, but is often overlooked as part of the process.  Tolerance, patience and goodwill towards all especially those we would think of as enemies is a very tall order.  

The ideas of having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men all fall back to a concept that I repeatedly go back too:

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

Having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men are all hinged on the idea that the world is somehow put here to keep you comfortable.  As if it is somehow the duty of every person on earth and of everything that happens to ensure that I am never made uncomfortable.  If something does make me uncomfortable, I either have to express that discomfort to the world around me or to those involved in some way.  Or there is the other unhealthy extreme:  If something makes me uncomfortable, I will keep it to myself (along with everything else that has ever made me uncomfortable) and let these feelings pile up until I become some uncomfortable with so many things that I can hardly stand to wake up in the morning. 

Both of these extremes are terribly destructive to any hope of recovery and are directly tied to one of the deepest problems all of us who are alcoholics/addicts suffer from:  “Selfishness – self-centeredness”!!!  Here is a rather blunt newsflash:

THE WORLD AND ALL OF THE PEOPLE IN IT WERE NOT PUT HERE TO KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE!!!!

That means that big part of what we have to learn in recovery is that there are things, people and times in life where we are each going to be uncomfortable and it needs to be okay. 

An awesome marriage or dating relationship most often begins with some awkward and uncomfortable conversation when the two meet and a marriage usually starts with a risky proposal and the potential for terrible rejection.

An amazing athlete at some point nervously stepped into the ring, onto the field, into the arena, onto the court, etc. for the first time with great discomfort.

The greatest scholars in the world most often become that way by years of challenging schoolwork and research that monopolizes all of their time and energy. 

Even the process of getting to all of the promises of recovery involves a trip through a great deal of discomfort, not the least of which is learning to be empowered by discomfort instead of avoiding it at all costs.

As a matter of fact, everything that will lead you to greatness is tied to some level of discomfort.  The new mindset has to be to embrace the necessary discomforts and to properly deal with the unnecessary discomforts. 

In the passages quoted above, we are speaking specifically about people who make you uncomfortable and the exact same ideas apply.  Some people who make you uncomfortable are actually providing the good kind of discomfort.  Some are providing kind of discomfort that you need.

A healthy parent, for example, will not keep a child comfortable at all times.  A child who is allowed to do whatever he or she feels no matter what is a child that will not learn what is needed for a successful life.  A child who constantly hits other children needs to be made uncomfortable to understand that hitting is okay.  That may mean just being told not to do what he or she feels comfortable doing or may be as dramatic as spanking, but discomfort is part of the process.

A good or a productive sponsor is not going to let you only do what you are comfortable with.  As a matter of fact, if you are truly and alcoholic/addict the mere idea of being abstinent to work through recovery is terribly uncomfortable and everyone trying to help is directing you to and through this uncomfortable experience.

How much of the discomfort you get from others is actually needed for you to grow or is retaliation for something you have done to them in the first place.   

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

One more has to do with the occasional occurrence where a person makes you uncomfortable, hurts you in some way or outright ticks you off for no apparent reason.  Is it possible that that person is suffering in some way or is somehow emotionally/mentally sick in some way?

Those who are familiar with Steps 8 and 9 will understand that a big part of working those steps is getting people to see that you were sick when you made them uncomfortable or hurt them and you are in the process of getting better.  For some of the people we made uncomfortable or who we hurt that is a lot to ask of them, but by the time you are doing those steps, you should know that this is the truth.  Is it possible that some of the people who make you uncomfortable or who hurt you are sick in the same way you are/were and simply have not gotten better yet.  This is what the first passage we quoted from page 70 was describing:

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Maybe it would be far less selfish and self-centered to try to help such people get better rather than to try to force them to keep you comfortable.  The least you could do (assuming you are trying to not be as selfish and self-centered) is to be tolerant and patient with them knowing that they may be suffering as you have been. 

This is a concept that is deeply involved in working your 4th and 5th Steps.  The quote from page 70 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book is in a passage describing how you know when you are completed with a thorough personal inventory.   In other words you are not completed with your Step 4 (and definitely not completed with your Step 5) if you have not “begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies”.   If you were under the impression that you had done a thorough Step 4 or Ste p 5 and you have not seen or experienced this sort of change in yourself, you have missed something incredibly important to your recovery and to your life.  This is one of the key building blocks of building the new you.

To get different results in your life, you will have to be a different person.  To get new results in your life, you will have to be a new person.

After all a huge part of the whole recovery process is getting this new attitude.  At the end of the information about Step 4 the idea that a new attitude is a key goal of Step 4 is made completely clear:

Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about it? We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path. We have admitted certain defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 72)

In most cases not having enough tolerance, patience, or not showing enough goodwill toward all men (and women) are key obstacles in our path and list key attitudes that must be changed.

Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.