Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 - D for Dying Flowers
Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 – D for Dying Flowers (Photo credit: Creature Comforts)

Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 78)

As we head towards Valentine’s Day, we should all stop and ponder those we care about and those that care about us.  Many alcoholics/addicts are like Bill W. was doing in the passage above and wait until the point where everything seemed doomed and hopeless before even having time to even give any thought to those people.  In other words it’s time for a Valentine’s reality check and a Valentine’s recovery check.  We must look at the people we interact with or should be interacting with and be willing to do whatever is right.

Some of us claim that the people we care about and those that care about us do not exist.  Some of us have reasons (real or imaginary) to be so mad at these people that we forget that we care about these people or that they care about us (that means also forgetting that “resentment is the number one offender pg. 64).  Some of us are so busy being pitiful and feeling sorry for ourselves that we come across as liars or wishy-washy whenever we try to talk to these people.

Whatever the distorted reasons, this is a time of year where there are expectations that true feelings will be shared.

Each of us needs to take this opportunity and be honest to ourselves and to those who care about us as well as those we care about.

That means taking an inventory of our treatment of those who care about us or those we care about.  This also means getting others of more wisdom involved that can help determine what actions to take immediately, but make sure those are people who are truly wise and are not just the “yes-man” (or woman) who repeatedly nods and directs towards the softer easier way which is to avoid dealing with the issues.

There is something I call “The Rule” when it comes to recovery and how we must relate to others if we are to have any hope of recovery:

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

Way too many people (and way to many of them who call themselves sponsors or recovery experts) think the rule is that we are hard on others while always being considerate of our own comfort levels.

The fact is that you need to be hard on yourself and considerate of others.  That also means that the people who you enlist as guides on your journey towards sensibility and recovery need to be on that page also.  They nee to be the types of people that are hard on you while also giving you direction that is always considerate of others.

It is surprisingly easy to find so-called experts or iffy sponsors that will tell you; “Oh, you don’t have to do _____ , that’s too much” etc.  These people are often doing more to damage your recovery than to help whether they mean to or not.

Founding member, Bill W. was plugging right along until he thought the end was near and then he wished he had done all of this differently now that it seemed to be too late.

This all falls into the area of making amends.  Let’s look at a couple of definitions from the dictionary for “amends”:

1.  reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense.

3.  make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult: I tried to make amends for the misunderstanding by sending her flowers.

One thing that obvious is that using these definitions of “amends”, it would be incredibly rare that just saying that you are sorry would qualify as making amends.

The question in this context is how do you make amends for not showing appropriate emotions towards someone who has been caring towards you are someone who you really do care about (like a child that you are the parent of who you love deeply, but they do not seem to see it or know it)?

Saying how you feel is a great starting point, but it is definitely by no means an amends or simply put it is definitely not enough.  It takes a lot of work to repair the hurts of the past.

I know that there are a few out there reading this who are thinking:  “I have done enough that that person should have gotten over it by now and what about my hurts from them.”  Before going on in that conversation I would like to refer you back to what I call “The Rule”:

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

Before you begin, start with the expectation that there will be far more work and struggling to make amends on your part than on the part of the other people involved.  This is just a part of what it takes to overcome the damage you have done to yourself and others through alcoholism/addiction.  IT IS WHAT IT IS!!!

Not to be rude about it, but if you didn’t want to have the pain and suffering that it takes to repair everything when working recovery than maybe you shouldn’t have started using alcohol and drugs in the first place.  This sort of attitude is necessary to create the change in your world that can facilitate and sustain your sobriety.

Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77 – 78)

There is no focusing on what is wrong with the other person or on what they need to do first before I would consider being open and honest with the person, there is just the need for you to do the right thing no matter what the consequences and no matter what the other person’s response.

I understand that there may be a few incredibly extreme cases where a person is physically abusive, or a murderer etc. where the situation would call for this to all be looked at differently and some of these interactions may require the assistance of a professional counselor, but the norm is the direct route with careful consideration for how the other person would be affected.

This may need to be an inventory of its own each year or a part of your other inventories (or both), but Valentine’s Day seems like an excellent time to look at the people that care about you and who you care about (whether secretly or openly) and do something about it.

This is not limited to people you date, are married to or having some kind of intimate relations with; this is for all of those who care about you or who you care about at all.  Use this time of year as a recovery check and a reality check.

Do not wait until you are finished to mirror the words of founding member Bill W.:

There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 8)

AND DON’T FORGET TO SHOW APPRECIATION TO ALL OF THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU OR WHO YOU CARE ABOUT NO MATTER IF YOU NEED TO MAKE AMENDS OR NOT!!! (or you will owe an amends the day after Valentine’s Day).

Stay Sober my Friends;

Wade H.

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

crazy train - 1
crazy train – 1 (Photo credit: adotmanda)

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

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.

He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, “I’ve got religion.”

I was aghast. So that was it – last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had that starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire all right. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

Bill has been trying everything imaginable to get sobriety.  He has failed miserably and is in a deep depression because of it deciding that his only hope is to never draw a sober breath to be forced to think about it.

How is it that when the first opportunity arises to meet a person who he knew was a s bad as he was that found the elusive answer to his problem comes along he does everything he can to destroy this person and then decides that person is somehow worse off then using.

One of the biggest problems we have in alcoholism/addiction is ourselves.  We blame circumstances, other people, the zodiac, God, bad luck, being cursed and on and on.  The truth is we are on the crazy train and we have gotten kinda comfortable there.  So comfortable that although we suspect things might be better if we get off, we also are partially convinced that anyone who is not on the crazy train is somehow missing out and lying about being happy about that.

Our alcoholism/addictions lie to us to keep us trapped, but the liar is not an intimate bottle or pipe or needle or pill etc.  The liar is a part of our brain that has to be overcome to even start recovery.

Bill W.’s goal here was not to listen to the miracle and see if he could do the same thing.  Bill’s goal was to prove that nobody could do it if he couldn’t.  Once that failed, rather than take in what he was saying and really work for it, his next goal was to ignore him as background noise to use to in spite of the fact that this person had come to blow his high.  He decided that what he had to say would be a distraction but he felt he had more alcohol than this person (Ebby T.) had time and talking energy.

Recovery requires a lot of overcoming, a lot of decisions, and a lot of actions that follow those decisions.  One of the first is the decision not to listen to your own crazy.  You have to decide to get off of the crazy train.

You are going to have ridiculously stupid thoughts and idea about recovery, in recovery and in fact you will have some throughout your life sober or not.

When starting recovery, you are not yet equipped to pesh these ideas to the side, s in the beginning you just have to not listen and get in contact with people who can help you overcome your inner stupid.

In this case, the man just kept going and would not give up.  Some of us are not lucky enough to have that person, yet we still need recovery.  You need to go find those people.  They are at meetings, in online groups, in residential and outpatient recovery programs at your local clinic etc.  Be desperate to find those people.

I am a person who has mixed emotions about the concept of ninety meetings in ninety days, not because it is a bad idea, but because it is misleading.  It is not just being in the building that helps (although it is a huge step in the right direction).  It is what you take in and respond to (as well as what you do not take in or listen to).  You have to seek out the right people and avoid the bad people and bad information.

Desperately seek out the people who will help you stop listening to the inner stupid and run from the people who will do all they can to call out the inner stupid.  Some will be like Bill was and do more to try to destroy you rather than seek to help.  You are supposed to be that helper to them when you are ready.

There is help, but it starts with not listening to the stupid that we all have going in then we are able to learn how to be stronger than that inner stupid and get off of the stupid train once and for all.

Stay sober my friends,
Wade H.

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

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

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

Every once in a while I revisit the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness as the root of our troubles (see Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62) and look at that concept from another angle.  This is another of those times. 

Look at these two quotes from Bill’s Story:

Here was love, applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor. I forgot the strong warnings and the prejudices of my people concerning drink. In time we sailed for “Over There.” I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 1)

The drive for success was on. I’d prove to the world I was important.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Look at the statements:  “I was [art of life at last” and “I’d prove to the world I was important.”  What do you see in these statements?  Clinical folks might talk of signs of self esteem issues or narcissism or blah blah blah blah…

Let’s make it simple with the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness in mind.  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Selfish = : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

Self-centeredness = : concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests

For recovery purposes I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable.  If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.

Dr. William D. Silkworth in his contributions to the Alcoholics Anonymous book says it this way:

They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – The Doctor’s Opinion – pgs. Xxvi-xxvii in the 4th edition)

Did you notice that in the above quote from Doctor Silkworth the “restless, irritable and discontented” part exists prior to any using?  We are always wanting to be on the go, we can be easily frustrated or irritated, and are not happy with where we are, what we have or what we are doing.  This may be a huge generalization, but to some degree or other these are often the case with addicts and alcoholics even in sobriety.

Let’s look at the passages from Bill’s Story and notice these ideas in the quotes we looked at earlier. 

Clearly Bill W. was not happy with who he was and where he was in life during these times.  He basically didn’t like himself.  Suddenly when he encounters nice people and drinking (really he discovered nice people and tipsiness) he feels a temporary sense of comfort he doesn’t remember feeling before.  (I was part of life at last)

Later he feels lonely and decides that he wants to feel that same comfort, so he simply tries to repeat what he had done at the previously mentioned party.  He did some drinking (I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol)

In another quote we saw that Bill stated that he’d “prove to the world” that he was important.  He didn’t feel like the world knew he was important (he possibly didn’t feel like he was important) and felt the need to prove it.  In other words he was “restless” and “discontented” and needed to experience some sense of ease and comfort from the restlessness and discontentment. 

At that point Bill had decided that becoming a lawyer would give him a sense of ease and comfort, but when it wasn’t’ doing it he turned back to drinking.

Potential alcoholic that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Later, the answer do his being “restless, irritable and discontented” was going to be Wall Street.  Yet although he made an enormous amount of money on Wall Street, he still did not overcome his restlessness, irritability and discontentment. 

By the time I had completed the course, I knew the law was not for me. The inviting maelstrom of Wall Street had me in its grip. Business and financial leaders were my heroes. Out of this alloy of drink and speculation, I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its flight like a boomerang and all but cut me to ribbons.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

This should have completely satisfied him, but he was restless, irritable and discontented.  But, Bill still had lots to prove to the world.  He moved next to playing golf and becoming the greatest golf player there ever was.

In 1929 I contracted golf fever. We went at once to the country, my wife to applaud while I started out to overtake Walter Hagen. Liquor caught up with me much faster than I came up behind Walter. I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

Then the stock market crashes, he goes broke and many of his friends commit suicide.  He is lucky enough to find a friend that not only still has plenty of money, but is willing to take care of his family.  He should be okay, but he has to use to get that true “sense of ease and comfort” and in the process destroys the relationship leaving him completely broke with nothing.

Next morning I telephoned a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left and thought I had better go to Canada. By the following spring we were living in our accustomed style. I felt like Napoleon returning from Elba. No St. Helena for me! But drinking caught up with me again and my generous friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

In all of that you may or may not have noticed, but his constant focus on his own ease and comfort not only led him to be constantly disappointed even when he was successful but also led him to have to constantly run back to the ARTIFICIAL ease and comfort of using.  If even success could not give him the “sense of ease and comfort” he was seeking he had to go back to what always made him feel “a part of life at last.” 

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. 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.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

This idea of constant ease and comfort is absolutely self-destructive.  We do everything we can to get the world to work as we would like it to and rarely does it even kind of cooperate.  This can only lead to frustration, more frustration and worse frustration.

So to bring the idea home lets just go back to the basic point:

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

If this is the root, then solving the puzzle of your own selfishness or never-ending desire to be comfortable is a key focus.

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

No matter if a person is brand new to Twelve Step recovery or if a person has been working Steps for years and years:  THE MORE FREE FROM SELFISHNESS AND SELF-CENTEREDNESS YOU BECOME, THE BETTER YOUR RECOVERY.  The less free of selfishness and self-centeredness you are the more you are continuing the self-destructive mindset that keeps you in bondage. 

If you are not overcoming this selfishness and self-centeredness you are not in the process of Twelve Step recovery you are just doing “stuff.”

Wade H.

Family, Dating and Marital Relationships in Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about if not confronted or if confronted improperly? 

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

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

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

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

 Wade H.