More Than Willpower

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More Than Willpower

I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape; they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.   (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. xxix – xxx [4th Edition “The Doctor’s Opinion”])

This is a very interesting concept that must be considered by all of us in recovery, all of us who work with others in recovery and all of us who are around alcoholics and addicts.

There is a common idea that is often verbalized that people who are alcoholics/addicts are basically people who do not have the willpower or are not focused enough to use their willpower to stop using.  Amongst many of us that are working recovery many of us focus on the idea that I have to just decide not to use and if I am about to use I just need to decide harder.

I am not saying there is not some truth to this, but I also think there is more to it.  It does strike me strange that so many people think that that is where a person is going in recovery when it is also where most of us start in recovery.  For example most recovery programs require you to use your willpower to stay sober while in the program yet they also assume you still need the program in spite of the fact that you are “willpowering” sobriety from the start.  

It seems ironic that so many people decide that the very things that were the bare minimum to start recovery are to become the finish line and magic cure also.

The real problem is that quite a few of us have enough willpower to abstain for periods of time, yet periodically, without warning we relapse.  Some of us have a knack for waiting til the worst moment imaginable to relapse.

He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 21)

People think it must be a stupid person or a person who should just be put away in a padded room somewhere that cannot willpower himself/herself sober.  That goes double for a person that is doing great on his/her willpower then suddenly at the worst possible moment relapses.  Take a glimpse of how this was worded in the 1930s:

How many times people have said to us: “I can take it or leave it alone. Why can’t he?” “Why don’t you drink like a gentleman or quit?” “That fellow can’t handle his liquor.” “Why don’t you try beer and wine?” “Lay off the hard stuff.” “His will power must be weak.” “He could stop if he wanted to.” “She’s such a sweet girl, I should think he’d stop for her sake.” “The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again.”

Now these are commonplace observations on drinkers which we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of ignorance and misunderstanding. We see that these expressions refer to people whose reactions are very different from ours.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

These statements contain some truth, and most of us who have lived through the worst levels of alcoholism/addiction have had to admit at times we have been stupid and probably should have been in a padded room for our own protection.

The truth is that we are not stupid (although there is probably a good case for temporary insanity) and there is hope outside of a padded room.  The problem is that that hope cannot lie solely in our ability to use willpower or whatever abstinence we do get will break down sometimes at the worst possible moment.

Willpower cannot be the solution because there are parts of your mind that fight for that one more buzz or high while other parts of your mind are mortified by the idea.  There are things going on in your body that make you want to use sometimes desperately.  There is obviously more to all of this than just changing your pattern of thinking and using willpower more.  We have to change whatever causes us to think the things we think and to act the ways we act.  There has to be some kind of change at the core of our being that leads to changes in why we think what we think which means it causes change in what we think.

The doctor said: “You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you.” Our friend felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang.

He said to the doctor, “Is there no exception?”

“Yes,” replied the doctor, “there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 27)

The ideas, emotions, and attitudes which have been the guiding forces of our lives have to be cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives has to dominate us.  IF WE ARE NOT CHANGED WE ARE THE SAME AND CAN EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS!  The alcoholic/addict who is still the same but is using willpower to remain abstinent has not found the answer.  That is a person who is just making the first baby-steps towards beginning the process.  Abstaining by willpower is not the end zone. Abstaining by willpower is more like getting dressed to get on the field and hopefully, get in the game. 

This change has to be a massage change of everything about the person from the deepest level’s of his/her being.  This is the measure of this “vital spiritual experience” that Dr. Jung is talking about in this discussion.

Recovery cannot be measured by how sober you are:  YOU CAN RELAPSE AT ANY MINUTE AND HOW SOBER YOU WERE THE MINUTE BEFORE WILL NO LONGER MATTER!  How deep you are changed and how changed you are is a better measure.

There is more to the process and a lot more detail to getting to the depth of change we have been describing here.  The main point is that just using mind control to force yourself to do something that your mind has probably failed miserably at on previous occasions is absolutely not the solution to your problem of alcoholism/addiction.  We are talking about a completely new way of living that includes abstaining from alcohol and drugs as a byproduct of the change:

I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42– 43)

I beg of you, if you are seeking recovery seek more than just abstaining by willpower.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

The Misleading Mindset

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The Misleading Mindset 

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. 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 pgs. 39– 40)

This passage is an excellent description of the mindset that misleads many people in recovery.  There is this crazy idea that the memory of the problems that using has caused in the past and attaining a whole lot of information about using, recovery and myself will keep me sober.

There are some people who use heavily who can think themselves sober and in reality, there are some people who are pretty messed up from using that don’t need to learn, think or any of that; this (small) group of addicts/alcoholics just decides to stop and never uses again.  The problem is that many of us in recovery (more like most of us) are not in either of those categories and need to come to terms with that before we can even consider ourselves having started recovery.

Thinking and learning in and of themselves are not enough for most of us to remain abstinent (although they are important parts of the process). 

Look at the conclusion to the story we started with:

“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)

There are moments when your body and some parts of your mind will have such a desire to use that the parts of your mind that you would like to use to force yourself to stop will not be strong enough to overpower the desire.  One desire within your self will be trying to resist a desire that is in your body and mind and that is often also driven by your social and spiritual health (or lack thereof).  Recovery has to be approached from all four of these areas to have any hope or to even be considered recovery.  The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps) knew this to be true:

We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone concerned with a drinking problem.

Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these matters are, from their very nature, controversial.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

There is hope for those of us who are at the most desperate levels of alcoholism/addiction.  This hope relies on us not getting sucked into the flawed idea that “information is what will keep me sober.”  INFORMATION WILL NOT BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  Information is just one of the tools that is supposed to help get you to what will keep you sober.  Look at the information that the early A.A.’s gave to the man in the story we started with when he relapsed:

“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.

“Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems. I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42– 43)

The solution is described here as “a way of living” that is more satisfying than anything before.  The hope of recovery rests in finding a completely new way of living.  A new basis of life that will result in changes in the way you think and why you have those thoughts, changes in what feelings you have and why, all of this leading to changes in what you do.  In other words:  RECOVERY IS ABOUT ENDING UP BEING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON THAN WHO YOU WERE WHEN YOU STARTED.  IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED, YOU ARE THE SAME AND WILL GET THE SAME RUSULTS.

If you do not plan on being changed completely, then you do not plan on getting recovery.  If you do not aim towards a new way of living that is infinitely more satisfying than any way of living you have had before you have decided to stay with the same way of living and have decided to continue to live the life of an alcoholic/addict.

I beg you to move beyond knowledge to the desperate desire to be a completely different person, because that is where your hope lies.

 

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.

Learning Yourself Sober?

Learning Yourself Sober?

But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 39)

The idea that you will be unable to stop using by gaining information alone is a very important point that must not be ignored.  It is amazing how many people are interested in learning themselves sober.

Information
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Don’t get me wrong, I obviously think that learning alcoholism/addiction information and recovery information have an important role in the recovery process, but I am not under the misconception that if a person gets enough information that the fact they have enough information will magically keep that person sober.

This is one of the grave errors that many of us in recovery and many of us trying to help others through recovery often make.  We assume that somehow the right amount of information will keep you sober, it is just a matter of getting you to swallow enough data.

My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his kindness and that of my mother I was placed in a nationally-known hospital for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called belladonna treatment my brain cleared. Hydrotherapy and mild exercise helped much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained that though certainly selfish and foolish, I had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.

It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three for four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer – self-knowledge.

But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 7)

This man (Bill W.) understood himself and why he did what he did.  That knowledge made him feel like he had struck recovery gold.  He was filled with information about alcoholism/addiction but was not able to abstain from using for long even with that information.  He actually felt worse after relapsing with all of that information than he did without the information. 

Here is the truth:

INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!!!

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)

Notice the words “way of living”.  The information does nothing unless you end up with a new way of living.  How good or useful the information is to you can be measured by how much the information creates positive change in you.  If the information does not create change in you it is merely occupying space between your ears.  In one story the result is described this way:

I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42-43)

This is the objective:  A new way of living more useful and more satisfying that the one you had before, no matter what your old life looked like.  Information is simply one of several tools used to get you there, but the attainment of information is not the destination.  

Your goal in recovery is to be a different person than you have been, so you will do different things than you have been so you can end up getting different results than you have been.  If you stay the same, you will do the same and get the same or worse results. 

How much you know does not necessarily come into play.  For example there are people who are highly educated, well educated in recovery information, who have been in and out of programs of all kinds who are somewhere getting lit at the same time as you are reading this.  There are also people dumb as stumps that getting the same kind of high at the very same moment (possibly they are together).   I suppose one is smarter about doing something incredibly stupid and one is stupidly doing something stupid, but they are both doing exactly the same stupid act:  Destroying their own lives.  The amount of information retained has not even come into play, nor has the lack of information.   They are simply to people who are intoxicated or drunk or high or “on one” or whatever.

I obviously think information is a great help to those of us working through recovery and to those around us.  The key is that I feel it is only helpful if you can use the information to help you change. 

I suppose a great method to use whenever you take in any recovery information is to ask yourself what I should change about myself or do differently because of what you learned.  If you are serious about these changes, you ought to write each one of these things to change about you down and really work on changing these things.  You might also get others to help you with each thing you think you should change.  And remember:

EITHER YOU ARE CHANGING OR YOU ARE STAYING THE SAME!

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.