In Recovery Remember “MY WAY IS THE GET HIGH WAY!!!”
Thus we grow. And so can you, though you be but one man with this book in your hand. We believe and hope it contains all you will need to begin. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 162– 163)
You may be just one man or one woman with this book, but that is at least enough to begin. The reason that is the case is because all things Twelve Step have their beginnings in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.
It will probably require the help of others who know what is in the book to really get beyond just beginning.
The key to all of this is the Alcoholics Anonymous book. The writers of the book intended it to have all the information needed to do whatever it took for them to get the miracle of recovery that was supposed to be impossible for them.
Those of us who live in large cities are overcome by the reflection that close by hundreds are dropping into oblivion every day. Many could recover if they had the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall we present that which has been so freely given us?
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)
People who are at the worst level of alcoholism/addiction like to do things their own way in spite of what others around them tell them to do. That is one of the major aspects of our sickness. We do crazy stuff that causes all sorts of problems simply because we want to and in spite of what anybody says, proves and even in spite of past terrible results.
This brings us to why there was the need for a book in the first place. There was a need for a standard of information that showed the course for recovery instead of letting people just do whatever they thought would work. Most people who are starting recovery have already tried a few of their own ideas and failed miserably and that is exactly why he or she is in recovery to begin with.
Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums – we could increase the list ad infinitum. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 31)
I mention this to clarify the idea that recovery is strongly based on not doing what we want to do or what we think is right but that it hinges on being so desperate to get better that we are willing to do things that we absolutely do not want to do or that we find terribly uncomfortable.
Keeping all of that in mind; I finally get to my point. People in recovery are by nature drawn to cutting corners and doing things incorrectly to keep themselves from being uncomfortable.
If we go through recovery just listening to this person’s and that person’s ideas and concepts of recovery we each will find what we believe is the best way by picking the parts of what each person tells us that we are each most comfortable with. In other words we will use the commentary of others in recovery to search out our own ways to cut corners and do things incorrectly to keep ourselves comfortable.
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)
The fact that people in recovery are usually looking for “easier” ways is not the exception to the rule, it is the rule and must be the rule for getting recovery advice from other individuals.
The only concept that could be used to combat such a universal problem is to come up with a standard of information that could be used both guide a person through recovery and to judge if the information one is getting in recovery is correct or not. There has to be a standard of information that is both the source and measure of all related information.
That is precisely why the alcoholics book was written and why it is a must for all persons pursuing Twelve Step recovery of any kind.
I am regularly astonished by the number of people who I encounter who are either brought to my attention as experts or are self-proclaimed experts that know very little about what is in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.
Many A.A. meetings I have been to have been have been filled with people who are either empty handed or who have brand new, pristine copies of the Alcoholics Anonymous book on their lap (which means they own it, but have never read it).
Often there are one or two people with well worn books who are sitting in these same rooms shaking their heads or rolling their eyes at some of the things people are saying, but politely trying to be supportive of whoever because at least he or she is there and trying.
All of us need to stop it and get back to whatever the standard is supposed to be. Owning an Alcoholics Anonymous book is not enough; we need to read it and learn it (and pass what is in it on to others). We cannot grow in environments where everyone is creating his or her own “softer, easier way” of recovery and expect anything but foolishness.
Let me share a word of warning before you go on however. IN THE LAND OF THE INSANE THE SANE PERSON LOOKS LIKE THE IDIOT!!!!
If you begin to learn what the Alcoholics Anonymous book actually says recovery is, do not suddenly become this angry crusader for truth yelling out page numbers over speakers at meetings. The truth is that many you encounter will not want anything to do with what you have to say simply because it challenges the softer easier path they are on no matter how nice or how rudely you express it to them.
Just share the facts and those who truly are desperate to follow the path that is actually laid out will seek more and will get what they are supposed to be getting. Those that do not care to hear it may be on the path to failure. The bottom line is it is either the Twelve Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book or it is not. Doing whatever you want because it is comfortable to you is not.
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)
Many of us live by the rule “It’s my way or the highway” which means things either go the way I want or something is wrong and has to go. I am proposing almost the dead opposite. Just think of this small statement as the bottom line: MY WAY IS THE GET HIGH WAY!!!
sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)
This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day. This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.
This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.
If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place. On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit. If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.
Either way, openness and honesty are a must! Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with. This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.
If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings. If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop: PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.
The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not. If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.
Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat. It is dangerous, but can be managed.
If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea. Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip: “but, only a little one.”
If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.
I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t. The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.
The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little. That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.
The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction. That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.
The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them. That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs. There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while. If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off. In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.
The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.
To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc. But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).
So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.
You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead! (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101– 102)
An important final note from this passage: If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun. Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.
Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)
Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done. The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable. More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)
This is a key concept that seems to be missed in many recovery circles. I regularly hear people share that seem as though mad at everyone. I don’t have a problem with a person in recovery experiencing those feelings, the problem I have is that nobody seems to feel that it is necessary to try to help these people find freedom from this or to even discuss the fact that these kinds of feelings are death to people like us. That is a long, miserable, prolonged, sinking in quicksand kind of death.
If nobody has noted this important idea for all of us in recovery and for all people working the Twelve Steps to you, let me be the first: ANGER, NEGATIVE FEELINGS AND NEGATIVE THOUGHTS ARE POISON TO YOUR WORLD AND TO YOUR RECOVERY!
That can be multiplied exponentially for one of our worst archenemies; resentment.
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 66)
Resentment is a big killer for those of us in recovery. We have absolutely no room for this ridiculous mess in our lives. Not only can we not have this in our lives we need to take time at the end of each day to search out these kinds of feelings and desperately do all we can to be rid of them before we lay our heads on the pillow and transition into the next day.
When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 86)
Whatever it takes, no matter how drastic the response may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to keep anger and resentment. If you truly understand resentment as a terrible poison for your life then this statement will be painfully clear to you. Whatever it takes, no matter how drastic the response may seem, we cannot allow ourselves to keep this terrible poison in our system.
Sometimes when this is discussed, a few people come to believe that expression of the feelings is the cure and go off on a whirlwind tangent of crazy assaults on all unsuspecting passers by they deem to deserve it. I am not saying that there will never be an instance where you might need to stand up for something or someone, but angry outbursts are simply the same poison in a different color.
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
Did you notice how in the passage from page 84 “fighting anything or anyone” is directly tied to interest in relapsing. Both are tied together with the concept of sanity. Fighting anything or anyone and relapse are insanity and by the time a person gets to Step Ten sanity should have returned. By Step Ten these kinds of feelings and outbursts should be a thing of the past and on the rare occasion that they almost come up, they cause a recoil. The kind of recoil that a person has when they are not paying attention and their hand accidentally touches the hot stove.
Look at these definitions from Dictionary.com for the word “recoil”:
to draw back; start or shrink back, as in alarm, horror, or disgust.
to jerk back, as from an impact or violent thrust
…to draw back in fear, horror, or disgust: to recoil from the sight of blood
That is not to say that angry, frustrated, resentful, etc. are not a part of you are now. What all of that says and what I am saying is that those things absolutely cannot be a part of who you need to become to get recovery.
Who you have been is the problem and who you are supposed to become through the recovery process is the solution. Staying the same is not an option. If you stay the same inevitably you will do the same. If you do the same, you will eventually get the same results.
This may be quite a tall order for some of us and I do not disagree with that assessment. The fact it is hard to change or even hard to want to change however, does not somehow make it okay to stay the same.
As a matter of fact, many of the tasks of recovery are hard to change or hard to want to change (like the fact of using and the need for recovery itself). If you are not willing to run towards these kinds of change and desperately work towards them at all costs, you can count on little if any recovery. A person who will not change has decided to stay the same and can expect the same results.
There are also those who have found some degree of freedom and yet have not found the real freedom we are promised. In many of these cases these attitudes are evident and often dismissed as the result of this lack of freedom yet seldom are these looked at as possibly the reason for the lack of freedom.
Before you can be free of the poisons that the world is trying to shove into your life you have to deal with the poisons you shove into your own life. These angers, frustrations, resentments etc. are the luxuries of the people who do not use, but they are not for us. For us these are among the most painful and prolonged forms of self torture and suicide there can be for us. On the other hand, freedom from these may be your keys to freedom from many evils that poison and devour your life.
The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones
The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We
find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?
Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle.There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)
For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world. Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.
The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.
An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)
The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)
These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned.
Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems: If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.
You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.
The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.
I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person. If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!
If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise. The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past. This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:
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)
If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us. We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery. We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality.
A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened. Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again. This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.
That is the task that must be undertaken at some point. There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely. The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly. The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results. That means relapse and worse!
All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.
Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):
We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give? (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)
According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix. This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY. There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever. Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not.
If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:
This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue.
If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people: STOP IT NOW!!!
You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out. If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:
That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up. (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).
Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.
The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form. Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness. The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly: “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”
As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this. That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!! We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other. We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also. Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.
I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues. I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us. I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.
In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem). And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…” That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.
You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you. Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure. You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her. You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.
If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends. If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.
There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.
We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)
This a segment from the part of the Alcoholics Anonymous book that describes the things that should have happened if you did your Fourth Step correctly. In other words if these things have not happened, you are absolutely not done with your Step Four and should not be trying to move on to Step Five. The change you were looking for has not happened. Or, should I say, the change the authors felt you needed t get sober have not happened.
Look at this passage describing one of the focuses of Step Five:
They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 73)
The implication of this passage is that one of the reasons that there is a Step Five is to help each person get rid of MORE egoism, get rid of MORE fear, and get more humble. This means that a big part of Step Four is to get humility, fearlessness and more honesty according to passage. Step Five merely takes you deeper.
Consider this passage from a page before we start actually reading about doing the Fourth Step:
Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
Selfishness and Self-centeredness! The archenemy of every alcoholic and addict is self focus. This is supposed to be addressed in Step Four directly. If you do not deal with the selfishness and self-centeredness then you stay the same. If you stay the same then you are the same and can expect the same results at some point. In other words: If your recovery does not change you deeply, then you have gone through recovery and come out the same. If you are the same you can expect to do the same at some point no matter how long you manage to put it off.
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. (12 Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)
The focus of Step Four and Step Five (and in reality of all of the Steps) is the attainment of humility. I know I have crossed this bridge a few times, but because it is such a key focus of all we do this topic has to be more of a bridge we cross over daily in our commute to our one day at a time recovery instead a bridge we pass over and never look back at again.
The obvious question that comes up when having this humility conversation is: “What about the people who are not humble who have sobriety time?” I say to that question: “Bring three of those people to your mind.” (I personally know a bunch) How do you like to be around those people for a long time? Honestly speaking, those people make me want to gag myself with a jackhammer.
Some are so miserable and angry about everything they encounter that I kinda have to resist the natural urge to avoid conversation with them. The kind of person who gets up to share and describes how jacked up life is and the world and on and on yet throwing in the but I’ve been sober “X” amount of years (and people clap and cheer etc.). Not to say that their recovery time is a bad thing. I’m also not talking about the fact that all of us have those days and periods of time. I’m describing the person who meeting after meeting, day after day, conversation after conversation and year after year has the same attitude and those same conversations.
I remember thinking to myself, when hearing guys like that over and over again; “If that is all there is to recovery, then I would rather keep using. If sober is that miserable and being miserable is my motivation for wanting to be sober I’m stuck choosing between sober and miserable and drunk/high and miserable.
This passage says that sober and miserable is not the goal at all and that gaining humility is the answer.
Another form of this being not “truly happy” because of not getting enough humility is seen in these people who cannot fell comfortable or good unless they are taking control of everything. They always know more or have to get a word in or have to declare constantly how great they are etc. Is not all of that truly the diametric opposition to humility. The most opposite you could possibly get to it.
If a person were this “truly happy” why would said person be so unhappy (or the disguise they use for this “uncomfortable”) when not in control? Translation: What kind of “truly happy” person needs to derive any kind of positive feeling from the manipulation of others.
I spoke on this previously so I will not go over this passage in detail but if you want to truly get a look at this kind of person look at pgs. 60, 61 and 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book. The passages that use the example of the actor who wants to run the show and thinks if everyone would just act the way he/she wants them to all would be fine.
This person is not “truly happy.” This person is sick (still sick) and manipulative.
I am not saying: “Ooooh, you evil person!” I’m saying there is a key obstacle that still has not been overcome that desperately needs to be (for your own good and the good of those around you).
Now back to what all of this has to do with the Fourth Step. What does killing your selfishness, self-centeredness and gaining more humility look like in Step Four?
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)
The book asks you (as a resentment list) to write down everyone you have ever been angry at in your life.
In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)
Without going too far down this rabbit trail, you list angers because people generally do not know all of their resentments off of the top of their heads. Most people have five or so they can think of and that’s it. But, if you list every time you have been angry (even if the other person never knew) then you are likely to realize that many of those (if not most) are some level of resentment, some of which you try to hide from yourself.
So if done like this, you end up with a massive, itemized list of every person who has ever ticked you off throughout your whole life. Have you begun to “learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even your enemies” or have you just unearthed a whole lot of uneasy feelings, many of which you had neatly packed away to not think about. When do you start looking at them as “sick people” you have hurt by your conduct and become willing to straighten out the past?
This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 66– 67)
First we look at them as people who are spiritually sick. Sick in ways that are much deeper than just being the messed up person who chose to tick me off. Two pages before, the authors use this same “spiritually sick” concept to describe the problem that has made us alcoholic/addicts and that made us hurt other people.
The question here is, “Could it be that these people are suffering from a similar inner sickness that you suffer from.” Is it possible that their real problem is that they need help that they may not even know they need like you and the rest of us recovery folks?
Then you are asking for tolerance, pity, and patience. The kind you show a sick person who accidently does something that you do not like because it is some symptom of their sickness. Like a friend who has a week to live who vomits on your clothes. What kind of person gets mad at that person and beats the terminally ill person up or cusses them out?
Next you are looking to be helpful to that person. Instead of being a part of the problem, you are looking to be a part of the solution. In other words; you are a sick person and this is a sick person. You are trying to get better and have some ideas now about what it takes to get better. You have encountered a person who is trapped in a similar sickness and you know how to point that person in the direction of getting better. You can choose to overcome the urge to retaliate and look for ways to truly be helpful (even if it’s just dropping a tidbit of information that person may not even consider for many years) or you can just jump on the crazy train with that person and fan the flames of craziness in that person’s world while restarting whatever fires have been put out in you.
The fire starters and the people who fan the flames of others are continuing down the path of selfishness and self-centeredness and away from the key focus of Twelve Step recovery: “The attainment of greater humility”.
Key to all of this is to seek freedom from the anger that normally rises. They did not say resentment, the authors stressed “anger”. Anger is really the feeling that there is this right to be angry which is really the spiteful desire to punish another person between your own ears in your head. You may spew some of your own crazy on that person or others (or you may not) but in reality in trying to beat them up inside your head, you are in truth only beating a hole in the rock that is on top of your neck.
That person did something to you: “How dare they hurt someone as important as you?” Forget the “sick” person part and the “how can I be helpful” to this person part. This person had the nerve to hurt ME!
Another fine definition of “selfishness and self-centeredness” which is the root of our troubles.
After listing every person who has ever angered you in your life, you need to go over this with each and every person on the list. You need to take this view of every person on the list and find an answer to the question: “How can I be helpful to him” or her?
Then comes the deep part: There is a test to see which ones you have been successful at making these changes on and the ones you haven’t so you can go back and work on those ones some more.
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)
Now, you take this list of every person who has ever ticked you off ever and ignore that very fact completely. All you have right now is a list of what is wrong with everyone else in the world and you may or may not have included yourself a few times on this list. What did you do before or during whatever thing is listed to the listed person(s) that was in some way just not right? If nothing what did you do to this person that was not right after this thing occurred (instead of looking for “How can I be helpful to” this other sick person)?
Is it not true that if you were not helpful to this person you were probably hurtful?
The situation or the person may have required a calm discussion. It may have needed a firm but caring confrontation. It may have required the police be called and an abusive person arrested for their own potential growth and you to leave so that that person has opportunity to see that being abusive is not okay (even though he or she may never see it you focused on trying to be helpful instead of retaliation etc.) . It may mean telling parents, principles and proper authorities about being abused as a child to get that person proper help and to save other children from such abuse. (An abused child will not have done anything to the person as a child but often as adults abuse themselves with resentments. Those who were abused as children often also never even begin to think about how to be helpful to that person. This is a deep part of the resentment and the self-protection manifesting. That may mean demanding that person get help or you will expose them etc. An abused child is never to be blamed but as an adult we have to take on responsibility to be free and to be helpful).
This is a deep and often painful look at what is wrong with you and not everyone else. The “How can I be helpful to him” or her part is not just some cool psychobabble that the Twelve Step people invented. It is the end zone for this part of Step Four. It is the “attainment of greater humility” overcoming “Selfishness and self-centeredness” part. If you don’t get this change, you are the same except now you have an itemized list of everything and everyone that ever worked your nerves.
Or you might even be worse; you may be one of these people who has like three or four people listed and ramble on and on about not having resentments only to either relapse or to white-knuckle struggle your way through some abstinence while selfishness and self-centeredness keeps you never able to enjoy the world for what it is.
This is a lot of work and a tremendous amount of stress. Well one would expect there to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of stress in the process of getting a tremendous amount of freedom.
A person chained up in a cage can get free from the chains and become free to roam within the cage and some can even get to roam around the whole prison which are levels of freedom but are not truly free. We want true freedom and it is possible.
Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.
We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 65– 66)
It is always amusing to me how many people ask me, doesn’t the Big Book tell you to, “make amends unless making it will harm you or them?” They always have this look as if I have suddenly had my mind wiped clear of all recovery knowledge when I firmly answer them with a flat-out “NO!” Then they always want to convince me that it does say that. Then I casually refer them to page 79 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book and read:
Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79)
Then to page 59 which is the step they are terribly (and possibly fatally) misquoting:
The correct quote is “except when to do so would injure THEM or OTHERS. The Step and the book say absolutely nothing about avoiding the making of an amends because it might harm you. As a matter of fact, the passage we looked at from page 79, we are to make all emends, “no matter what the personal consequences may be.”
The conversation itself is an attempt to convince me of a path to recovery that is completely opposite to we are being told.
All those “Promises” that we are all taught through repetition to use as the carrot on our recovery stick. These “Promises” are waved around as the big happy ending for us. The point in our story where we got to the “and he/she lived happily ever after” part.
I am not saying these promises are not true or that they are not a good goal to shoot for. These are the truth and definitely an awesome goal to shoot for. The problem is that people miss the fine print. The disclaimer like the mumbling at the end of a commercial that tells you what is really going on with this contest, free gift or potential side effects of this medication.
The fine print that so easily slips by particularly clear in the first sentence of the paragraph containing these “Promises”.
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)
For some of you that are reading this, it is not the first time you hear me discussing this, but it is important to ask yourself; “Which phase of my development is the “this phase” that is described here?” That is because the promises are only for those who are painstaking about that “this phase”.
But before we get to that lets look at another passage that many of us may be familiar with, but often miss what it is really saying. The paragraph after the paragraph containing the promises:
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
Notice the “work for them” part. If there is a “this phase of our development” then that is really the focus of what we are working hard at to get these “Promises”.
The next two sentences are a change of thought but also a continuation of the same thought.
This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
The change of thought is that we are transitioning from a discussion about Step Nine and moving into a discussion about Step Ten. The continuation of the same thought is the fact that it states that you started to really work on your Step Ten as you were working on your Step Nine.
Making your amends is not just a step you check a box for, it is a major part of starting your new “way of living”. If you only do a partial job of making amends, you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living. That means that the amends you leave out has left behind some of the old you and that is the old you that will drive you to do what the old you does. That means a relapse or other fits of stupid.
IF YOU ARE PAINSTAKING ABOUT STEP NINE – NO MATTER WHAT THE PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES MAY BE – THEN THE PROMISES ARE WHAT ARE BEING PROMISED TO YOU! That does not mean however that not getting beat-up, not getting yelled at, not getting spit on, not going to jail etc. are promised to you. Those are contained on the promises. Freedom that comes from being an entirely new you is what is promised unless you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.
So, to answer that question once-and-for-all (yeah right, someone will read this and immediately try to tell me I am not reading it right): There is no passage that says to make amends unless it might hurt you or make you uncomfortable.
In fact the amends that will have the most effect in your life are the ones that are the most uncomfortable and the most risky.
That whole concept that you don’t do it if it is somehow uncomfortable or risky is a lie from the darkness of your root problem:
Not making amends to someone you did something to is totally about protecting yourself from physical harm or from being emotionally hurt in some way. It is a completely selfish act. If you have so latched on to the root of your problem you are locked on to the very thing which is destroying you, but you don’t want to let go.
There are awesome promises for you, but only if you are painstaking bout making ALL OF YOUR AMENDS!!!
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83– 84)
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.