A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

The same principle applies in dealing with the children. Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking. Use your

Help Wanted
Help Wanted (Photo credit: Egan Snow)

energies to promote a better understanding all around. Then that terrible tension which grips the home of every problem drinker will be lessened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

This passage is speaking directly about the wife of an alcoholic and how she should deal with issues relating to the immediate family relative to that person.  The thing is that there is a more global concept for all loved ones an

d friends of addicts or alcoholics especially during this holiday season.

In my last article, I spoke directly to those of us who are the addicts and alcoholics about the interactions we will be having during this holiday season (Treated as an Alcoholic/Addict or Weirdo During the Holidays).  In that post I honestly spoke to my group about our responsibilities and ways to be a par

t of the solution and not create other problems during the holidays if you are the alcoholic/addict who probably was at least a part of the reason for all of the problems.

I believe that to be something that absolutely has to be stated during this season, but I also believe that all of the people around this person have a responsibility to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem also.  I understand that you may feel that you are the alcoholic/addict and you did nothing wrong etc. and you may be correct as a whole or in part.  The challenge is that at the moment that the person in recovery starts to truly attempt to change and you become the force of resistance to that effort, the biggest problem moves from being that person and his/her alcoholism/addiction and suddenly you become the biggest problem.

That is not to minimize the responsibility that person has for all of his/her previous evils and the responsibility to make amends, but the truth is that what I am describing here is an completely separate problem.  In many things in life (if not in everything) each person is either a part of the solution or a part of the problem and this is definitely one of those areas.

On the other hand, what I am not saying here is that you should just be pushed around by every alcoholic/addict that proclaims aloud that he/she is in recovery and you are messing it all up.  There are some of us in recovery that will use such information to hold the more passive of our friends and loved hostage.  The type that use the fact of being in recovery as leverage to manipulate all who will play along as if to being in recovery somehow buys you the right to blackmail every person around you into serving you in lifelong slavery.

This is where some of the more general concepts in this passage are amazing.  Let’s look at a couple of these more general concepts:

Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

First, notice that the passage says “it is best not to take sides”.  That is key in this whole discussion.  If the person in recovery is in some level of conflict or uncomfortable situation, the normal response should not be to run over to beat him/her back into submission before crazy happens or to run to his/her rescue allowing that person to use you to cosign whatever trip that person is on at any given moment.  You are not helping this person by being his/her evil archenemy or by being his/her “Captain Save-a-Twelve-Stepper” either.

Being either one of these makes you the bigger fool in the situation.  The truth is that the person in recovery has some excuse for problem causing behavior:  “I’ve been being stupid, but now I am in recovery, in the process of learning to not do stupid things.  That means I will mess it up at times as I experiment with new thought processes and behaviors.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  Albert Einstein

On the other hand, the rest of you who have been put through the side effects of our crazy are supposed to be the sufferers who are in possession of the sanity that the person in recovery should be able to learn from and emulate.  The fact that you can fight one person’s stupidity by vomiting out some stupidity of your own does not somehow make you smarter than that person.  That simply makes you equally stupid at best.  It makes a part of the problem.

The thing is that you are not just a part of that person’s problem art that point.  At that point you become a major part of your own problem and a pert of the problems of everyone around you.

The next thing to notice in that sentence is the “Unless they actually need protection” part.  Although the general rule is not to be against the person or codependent cosigning this person’s every whim, there is a point where this person is crossing some line, where it is your responsibility to stop him/her.

Those of us in recovery tend to drift off to this whole independent thinker trip that can make us a bit crazy at times.  If we are susceptible to the influences of stupid people, this may be the right direction for us to be heading, but it does have a sort of sick and self-destructive side especially when trying to learn it’s limits and normal use by doing it in real life.

So lets say that I am going through this trip and I am always on and on about people telling me what to do and about letting do things my own way.  I’ll even throw in statements like, “I’m a grown man, I don’t need anyone telling me what to do” and I might throw in the:  “If you don’t let me do things my way I will never learn and you are screwing my recovery all up” card.  While these thoughts may hold some truth, they do have limits.

Now lets say that I see a glass of some cold refreshing liquid sitting on the counter in the kitchen on a seriously hot day.  I go over to drink it and one of my loved ones is standing there who knows that the substance in the cup is not a drink but some special chemical for cleaning that has no specific scent but is probably poisonous or harmful.

If that loved one sees me about to drink it, should that person try to stop me.  What if that person begins to try to stop, but I cut that person off ranting about telling me what to do etc. before I can hear what that person is trying to truly communicate, should that person spitefully say; “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral” or should that person, knowing that I am in recovery and prone to stupid behaviors in the process of learning to be less and less stupid, keep trying to stop me in spite of how rude or ridiculous I get?

I know that several of you reading this probably chose option one:  “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral”.  That is not however, the “part of the solution” answer.  That is the “part of the problem” answer.

The point is that there cannot normally be a that person’s side and my side, or a that person’s side and our side, or a me and that person’s side and everyone else etc.  To be a part of the solution, you should focus on using your energies “to promote better understanding all around.”  The person who is the voice of reason is the person that will lessen “that terrible tension”.

During this holiday season of gatherings, parties, gift giving and mixed emotions (for many of us in recovery or still in alcoholism/addiction; depression and self-loathing), there is a deep need for people who are part of the solution.  For the person in recovery the holiday season is full of temptations, traps and tensions that threaten our recoveries day by day and minute by minute.  WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET.

If your friend or loved one in recovery is being weird or stupid during this season, it is probably the signs of struggles, stresses and tensions or some challenges that are inherent to the recovery process.  That also means it is probably the sign of a time of great need.  Any and all help is desperately needed NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE PERSON THINKS OR SAYS IT IS NOT.   Drifting off into crazy is not only the act of not being helpful, but is dangerously destructive to this person at this point.

I stated earlier, that in such situations friends and loved ones should not take sides in arguments etc.  That is not entirely true because there is a side to take:  the side of common sense.  To be a part of the solution, you must use a common sense approach to communicating common sense to everybody involved, only when it is necessary.

You have to communicate in a way the person or people you are communicating with are likely to hear and respond to.  Way too may people get frustrated and communicate the right things in the wrong ways simply to get things off of their chests.  That is not attempting to be helpful to a person, that is an attempt to verbally punish that person for frustrating you (don’t get it twisted!).

One more point to consider is that being a part of the solution is communicating common sense “only when necessary.”  Running around being the “Recovery Person Messed Up Police” is not in any way being helpful.  That is to be a major part of the problem.  What I am describing is the person who runs around behind the person in recovery the way the parent of a child who has just learned to walk runs around behind the child catching the child every time he/she starts to fall and keeping that child away from anything that he/she might not know not to touch and so on.

Some mistakes are going to be okay.  The person in recovery will need to learn and needs to learn to make adjustments for little mistakes etc.  That is a part of the process.  Being followed by a “NAG” is not a necessary or useful part of recovery.  Making me nuts is not a helpful part of my learning to think more clearly, it is a muddling of my thoughts in barrage of outside thoughts that can only serve to keep me from being able to think clearly for myself.

All of this is based on the idea of balanced sensibility on your part, especially if the person in recovery is not using balanced sensibility.  I totally understand that this is a tall order, but it is also one of your greatest contributions to the health and growth of your friend/loved one that you can make.

Something else to consider, is the fact that in many cases, helping the friend or loved one to get better will help every person that person encounters have a little less crazy in their lives too.  That means you are not just helping him/her, you are helping yourself as one of the people that person encounters.

Ponder this passage:

He wants to make good. Yet you must not expect too much. His ways of thinking and doing are the habits of years. Patience, tolerance, understanding and love are the watchwords. Show him these things in yourself and they will be reflected back to you from him. Live and let live is the rule.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 118)

To our friends and loved ones, please be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem (no matter how crazy we may get);

To those of us in recovery or still in bondage to our alcoholism/addiction:

STAY SOBER MY FRIENDS;

Wade H.

The Dubious Luxuries of Normies – But Not Me!!!

Anger Controlls Him

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)

And more clearly and directly stated:

We avoid retaliation or argument.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

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.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)
To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: “There is a Solution”

Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We went to live with my wife’s parents. I found a job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

One thing that is terribly tough for those of us in recovery and those around us is to find the balance between facing reality and maintaining some kind of hope. 

To even have any idea of the need for recovery, one must usually see how big the problem is.  A serious reality check has to happen to see how desperate the situation is which will lead to a willingness to take desperate measures to change the situation.

On the other hand sometimes those of us in alcoholism/addiction are so fixed on feeling sorry for ourselves that we use such information to throw a self-destructive “pity party”.  Some of us experience these “reality check” moments regularly (particularly after a relapse) and feel it so impossible to get better or change that it gives us the opposite effect.

The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 6)

This may just be an excuse for using or in politer terms an attempt to self medicate unbearable emotions, but the reasoning does not make any of this any less real to the person experiencing it.  The sense of impending calamity is real to us because it is true to some degree in all alcoholics/addicts. 

To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “There is a Solution”

Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

The message to all of us that desperately need recovery has to be both a clear reality of how desperate we are and a solid stand that there is hope.  If you are a person around one of us who desperately needs recovery and would like for a that person to get free then you must stand strong in your conviction to both parts of the message:  “You are a terrible mess” and “There is a way you can get free of all of this and build a better existence.

There is a disclaimer though.  You know what a disclaimer is; it is that thing at the end of commercial for medications, diet pills, and car manufacturers where after they have made the extraordinary claims, they rapidly mumble what the hidden catch is.  Here is the disclaimer as clear and concise as it can be:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

Recovery is a simple process as far as the explanation of what to do and the laying out of the Steps.  Recovery is not easy because the things you have to do, although simple to explain are really hard to do.  The simple steps outline things we simply do not want to do.  Things that are terribly uncomfortable or that outright hurt:  Things that both our unconscious and conscious minds will want to resist at all costs.

Now here is how the balanced messages of honestly facing the truth and continuing to have hope come together:

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. There are such unfortunates.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Another part of the disclaimer is that each person trying to work through recovery has to be brutally and painfully honest with himself/herself or the process is doomed to fail.

As I have repeatedly said in previous posts:  “Facts are Facts!”  Ignoring them, “candy coating” them, lying to yourself and others about them, etc. is a part of the bondage.  Being willing to first face these things and then being willing to do whatever it takes to be free of all of these uncomfortable things is necessity for any kind of recovery.  That is where the hope is. 

There is hope, but you have to be willing to face and fight through terrible discomfort to get there.  This starts with really facing how desperate the situation really is.  Step 1 states that:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 

And that is truly where to begin once a person has discovered the need for recovery, but a certain amount of Step 1 has to have been completed to begin working Step 1.  I know that sounds confusing, but look at this explanation of what to ask someone before you start working him/her through the Steps:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

The hidden connection between understanding the desperation of the situation and having the hope of getting free is being willing to do anything to get free.  That is where the two seemingly opposites meet.  In other words the bridge between understanding it is a hopeless situation and the hope of freedom is willingness.  This is the starting point of freedom.

Now look at this statement again and it should be a clear idea of the role it plays in the recoveries of others:

How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We have to see how dark it really is to look for and truly appreciate the light.

Stay sober my friends…

 

Wade H.

Relapse and Recovery

Relapse and Recovery

Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station i...
Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station in Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! In reality that was the beginning of my last debauch.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

Some time later, and just as he thought he was getting control of his liquor situation, he went on a roaring bender. For him, this was the spree that ended all sprees. He saw that he would have to face his problems squarely that God might give him mastery.

One morning he took the bull by the horns and set out to tell those he feared what his trouble had been. He found himself surprisingly well received, and learned that many knew of his drinking. Stepping into his car, he made the rounds of people he had hurt. He trembled as he went about, for this might mean ruin, particularly to a person in his line of business.

At midnight he came home exhausted, but very happy. He has not had a drink since. As we shall see, he now means a great deal to his community, and the major liabilities of thirty years of hard drinking have been repaired in four.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 155156)

These tidbits of recovery stories are from the story of Bill W. and Dr. Bob (founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps) respectively.  The point here is that a relapse in recovery is not a death sentence (not necessarily a death sentence, there are people who relapse and die). 

I am not a fan of the idea that relapse is a part of recovery, because although the point is not to say that everyone has to relapse to recover, that is what most people hear.  In other words, the idea that relapse is a part of recovery can be used as an opportunistic excuse to destroy your own recovery.

On the other hand, I think that there are cases (as the examples of Bill W. and Dr. Bob demonstrate) where a relapse clarifies how desperate and powerless you really are and forces a person to desperately seek recovery in way that was otherwise impossible.  In other words the relapse forces the person to work recovery with enough seriousness for it to finally work.

That is not to say that you should relapse to make your recovery work better; that is like telling a suicidal person to shoot himself in the head to get over being suicidal.  But a person who almost kills himself/herself and survives sometimes might finally realize how serious the problem is and desperately seek help.

Some of us have relapsed since starting recovery and a few of us may have just relapsed and be in the process of considering what to do now.  Well, the relapse is a terrible stumble and fall in recovery, but that does not mean you have to lie there until you die.  In the second example above, Dr. Bob was going through a bunch of recovery stuff and getting it.  He felt better and was remaining sober, but then had a terrible relapse.

The key is what he did next:  He finally “saw that he would have to face his problems squarely.”  Dr. Bob had decided that he had to face a part of recovery that he had refused to do prior to this:

When our friend related his experience, the man agreed that no amount of will power he might muster could stop his drinking for long. A spiritual experience, he conceded, was absolutely necessary, but the price seemed high upon the basis suggested. He told how he lived in constant worry about those who might find out about his alcoholism. He had, of course, the familiar alcoholic obsession that few knew of his drinking. Why, he argued, should he lose the remainder of his business, only to bring still more suffering to his family by foolishly admitting his plight to people from whom he made his livelihood? He would do anything, he said, but that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 155)

Dr. Bob was willing to do anything at all in recovery except for what is now known as Steps 8 and 9 which deal with making amends.  Dr. Bob had gotten stuck on Step 8; he was not willing to make amends to them all. 

Due to his relapse he suddenly realized that the pain of continuing to use until his world was completely annihilated was far greater than the pain he faced from making amends.  He finally became desperate enough to do anything to get sobriety even though that is the idea we are supposed to be going into recovery with.

Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

This passage (which is actually discussing Steps 8 & 9) reminds us that we start recovery with the idea that I am willing to do anything to get better.  The idea that “I am desperate and do not have the power to stop myself and am desperate enough t do anything to get better.”  This is the starting point of recovery.

If you do not start with this mindset, you are in deep trouble from the beginning.  Recovery is going to require that you face and do things that are terribly uncomfortable.  Some of these things both your conscious and unconscious mind are constantly trying to keep you from facing in any way.  If you are not desperate, when the time comes to face these things you avoid these things and in actuality we often desperately run from these things at all costs.

If you start with this desperation mindset, there is a point for each of us where we reach something that seems to be too much to ask.  This is really a test of the desperation that is the fuel that powers your recovery work.  Some of us run from recovery at this point, some of us hide it and pretend (ex:  Pretend to have listed all the people I need to make amends to, but leave off the ones I don’t want to do or lie and say I made an amends I did not really make etc.), some of us get stuck in some way or other. 

A relapse can be a wakeup call to you.  YOU CANNOT CUT CORNERS IN RECOVERY FOR ANY REASON. 

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)

If you have relapsed, let it be a reality check and do whatever it takes to get better no matter what. 

My father used to always tell me that there are two ways people learn:

  1.    People learn from their own mistakes
  2.    People learn from the mistakes of others

If you are in recovery and have not relapsed, think of how many people (some stronger than you) thinking the same things you are thinking right now have relapsed.  Consider those people and let their example help you understand your own desperation so that that can be the fuel to face the uncomfortable and sometimes painful process of recovery as if your very life depends upon it working.  The truth is that your very life does depend upon it working.

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181)

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

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Discouragement is Not the Problem

Discouragement is Not the Problem

Bitterly discouraged, he found himself in a strange place, discredited and almost broke. Still physically weak, and sober but a few months, he saw that his predicament was dangerous. He wanted so much to talk with someone, but whom?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

Of course he couldn’t drink, but why not sit hopefully at a table, a bottle of ginger ale before him? After all, had he not been sober six months now? Perhaps he could handle, say, three drinks – no more! Fear gripped him. He was on thin ice. Again it was the old, insidious insanity – that first drink. With a shiver, he turned away and walked down the lobby to the church directory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

But what about his responsibilities – his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah – yes, those other alcoholics? There must be many such in this town. He would phone a clergyman. His sanity returned and he thanked God. Selecting a church at random from the directory, he stepped into a booth and lifted the receiver.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 154-155)

In recovery and in life discouragement and discouraging situations are just a part of the normal ups and downs of what it means to be alive.   Everyone on earth has their bad days and bad seasons of life.  That is not a question.  The problem is not that there are discouraging periods of life, the problem is what we do to manage our discouragement during those times.

Do we sit and feel sorry for ourselves and gradually drift into enough misery to make life intolerable.  Do we get a bad attitude and try to take control of the situation or just to make other people feel the pain we feel.  These are major problems for those of us in recovery.  Both of these and many other possibilities are in reality evidence of us sinking into ourselves, selfishness and self-protective behavior.

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

In other words our natural response to being down and discouraged is to sink deeper into the worst and most destructive part of our problems and in effect make our problems worse.  Being down and being discouraged are not the enemy, our responses to them is the enemy.  Sinking into self-protection and self focus are the biggest enemies.

As a first thought, the passage at the opening describes Bill W. as needing someone to talk to.  That is an excellent place to start:  Someone to talk to who will understand and be supportive.  The lifestyle of a person who desires to remain sober and not absolutely miserable requires some kind of support system that you can turn to in these kinds of times. 

This is one of the deep purposes of what we call “support groups”:  Support!  If what you are calling a support group does not offer you this kind of support either you are not connected enough in the group or it is not the right “support group” for you.

These kinds of groups are something you find and maintain.  These are people you see regularly and have some level of personal connection with.  These are people that care about and care for one another. 

These are also something you want to find and maintain before you are bitterly discouraged so that when those periods of life arise you know exactly where to go. 

Secondly, Bill became interested in helping another person.

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

As part of seeing the root of our troubles as self focus we find that one of the tasks that is most helpful in overcoming a self focused period is to focus on helping another person.  Think of the passage as reading this way:  “Nothing will help you more with being self focused as helping someone else.”

A key to what you read in the story Bill W. is telling is that he understood this so much that when he was just about to use because of it, he stopped and actively engaged in searching for a person to help.  He desperately sought out a person to help as combat against his sickness rooted in selfishness.  To use the recovery language of today, he went on a desperate search for someone to sponsor.    

This kind of mindset/attitude was the mark of the first groups and is still described in the materials as a major part of what makes us able to remain sober.  Dr. William D. Silkworth describes this kind of attitude as one of the most noticeable aspects of the early groups that made them different from other recovery groups and programs.

We feel, after many years of experience, that we have found nothing which has contributed more to the rehabilitation of these men than the altruistic movement now growing up among them.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. xxviii – 4th Edition)

Altruism = the attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts: (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

Altruistic = showing a wish to help or bring advantages to other people, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

The idea that selfishness and self-centeredness were at the root of our problems was combated by creating an environment of unselfishness and teaching the individuals to care about and help others.

So the idea is that an unselfish support group and unselfish actions are the best way to overcome discouragement, depression and our addictions and alcoholism. 

Near the end of the program portion of the book you find the following paragraph:

Still you may say: “But I will not have the benefit of contact with you who write this book.” We cannot be sure. God will determine that, so you must remember that your real reliance is always upon Him. He will show you how to create the fellowship you crave.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

If you cannot find the kind of support system described here, then you may have to search out the individuals and “create the fellowship you crave.”  If you are in one of those periods of discouragement, you may have to go out and find someone to be helpful to.  In either case you need to be out looking for all of this before you run into the times of discouragement so you are prepared for those moment when (not if) they come up.

Stay sober my friends

Wade H.

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

For those who are unable to drink moderately the question is how to stop altogether.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 34)

This seems like it should be obvious, but too many of those in recovery to totally believe in this concept may be more elusive than anyone could imagine.  The problem is a certain aspect of our alcoholism/addiction that often leads to thoughts like this:

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will beat the game.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

This “Great Obsession” is insane idea that you can use safely in spite of the enormous amount of evidence that clearly shows that this is not true.  It is probably the most persistent and destructive lie that many of us tell ourselves.

From the heavy alcoholics who thinks it is okay to drink a little light beer (in other words relapse) to the person who abuses a heavy substance who decides to remain sober but smokes marijuana because it’s not his/her drug of choice.

Whatever the reason that you may come up with; if you are at the higher levels of using there is no such thing as safely using a small amount etc.  The only choices are:  sober or not sober.  THERE IS NO KINDA SOBER!!!!  You either are sober or you are not.

This Great Obsession is an idea that comes up over and over again that tries to convince you that you can use safely.

It’s as crazy as regularly having a feeling that makes you want to hit yourself in the face with a baseball bat.  You know it will hurt, you know it could kill you, you may even know it is an incredibly stupid thought to even have, yet you repeatedly find yourself in the hospital trying to recover from injuries sustained from a self-inflicted bludgeoning.  You even remember the pain and agony of the last time you did this, the pain of the reconstructive surgeries and some of the permanent issues you have from previous attempts at this.

The real moment of truth is found in the thoughts you have right before you do such a crazy thing.  In this example the thoughts might sound like:

  • “This is not the same thing.  Last time I hit myself with an aluminum bat, so this time I will use a wooden bat.  Wood is softer than aluminum and the bats even break on baseballs sometimes.”
  • “Last time I held the very bottom of the bat, so this time I will move my grip up just a little so the hit is not as hard.”
  • “Last time I hit myself in the face, this time I will hit myself on the top of the head where my head is a bit harder.”

I know these all sound ridiculously stupid, but these excuses to do something ridiculously stupid are similar to how our excuses to use any kind of drugs or alcohol (in light of destructive results of our using in the past) sound to others around us.  The fact is that in light of the amount of destruction that using can cause in our lives (and often already has caused) almost any excuse is actually that ridiculously stupid.

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.  Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check.  The insane idea won out.  Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Here is a newsflash for anyone in recovery who gives themselves a reason to use (a reason that says “It is okay this time because _______”):  In light of the risk and the fact that you are in recovery (trying not to use or to learn to not use), ANY REASON IS AN INSANELY TRIVIAL EXCUSE!

Many people who relapse actually reason themselves into relapse.  They tell themselves that this is different because (insert something incredibly stupid that sounds intelligent at the moment here).  Things like:

  • “I drink hard liquor, this is just beer, I’ll be fine”
  • “I use meth.  I’m not an alcoholic.  A couple of drinks of wine will not be of affect to me.”
  • “Marijuana is not a drug and is not an addictive drug so I can smoke it and nothing will happen”
  • “The doctor prescribed these to me.  If I take an extra one, how much difference could it make?”

If you think something like this there is a huge question that must be answered:  Why?

Why do you need to drink at all?  Why do you have to use something that involves intoxication at all (even if your initial plan involves stopping before intoxication).

WHY?  WHY?  WHY?

Why take the risk when so much is at risk and so little stands to be gained.  Why, while trying to be sober, do something that clearly does not qualify as remaining sober.

We must accept this kind of thinking as part of the insanity and sickness of addiction and alcoholism.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SAFE USING FOR A PERSON WHO IS IN RECOVERY!!!   EITHER YOU ARE SOBER OR YOU ARE NOT!!!  There is no categories for:  kinda sober, almost sober with an excuse, relapsed but excused with good reason, etc.  All of these are “RELAPSED” and need to be considered as such by you and those that work with you and any sort of mentor etc. around you.

That also is true prior to doing this in your consideration process.  It does count this time no matter what reason you choose.   It is a relapse and may be your complete destruction even if the reason you are using seems good or satisfying to you.

The real point here is that it is a part of the recovery process to experience moments where you feel like there is a reasonable reason to use some intoxicating substance safely.  These are important moments in your recovery.   Either you overcome this temptation (which is strong and extremely convincing) or you do not.  Being aware of what we have discussed here is only a beginning; each individual in recovery has this battle to fight repeatedly throughout the rest of our lives and it is a fight that none of us can afford to lose.

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.