More Than Willpower

End No Alcoholic beverages.
(Photo credit: Eleventh Earl of Mar)

More Than Willpower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

Recovery: Change of Heart, Thought and Attitude

Recovery:  Change of Heart, Thought and Attitude

…it should be pointed out that physical treatment is but a small part of the picture. Though you are providing him with the best possible medical attention, he should understand that he must undergo a change of heart. To get over drinking will require a transformation of thought and attitude. We all had to place recovery above everything, for without recovery we would have lost both home and business.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 143)

Recovery is not just about doing things and being able to check the boxes that mean you did each thing.  Recovery requires a complete change of:

  1. Heart
  2. Thought &
  3. Attitude

Recovery requires not only a change in the way you think but a change of why you think the way you think.  Many people believe that the way recovery works is to live the rest of your life thinking the same way and simply ignoring the self-destructive thoughts.  Others believe that in recovery you will stay basically the same person but your thinking will somehow change in spite of being the same.

If you are going to change your thoughts and attitude you are going to have to change the reasons you have those thoughts and attitudes.  What I am getting at is the fact that if you are very advanced in addiction/alcoholism you either change completely or you stay the same.  You cannot think the same way and do different things (for very long).

YOU ARE EITHER CHANGED OR YOU ARE THE SAME AND IF YOU ARE THE SAME YOU SHOULD EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS.

Think of those of us at the worst levels of addiction/alcoholism who try to quit on our own.  We know that quitting means not doing it again.  We decide to quit and are firmly resolved to staying abstinent. Yet suddenly we use again.  In some of these instances we tell ourselves some insanely trivial reason why this particular time does not count as relapse even though we know that any use at all means I have no longer quit.  The problem is not just what happens after I start using.  The bigger problem is my attitudes and thoughts immediately before I use again.  What was going on in my mind that made me think it was okay to do something I was firmly resolved not to do?  Something that I knew to be so self destructive and so destructive to all of those around me.

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.

What sort of thinking dominates an alcoholic who repeats time after time the desperate experiment of the first drink?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 35)

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)

“Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out.”  Whatever happens at the moment we decide to use cannot even be called sane and definitely cannot be considered a time when we are in control.

If we do not change the entire basis of why we think the things we think, we will still end up thinking the same thoughts.  This change is the basis of recovery and should be the desired result also.

Many of us who frequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings hear this stated regularly and often miss or ignore this fact. For example, if you are familiar with something called “The Promises” one of them is:

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

That is a desired result and in the list of promises it is really the summary of some of the results of this change of attitude and outlook.

Why is all of this important?  The truth is that if you are going to gain this new footing for your thoughts and attitude to stand on, you will need to be willing to let go of your old footing.  To have a change of heart, the old heart has to be removed to allow the change to happen.

A huge goal for your recovery is to not only change who you are, but to change why you are who you are.

If the reasons you do and even think thinks you think have led you to do things that destroy your life and the lives of those around you then those reasons are probably wrong.  You probably need new reasons!

IN RECOVERY, IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED; YOU ARE THE SAME AND CAN EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS.

In the Alcoholics Anonymous book, Carl Jung is quoted as having put it this way:

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

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

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

Recovery is going to require that you have “huge emotional displacements and rearrangements.” Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of your life have to be cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives must begin to dominate you.

That is the change of:

  1. Heart
  2. Thought &
  3. Attitude

Are you open to that?  That is what recovery must look like if you expect it to work!  Being able to say you did this or that will not keep you sober if each these things do not lead to change in your life.

“CHANGE IS A CONSTANT.  THOSE WHO REFUSE TO CHANGE TO BE BETTER WILL BE FORCED TO BE CHANGED TO BE WORSE”

Wade H.