The Misleading Mindset

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Misleading Mindset 

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 39– 40)

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

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

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

Look at the conclusion to the story we started with:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41– 42)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.


The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

Human brain - midsagittal cut
Human brain – midsagittal cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little chance he can recover by himself.

Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it. Keep his attention focused mainly on your personal experience. Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The chapter containing this passage is the chapter focused on helping us to understand how to work with others in recovery (Working With Others).  In speaking of alcoholism/addiction as a fatal sickness of the mind and body we have already started to look at this in the previous post (The Crux of the Problem: Obviously) with a discussion of the mind as the crux of the problem.

As far as talking about the body, there has been much by way of research to show how the body and the actual physical traits of the human brain are altered by using and how some of those alterations actually create a deep craving for alcohol or other drugs of choice, in some cases for any kind of intoxication or in some other cases for any imbalance in life that might create a feeling that is even similar.

Prior to much of this research that we now have a Doctor by the name of  William D. Silkworth M.D. who was; “A well-known doctor, chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition) describes these bodily changes as being similar to an allergy:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

Simply put, the doctor observed that using seems to make some alcoholics/addicts develop a response to possibly intoxicating substances that is different from the majority of other people on earth.  He is even implying that this is only the most advanced levels of addiction and alcoholism and that other types do not have this response or at least have yet to develop it yet.

Though the aggregate of recoveries resulting from psychiatric effort is considerable, we physicians must admit we have made little impression upon the problem as a whole. Many types do not respond to the ordinary psychological approach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

The type that have this abnormal response to intoxicating substances (which relates to the idea of having an allergy) are described as being bodily different than even other alcoholics/addicts.  Without all of the details we have today, the doctor knew that the body was altered in such a way in some of us that if we get any possibly intoxicating substance into our system we were going to suddenly have a desperate feeling of need to get intoxicated (if not on whatever possibly intoxicating substance triggered it we would take in that substance and get a desire for alcohol or our drug of choice).  This is his basic explanation of what is going on with our body.  He called it the “Phenomenon of Craving.” 

If I get near to the feeling of a buzz, I am going to experience a bodily and mental craving to get intoxicated.

This may seem like an overly simplistic view to those who read research and study things about recovery and all of the scientific details, but it is a basic overarching concept.  That is the condition of the “body” that is to be described in working with others.  Simple and easy to understand is key.

Now back to the conversation we were to have with the person just starting in recovery:

Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The idea of being doomed is centered here on the idea that if you are at a very advanced level of alcoholism/addiction your body has developed this terrible quirk that if you get anything into your system that seems like it could get you intoxicated you are going to have a deep desire to get intoxicated (Allergy, Phenomenon of Craving).  The deeper part of the problem is not that if you get any you are going to want more, the deeper part of the problem is that in sobriety, even with a desperate desire to remain abstinent, your own brain will both fail to stop you from using something potentially intoxicating (Strange Mental Blank Spots) and will in fact be trying to find a way to use safely even though other parts of your mind will know that any using means having relapsed (The Great Obsession).

The basic idea is that your body will drive you to destroy yourself if a certain thing happens (encounter something possibly intoxicating) and that not only will your mind not stop from that certain thing, but a part of your own mind will secretly be trying to trick you into making that certain thing happen then you cannot trust your own mind or body no matter what you learn or stop doing for now.

Now to the stories of “personal experience” that are included in the book to help us all process this information.  Look at this part of an included example of all of this:

We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is his story: “I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years. I had eaten there many times during the months I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to have another glass of milk.

“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36)

All of what we just discussed is contained in this story.  He went to a bar (one that he had been going to for years – clearly to drink for some of those years) with no thought of drinking then suddenly thinks it’s okay to drink if milk is involved (The Great Obsession).  Then the mindset that normally would stop him was reduced to:  I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).  That is an excellent description of the Strange Mental Blank Spots in action.

Then come the Allergy and the Phenomenon of Craving.  The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).

Think about it, he felt it would be okay to take a little bit with certain circumstances in place.  Then, he decides that that little bit did nothing so a little bit more would be okay.  How does all of this end:

Thus started one more journey to the asylum for Jim. Here was the threat of commitment, the loss of family and position, to say nothing of that intense mental and physical suffering which drinking always caused him. He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not drinking were easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk!

Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else?

 (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 36– 37)


And there you have the fatal sickness of mind and body that many of those who suffer from it have no idea they have.  This is a major part of understanding and admitting the powerlessness that we are working out in Step 1.  If you are trying to get the through Steps One or Two or think you already have passed them, here is the point:

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 43)

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.