“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

AA meeting sign
AA meeting sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

Many of Alcoholics Anonymous were like that. Everybody had given them up. Defeat seemed certain. Yet often such men had spectacular and powerful recoveries.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 113)

You may already have asked yourself why it is that all of us became so very ill from drinking. Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The second passage listed is in a chapter named “There is A Solution”.  The idea is that there is hope:  Even if you are amongst the most hopeless and most desperate of alcoholics/addicts, there is hope. 

What it does not say in these statements is that it is this kind of miraculous change is going to be a magically easy process.  Nowhere are you promised that the magic recovery fairy will sprinkle magic recovery dust on you and you will never use or even wish to use again.  There is hard work, a great deal of discomfort, a complete change of who and what you are and a desperation to be free that drives you to continue through all of this.

In the statements above, it is implied that those around you even those closest to you and some experts in the field might even feel it is impossible for you to even change a little.  Using those of us who have walked this path and experienced such impossible change:

  “…in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The question a newcomer should have was stated above:

“What do I have to do?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

There are many paths that claim to lead to freedom many of which even call themselves Twelve Step Programs.  Without going into a major history lesson on Twelve Step Programs just understand the Alcoholics Anonymous book itself to be the source of all things Twelve Steps (there are other sources and observations led to the creation of the Twelve Steps, but they were first seen in the manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous book).

So anything claiming to be doing Twelve Step recovery should line up with the concepts outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book or whatever it is has just hijacked the Twelve Step name as a marketing scheme.  Example:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

There are many I have encountered who think the more complicated the program sounds the more legitimate it must be.  There are self-proclaimed experts coming up with all sorts of complex and deep sounding recovery tasks that are supposed to be the series of puzzles and adventures you are supposed to solve and complete to get the magic of recovery.  As if this were Indiana Jones and the Twelve Step Temple of Recovery.

“Simple but not easy” means that the concepts are simple it is that hurts, fears, angers etc. that make these simple tasks hard for the individual to do.

Do not be put off by the idea that there is this super-intellectual Rubiks-cube that you must solve to work recovery.  The struggle is not in the complexity of the Twelve Steps.  The struggle is in the desire to face hurts, fears, angers, facts, yourself, others, your past etc. on such a deep level and to be willing to finish a completely different person than when you started.

All of this packing on of super-complicated work to be completed and long, drawn out, overly complicated describing and pontificating about what the each sep is to contain in detail is a hiding place to avoid the real struggle each of us has in recovery:  OVERCOMING MYSELF!

In other words, the focus on complexity and the logistics of Twelve Step recovery is often a complete failure to truly have accepted Step 1.  A failure to accept that your situation is so desperate that “I must do anything it takes IMMEDIATELY with all of the desperation of a drowning person.”  This focus on complexity and triviality is simple a distraction to put off or to completely avoid the inner discomfort of working recovery.

We must not hide behind complexity and confusion to avoid truly dealing with ourselves.

We must focus on doing that which we find extremely hard to do or that we desperately do not want to do.

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)

Your recovery hinges on this and you “must not shrink at anything.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79). 

There is hope beyond what seems reasonable and beyond what seems possible.  The direction of this hope is not hidden behind some secret, super complicated series of riddles and adventures that you must undertake and solve; the process is not complex at all.   The challenge that must be overcome to gain what is hoped for is the challenge of overcoming yourself using that uncomplicated process as a tool. 

You must be willing to do the things that your mind and your heart will try all means to avoid. You must be willing to resist fear, to resist your own anger and resentment, to resist your own resistance and to overcome your own foolishness, stupidity, crazy etc.  Do not be distracted by other people’s confusion and so on that keeps you from this focus or your own attempts at creating confusion. 

You are in a desperate situation looking for a miraculous solution to an extremely desperate situation.  There is simply no time to waste in weird endeavors that put off dealing with the real problems.  The mindset needed to work (or even to start working) the Twelve Steps is best described in these 2 questions:

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

A spectacular and powerful recovery is a possibility for all of us.  There is great hope.  YOU JUST HAVE TO BE DESPERATE ENOUGH TO AVOID CONFUSION AND OVERCOME YOU!  That is the how and why that will allow what is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book to work for you.    

Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

When you have the right mindset and focus, then you are ready to start to be changed by what is in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

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.

The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Crux of the Problem:  Obviously

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

This is one of the most key statements in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  To even begin to look at this statement, we have to look at the word “crux” in a bit of detail.  According to merriam-webster.com the word “crux” is defined as:

1:  a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

2:  an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

3:  a main or central feature (as of an argument)

Notice that the exact words used in the Alcoholics Anonymous passage are used in #2 as an example.  So to be the “crux” of the problem means that “the mental state that precedes a relapse” is “an essential point requiring resolution”.  To be the “crux” this mental state is also a “main or central feature” of the problem as well as being a “puzzling or difficult” problem in and of itself.

Something that I find interesting about this statement is that it needs to be stated at all.  It seems perfectly obvious, but it is put out there as if it is a huge change of mindset for many in recovery.  In fact, it often seems to be such a huge change of mindset.

The idea here is that the big problem in a relapse is not the relapse itself, the big problem is what was going on in your mind at the time you were sober and trying not to use that makes you or allows you to use when you should be able to soberly stop yourself.

If a person keeps being barely saved from having consumed poison is the real problem poison in that person’s system or that the person repeatedly makes a conscious decision to take in poison.  In this example, isn’t just saving the person from the effects of the poison just a Band-Aid put on a symptom but doing little to solve the real problem (since the person has a history of just taking in the poison again).

In the same way, isn’t focusing on abstaining from alcohol and drug use and simply fixing the stuff you have done in the past while using drugs or alcohol just a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem.  Isn’t the real “essential point requiring resolution or resolving” what is going on in your mind when wanting to remain sober and while still abstinent that makes you suddenly do the thing that you most want to not do and know has the potential to be the most destructive force in your world. 

In other words, what kind of fool is surprised by anything a person is capable of after he/she is drunk/high?  After a person has chemically distorted his/her thinking it would seem logical to assume that his/her actions would also be twisted or distorted.  If a person desperately does not want twisted or distorted actions that result from this twisted or distorted thinking why do the one thing most likely to case all of that.  That is the real problem not the twisted thinking and actions that happen after you take something that you know will cause twisted/distorted thinking.

All of that being said, what is going on in our heads before a relapse?  If you interpret the information found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two categories described:

  1. Thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have
  2. Thoughts that we should be having that we sometimes don’t have

 

The first one, “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is described best in the 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)

In other words there is this weird idea in the back of our minds that there will be a way to use or to be intoxicated that will somehow not count as a relapse.  There is some magic formula that will allow me to take some magic “feel good” stuff while not having any negative consequences.

This is the idea behind sentences that begin with things like:  “This does not really count because…” or “Well, this is not the same because…” or “My problem is _______ not ______ so…” and on and on.  There are also ideas such as:  “Well, since I have been sober ______ amount of time, I should be fine if I use a little now” or “Well, it’s a special occasion so a little won’t hurt” etc.

Just speaking from a logical perspective, it’s not only the fact that you could destroy yourself (again) that is the problem.  The real question is, why would you take the risk?  If there is even chance that you might destroy yourself or your life, what is so valuable in relapse that the risk is worthwhile. 

In the most extreme cases, we are talking about a person who has lost everything to using and had no hope.  Then this person rebuilds his/her life through a process of abstinence and some painful work in recovery.  This person gets a deep understanding that using means possibly losing everything again and possibly even more this time.  Then in a moment the person decides:   “This time it’s okay because…” Then no matter how much the person should see that the risk of loss is far greater than whatever it is that’s gained the person still thinks it will be okay.  Even to the point of having some unlikely reason as to why it will be okay.  “This time is different because…”

This is (especially from an outsider’s perspective) an unreasonable train of thought.  It is thinking something that makes no sense and that should probably not be though.  This is “the great obsession” that sucks us in like a black hole.    According to merriam-webster.com the word “obsession” is defined as:

: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly: compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>

So this “great obsession” is a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with the unreasonable idea or feeling that it is somehow there is a safe way to use. 

Let’s be clear:  There is no such thing as kinda using or kinda sober or kinda abstinent.  You are either abstaining or not.  You are either using or you are not.  “Just a little” does count.  Whatever you use may not be exactly the same as before, but you are either using or you are not.  If you are seeking sobriety, any using at all is the enemy, no matter what reason or excuse you have.

The problem is that PRIOR TO USING our brain has a section that keeps trying to convince us that there is a reason or a way to make using not count.  That little voice in our heads and in our hearts is this “Great Obsession.” 

The Second one “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is best described in these passages:

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

These moments in time where a person cannot seem to muster up any serious or effective thought of what the terrific consequences might be have a name:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

They are called “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  They happen “during the period of premeditation” which means that this phenomenon also happens prior to using.

But, let’s slow down and look at this concept.  In spite of all of the information and advice a person might get on various things a person should do to remain abstinent or sober most people ignore all of that and use one very simple method:  Whenever a craving or temptation arises the person forces him/herself to think of all of the reasons he/she should not use and that consciousness of what could be lost and pain might be caused will be enough to repel the person.

The trick that gets people obsessed with this method of remaining abstinent is that it will work much of the time for a majority of us in recovery.  The fact it works most of the time convinces us that it works all of the time. 

A person using this defense who relapses often comes up with some reason why he/she relapsed and then convinces himself/herself that the same defense system should be put up.  

Think of an ancient city that was protected by a large wall.  When most armies would come to attack it they would not be able to get around the wall.  But there was this one army that would come once in a while and somehow could just cut a hole in the wall, march right in and start killing and destroying.

If the government of that ancient city kept rebuilding the wall exactly the same way, because it worked most of the time, wouldn’t they be fools.   The fact it worked most of the time did not make it good defense system if once in a while it would fail completely.

This is the idea of the “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  If your only defense is to force yourself to think of reasons not to use at moments when some part of you desperately wants to use you will have success sometimes, but at other times you will feel like you had no defense system at all.

Now lets relook that passage that describes the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

There are moments where the urge to relapse is so strong that you will not be able to force yourself to think about consequences, losses, pains, etc. at all.  If this is your only defense system you will be doomed in those moments.

So, what we have discussed so far is that a serious alcoholic/addict has a hidden obsession (often hidden from himself/herself) with the idea that there will be a magic way of getting intoxicated without any consequences.  Then, with the ability to lie to yourself about there being any consequences there come strange phenomenon of not being able to force yourself to consider the consequences (the ones you are trying to convince yourself are not there).  Once you convince yourself of the first lie and then stop fighting the lie with the second; YOU ARE DOOMED TO RELAPSE!

So the “crux” of the problem or “the mental state that precedes a relapse” and that is “an essential point requiring resolution” are described as “The Great Obsession” and these “Strange Mental Blank Spots.” 

The real problem is even simpler than “the mental state that precedes a relapse.”  The real problem is that you cannot trust your own brain or thoughts before you relapse to stop you from relapsing.  If you cannot trust your own brain and your own thoughts then your defense system cannot be based on what you can think or force yourself to think.  Recovery must be more than forcing yourself to think a few things or it will fail.

This is a big part of what it is to be POWERLESS.  In other words, this is a huge part of what you must understand to truly work Step 1.

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)???

3rd Rescue Method. If the arms be difficult to...
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 Are You Ready (Do You Know You Are Drowning?)??????

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

If you are trying to get or hoping to get recovery, then you absolutely need to ponder these two thoughts. 

  1. Do you want what we have and if so
  2. Are you willing to do anything, including some things you absolutely do not want to do, to get the lifestyle of freedom we have.

These questions are vital to any hope of recovery.

Over the past few weeks I have encountered an inordinate amount of people that are trying to begin recovery who are court ordered or otherwise brought to recovery by another individual.  When I see people like this I usually wonder what their answer to these two questions is.

I heard one fellow, when asked if he considered himself desperate say that he didn’t know.  My immediate first thoughts were, “If you do not know if you’re desperate or not; you probably are not.”   A desperate person usually knows that he/she is desperate.

I have discussed this previously, but desperation is key to being willing to do all of the uncomfortable, unpleasant and sometimes outright scary things that are asked of you in recovery.  For example:

  • People who are not desperate will not be thorough and honest about their Fourth Steps.  There will always be some things that are left off of it, minimized, softened or only partially described on it. 
  • People who are not desperate will not have the strength or desire to make amends to the people that are hardest to make amends to. 
  • People who are not desperate will not take a brutally honest look at themselves as it is too painful.

Desperation is the motivation to go towards and fight through the most uncomfortable parts of working through recovery.

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

That is desperation:  The desperation a drowning person for oxygen.  In light of this example, the idea of being desperate and not realizing you are desperate is a completely foolish idea.  If a drowning person was somehow completely unaware of how desperate the situation is, that person would have no motivation to seek air. 

  • “I probably need air, but I can probably wait.” 
  • “Yeah I know I need air and could drown, but I’m just not ready yet.” 
  • “I wish I could be desperate for air like other drowning people, but I just can’t see it like them.”
  • “Yeah, I know I need air, but I’m not like those other drowning people”

All of that sounds really silly.  Well that is how the idea of recovery without understanding the concept of how desperate you are sounds.  This understanding of desperation is a big part of working Step One and is necessary to even begin the Twelve Steps.

For those of us who sponsor others or are looking to sponsor others, this is an extremely important concept.  It is how you are to know if somebody is even ready for you to work with them.  Look at this passage explaining how to get sponsees:

Do not be discouraged if your prospect does not respond at once. Search out another alcoholic and try again. You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness what you offer. We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy. One of our Fellowship failed entirely with his first half dozen prospects. He often says that if he had continued to work on them, he might have deprived many others, who have since recovered, of their chance.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 96)

The implications of this passage are that if a person is not desperate there is no sense in working with that person.  That person is better off being released to discover how desperate his or her situation is. 

On a deeper level, if you are willing to give of your time, your life and your knowledge to someone why invest all that effort on a person who is not ready.  What about the people who are ready that cannot find someone to help them while you are off wasting time with someone who is not truly ready.  It’s literally letting a desperate person who could be saved die slowly while you are trying to save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.

If you are a sponsor or otherwise work with people in recovery, this must be a major consideration.  If a person does not have this level of desperation for recovery you have to try to get that person to understand how desperate his/her situation is.  If that person cannot reach that level of desperation, you have to be strong enough to let that person go and hopefully get that understanding through life experience.

If you are a friend or loved one who is trying to help a person who needs recovery then trying to make that person work recovery in a way that he/she is not interested in is expecting that person to succeed in recovery without that desperation.  That person has to realize how desperate he/she already is and you can try to explain it to him/her.  If you cannot talk that person into that understanding then you may have to use what many people call “tough love” to help that person understand.  That does not mean punishing that person, but that does mean letting the person suffer from the natural consequences of his/her actions. 

If that person get’s locked up, he/she needs to find bail elsewhere.  If you told that person that, “Next time you are out” then the next time you have to put that person out.  If every time you give that person money for something responsible that money disappears, you are going to have to stop giving him/her money etc. all of that in the hope that he/she will realize that he/she desperately needs recovery at all costs. 

That is what people are describing when they use the term “hitting bottom”.   The understanding that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of going through recovery. 

If you are the person that is starting recovery or even if you have been working recovery, you need to look at your own desperation and ask yourself are you this kind of “ready” for recovery.  That requires some deep honesty and searching and if you cannot say a definitive “yes”, that means some deep changing of your entire mindset is necessary.

It may seem like we are telling you that complete misery must be a part of someone’s life before recovery is possible and that only the miserable recover.  In some ways that is true, but it is not the misery that is key; it is the desperation which in many cases can only be realized when miserable.  That misery can force a person to realize that he/she wants change and more importantly make that person desperate to get it.  Then that person is ready to take the steps.

 

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.

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.

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 85)

One of the best ways to ensure your recovery survives the holidays with family, partying, Black Friday and Cyber Mondays, crowds, expectations and so on is to be proactive.  There are many reasons that can come up that might cause a person problems with his or her recovery, but the most dangerous are the subtle changes that we do not notice in time to respond to.  If you are waiting until you have a problem with your recovery to take action, you are resting on your laurels as described in this passage.  That means you are headed for trouble.

Let’s take a few minutes and look at one aspect of the subtlety of addiction and alcoholism before we go on with discussing what kind of action we are talking about.

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 pg. 42)

No matter how far you are along in recovery you are there is a fact that remains true of those that are the most severe addicts and alcoholics.  WE ARE POWERLESS!  If you have trouble with this concept and you are working a Twelve Step program, you are stuck.  You are stuck on Step One:

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

Understanding this idea and responding correctly are incredibly important during this time of year.  A time of celebration for many, a time of incredible stress for many, a time of drinking and using for many, a time for great depression for some, and so on.   Few people go through the holiday season without some profound change of emotion, good or bad. 

If you are totally relying on yourself to remain sober through all that a person encounters, experiences, and feels during the holiday season, you are at terrible risk.  

So what is this “powerless” that the Twelve Step information describes?

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 24)

The reason that I put both of these paragraphs here is because most people hearing the word “powerless” have an understanding that lines up with the first paragraph but that misses the ideas detailed in the second paragraph (as well as a few details in the first paragraph). 

Most people only think of “powerless” as “I cannot stop myself.”  With that limited understanding the next logical thought is that if “I cannot stop myself, then it is not my fault and it is useless to try to stop.”

Let’s look at that concept in detail:

In the first paragraph there are the words “at certain times”.  So whatever is going on here happens periodically and is not a constant.  The idea that; every time I get around someone that is using I just jump in and use, is not a part of the concept of powerlessness as described here.  As a matter of fact, what makes what the authors are describing here so sinister is the fact that it is something that only happens sometimes and you never know when it will happen. 

Think of having something electrical that has a short-circuit.  Whatever it is usually runs okay most of the time, but every once in a while the short-circuit takes over and cuts off the power and whatever it is stops working or has terrible problems.  This can happen with little or no warning and sometimes at the worst possible moments. 

The best example of a short-circuit that stands out in my mind is from a car I have that has a short-circuit in the headlights.  Every once in a long while I’ll be driving at night and the headlamps will just cut off.  When this happens, I just simply reach under the dashboard and jiggle the wires until the lights are on again. 

One night I was comfortably driving up the freeway minding my own business and then at the very same moment that I noticed a California Highway Patrol officer on the side of the freeway watching for speeders, my lights cut off.  I hurriedly reached under the dash to juggle the wires which then made the lights flash on and off until they finally went back to normal.  Could there have been worse timing?  

Without warning and in this case at the worst possible moment, the short-circuit took over.  This is how the “Strange Mental Blank-Spots” mentioned on page 42 are.  They happen without warning and can happen at the worst possible moment.  The biggest difference however is that most of the times that my car lights short out, very little happens and I can just jiggle the wires and move on.  When the strange mental blank spots happen there is usually a full blown relapse to follow.

Every once in a while there is a moment in our thoughts, emotions and resulting actions that will make it impossible to “bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.”  Bluntly put, there are moments that come up randomly, where our minds will not think about the reasons we shouldn’t use with enough force to keep us from using. 

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)

You may be one of the most disciplined people on earth in other things and may think yourself out of using most of the time, but in the short-circuit moments (the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”) those thoughts will either be a distant whisper or will not come up at all. 

Why that is such a problem is that many people in recovery develop only one true defense system and don’t even know it.  That defense system is:  “If I think I am about to use, I will force myself to think about all the reasons I shouldn’t and that will keep me from using.” 

What makes the Strange mental Blank Spots so insidious is the fact that they allow such a defense system to work much of the time so the person gets the idea that the defense system he or she has built works great.  Then without warning it fails miserably and there is this relapse and in some cases there is no sensible reason for the relapse.

…there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

The truth behind the “powerless” idea described in the Twelve Step Information is that it describes a person whose ability to reason sometimes shorts out and at those moments does not have the power to stop the person from absolutely destroying himself or herself. 

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)

You may be new to recovery or you may have been in sobriety since well into the last century, but either way this is something that must be at the very foundation of all of your recovery and ultimately your whole life.  With the changes that transpire in the world around us and within each of us in our own lives during the holiday season it is time for a recovery foundation checkup. 

You may hate the words “Higher Power”, you may be working out the idea of a Higher Power, or you may believe you have the whole Higher Power thing all worked out, but it is time to make sure that your defense is founded on a Higher Power idea that will really works even when your brain doesn’t.  A good place to start is to rework the first three steps as you are heading into the holidays and rebuild your foundation as strong as it can be built.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Something else to do at this time is to go back to the basics.  Go to Twelve Step meetings.  Get together with a sponsor, with mentors, with others in recovery etc. regularly throughout the holiday season.  Be open and humble about your problems with those around you so that there is not confusion and discomfort if you chose to leave situations where everyone is drinking, using, or that are otherwise troubling to your recovery.  In other words the holidays are not a time for taking a break from recovery related activities.  ‘Tis the season to increase your recovery activities.

There is one activity I failed to mention that you hear me mention quite regularly…

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)

Who are you sponsoring and working through recovery.  If you need more recovery efforts during this holiday season, so do others in recovery.  If you are sponsoring someone, that person needs more focus on recovery and particularly the first three steps just like you do.  If you are not helping someone through recovery, now is the time to look.  Be proactive and look for solutions to the challenges to your sobriety before there is a problem (and teach your sponsees to do the same).  Don’t wait till you are desperate and barely holding on to decide to start trying these things. 

I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

The things I have suggested here and many more things mentioned throughout the Twelve Step Materials are not magical activities that if done in a certain order will align the Rubiks Cube of recovery.  They are the elements of new way of living your life that creates the environment that allows you to remain sober.  The holidays are a time for us to focus or refocus on living the way of life that provides the wonderful gift of recovery as a byproduct of that new way of living.

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 13)

Either you take action as part of your new way of living or you are resting on your laurels and heading for trouble.  

 

Seek the New Way of Living,

Wade H.

Recovery: More Than Information and Memories

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Recovery:  More Than Information and Memories

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse?  We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back.  I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.

Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:

“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)

Here is the issue that this man is describing.  This man did what many of us do in
recovery.  He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan.  Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.

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 pg. 40)

The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking.  If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold. 

I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie:  They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission.  I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs.  In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.”  No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it. 

Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice.  This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”

The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all.  In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.

Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)

The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored.  The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?”  Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.

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. 42)

Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”).  That is why so many of us are fooled:  The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using.  Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.”  The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.

Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough.  The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough. 

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42)

To put it bluntly:

INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
SOBER!!!!!

There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change.  More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.

The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1.  If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless. 

I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use.  I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.

Clear Cut Directions – Steps 1, 2, and 3

clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 29)

All things 12 step and The Alcoholics Anonymous book (the original source for all things 12 Step) are supposed to be clear cut directions, but why such detail?  What
are they getting at.  Lets look at the importance of these clear cut instructions looking at Steps 1 through 3.  Let’s start at step 1:

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 pg 42)

There was a post I did previously about hitting bottom and Step 1.  This is a part of
the reality of that idea that makes recovery work.  I repeatedly go back to this concept as many of the struggles a person has in recovery can be traced back to a failure to properly work Step 1.

A person who reaches a step and uses an idea like, “Why do we have to do this, This isn’t gonna help” to keep himself or herself from doing that step properly (or from doing it at all) has not fully grasped that reality.  Asking or having the question is not the problem (I think questioning is good and good sponsors should have or at least know where to get the answers), not recognizing how desperate the situation is so you feel that it is safe to cut corners is where it becomes a breakdown in Step 1.

We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 25)

The next reality is that there is one possibility for escape, but it is one that some struggle with.  The point is bigger than that however.  The point is the first the previous recognition that I am trapped in a hopeless and helpless place.  The second point to get is that I there are large numbers of people that were in the same holes and helpless position who were helped through “spiritual help.”  If there is no hope whatsoever and suddenly someone shows me something that not only is the only hope, but has worked for others in a similar position, how desperately should I go after it?

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

How about, the same desperation that a drowning man would have?  That sounds like real desperation, doesn’t it?   That feeling a drowning person gets the moment he or she realizes that “I am not getting any air and I am going to die quickly if I don’t.”

That is a major point here, but there is more.  Notice the words: “the same scape”.   Whatever those that originally did this went through to get recovery you should be desperately seeking to do the same thing.  Not just the parts you are comfortable
with, or just how you feel like doing those things:  “the same escape”.

If discussing spirituality is a problem, then the problem is not that you struggle with the idea; it is only a problem if you do not desperately seek to figure out how to get over it to get the “same escape”.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.

But it isn’t so difficult. About half our original fellowship were of exactly that type. At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life – or else. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 44)

This is where a person transitions from Step 1 to Step 2 then to Step 3.  Some can go faster than others but a person should not (and really cannot) go to a later step until having fully completed all of the preceding steps properly.  Not if that person is looking to get “the same escape”

That means a person not thoroughly convinced of his or her powerlessness in Step 1 will not be ready to look at Step 2 “with all of the desperation of drowning men.”  A person who does not fully understand that learning to “live on a spiritual basis” is his or her only hope cannot see the need to nor have a desire to turn his or
her will and life over to God.

This moves us into a conversation about Step 2 which is tied to Steps 1 and 3.  These are the 3 questions:

  1. Do you know that your situation is so desperate that you have no choice than to do whatever these people did to get recovery (especially those things which you find uncomfortable)?
  2. Do you realize that a major part of their idea of recovery was willing to “find a spiritual basis of life – or else” and are you willing to desperately pursue “a spiritual basis of life”?
  3. As part of pursuing “a spiritual basis of life”  are you willing to turn your will and life over to God (even if you do not know that much about Him)?

The Alcoholics Anonymous book puts these questions this way:

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a)   That we were alcoholic and could not manage our
own lives.

(b)  That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.

(c)   That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three… (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

These are the keys to moving on to Step 3 and you must be convinced.  Originally there was a sentence right before the words “Being convinced” in the original manuscript that were removed for their bluntness, but they do convey the concept I have been describing well.   The original passage looked like this in the manuscript:

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after, have been designed to sell you three pertinent ideas:

(a)   That you are alcoholic and cannot manage your own life.

(b)  That probably no human power can relieve your alcoholism.

(c)   That God can and will.

If you are not convinced on these vital issues, you ought to re-read the book to this point or else throw it away!

If you are convinced, you are now at step three… (Alcoholics Anonymous Original Manuscript)

If you are not convinced, YOU CANNOT GO ON, STOP AND GO BACK!  SO the real question is can you answer yes to all three propositions or not (no matter what addiction you are trying to get over).  Again I will put the question in clear words:

  1. Do you know that your situation is so desperate that you have no choice than to do whatever these people did to get recovery (especially those things which you find uncomfortable)?
  2. Do you realize that a major part of their idea of recovery was willing to “find a spiritual basis of life – or else” and are you willing to desperately pursue “a spiritual basis of life”?
  3. As part of pursuing “a spiritual basis of life”  are you willing to turn your will and life over to God (even if you do not know that much about Him)?

Those are the clear cut instructions and if a person cuts a corner on or skips any of the Steps the rest will not have the proper results.

Starting Step 1 – The Lie Must Die

at a meeting
Image by smussyolay via Flickr

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)

To begin with, when a person is starting recovery, the minimizing and denial must stop! One of the struggles that many have in early recovery is this idea that I have problems and I am going a little overboard, but I am “not that bad” (not a serious alcoholic or a serious addict). In other words I am fairly normal, but I am just overdoing it a bit.

In one story located in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two examples of what this looks like…

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)

We first saw Fred about a year ago in a hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad case of jitters. It was his first experience of this kind, and he was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the hospital to rest his nerves. The doctor intimated strongly that he might be worse than he realized. For a few days he was depressed about his condition. He made up his mind to quit drinking altogether. It never occurred to him that perhaps he could not do so, in spite of his character and standing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

These are both excerpts from the same story, but both descriptions come from the observations of the members who were trying to work with him. Listen to how Fred himself describes this (after his big relapse):

“I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful in licking my other personal problems, and that I would therefore be successful where you men failed. I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would be only a matter of exercising my will power and keeping on guard. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 40)

This mindset says; “All that recovery stuff you are telling me is interesting, but I am not so bad that I need to do all that.” That is often a lie and it tells a person that he or she can just pay attention to what he or she is comfortable hearing. “If it’s something I find uncomfortable or I don’t like it, I can just ignore it because all of that is for people who are worse off than me” (like the person or people talking to me).

On page 568 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that:

Willingness, honest and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 568)

Let’s look at this kind of thinking and all how it resists these three essential mindsets:

  1. WILLINGNESS = If a person is suddenly faced with the reality that he or she is a serious alcoholic or addict and a person comes who not only offers a solution but is living it comes along it would seem like the reasonable choice to make is to try to do whatever that person does. That would also imply that if there are parts that you do differently than that person, then you will clearly get different results. The more you choose NOT to do, the more different your results. Are you willing to do exactly what that person did to try to get exactly the same results?
  2. HONESTY = In the case of Fred, in the story discussed above, he was in the hospital being confronted by doctors and others with similar problems who were diagnosing him as pretty advanced in his alcoholism. Even though he knew he had lost control to some degree and it had clearly led to some problems, he somehow convinces himself that he is more of an expert than the doctors, addicts, alcoholics and anyone else that might have tried to tell him differently. At what point does a person move from misled to flat out lying to himself or herself? Recovery requires being brutally honest with yourself and working to fix whatever problems are observed.
  3. Open-Mindedness = Even if it is hard to swallow, when both experts and people who have had the same experiences agree that your problem might be worse than you think it is, you should probably assume you might be wrong and they might be right. If a person who is not really an addict were to do all of the things an advanced user has to do to achieve sobriety, that person will still get many benefits (or at the least does no real harm). On the other hand, if a person who is an advanced level alcoholic or addict doesn’t do the things it takes to get sober the problem worsens. Lying to yourself is part of alcoholism and addiction and an open mind is a must if you are to get past it.

A person who is still driven by the lie that he or she is not as bad as the facts show clearly, or who knows it is a problem but justifies it by picking someone and saying, “At least I’m not as bad as that,” is failing to work the first step. No matter what that person says, writes, does etc. as long as that mindset persists, the lie will win and at some point tell that person it is okay to use again.

THE LIE MUST DIE OR THE RECOVERY IS JUST PART OF THE LIE!

The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)