Joy, happiness and freedom EVEN UNDER PRESSURE AND DIFFICULTY; these are alien concepts to so many of us. If you are in the world for any period of time it wont take long to realize that the world is like a game of cards: There are good hands and there are bad hands and you gotta know how to deal with both.
One thing that is also true of us working through recovery is that we really don’t have the luxury of freaking out. We either learn to deal with the good and the bad or we haven’t really learned to deal with life.
I was very specific when I said BOTH because some of us cannot handle the bad without freaking out and some of us cannot handle the good without self-destructing.
I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape; they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. xxix-xxx – 4th Edition the Doctor’s Opinion)
He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 21)
Some of us fall flat on our face from things going too well also. We gotta learn to handle the good and the bad. We have to learn to have happiness and remain free in both. This is something that comes through the process (the passage from page 83 is from “The Promises” that are for those almost through with Step 9), but we have to be aware of it also.
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
Of course, the timeframe mentioned here is after Step 9 is completed, but this is key also. We are not fighting people and life, we are taking life on life’s terms, one day at a time. We are looking to gain the courage to change the things we can change, the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the wisdom to know the which are the things we can change and which are the things we cannot.
If you are not at this point, three things are evident:
Getting through the Steps up to Step Nine seems to be a prerequisite to the expectation of a lot of this, so vigorously working or reworking your Steps is a key
Then there is this:
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)
When desperate, working with somebody else is a must. If you are feeling uncomfortably bad or uncomfortably good it is not just a choice, it is a must.
It is not about you!!!! The planet and all the people in it were not specifically placed here to keep you comfortable.
If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 60– 61)
You cannot try to force or manipulate the world into keeping you comfortable and you cant allow yourself to get angry, indignant, self-pitying or so otherwise uncomfortable that you are in danger.
Joy, freedom and happiness that can sand pressure and discomfort are offered to you. There is hope, but you have to take action to get it.
The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones
The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We
find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?
Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle.There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)
For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world. Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.
The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.
An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)
The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)
These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned.
Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems: If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.
You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.
The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.
I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person. If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!
If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise. The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past. This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:
Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past. We are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell him what he should do. His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 77– 78)
If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us. We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery. We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality.
A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened. Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again. This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.
That is the task that must be undertaken at some point. There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely. The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly. The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results. That means relapse and worse!
All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.
Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):
We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.
And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give? (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)
According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix. This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY. There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever. Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not.
If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:
This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue.
If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people: STOP IT NOW!!!
You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out. If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:
That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up. (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).
Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.
The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form. Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness. The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly: “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”
As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this. That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!! We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other. We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also. Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.
I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues. I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us. I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.
In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem). And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…” That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.
You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you. Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure. You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her. You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.
If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends. If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.
There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.
It is always amusing to me how many people ask me, doesn’t the Big Book tell you to, “make amends unless making it will harm you or them?” They always have this look as if I have suddenly had my mind wiped clear of all recovery knowledge when I firmly answer them with a flat-out “NO!” Then they always want to convince me that it does say that. Then I casually refer them to page 79 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book and read:
Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79)
Then to page 59 which is the step they are terribly (and possibly fatally) misquoting:
The correct quote is “except when to do so would injure THEM or OTHERS. The Step and the book say absolutely nothing about avoiding the making of an amends because it might harm you. As a matter of fact, the passage we looked at from page 79, we are to make all emends, “no matter what the personal consequences may be.”
The conversation itself is an attempt to convince me of a path to recovery that is completely opposite to we are being told.
All those “Promises” that we are all taught through repetition to use as the carrot on our recovery stick. These “Promises” are waved around as the big happy ending for us. The point in our story where we got to the “and he/she lived happily ever after” part.
I am not saying these promises are not true or that they are not a good goal to shoot for. These are the truth and definitely an awesome goal to shoot for. The problem is that people miss the fine print. The disclaimer like the mumbling at the end of a commercial that tells you what is really going on with this contest, free gift or potential side effects of this medication.
The fine print that so easily slips by particularly clear in the first sentence of the paragraph containing these “Promises”.
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)
For some of you that are reading this, it is not the first time you hear me discussing this, but it is important to ask yourself; “Which phase of my development is the “this phase” that is described here?” That is because the promises are only for those who are painstaking about that “this phase”.
But before we get to that lets look at another passage that many of us may be familiar with, but often miss what it is really saying. The paragraph after the paragraph containing the promises:
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
Notice the “work for them” part. If there is a “this phase of our development” then that is really the focus of what we are working hard at to get these “Promises”.
The next two sentences are a change of thought but also a continuation of the same thought.
This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)
The change of thought is that we are transitioning from a discussion about Step Nine and moving into a discussion about Step Ten. The continuation of the same thought is the fact that it states that you started to really work on your Step Ten as you were working on your Step Nine.
Making your amends is not just a step you check a box for, it is a major part of starting your new “way of living”. If you only do a partial job of making amends, you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living. That means that the amends you leave out has left behind some of the old you and that is the old you that will drive you to do what the old you does. That means a relapse or other fits of stupid.
IF YOU ARE PAINSTAKING ABOUT STEP NINE – NO MATTER WHAT THE PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES MAY BE – THEN THE PROMISES ARE WHAT ARE BEING PROMISED TO YOU! That does not mean however that not getting beat-up, not getting yelled at, not getting spit on, not going to jail etc. are promised to you. Those are contained on the promises. Freedom that comes from being an entirely new you is what is promised unless you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.
So, to answer that question once-and-for-all (yeah right, someone will read this and immediately try to tell me I am not reading it right): There is no passage that says to make amends unless it might hurt you or make you uncomfortable.
In fact the amends that will have the most effect in your life are the ones that are the most uncomfortable and the most risky.
That whole concept that you don’t do it if it is somehow uncomfortable or risky is a lie from the darkness of your root problem:
Not making amends to someone you did something to is totally about protecting yourself from physical harm or from being emotionally hurt in some way. It is a completely selfish act. If you have so latched on to the root of your problem you are locked on to the very thing which is destroying you, but you don’t want to let go.
There are awesome promises for you, but only if you are painstaking bout making ALL OF YOUR AMENDS!!!
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83– 84)