Sober is “But a Beginning”?

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

Sober is “But a Beginning”?

He is straining every nerve to make up for lost time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation and feels he is doing very well.

Sometimes mother and children don’t think so. Having been neglected and misused in the past, they think father owes them more than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect him to give them the nice times they used to have before he drank so much, and to show his contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn’t give freely of himself. Resentment grows. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126)

This all describes a normal part of the family recovery process while also revealing some other aspects of the problem that may not be dealt with directly in recovery.  By family recovery process, I mean what the entire family experiences when an individual in that family is working through the process of recovery.   This example is specific in using the husband/father as the person in recovery, but the results are often similar with any family member.

But, let’s not focus on the other family members (in this description the wife and children), let’s focus on the trouble facing the person working recovery and what problems he/she may have that abstinence in and of itself may not fix.

What I am talking about are problems that the person in recovery may have had long before recovery and possibly even before using.

If a person has a collection of bad habits that existed prior to or outside of his/her using, it is possible that the bad habits are a separate set of problems from the using  (although they may contribute to one another).   In other words: If you had the problems before using alcohol/drugs or when without alcohol/drugs then simply going without alcohol/drugs, logically speaking, will not solve those problems.  ABSTINENCE WILL NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE HAD WHEN ABSTINENT IN THE PAST.

One of the reasons for the entire chapter that the passage above is in (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126 – The Family Afterward) is to help both the family and the person understand the fact that there is a lot work necessary for that person’s recovery and for the sanity of everyone in the family as part of the recovery process.  Abstinence is not the end all, be all of recovery.

We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

Many people get frustrated with the feeling of doing everything he/she can to be functional and abstinent because people around them seem to still not be satisfied.   It is awesome that you may feel like you are doing everything you can to fix everything, but even if you do not get the reception you think you deserve, there is no excuse for running back to dysfunction.  Recovery is about change and if you are not getting better, then you are staying the same and you should expect the same.  By the same I am describing the expectation that if you have not change you are still in your alcoholism/addiction.

In the example we started with, getting the wrong response was a trigger to resentment for the man in the story.  The expectation of a certain response was not met, leading to frustration and eventually leading to deeperand far more self-destructive feelings.  Ponder this thought:

First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

This man in the first story’s response to what he saw as his family’s inability to look at the efforts he is making and leave him alone (in other words, for them to bow down in worship of how awesome he is now) could be considered alcoholic/addict suicide.   I mean, after all, if the recovery information states that something destroys more alcoholics than anything else, it is assumed that you will do your best to avoid that something.   That something is having resentment and this guy’s expectation (unrealistic expectation) led to frustration and then to this destroyer that has the possibility of eating his recovery alive and in the end, eating his life up too.

Now here is a huge thought: a lot of people always think that their friends and family are not being fair to them because they keep focusing on the past.

The truth is: If the problems are not resolved for everyone involved, whatever problems you are talking about are not the past.  If those problems are things that are not resolved with someone in your home; that goes double!   If it something you have done, been doing, or did two minutes, two days, two weeks, two years or two decades ago is still bothering someone around you it cannot be called the past; it is a problem for them NOW!  If it creates a problem in the present, then it is a present problem not a past problem!

Let’s put this idea into family perspective:

The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded.

Since the home has suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under his own roof. We know there are difficult wives and families, but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much to make them so. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

We all have our shortcomings and once a person begins to use heavily, those problems are multiplied exponentially.  This brings us back to the key change necessary for each of us to have any hope:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

Self-focus is the enemy.  The idea that these problems are the past is based on the fact that you simply don’t want to deal with those things or to discus those things.  If they are coming up the people around you feel differently about those things.  They want to make some attempt to deal with those issues that they have right now that may have to do with things from the past.  Ignoring these things is to say that you would like to ignore dealing with the things they want to deal with and that you do not care if they work through the things that they are going through simply because their desired topics make you uncomfortable.  Your comfort is far more important to you than their resolution of the problem they have right now (at least in your mind that is true).

That can only lead to disaster and that kind of selfishness is recovery poison.  It is a wholesale plunge into the fiery abyss that is the root of our troubles:  Selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let’s look at another side of the problem the guy in the story had.  Another problem he has is this idea that that focus on recovering fortune and reputation were good enough focuses to say he was doing all he could.  The truth is, if a person is truly trying to repair the damage of the past with the family start by looking at what they would like you to do to repair the damage done and not just on what you feel like doing for them or what you think is enough.

If they are not onboard with the plan to fix everything that you have is it really a plan to fix everything or just to make you feel good about yourself.  Isn’t this man’s plans described as a desire to feel responsible and respected.  Not evil things in and of themselves, but if there is no balance of efforts to repair the damage done in the home, you are failing in some pretty serious recovery tasks (such as Steps Eight and Nine for example).

I do also understand that some people are unreasonable etc. (and that may go double for some of our family members) , but as a person recovering from alcohol/drug abuse, you have to constantly remind yourself that it is not okay for you to allow other people’s crazy to be contagious.  We do not have such luxuries as building resentment or being crazy because my family is being crazy.   Those are high dive plunges into the fiery abyss of misery and possible relapse.

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book described the proper attitude for dealing with all of this as part of the latter stages of the recovery process (particularly at the point of working Step 10 but also parts of Steps Eight, Nine and Four) starting with:

Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This is your response no matter how they are acting.  This is our code, not theirs.

There are actually some instructions for the families, but there is no guarantee that they will follow these instructions:

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

If you are the one of the family members, it is important to consider the incredibly positive or incredibly negative role you can play in this person’s recovery.  Everyone plays a part in the growth and change, it is just that an unselfish and not dysfunctional environment is key.  The challenge for everyone involved is to not slip into a self focus which then is converted into the “What have you done for me lately” mindset or into resentments.  If you are the family member, please do not transform into a relapse generating machine as soon as we start trying to change!

There is much more to all of this  and I could go on and on, but remember this (which is not just about a husband, but anyone in recovery can be substituted:

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

Reality is reality and it a much easier pill to swallow if you are realistic with yourself and with others. There is a great hope of freedom, but just being abstinent, although a very hard point to get to, is not enough. There is so much more to recovery and in knowing that there is so much more, there is so much more hope.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.


The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

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

058 (Photo credit: ribarnica)

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.

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

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! .  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
  2. 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.

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.


What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob
1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

That the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured – these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 18– 19)

In discussion what the signs are of a good sponsor, I am looking at this from the perspective of a newcomer (or anyone for that matter) that would need to know what to look for before you are working together for awhile and suddenly realize that your sponsor is not good for your recovery.

So on initial or early contact the signs of a good sponsor are

  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).
  2. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.
  3. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about
  4. Is a person with a real answer
  5. Has no attitude of holier than thou
  6. Only wants to be helpful



  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).

First, this should be a person who is eagerly looking for people to sponsor.  

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)

If a person truly understands Twelve Step Principles and has taken them to heart, that person must believe that “intensive work” with other alcoholics/addicts is a huge key to remaining sober.  Any person who is not seriously motivated to sponsor others does not truly understand the things that are important according to the Twelve Step process and cannot give you an understanding that he/she does not have himself/herself.


  1. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.

It is hard to truly understand the discomfort, fears, pain, anger, lies, confusion etc. that a person has to walk through, be brutally honest about and overcome in the recovery process.  It is even hard to understand how hard it is to truly start the process and take it as seriously as one should unless you have been through it.  

I am not one of these people who believes only and alcoholic/addict can ever work with another alcoholic/addict, but I do think there are man reasons why this is often the best way to go.  For example, there are some things that are simply seem ridiculous and possibly outright stupid that only a person who has been through it can understand what it is to see such things as perfectly sensible and what it really takes to be free of such things.


  1. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about

Oh, if only I had a nickel for every person at a Twelve Step meeting who was some kind o self proclaimed expert and Twelve Step guru that could talk a good game but when just listened to not only had no idea what he/she was talking about, but behind the smoke and mirrors really had no solution to offer.  

These people may be able to talk a big game and find lots of stuff for you to do while filling your head with quotes etc. that make you also able to talk a good game, but if they cannot offer you the ability to remain sober, what is the point.

The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

How are you going learn Twelve Step recovery and be guided through the process by a person who does not know the Twelve Step process properly.  If he/she doesn’t have it or doesn’t get it, how is that person going to give it to you?


  1. Is a person with a real answer

This is tied to the last point.  If a person is not offering you a solution that he/she understands and is at the least going through, then that person is just going to put you in a recovery holding pattern.  Kind of like a hamster on one of those running wheels, they may have you doing a lot of work, yet you will still be getting nowhere.


  1. Has no attitude of holier than thou

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?  Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

All of these guys who proudly talk a tough and strong sponsorship speech and who have this aura of being better than everyone else at a meeting etc. are the poster children for the problem not the solution.  

I am astonished at the self focus and outright arrogance of some of the supposed experts in Twelve Step recovery when the materials clearly state that this is in actuality the expression of the central problem we must overcome.

How are you going to show me the solution when you are an obvious example of what not to be and what not to do?  If that person is going to take you through the steps there is one concept that you have to keep in mind before you make that commitment.:  THE FRUIT DOES NOT FALL FAR FROM THE TREE.  The sponsor tends to reproduce in kind.  If the sponsor is an arrogant fool that has missed the main point, you are likely to become an arrogant fool who has missed the point.


  1. Only wants to be helpful

This is also tied to the last concept.  A person who has all kinds of strings attached is still selfish and self-centered and has not truly realized that simply doing this is a huge benefit not only for you, but for them to.  In other words, this is a person who does not get it.


I did not write this as a list of legalistic rules that you have to check each box or dump a sponsor and go after new one after new one.   This is intended to give you not only food for thought, but a clearer idea of what a sponsor should look like.  You probably wont find a whole lot of perfect sponsors running around (especially with the state of much of the Twelve Step world these days), but how much are you willing to sacrifice and more importantly what results can you expect.


Stay Sober My Friends,

Wade H.


Learning Yourself Sober?

Learning Yourself Sober?

But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 39)

The idea that you will be unable to stop using by gaining information alone is a very important point that must not be ignored.  It is amazing how many people are interested in learning themselves sober.

Information (Photo credit: heathbrandon)

Don’t get me wrong, I obviously think that learning alcoholism/addiction information and recovery information have an important role in the recovery process, but I am not under the misconception that if a person gets enough information that the fact they have enough information will magically keep that person sober.

This is one of the grave errors that many of us in recovery and many of us trying to help others through recovery often make.  We assume that somehow the right amount of information will keep you sober, it is just a matter of getting you to swallow enough data.

My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his kindness and that of my mother I was placed in a nationally-known hospital for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called belladonna treatment my brain cleared. Hydrotherapy and mild exercise helped much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained that though certainly selfish and foolish, I had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.

It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three for four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer – self-knowledge.

But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 7)

This man (Bill W.) understood himself and why he did what he did.  That knowledge made him feel like he had struck recovery gold.  He was filled with information about alcoholism/addiction but was not able to abstain from using for long even with that information.  He actually felt worse after relapsing with all of that information than he did without the information. 

Here is the truth:


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)

Notice the words “way of living”.  The information does nothing unless you end up with a new way of living.  How good or useful the information is to you can be measured by how much the information creates positive change in you.  If the information does not create change in you it is merely occupying space between your ears.  In one story the result is described this way:

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

This is the objective:  A new way of living more useful and more satisfying that the one you had before, no matter what your old life looked like.  Information is simply one of several tools used to get you there, but the attainment of information is not the destination.  

Your goal in recovery is to be a different person than you have been, so you will do different things than you have been so you can end up getting different results than you have been.  If you stay the same, you will do the same and get the same or worse results. 

How much you know does not necessarily come into play.  For example there are people who are highly educated, well educated in recovery information, who have been in and out of programs of all kinds who are somewhere getting lit at the same time as you are reading this.  There are also people dumb as stumps that getting the same kind of high at the very same moment (possibly they are together).   I suppose one is smarter about doing something incredibly stupid and one is stupidly doing something stupid, but they are both doing exactly the same stupid act:  Destroying their own lives.  The amount of information retained has not even come into play, nor has the lack of information.   They are simply to people who are intoxicated or drunk or high or “on one” or whatever.

I obviously think information is a great help to those of us working through recovery and to those around us.  The key is that I feel it is only helpful if you can use the information to help you change. 

I suppose a great method to use whenever you take in any recovery information is to ask yourself what I should change about myself or do differently because of what you learned.  If you are serious about these changes, you ought to write each one of these things to change about you down and really work on changing these things.  You might also get others to help you with each thing you think you should change.  And remember:


Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.


Discouragement is Not the Problem

Discouragement is Not the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondly, Bill became interested in helping another person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay sober my friends

Wade H.


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.