The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Ha...
Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.  All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals – usually brief – were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

 

I have been pondering this idea for a couple of weeks in the midst of several encounters with people struggling with alcohol/drug challenges who insist that the alcohol/drugs are not the problem.

Many of these encounters were conversations I was not directly involved in, but were taking place in a way that I was allowed to observe or I simply was not noticed.

As I watched these conversations I kept thinking to myself:  “If it is such a small thing to you, that you can take it or leave it, why don’t you just stop, just in case you are wrong?”

Then the word “delusion” from the preceding passage had new meaning to me that a definition cannot truly capture.

The cases I was observing were extreme cases where extreme cases where there were things like physical problems associated with excessive alcohol/drug use, history of excessive problems like arrest, violence, public and family embarrassment, spouse and family distress and complaining and on and on.

All of the people I witnessed had some level of functionality and thought they were managing their use.  I suppose in terms of the clinical idea of “harm reduction” these people are not nearly as bad off as they could be and their ideas of “managing” their alcohol/drug use have yielded some change in their amount of use.

The challenge I was noticing with these particular situations is that there were other people who had both past and more importantly present problems related to alcohol/drug use.

This is not always a perfect measure of ones using as the people around us as alcoholics/addicts could just be messed-up too and as such be just vomiting their crazy on us as we try to get better, but as I listened to these particular situations, I had to say that the basic points the friends and family in each situation were making sounded like valid concerns.  The problems they mentioned sounded like valid and immediate problems.

Then I remembered a couple of concepts that I was told in my recovery that I found to be key:

“I am not the right person to determine how good or bad my using is or my recovery is going”

“One of the first indicators that I am getting out of control or that I am out of control is that my using begins to bother others around me.”

“The self-diagnosis that I have it all under control is a part of the sickness of being an alcoholic/addict.”

“Lying to myself and others is a major part of the sickness and one of the biggest obstacles to recovering.”

These key concepts as a backdrop change the way I would have the same conversations if I was the person who was using.  If my relatives, friends, spouse, children, parents, etc. say that my drinking is starting to concern them, I have to assume that that is true, because I HAVE PROVEN THAT I AM NOT CAPABLE OF JUDGING IF I AM MANAGING ALCOHOL/DRUG USE MYSELF (one of the reasons I simply don’t use at all and plan to never drink alcohol or use drugs again).  I would be forced to respond as if it is a proven fact and stop, assuming that my drinking/using is at least a major part of the problem(s) if not the source all together.

This brings me back to a story I have used a few times here in different posts that I think has to be considered in this conversation:

Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.

On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?

You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, the illustration would fit us exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language – but isn’t it true?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 37 – 38)

As I listened to these various conversations, I had to ask myself a huge question:  “At what point does a person have to face the fact that their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use are failing and look at stopping altogether?”

When each person I listened to was planning their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use their mind allowed them “set the bar” at “As long as annihilation of my entire world has not happened ALREADY, I am doing a good job of managing.”

The conversations I overheard involved ideas such as divorce, death and other terrible occurrences in a way that sounded imminent.  The persons in question seemed to feel that as long as they could make some kind of argument that either shut the worried person(s) up or that made some other problem seem like a bigger problem alcoholism/using can be taken off of the table completely.

To be completely honest, the best way I can describe the conversations I was hearing is to LOOSELY quote an old saying that many of us have heard:

“IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH BULL-DROPPINGS!”  

The conversations sounded like one person grasping at every straw imaginable, and using every trick in the book to avoid one possible conclusion at all costs.  That conclusion is the one that says:  “My alcohol/drug use is a part of and possibly the source of this problem.”

I have come up with a new concept that may be a general rule for all of us:

If you have to argue, discuss, debate or otherwise convince others that your drinking/using is not a problem then it most likely is a very serious problem!

I believe there are people who are not as advanced as I was who can moderate or stop drinking/using with a little guidance, but I also believe there are those of us so far advanced that there is no longer a safe amount of alcohol/drugs we can use ever.  Those of us in the second category seem to often believe ourselves to be in the first category and this is what is known as “The Great Obsession”.

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. 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)

If you are not sure where you stand and others are concerned, I would advise assuming the worst and seeking treatment that will help you learn to stop using alcohol/drugs all together.  It would seem considerably better for a few people who could have moderated to stop completely then for several people who might have been saved to absolutely destroy their own lives and possibly even die thinking they are “moderating”.

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

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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.