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

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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.

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

3rd Rescue Method. If the arms be difficult to...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

These questions are vital to any hope of recovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)
To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: “There is a Solution”

Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We went to live with my wife’s parents. I found a job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

One thing that is terribly tough for those of us in recovery and those around us is to find the balance between facing reality and maintaining some kind of hope. 

To even have any idea of the need for recovery, one must usually see how big the problem is.  A serious reality check has to happen to see how desperate the situation is which will lead to a willingness to take desperate measures to change the situation.

On the other hand sometimes those of us in alcoholism/addiction are so fixed on feeling sorry for ourselves that we use such information to throw a self-destructive “pity party”.  Some of us experience these “reality check” moments regularly (particularly after a relapse) and feel it so impossible to get better or change that it gives us the opposite effect.

The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 6)

This may just be an excuse for using or in politer terms an attempt to self medicate unbearable emotions, but the reasoning does not make any of this any less real to the person experiencing it.  The sense of impending calamity is real to us because it is true to some degree in all alcoholics/addicts. 

To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “There is a Solution”

Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

The message to all of us that desperately need recovery has to be both a clear reality of how desperate we are and a solid stand that there is hope.  If you are a person around one of us who desperately needs recovery and would like for a that person to get free then you must stand strong in your conviction to both parts of the message:  “You are a terrible mess” and “There is a way you can get free of all of this and build a better existence.

There is a disclaimer though.  You know what a disclaimer is; it is that thing at the end of commercial for medications, diet pills, and car manufacturers where after they have made the extraordinary claims, they rapidly mumble what the hidden catch is.  Here is the disclaimer as clear and concise as it can be:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

Recovery is a simple process as far as the explanation of what to do and the laying out of the Steps.  Recovery is not easy because the things you have to do, although simple to explain are really hard to do.  The simple steps outline things we simply do not want to do.  Things that are terribly uncomfortable or that outright hurt:  Things that both our unconscious and conscious minds will want to resist at all costs.

Now here is how the balanced messages of honestly facing the truth and continuing to have hope come together:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Another part of the disclaimer is that each person trying to work through recovery has to be brutally and painfully honest with himself/herself or the process is doomed to fail.

As I have repeatedly said in previous posts:  “Facts are Facts!”  Ignoring them, “candy coating” them, lying to yourself and others about them, etc. is a part of the bondage.  Being willing to first face these things and then being willing to do whatever it takes to be free of all of these uncomfortable things is necessity for any kind of recovery.  That is where the hope is. 

There is hope, but you have to be willing to face and fight through terrible discomfort to get there.  This starts with really facing how desperate the situation really is.  Step 1 states that:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 

And that is truly where to begin once a person has discovered the need for recovery, but a certain amount of Step 1 has to have been completed to begin working Step 1.  I know that sounds confusing, but look at this explanation of what to ask someone before you start working him/her through the Steps:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

The hidden connection between understanding the desperation of the situation and having the hope of getting free is being willing to do anything to get free.  That is where the two seemingly opposites meet.  In other words the bridge between understanding it is a hopeless situation and the hope of freedom is willingness.  This is the starting point of freedom.

Now look at this statement again and it should be a clear idea of the role it plays in the recoveries of others:

How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We have to see how dark it really is to look for and truly appreciate the light.

Stay sober my friends…

 

Wade H.

Learning to Face Life vs. Hide From It

Learning to Face Life vs. Hide From It

It is not to be expected that an alcoholic employee will receive a disproportionate amount of time and attention. He should not be made a favorite. The right kind of man, the kind who recovers, will not want this sort of thing. He will not impose. Far from it. He will work like the devil and thank you to his dying day.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 149)

This chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book is speaking directly to employers working with alcoholics and addicts that are their employees, but this passage reveals something that is much more of a general concept for all involved.  Many of us, when we are working through recovery expect the people around us and in some cases the world around us to give us special and delicate treatment because of the fragile nature of recovery.  Many of us reached this level of using because of various things that happened in our past etc. and feel as though we are entitled to a special period of a gentle world to get back on track.

That is a wonderful concept and makes some sense, but the truth is that that just aint gonna happen and in reality shouldn’t.  The truth is that it is destructive to your long term recovery to build your recovery in this fantasy land and then suddenly after some extended period thrust you into the real world where people are not going to have time to baby you as an individual and expect you to suddenly be able to suck it up and stay sober.

I am not saying that many in recovery do not need to take a break from the extreme chaos of life and start fresh, that a big part of what residential recovery is all about.  The thing is that even in residential recovery there should not be a complete babying of a person, then a graduation where that person is suddenly thrown overboard to brave whatever comes and swim to safety somehow.  There has to be a level of reality all along to be prepared to deal with the reality of the world when leaving the sheltered environment of a residential recovery program.

For the family and friends around a person in recovery, this is very important for you to understand.  There are probably changes that everyone needs to make in terms of interacting with this person and being realistic with this person, but codependently coddling a grown person is not helpful to anyone involved.

For example if a person who has just finished a residential recovery program is perfectly capable of working and paying his or her own bills, it is usually not helpful to have that person sit around the house watching television while you kill yourself trying to pay your bills and theirs also.   Some get it in their heads that this is good because we wouldn’t want the person in recovery to get too much stress he or she cannot handle.  That might lead to relapse.

The fact is, if that person just finished residential recovery and cannot handle the stress of having a job and paying his or her own bills, that person was not ready to leave that residential program.  There is considerably more treatment needed.  This person is set up to manipulate and use every person that cares about him or her until they all burn out and that person is left alone and without the abilities and skills needed to survive in life.

A huge part of being able to maintain sobriety is learning how to pull your own weight in life.  There are some that are able to do this throughout their using and that is great, but many cannot.  Nobody around a person that is struggling to learn to take care of him or herself should make the problem worse by helping a person avoid the very things that will teach the person how to live life.

Recovery is not about learning how to avoid living a normal life particularly the problems that everyone in the world faces.  Recovery is learning how to live a sober life in the midst of the ups and downs of life that everyone faces.  If a person’s recovery cannot handle the ups and downs of life…  THAT PERSON’S RECOVERY CANNOT HANDLE LIFE!!!  A recover that cannot handle the tough times is a recovery that is doomed to fail.  YOUR RECOVERY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS HOW IT CAN HANDLE THE TOUGH TIMES!!!

For those around us working through the process, your biggest struggle is how to help us face the normal problems of life without either stepping in and doing everything for us or without turning into the angry Grinch that acts like some Marine Drill Instructor always pointing out every wrong and putting us down at every turn in the hope that it makes us tougher.  You must be gentle but firm in your own way.  You need to stick to your guns as politely as we will allow and in the times where you have to save us from a failure, you need to make sure it is not something we should be saving ourselves from.

Never reduce recovery down to a process of learning how to avoid life.  Recovery is the process of learning to face life soberly no matter what life throws at you.

WE ARE THAN LEARNING THAT WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS WE DO NOT USE THEM TO GARNISH A MARTINI… WE MAKE LEMONADE TO KEEP US HYDRATED AS WE WORK HARDER.

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 2

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!  Part – 2

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

If you are in recovery self-centeredness is a challenge that needs to be overcome.  As I stated in the previous post (To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!) I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable. If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in need of recovery you are probably well acquainted with the fact that that person is concerned with his or her own comfort at the expense of others including you.

In the last post we explored that self-centeredness, but what does the desired objective look like.  What does a person free or well on the way to being free of self-centeredness look like?

Here is a conversation from the “Working With Others” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book instructing us how to describe this to a potential newcomer:

Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him. Make it plain he is under no obligation to you, that you hope only that he will try to help other alcoholics when he escapes his own difficulties. Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own. Make it clear that he is not under pressure, that he needn’t see you again if he doesn’t want to. You should not be offended if he wants to call it off, for he has helped you more than you have helped him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 94)

Notice how unselfishness is the message.  The person trying to work with the potential newcomer first describes how unselfishness actually is a huge part of helping yourself.  Then that person describes how the biggest reward he or she is looking for is for that potential newcomer to get better through gaining the same unselfishness. 

In other words the message is that if I want to help myself I have to get you to get it and to help others in the same way.

Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

Notice the words “to see a fellowship grow up about you.”  The “host of friends” and the people you will watch recover are the people you work with.  Getting outside of yourself and helping others to recovery becomes “the bright spot” of your life.

Working with others is not the only evidence of unselfishness, but it is a very key one.  That is why this statement is true:

Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 20)

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)

I understand that there are people who do not get the unselfishness aspect of all of this and do some attempts at working with others (usually because he or she feels forced).  What I am talking about looks and sounds more like this.  (if it is you going through recovery this is a feeling you should experience that becomes a part of who you are):

While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.

My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 14)

It was a feeling and thought that Bill W. had and his sponsor reinforced.  Working with others is one of the key evidences that a person is at least growing in unselfishness.  For those of us who have traveled Alcoholics Anonymous circles we are probably at least somewhat familiar with what are known as “The Promises.”  Listen to this part of “The Promises”:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

The death of selfishness is a huge goal in for all of us looking to remain sober.  As we come to see that our experience can benefit others we “lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.”  Then “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

If you think you have reached some major milestone in recovery (finishing a program, someone says you have finished all the steps, you are abstinent currently and feel fine) and you do not feel or think in the manner described here, there is much more to do.  You seem to have missed something.

If you are the friend or loved one of person who has reached one of these milestones and that person has no desire to reach others, that person is in deep trouble.

Here is an end note for the friends and loved ones.  If the person does get this change of focus and begins to focus on working with others be as supportive of those efforts as you can.  Do not hinder their work with others or you may be choking the life out of that person’s recovery.

The following passage was written “To Wives” bit applies to all friends and loved ones:

Still another difficulty is that you may become jealous of the attention he bestows on other people, especially alcoholics. You have been starving for his companionship, yet he spends long hours helping other men and their families. You feel he should now be yours. The fact is that he should work with other people to maintain his own sobriety. Sometimes he will be so interested that he becomes really neglectful. Your house is filled with strangers. You may not like some of them. He gets stirred up about their troubles, but not at all about yours. It will do little good if you point that out and urge more attention for yourself. We find it a real mistake to dampen his enthusiasm for alcoholic work. You should join in his efforts as much as you possibly can. We suggest that you direct some of your thought to the wives of his new alcoholic friends. They need the counsel and love of a woman who has gone through what you have.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 119)

Wade H.

Confronting or Not Confronting???

We realize some men are thoroughly bad-intentioned, that no amount of patience will make any difference. An alcoholic of this temperament may be quick to use this chapter as a club over your head. Don’t let him get away with it. If you are positive he is one of this type you may feel you had better leave. Is it right to let him ruin your life and the lives of your children?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

 Some people in recovery immediately upon deciding to give all of this a shot become more caring and considerate, this passage is not describing that group.  This passage is describing the people who are still “bad-intentioned” even when abstaining from alcohol and drugs.  Some of those “bad intentioned” individuals even misuse the information they get in recovery to manipulate others.

These people may say that they want to change and this may or may not be true, but the point is that if their actions continue to be destructive to those around them, it may
be better to take drastic measures for the good of all.  Just letting the person continue to be an evil force, destroying his or her own life and the lives of all who he or she comes into contact with is the worst option.

I am not saying that all people who use heavily should be abandoned by their loved ones, but I do feel that allowing such a person to do whatever he or she feels, no matter
how destructive is actually a worse option.
There has to be a reasonable and balanced approach that is going to be helpful for all involved.

Let’s slow down a bit and look at this in more detail.  If you look at the page that the first verse we read is on, we see what may seem like the exact opposite message:

Try not to condemn your alcoholic husband no matter what he says or does. He is just another very sick, unreasonable person. Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia. When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 108)

Sometimes, people assume this means to allow the person to do whatever he or she wants to do and say nothing.  Then you reach the passage we started with that says to not let the person “get away with it” and you may need to leave that person.  These seem like conflicting ideas or at least pretty different extremes.  The fact is, everyone involved needs to look at what is best for everyone.

Most of us have encountered the child who has the parents that can never say no to him or her.  The kind of parents who never confront the troubles a child has.  Those
are usually the kids throwing things in the isle of the grocery store or cussing the parents out in a crowd.  Then you have the parents that verbally or physically abuse their children.  Those children have all kinds of issues not the least of which often being drug and alcohol problems.  The point is that doing too much to correct a
child is detrimental, but doing too little is also terribly detrimental.

With those of us in recovery there are some things we need to be handled delicately, some things that we need to be told bluntly and some things we need to figure out
ourselves.  The problem is that even as the person going through it, we often do not know which approach goes where until after the fact.

What is clear with many alcoholics and addicts is that if someone approaches something that needs to be handled delicately with too much force, we tend to rebel against the idea without even considering if it is true or not.  If something that needs to be handled more directly and forcefully is handled too delicately we tend to either ignore it or use manipulation to just not deal with it.  If it is something we
need to figure out ourselves, delicate or direct approaches are both just information, but not really what is needed.

The point of all this:

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in recovery or in need of recovery:

  • Start with someone who already knows the ropes and have the person (or group of person’s) walk you through the process.
  1. Some of these kinds of people include the person’s sponsor, an Al-Anon or  CODA group, a professional counselor, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader,  etc.
  • Think in terms of what serves the greatest good!
  1. Am I helping or hurting the person (allowing someone to do something that is destructive to his or her relationships or to him or herself is often not good for that person while beating a person who feels terrible guilt while he or she is down is also not helpful)
  2. Am I helping or hurting those around us
  • If I do nothing is someone around us going to get hurt?
  • If I confront this is someone around us going to get hurt in some way?
  • Is there a way to confront this that will best solve the problem (instead of just making me feel better about getting it off of my chest)
  1. Am I allowing the person to hurt or abuse me in a way that hurts both of us?
  • Is this something I should plan a proper time for confrontation or I should do now?

Consider this passage which describes conversation with the person (confrontation) done appropriately:

We know these suggestions are sometimes difficult to follow, but you will save many a heartbreak if you can succeed in observing them. Your husband may come to appreciate your reasonableness and patience. This may lay the groundwork for a friendly talk about his alcoholic problem. Try to have him bring up the subject himself. Be sure you are not critical during such a discussion. Attempt instead, to put yourself in his place. Let him see that you want to be helpful rather than critical.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 111)

This may only be one example, but the focus is serving the greatest good of all while
confronting the problems.

If you are the person in recovery you need to keep in some things in mind:

Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. We must take the lead. A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all. We ought to sit down with the family and frankly analyze the past as we now see it, being very careful not to criticize them. Their defects may be glaring, but the chances are that our own actions are partly responsible. So we clean house with the family, asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

  1. Much of the mess you are dealing with and the crazy that seems to be around you is your own creation.  If you didn’t create the crazy around you, it is possible that you drew it into your life.
    • Part of your recovery is doing all you can to repair whatever damage you have created.
  2. You should not avoid conversations that confront your issues; it is part of your
    recovery to seek out those conversations.
    • If the people closest to you cannot tell you what they see that you may need to change, who can?  They probably know better than anyone (because they have often been the victims).
  3. If we expect them to be patient, tolerant and kind with us in spite of our “crazy”
    we owe them the same patience, tolerance and kindness when they approach us in some way that is a little crazy.
  4. Be willing to look at what the people around you are saying is important to them with the importance they say it has.
    • Just because you don’t think it is not that important does not mean that it’s not.
  5. Do not try to use your recovery information to manipulate those around you.
  6. When in doubt seek out council from your sponsor, some much more mature in recovery, professional counselors, a pastor, priest or other qualified religious leader, people from your group, etc.
    • Keep people who are knowledgeable, understanding yet direct enough to tell you the truth in your life for such purposes.
  7. ABSTAINING FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUGS IS NOT ENOUGH!!!

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 82)

My point is that all of these challenges will have to be confronted; it is only a matter of how and when these confrontations will take place. 

One set of words from a segment of the book discussing Step 9 best sums this all up:

Whatever the situation, we usually have to do something about it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 81)

Pink Clouds & Pink Sevens? (Part 2)

 And the first thing you know I was lifted right out of the A.A. group, and I floated higher, and higher, and even higher, until I was way up on a pink cloud which is known as Pink Seven, and I felt miserable again. So I thought to myself, I might just as well be drunk as feel like this.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 304 – “Physician Heal Thyself)

“Why, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve been sober for three months, been working hard. You’ve been doing all right.” But then he said, “Let me say something to you. We have here
in this community an organization which helps people, and this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Why don’t you join it?” I said, “What do you think I’ve been doing?” “Well,” he said, “you’ve been sober, but you’ve been floating way up on a cloud somewhere. Why don’t you go home and get the Big Book and open it at page seventy and see what it says?” So I did. I got the Big Book and I read it, and this is what it said: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” The word “thoroughly” rang a bell. And then it went on to say: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.” And the last sentence was “We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”
“Complete abandon”; “Half measures availed us nothing”; “Thoroughly follow our path”; “Completely give oneself to this simple program”—rang in my swelled head.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 304-305  – “Physician Heal Thyself)

So, what is the solution to this “pink cloud” and the worst cases of this “pink cloud” called “the Pink Seven?” 

Let’s break down the page he was referred and see how it relates to solving this issue:

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.  Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 58-59)

The first point seems to be that it is “too much for us.”  We cannot recover on our own.  But, why was that so important to getting past the “pink cloud” experience?  If you
glance at the rest of page 59, the rest of the page lists Steps One through Eleven this idea seems to revisit Step 1.

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

The “old-timer” that had gotten a hold of him led him to a place where he could see that first and foremost, no matter what Steps or recovery stuff he thought he was doing, he had drifted to a place where he thought he had found the power to stay sober on his own power.  He may have been working Step 4 or 5 maybe 8 or nine, but the “old-timer” felt the breakdown in his recovery that led to his “Pink Seven” was a breakdown in Step 1.

People who have been around me in recovery settings have probably heard me say this “Many of the times that people experience breakdowns of some kind in their recoveries are really experiencing a breakdown in Step 1.”  I am not saying that this is the magic fix all, but whenever I start to struggle, I start by looking at Step 1.  In other words I refocus on the idea that I cannot overcome this on my own power.   All the recovery “stuff” I do or am doing does not give me the power, all of it gives me access to the power or more specifically better access the one who has the power.

Here is the real question to the person riding the “Pink Seven” is:  “What are you so excited about?”  Being sober for a bit is a huge accomplishment for many of us, but any excitement should be about the long journey I am about to take not as much about the journey I have already taken.

Think of it this way, I am about to fly overseas on a trip I really want to take.  Starting recovery and remaining sober for a period of time is like buying the ticket.  It is an exciting moment, because the journey is finally real.  Now, imagine being so excited that you bought the ticket that you go out and celebrate having the ticked so hard that you never actually make the journey.  You would be so busy celebrating the journey and the progress you had made towards making the journey, that you lose focus on the rest of the journey.  The excitement itself is not a problem until it becomes so much of a focus that it becomes a distraction from taking the rest of the journey.

The point is that this distraction is another part of our addiction or what keeps us in our addictions.  Simply put distractions that keep us from working on our recovery are a part of the problem and a normal part of our recovery that must be overcome.

Then this short paragraph moves on to Step 2:

Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

Part of looking at the rest of the journey and a big part of refocusing on being powerless is to realize that there is power available so you can refocus on deepening your connection to that power instead of celebrating out on “the Pink Seven.”

The Second thing that “old-timer” was trying to show this man through this short read was Step 2:

2.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

If there is no escape from something terrible, and suddenly you find out there is a possible escape, should you celebrate the fact there is a possible escape so much that you never actually escape.  That is what “pink cloud” riders are doing.  The truth is that if you are stuck in something terrible where there is no escape and suddenly you hear that there is a possible escape, celebration should be brief if there is any celebration at all.  You have to get on with the business of actually escaping.

Then the passage this man was referred to goes on to say:

…there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. 
(Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

This man was at the “turning point.”  He either had to do something different or keep doing what he had been doing and expecting different results.  Two key points here seem to be:  “asked His protection and care with complete abandon. And “Half measures availed us nothing

All of this brings us to Step 3:

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)

The one who has “all power” is God and we each need to focus on deepening our relationship with Him.  Some of us know nothing about God, some of us know a little about God (or at least think we do) some of us know a lot about God (or at least think we do), but whatever level of access to this power that we each have, we need more.  You do not have to have a super-deep and super-clear understanding of every detail about God to be able to work all of this out, but you do need to focus your efforts on deepening your relationship with Him.  As it is stated on Pages 99 and 100 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 99-100)

This relationship is stated as what your whole recovery depends upon.  You may not have it, understand it, and in some cases may be opposed to it, but that does not change the fact that this relationship is the point: 
May you find Him now.

Those were three of the points that the “old-timer” seemed to be making to this man, but there is one more point that is much more overarching. 

We have here in this community an organization which helps people, and this organization is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. Why don’t you join it?” I said, “What do you think I’ve been doing?”  “Well,” he said, “you’ve been sober, but you’ve been floating way up on a cloud somewhere.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 304-305 – “Physician Heal Thyself”)

The funny thing about this part of the conversation is that if you read through page 304 the man on the “Pink Seven” is already a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and has all the literature etc. that is a part of it.  As a matter of fact he was one of the people most excited about Alcoholics Anonymous.  That explains his response:  “What do you think I’ve been doing?” 

So, why did this guy describe Alcoholics Anonymous to him as if he had never heard of it?  He was being sarcastic as a way to make a huge point.  He had all the Alcoholics Anonymous stuff that the others used and went to meetings and talked the lingo, but he was not actually even close to doing what the others were doing.  He was just acting like he thought a person in recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous should and “talking a good game.”  He had all the emotion and little of the correct action.  Even with the right things he was doing, he was not ding those things correctly or with the right mindset.  That is why the page he referred him to not only covered some very important points about why he was struggling but also was the page that included the steps.

Working recovery is not about acting like your sober, or like your in recovery, it’s not about acting like you are an expert in recovery, it’s not about acting like you are an expert in recovery; it is about
really working on the recovery.  I understand the concept of “faking it til you make it,” as a starting point, but faking it will not give you recovery.  It will only work if you work it. 

I suppose the big underlying point to take away from this is that feeling sober and better is not the same as being sober and better.  Sometimes the “crazy” of our addictions or alcoholism can give us a false feeling of great success that is actually intended to keep us using.  This is the “pink cloud” and in the worse cases the “Pink Seven.”

If you are there are you are wondering if you are there, go to pages 304-305 and 58-59 and take some time to ponder them.  Get with your sponsor or a sponsor and begin working/reworking the Steps beginning with focused work on the first three Steps.

If you are a friend of loved one of someone that may be on a “pink cloud” where he or she is feeling great, talking recovery, and even looking better, but is not doing anything to grow his or her recovery, you may be right to be concerned.  Conversations about the first three Steps are good place to start.  Think of your friend or loved one’s recover like a person walking the wrong way up a down escalator.  To make progress the person has to do a lot of work.  For that person to stay where he or she is requires continued work also. 
The moment the person decides he or she can stop working, that person will immediately begin going backwards (Happy or not.  If happy, the person will just be going backwards with a smile).

If your friend or loved one starts recovery and after a few days or weeks says something like; “I don’t need that stuff any more, I have this under control” or “I feel better now that the problem is gone” there is a good chance that person is off on a “pink cloud” and possible on “the Pink Seven.”  It may take a sudden depression or a relapse (or two) for the person to realize that there is far more to be done.  My advice to you is to talk to this person about these things (although it is highly unlikely they will get it yet) and for you to keep your hope in that person’s recovery but always keep a
watchful eye for things like this so you can be helpful as well as hopeful.  The hope without the help will lead to terrible disappointment for you.