The Misleading Mindset

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
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The Misleading Mindset 

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 39– 40)

This passage is an excellent description of the mindset that misleads many people in recovery.  There is this crazy idea that the memory of the problems that using has caused in the past and attaining a whole lot of information about using, recovery and myself will keep me sober.

There are some people who use heavily who can think themselves sober and in reality, there are some people who are pretty messed up from using that don’t need to learn, think or any of that; this (small) group of addicts/alcoholics just decides to stop and never uses again.  The problem is that many of us in recovery (more like most of us) are not in either of those categories and need to come to terms with that before we can even consider ourselves having started recovery.

Thinking and learning in and of themselves are not enough for most of us to remain abstinent (although they are important parts of the process). 

Look at the conclusion to the story we started with:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41– 42)

There are moments when your body and some parts of your mind will have such a desire to use that the parts of your mind that you would like to use to force yourself to stop will not be strong enough to overpower the desire.  One desire within your self will be trying to resist a desire that is in your body and mind and that is often also driven by your social and spiritual health (or lack thereof).  Recovery has to be approached from all four of these areas to have any hope or to even be considered recovery.  The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps) knew this to be true:

We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone concerned with a drinking problem.

Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these matters are, from their very nature, controversial.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

There is hope for those of us who are at the most desperate levels of alcoholism/addiction.  This hope relies on us not getting sucked into the flawed idea that “information is what will keep me sober.”  INFORMATION WILL NOT BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  Information is just one of the tools that is supposed to help get you to what will keep you sober.  Look at the information that the early A.A.’s gave to the man in the story we started with when he relapsed:

“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.

“Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems. 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)

The solution is described here as “a way of living” that is more satisfying than anything before.  The hope of recovery rests in finding a completely new way of living.  A new basis of life that will result in changes in the way you think and why you have those thoughts, changes in what feelings you have and why, all of this leading to changes in what you do.  In other words:  RECOVERY IS ABOUT ENDING UP BEING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON THAN WHO YOU WERE WHEN YOU STARTED.  IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED, YOU ARE THE SAME AND WILL GET THE SAME RUSULTS.

If you do not plan on being changed completely, then you do not plan on getting recovery.  If you do not aim towards a new way of living that is infinitely more satisfying than any way of living you have had before you have decided to stay with the same way of living and have decided to continue to live the life of an alcoholic/addict.

I beg you to move beyond knowledge to the desperate desire to be a completely different person, because that is where your hope lies.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

For those who are unable to drink moderately the question is how to stop altogether.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 34)

This seems like it should be obvious, but too many of those in recovery to totally believe in this concept may be more elusive than anyone could imagine.  The problem is a certain aspect of our alcoholism/addiction that often leads to thoughts like this:

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will beat the game.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

This “Great Obsession” is insane idea that you can use safely in spite of the enormous amount of evidence that clearly shows that this is not true.  It is probably the most persistent and destructive lie that many of us tell ourselves.

From the heavy alcoholics who thinks it is okay to drink a little light beer (in other words relapse) to the person who abuses a heavy substance who decides to remain sober but smokes marijuana because it’s not his/her drug of choice.

Whatever the reason that you may come up with; if you are at the higher levels of using there is no such thing as safely using a small amount etc.  The only choices are:  sober or not sober.  THERE IS NO KINDA SOBER!!!!  You either are sober or you are not.

This Great Obsession is an idea that comes up over and over again that tries to convince you that you can use safely.

It’s as crazy as regularly having a feeling that makes you want to hit yourself in the face with a baseball bat.  You know it will hurt, you know it could kill you, you may even know it is an incredibly stupid thought to even have, yet you repeatedly find yourself in the hospital trying to recover from injuries sustained from a self-inflicted bludgeoning.  You even remember the pain and agony of the last time you did this, the pain of the reconstructive surgeries and some of the permanent issues you have from previous attempts at this.

The real moment of truth is found in the thoughts you have right before you do such a crazy thing.  In this example the thoughts might sound like:

  • “This is not the same thing.  Last time I hit myself with an aluminum bat, so this time I will use a wooden bat.  Wood is softer than aluminum and the bats even break on baseballs sometimes.”
  • “Last time I held the very bottom of the bat, so this time I will move my grip up just a little so the hit is not as hard.”
  • “Last time I hit myself in the face, this time I will hit myself on the top of the head where my head is a bit harder.”

I know these all sound ridiculously stupid, but these excuses to do something ridiculously stupid are similar to how our excuses to use any kind of drugs or alcohol (in light of destructive results of our using in the past) sound to others around us.  The fact is that in light of the amount of destruction that using can cause in our lives (and often already has caused) almost any excuse is actually that ridiculously stupid.

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.  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)

Here is a newsflash for anyone in recovery who gives themselves a reason to use (a reason that says “It is okay this time because _______”):  In light of the risk and the fact that you are in recovery (trying not to use or to learn to not use), ANY REASON IS AN INSANELY TRIVIAL EXCUSE!

Many people who relapse actually reason themselves into relapse.  They tell themselves that this is different because (insert something incredibly stupid that sounds intelligent at the moment here).  Things like:

  • “I drink hard liquor, this is just beer, I’ll be fine”
  • “I use meth.  I’m not an alcoholic.  A couple of drinks of wine will not be of affect to me.”
  • “Marijuana is not a drug and is not an addictive drug so I can smoke it and nothing will happen”
  • “The doctor prescribed these to me.  If I take an extra one, how much difference could it make?”

If you think something like this there is a huge question that must be answered:  Why?

Why do you need to drink at all?  Why do you have to use something that involves intoxication at all (even if your initial plan involves stopping before intoxication).

WHY?  WHY?  WHY?

Why take the risk when so much is at risk and so little stands to be gained.  Why, while trying to be sober, do something that clearly does not qualify as remaining sober.

We must accept this kind of thinking as part of the insanity and sickness of addiction and alcoholism.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SAFE USING FOR A PERSON WHO IS IN RECOVERY!!!   EITHER YOU ARE SOBER OR YOU ARE NOT!!!  There is no categories for:  kinda sober, almost sober with an excuse, relapsed but excused with good reason, etc.  All of these are “RELAPSED” and need to be considered as such by you and those that work with you and any sort of mentor etc. around you.

That also is true prior to doing this in your consideration process.  It does count this time no matter what reason you choose.   It is a relapse and may be your complete destruction even if the reason you are using seems good or satisfying to you.

The real point here is that it is a part of the recovery process to experience moments where you feel like there is a reasonable reason to use some intoxicating substance safely.  These are important moments in your recovery.   Either you overcome this temptation (which is strong and extremely convincing) or you do not.  Being aware of what we have discussed here is only a beginning; each individual in recovery has this battle to fight repeatedly throughout the rest of our lives and it is a fight that none of us can afford to lose.

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. 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.

In some circumstances we have gone out deliberately to get drunk, feeling ourselves justified by nervousness, anger, worry, depression, jealousy or the like. But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Let’s talk about the “insanely trivial excuse” described above.  But before we go into that let me answer the big question:  Why?  Those of us who are around others in recovery regularly, often hear a whole lot of these “insanely trivial excuses” in early January from a bunch of people who relapsed or those who relapse and are trying to explain to the rest of us some “insanely trivial excuse” for why the relapse at New Years does not count as an actual relapse.

Here is the truth about this “insanely trivial excuse”.  It is the excuse we arrive at to use at all, Not the excuse to get intoxicated, high, mess up our life, etc.  It is the excuse we arrive at to tell ourselves and others that any amount (even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit) is going to be safe for me.  That means ignoring the truth that we have all heard repeatedly:  You can never use intoxicating substances safely again.

These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis. Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that he can’t feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

If you are an addict or an alcoholic then the fact is that intoxicating substances make you self-destructively stupid.  With the use of even the tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit comes the risk of absolute destruction of yourself, of everyone and everything you care about, of those that care about you, and the real possibility of seriously hurting or killing yourself or others.  In other words there is no excuse even close to big enough to carry more weight than the potential pain, agony, and destruction that will result from a relapse.  In light of this fact, any excuse is not only “insanely trivial” but is also insanely stupid.  Using anything in any amount is a relapse period.  A sip of a beer, a sip of champagne, a quick hit of a joint, just a little, whatever; it is still a relapse and the penalty is way, way too great.  That is why any excuse; no matter how convincing it may sound is just like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to make your headache go away. 

My goal here is not to make anyone feel bad or guilty etc., the goal is to make clear the idea that there is no reason that you can come up with that is a good reason for you to use.  If you come up with a reason it is simply a way of lying to yourself that you have found that will work to trick you into destroying yourself. 

During the holidays it is not uncommon to find other people trying to make these excuses for you.  They are trying to convince you that champagne does not count or that marijuana is not a drug, or that blah-blah-blah is not your “drug of choice” so it does not count. 

Let’s just put it plainly:  Your problem is getting high and your uncontrollable desire to get high.  Yes most of us who are addicts and alcoholics have a high we most definitely prefer, but we use because we like being high.  If I use something that can make me high if I continue to use it, I am probably going to have a strong urge to keep using it or to go and use whatever it is that I prefer to use to get high.  Whatever the reason and no matter who is giving it to me THERE IS SIMPLY WAY TO MUCH RISK AND FAR, FAR TOO LITTLE TO GAIN!

A person or group of people that chose to try to force you to do something that you do not want to do and that has the potential to absolutely destroy you is probably someone you might consider not spending time with. 

If you had an unexplainable urge to hurt yourself such as an uncontrollable urge to stab yourself in the head with a knife, we would keep you away from knives.  Any excuse you came up with for having a knife would be considered unreasonable and we would find a way around it (such as cutting your food for you etc.).  It is also probable that we would not give you other sharp objects either even though your obsession seems to be with knives.  Scissors, pencils, ice picks, etc. would have to also be out of the question.

Now let’s say that you get to a relatively stable state and can be in public but still have to just avoid sharp objects in case you might trigger something that makes you suddenly do the same thing again.  You go to a gathering of your friends and they entertain themselves by trying to make you play with sharp objects.  They keep telling you, “It will be okay,” “Maybe if you just touch a few sharp objects with us here to protect you, you will get over it completely,” “Your problem is with knives, not these.  You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with pencils,” and similar statements. 

Are these people really safe for you at that point?  Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you?   Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All over the world on New Year’s Eve, there will be similar conversations.  “It will be okay, because_____” “Maybe if you just use a little with us here to protect you,” “Your problem is with _______, not _____.   You’ll be fine,” “Nobody ever kills themselves with _______.  It will be fine”  The same questions apply:

  • ·         Are these people really safe for you at that point? 
  • ·         Can these people really say they have your best interests in mind or honestly say that they care about you? 
  • ·          Aren’t these people simply entertaining themselves by risking your life?

All of this falls under these “insanely trivial excuses” we have been talking about. 

In the “To Wives” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (written to non-alcoholic wives of severely alcoholic men specifically but actually true information for anyone dealing with any addict/alcoholic:  as well as being true and deep information for those of us who are the addicts/alcoholics) there is some basic information that can help in dealing with others and in weeding out the people who are not safe for you:

We find that most of this embarrassment is unnecessary. While you need not discuss your husband at length, you can quietly let your friends know the nature of his illness. But you must be on guard not to embarrass or harm your husband.

When you have carefully explained to such people that he is a sick person, you will have created a new atmosphere. Barriers which have sprung up between you and your friends will disappear with the growth of sympathetic understanding. You will no longer be self-conscious or feel that you must apologize as though your husband were a weak character. He may be anything but that. Your new courage, good nature and lack of self-consciousness will do wonders for you socially.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

Like I said it was written “To Wives” but is a truth on several different levels.  Be open about your problems to the people you will be around.  If you are an addict let them know you are an addict working through sobriety.  If you are an alcoholic do the same.  Be humbly open.

Will you be uncomfortable; absolutely.  Will some people treat you differently; yes absolutely.  But, that is way better than destruction, horror and remorse of a relapse. 

Any person who you share this with who cannot handle the information, or who in spite of this information feels the need try and gets you to use or uses this information to somehow hurt/annoy you:  THAT PERSON IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU TO BE AROUND ESPECIALLY DURING HOLIDAY GATHERINGS!

Openness and honesty can add to your defenses.  Part of those explanations you give to these people should include the fact that you cannot safely use any intoxicating substances whatsoever and your sincerely asking them to help you not do so.  This is an added level of defense against your “insanely trivial excuses”, but all of this assumes that you are far enough along in your recovery to attend such gatherings. 

This may take consultation with sponsors, mentors, counselors etc. as you might not be the best person to make this judgment call, but some of us are simply not ready for these sorts of events.  If that is true, then it is a fact.  If you have an idea that you are not or may not be ready and you start looking for reasons to convince yourself that you are ready, you have again begun the search for “insanely trivial excuses”.    If you are not ready, spend the time working on becoming ready for future gatherings.  Find a recovery meeting or event.  Have a recovery gathering of your own with others in the same boat.  Work on steps with your sponsor while everyone else is getting drunk and arrested.

The bottom line is take whatever drastic measures are necessary to remain sober through the holidays even if it means missing them all together.  Remember, whatever reason you (or anyone else) can come up with to use ANYTHING is an “insanely trivial excuse” and is “insanely STUPID.” 

Remember also that the “insanely trivial excuse” as stated in the passage at the beginning, is an “insanely trivial excuse” to take the first drink, hit, puff etc.   It is the first little that is the relapse because in truth there is no tiniest, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsiest, little bit.  IT IS EITHER YOU DO ABSOLUTELY NONE OR IT IS A RELAPSE.

Stay Sober my Friends…

Wade H.