How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot. Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:
•Resentment
•Jealousy
•Envy
•Frustration
•Fear

frustration.
frustration. (Photo credit: nicole.pierce.photography)

How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

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)

Some of us who have been in 12 Step circles for a while will recognize these as a part of what is known to many as “The Promises”.  These particular parts of the promises focus on an important struggle in our recovery; dealing with the rough times in life, and how we are able to be able to overcome them.

To start with, lets look at a basic rule of life that many at the worst levels of using struggle with:  Bad things happen to everybody including you.  This is an important concept.  Life is like playing cards:  You are going to be dealt good hands and you are going to be dealt bad hands, but you have to know how to play both.

To begin with there are the words passed on by generation after generation of Twelve Steppers:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot.  Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

These are a poison to our recoveries, to our lives and to everything and everyone that is touched by our lives at all.  These are the hidden hand grenades that then if allowed to be in our world will explode causing destruction on all sides. 

These rise up in every person, but the reality is that no matter what bad things come up in your life, there are only two options:  Either I can do something about it or I can’t.  Being frustrated, resentful, fearful etc. will fix nothing in either case.  If a bad thing that happens to me is something I can do something about, I need to get up and do whatever I am able to do about it.  That’s the solution.

If it is something that I can do nothing about, then drinking the poisons of frustration, resentment, fear and so on are ABSOLUTELY NOT the solution.  In fact, these attitudes compound whatever the problem is with a whole bunch of new problems.  Having these is simply taking a problem and making it terribly worse.

Picture it this way:

Imagine a person accidently drinking a few sips of spoiled milk.  This person gets so freaked-out about having accidently consumed the spoiled milk that he/she decides to drink rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid. 

Does any of that help with the problem of having accidently consumed the spoiled milk? 

Isn’t this response actually more of a problem than the original problem? 

If this person didn’t freak out, couldn’t better solutions be found?

If resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration and fear are in fact the greatest enemies of alcoholics/addicts, isn’t responding to bad things that happen in our lives with these emotions like drinking rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid

There is one other thing that has to let go of to handle the bad things that arise in every person’s life:

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)

Selfishness and self-seeking will have to be let go of.  We do not have the luxury of being self focused as it is also a terrible poison to those of us in recovery or those of us who use alcohol/drugs heavily.

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

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the root of all things 12 Step) are convinced that the root of all of our struggles can be summed up as “selfishness” and “self-centeredness”.

If you look at the list we discussed previously as the enemies of alcoholics/addicts:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

are these all not rooted in being “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?”  This exaggerated self focus erupts in an explosion of self destructive feelings and emotions that can only find expression in the world through destructive and self-destructive actions.  In other words these and their root (selfishness – Self-centeredness) are the poison alcoholics/addicts drink whenever bad things happen to us.   

Instead of letting the poisonous serpent of alcoholic/addict thinking bite us when bad things happen, we have to seek the strength to see which of the two possible solutions is appropriate and take that action. 

When something bad happens I either need to do something about it or accept it as the way things are and move on.

Whenever you encounter bad things in life you either drink the cure or the poison.  To drink the poison is to consume the seeds of misery, destruction and relapse. 

Now look at this portion of the promises:

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)

These things are not just promises, they are keys to success.  If these changes of attitude and changes of your whole outlook on life don’t change then you will be shaken to the core of your being every time life deals you a bad hand.  A person who does not have these changes of attitude is doomed.  A person who has a submits to the greatest enemies of his/her recovery every time something bad happens has a terribly weak recovery at best.  

A recovery that cannot handle the bad times is not a recovery at all, because there will be bad times in every person’s life.  Freedom means not poisoning your world when bad things happen.  It means settling in and asking for the peace to accept any things that are beyond your power to change them.  It means asking for the strength and ability to face up to and do something about anything that you can change.  Most importantly, it means asking for clarity on which instances are which.  In other words we need clarity on the facts and to deal with the facts for what they are:  FACTS!  

Do not be like a card player who could be dealt twenty good hands in a row, stacking a huge pile of winnings and suddenly the first time he gets dealt a bad hand he looks at the cards, freaks out and poisons himself.  He should play that hand the best he knows how to and if it’s time to fold from that game, that is the right thing to do.  If it’s time to play that hand out and hope to get a break, than that’s what he should do.  If it’s leave that table time, while he is still ahead, that is also what he should do.  If it’s time to just play out this hand up to the point of losing it and looking ahead to the next hand, then that’s what he should do.  But, drinking poison is probably not the best solution.

If a card player knows how to play and win with the bad hands, that person is truly amazing.  If we can learn to not only stay in the game when life deals us bad hands, but also to play the game of life to win during the bad times, we will also be truly amazing.  

 

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Needed “Helpful Discussion” With Loved Ones and Close Friends

  As each member of a resentful family begins to see his shortcomings and admits them to the others, he lays a basis for helpful discussion. These family talks will be constructive if they can be carried on without heated argument, self-pity, self-justification or resentful criticism.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 127)

Recovery from heavy drug or alcohol use is often not just a recovery process for the individual who is the “recovering person.”  Often, it is those close to him or her that also need to adjust the way they think, act etc.  also.  This is a post that is directed mainly at the loved ones around the person in recovery.

Some people have done things that have hurt the person and have never allowed that person to discuss or process it.  Some of the loved ones around the person were victims that adjusted to accommodate the alcohol or drug use so much that those loved ones have had their whole lives changed.  Some have suffered the same things that the person recovery struggles to deal with but they do not fall as far or as obviously as the person now in recovery.  Sometimes the loved ones around the person are doing everything right and the person in recovery has never taken the time or may have never had the opportunity to sit down and try to see the other perspective.

Whatever the case an open discussion, done with the right mindset and heart may be a huge step in the right direction.  It is great if all involved are more focused on themselves and not on others.  That also means that each person is focused on him or herself and his or her shortcomings, without “self-pity” or “self-justification”

Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 128)

If the focus of the group is an honest concern for each other and not self-protection or codependence, then there is a good chance something helpful will be discussed.  Let’s discuss those three things:  1) Not speaking out of self-protection, 2) not speaking out of codependence, 3) something helpful being discussed.

  1. Not speaking out of self-protection.   Many in recovery have built a world of defensiveness to hide whatever else is going on in the heart and mind.  If everyone around this person gets together and does the same thing what really happens is everyone blaming each other for what has taken place. 
    1. The other side of this is the “poor me” person that really believe that he or she is is totally responsible for keeping everyone around happy and will agree with whatever you blame on him or her.  This defensiveness on the parts of a whole group of loved ones will translate into:  “You are the worst person who ever lived and you are the only real problem that all of us have.”
    2. The truth is each person needs to be honest about where he or she is wrong and where it actually was the person in recovery that was wrong.  A little reality and truth all around is a must for this type of discussion.  This is not only good for all, but even if the person in recovery thinks the whole thing is stupid it is a great example of what it looks like that will help his or her recovery.
    3. Not speaking out of codependence:  One of the worst thing that could happen in such discussions is one or more people that blame themselves for everything the addict or alcoholic does.  If you were in fact this person’s entire problem, why is that person and not you in recovery.   Even if you were, are , or will be in recovery this person’s recovery is totally separate from yours.  He or she has his own set of problems and struggles that you may have played a part in, but they are uniquely his or hers. 
      1. If you take too much credit from the person in recovery, you give that person a way to avoid the truth or in other words to not work recovery.
      2. Something helpful being discussed:  Notice that something helpful is to be discussed.  There is no guarantee that the person will respond well or get it right away.  All such a discussion is supposed to do is to give such a person a chance to deal with reality and see those around him or her do the same.  If you are one of the other participants it is both your way of participation in the person’s recovery process and your process of healing also.  
        1. Your goal is to see your REAL “shortcomings” and admit them to the others in the group and hopefully the person in recovery will do the same.  But, if not, you have planted a seed that will hopefully be watered throughout recovery and you have had a chance to see and begin dealing with a shortcoming of your own.

The idea here is not blame or codependently taking the blame for that person so that he or she will not feel pain.  The focus is the healing of everyone involved and of the group as a whole.  This kind of connection with the friends, loved ones, family etc. can be helpful to all and especially for the person in recovery, the attitude of all is what determines how helpful it really is.  So if you have been feeling like you need to blame the person in recovery for everything or that you need to not speak of such things because he or she may not be able to handle it remember:

Perhaps they created the impression that he is to be wrapped in cotton wool and placed on a pedestal. Successful readjustment means the opposite. All members of the family should meet upon the common ground of tolerance, understanding and love. This involves a process of deflation. The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 122)

Fighting the Greatest Enemies

From – August 18th, 2010

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 145

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 66

These emotions are a fairly normal part of life, but are very dangerous to those of us coming out of addiction and alcoholism.  Many of us in recovery are prone to overreactions related to the emotions mentioned above. 

Some of us have the obvious immediate overreactions that lead us to act out in some way or other.  Others of us have more subtle reactions.  Maybe we show no response to those that we feel cause our negative feelings.  Those are the ones of us who let the feelings pile up inside until it becomes unbearable and we explode in one way or another.

No matter how hidden or obvious our reactions to resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear are the biggest problem is not our reactions.  Our reactions are just a symptom of the real problem.  No matter the reaction the real problem is allowing such feelings to have enough power in your life to cause a self destructive response.

Feelings such as these will come up in all of our lives.  It is the response that an individual has that makes the difference.

One extreme is to have an outburst or to make some attempt to manipulate the other or others involved.  This is really about deciding that you should make the other person or person uncomfortable because that is what was done to you.  “That person hurt me that means that person must be hurt back.” 

It’s funny how we have allowed ourselves to be trained that because one person acts crazy we have to allow “crazy” to be contagious.  That also assumes that the person is even being crazy in the first place and we are not just overreacting (in that case the only one who is really crazy is me). 

This is the application of the old adage of “fight fire with fire.”  The problem is that although there are instances where a real fire is fought with fire, fire is most often fought with water.  If someone catches fire isn’t it better for you to be the water that helps put their fire out than be another fire spreading throughout the world. 

The idea that if a person hurts me I must hurt them back is really rooted in being concerned with nobody but yourself.  Because after all you are the center of the universe and all other people are here to make sure you are comfortable at all times.  Anyone daring to make you uncomfortable must be punished. 

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

In cases where there someone causes you these kinds of feelings the first thought should be similar to those noted in Step 4 on page 67 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: 

When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

How can I help put out the fire by being the water instead of making the fire worse by being another fire?

The other extreme is the person who doesn’t want to make the problem worse so that person just keeps the feelings to his or herself.  Instead of fighting the fire with water or fire, this person sees the fire, freaks out and drinks poison.  Holding those kinds of feelings in without resolving them is poisonous to your life socially, mentally, emotionally and inevitably physically.

A clue is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book in the discussion of how to work Step 9.   

We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)

Notice the words “confessing our former ill feeling”. This eludes to two things.  The first is that during the process of working the previous steps you should have dealt with these feelings and second that the feelings need to be discussed with the person directly.  But, notice the attitude that you are supposed to have when this is confronted: 

  1. Helpful
  2. Forgiving
  3. Regretful (that you had such feelings towards this person)

This feeling also is tied to selfishness and self-centeredness.  It is often an attempt to avoid confrontation.  This is really a fear of confrontation.  In describing fear, the Alcoholics Anonymous book states: 

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 67)

Looking at both of these extremes and considering all of various levels of this in between the solution seems to be rooted in one common idea.  Learning how to look for ways to be helpful to the other person when they seem crazy instead of acting out or holding in “ill feeling.”  If the root of our troubles is selfishness and self-centeredness (even if disguised as self protection) then would being of honest help to others who seem to be hurting (“going crazy” for some reason) be at least part of the solution. 

Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)

Remember when you feel one of those feelings, before you decide how to respond to the person or people who caused those feelings: 

When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

Continue to Watch (The New You)

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them.  We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone.  Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

This passage appears as part of Step Ten and contains many of the everyday keys to remaining sober and gaining and maintaining happiness. 

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Pg 62 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that Selfishness and Self-centeredness are the roots of our troubles.  If this is the case then watching for them and preventing them are the roots of our recovery.  If at any point something makes you uncomfortable and you think that means you have to rearrange everyone around you (either by force or manipulation) until you are comfortable you are being selfish. 

Dishonesty is a selfish act and is an attempt to hide reality.  We have lied to others and to ourselves to a point where some of the lies seem true to us.  Lying must go!  It is a habit from a lifestyle that we no linger wish to lead and a poison that will slowly kill our joy and our recoveries.

Pg 64 calls resentment; “…the ‘number one’ offender.”  Pg 66 states plainly that:  “It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.”  If resentment is this much of a problem, it is another area that you want to see in your life while it is still small enough to deal with easily.  To many people want to wait until it overtakes them to even recognize it is a problem.  Being watchful for even a slight touch of resentment is a must if one wishes to have recovery or to find any happiness in life.

Pg 67 describes fear as:  “…an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”  This includes the fear of looking bad, fear I’m too nice, fear I’m not nice enough, fear of being alone, and on and on.  We have to watch for it and deal with it immediately.

WHAT DO WE DO WHEN THESE THINGS COME UP IN OUR LIVES?

1.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them

If we are powerless and the problems that we are powerless over show up it is only reasonable to seek out One who does have power to help in the fight.  In the words of the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book from pg 59:  “Without help it is too much for us.  But there is One who has all power-that One is God.”  A person who does not recognize this yet is not a failure, that person is just stuck at steps 1 and 2.  It does not matter what step that person or their sponsor says that person is on, that person is only working the first 2 steps (“Two-Stepping”).  We must start by enlisting the power of the One who is not powerless.

2.  We discuss them with someone immediately

Each of us must have a few people of good sense who are not afraid to confront us directly that we can discuss our struggles or confusions with.  Some, most or all of them should be people who have gone through a thorough recovery and are reaching back to get you up to where they are.  When you see yourself stumbling, these people should be contacted to talk you through it.  Trying to go it alone is foolish.  How much can you trust a mind that has lied to you in the past without outside guidance?

3.  make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone 

Step 10 is “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  Notice the word “promptly.”  This is half of what is stated here.  If you are in the wrong it must be fixed immediately.  It does not matter if the person is more at fault, if you are still mad, if you don’t like that person, if it’s too embarrassing, etc. 

All of what we have just discussed is a spot check inventory.  Once the inventory is done and you realize that you were wrong you cannot be overly concerned about what the other person needs to fix in his or her life.  Pg 67 states:  “Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened?  Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely.  Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.”

THE STEPS ARE ABOUT FIXING YOU NOT ABOUT FIXING OTHER PEOPLE.  The only fixing you do involving other people is fixing the wrongs you have done also known as making amends.

4.  Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.   

Pg 89 states plainly that:  “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.  It works when other activities fail.”  Working with others is one of the strongest tools we each have to fight against the things which will lead us backwards in our recoveries. 

Notice however that the passage from pg 89 is not just talking about service (as so many say) it is far more specific:  “intensive work.”  In other words, leading another human being through the process of recovery is absolutely key to keeping your own recovery on track. 

Serving coffee and chairing meetings are good services and help, but are not what is described here.

—————————————————– 

If you look carefully, you can actually see Steps 10, 11 and 12 all here in what has been just described.  This is a big part of what the new you is supposed to look like.  This may not be the way you are used to living life, but the way you had been living life has been a part (or the root) of your trouble.  If you are not different, you are the same and can expect the same results.

If there is not a new you, you are still the old you.  Step 10 is explained on pg. 84 as “…we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along.  We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past.” 

As you clean up the past starting at Step 8 and by making amends quickly whenever you have harmed anyone you are building the foundations of the new “way of living” mentioned here.