The Misleading Mindset

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Knowing is Not Enough

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

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

At this point in history there seems to be an endless flow of information on recovery.  There are Twelve Step, Anti-Twelve Step, similar to Twelve Step, holistic and on and on.  Not to say that any of this is good or bad but, there is so much more to recovery than information.

That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were.  But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholic Anonymous pg. 39)

No amount of “knowing” will keep a person sober.  INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  This may seem like an ironic statement to read on a website that is focused on giving you recovery information, but it is the bottom line.  Obviously I think information is an important part of the recovery process, but it is not enough.

The facts and figures of addiction are nice to know and a few more reasons that your addiction is destructive to your life and the lives of those around you are always interesting.  The problem is that there are many people who know all of these things in detail that are trapped in various addictions at this moment with a brain full of all of those facts and figures.

In some cases all of this information is more of a source of self-pity.  If the information alone is what is offered to a person deeply held by the shackles of addiction every piece of information becomes more fuel to the fires of mental torture.

The point is that the information is only fuel.  The information either fuels the fires of mental torture or fuel that ignites and maintains the fires of change and action towards that change.

In recovery there are really only two options:

  1. Either you are changed dramatically
  2. or you are basically the same.

To give you an idea of how dramatic of a change I am describing let’s look at what Dr. William D. Silkworth experienced with one of A.A.’s founding members:

He accepted the plan outlined in this book. One year later he called to see me, and I experienced a very strange sensation. I knew the man by name, and partly recognized his features, but there all resemblance ended. From a trembling, despairing, nervous wreck, had emerged a man brimming over with self-reliance and contentment. I talked with him for some time, but was not able to bring myself to feel that I had known him before. To me he was a stranger, and so he left me. A long time has passed with no return to alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg xxxi – 4th Edition)

There is a lot more to it, but to break it down as basically as possible:  THE INFORMATION IS THE FUEL WE ADD TO THE FIRES OF CHANGE.

If you are not dramatically changed by the information, the information has been wasted. 

Do not become one of those people in recovery who know all of the information yet stays the same.  I call those “Zero Steppers.”  Step zero is talking about recovery (but not actually doing any recovery).  So, do not be a “Zero Stepper!”

In the passage we started with from page 7, Bill W. received an overload of recovery information and knowledge that made it all make sense.  All of the details and intricacies of people like us. 

In another story in the book the whole experience is described like this:

Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 26)

It is unreasonable to thing that gaining information that makes sense is the cure for an activity where you do something that makes no sense for absolutely no sensible reason.  It was never a necessity for your addiction to make sense before, what makes us think that making sense was the problem.  In fact, to some degree you already knew that your addiction makes no sense and were still doing it.

You must be different from the inside out.  Either you are the same or you are dramatically different.  That is it! 

The knowing is useless if it is not fuel for changing!