Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 - D for Dying Flowers
Souvenir Foto School: Day 19 – D for Dying Flowers (Photo credit: Creature Comforts)

Valentine’s Day – A Recovery Check and A Reality Check

It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 78)

As we head towards Valentine’s Day, we should all stop and ponder those we care about and those that care about us.  Many alcoholics/addicts are like Bill W. was doing in the passage above and wait until the point where everything seemed doomed and hopeless before even having time to even give any thought to those people.  In other words it’s time for a Valentine’s reality check and a Valentine’s recovery check.  We must look at the people we interact with or should be interacting with and be willing to do whatever is right.

Some of us claim that the people we care about and those that care about us do not exist.  Some of us have reasons (real or imaginary) to be so mad at these people that we forget that we care about these people or that they care about us (that means also forgetting that “resentment is the number one offender pg. 64).  Some of us are so busy being pitiful and feeling sorry for ourselves that we come across as liars or wishy-washy whenever we try to talk to these people.

Whatever the distorted reasons, this is a time of year where there are expectations that true feelings will be shared.

Each of us needs to take this opportunity and be honest to ourselves and to those who care about us as well as those we care about.

That means taking an inventory of our treatment of those who care about us or those we care about.  This also means getting others of more wisdom involved that can help determine what actions to take immediately, but make sure those are people who are truly wise and are not just the “yes-man” (or woman) who repeatedly nods and directs towards the softer easier way which is to avoid dealing with the issues.

There is something I call “The Rule” when it comes to recovery and how we must relate to others if we are to have any hope of recovery:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Way too many people (and way to many of them who call themselves sponsors or recovery experts) think the rule is that we are hard on others while always being considerate of our own comfort levels.

The fact is that you need to be hard on yourself and considerate of others.  That also means that the people who you enlist as guides on your journey towards sensibility and recovery need to be on that page also.  They nee to be the types of people that are hard on you while also giving you direction that is always considerate of others.

It is surprisingly easy to find so-called experts or iffy sponsors that will tell you; “Oh, you don’t have to do _____ , that’s too much” etc.  These people are often doing more to damage your recovery than to help whether they mean to or not.

Founding member, Bill W. was plugging right along until he thought the end was near and then he wished he had done all of this differently now that it seemed to be too late.

This all falls into the area of making amends.  Let’s look at a couple of definitions from the dictionary for “amends”:

1.  reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense.

3.  make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult: I tried to make amends for the misunderstanding by sending her flowers.

One thing that obvious is that using these definitions of “amends”, it would be incredibly rare that just saying that you are sorry would qualify as making amends.

The question in this context is how do you make amends for not showing appropriate emotions towards someone who has been caring towards you are someone who you really do care about (like a child that you are the parent of who you love deeply, but they do not seem to see it or know it)?

Saying how you feel is a great starting point, but it is definitely by no means an amends or simply put it is definitely not enough.  It takes a lot of work to repair the hurts of the past.

I know that there are a few out there reading this who are thinking:  “I have done enough that that person should have gotten over it by now and what about my hurts from them.”  Before going on in that conversation I would like to refer you back to what I call “The Rule”:

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Before you begin, start with the expectation that there will be far more work and struggling to make amends on your part than on the part of the other people involved.  This is just a part of what it takes to overcome the damage you have done to yourself and others through alcoholism/addiction.  IT IS WHAT IT IS!!!

Not to be rude about it, but if you didn’t want to have the pain and suffering that it takes to repair everything when working recovery than maybe you shouldn’t have started using alcohol and drugs in the first place.  This sort of attitude is necessary to create the change in your world that can facilitate and sustain your sobriety.

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)

There is no focusing on what is wrong with the other person or on what they need to do first before I would consider being open and honest with the person, there is just the need for you to do the right thing no matter what the consequences and no matter what the other person’s response.

I understand that there may be a few incredibly extreme cases where a person is physically abusive, or a murderer etc. where the situation would call for this to all be looked at differently and some of these interactions may require the assistance of a professional counselor, but the norm is the direct route with careful consideration for how the other person would be affected.

This may need to be an inventory of its own each year or a part of your other inventories (or both), but Valentine’s Day seems like an excellent time to look at the people that care about you and who you care about (whether secretly or openly) and do something about it.

This is not limited to people you date, are married to or having some kind of intimate relations with; this is for all of those who care about you or who you care about at all.  Use this time of year as a recovery check and a reality check.

Do not wait until you are finished to mirror the words of founding member Bill W.:

There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends. But that was over now.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 8)

AND DON’T FORGET TO SHOW APPRECIATION TO ALL OF THOSE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU OR WHO YOU CARE ABOUT NO MATTER IF YOU NEED TO MAKE AMENDS OR NOT!!! (or you will owe an amends the day after Valentine’s Day).

Stay Sober my Friends;

Wade H.

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A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

The same principle applies in dealing with the children. Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking. Use your

Help Wanted
Help Wanted (Photo credit: Egan Snow)

energies to promote a better understanding all around. Then that terrible tension which grips the home of every problem drinker will be lessened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

This passage is speaking directly about the wife of an alcoholic and how she should deal with issues relating to the immediate family relative to that person.  The thing is that there is a more global concept for all loved ones an

d friends of addicts or alcoholics especially during this holiday season.

In my last article, I spoke directly to those of us who are the addicts and alcoholics about the interactions we will be having during this holiday season (Treated as an Alcoholic/Addict or Weirdo During the Holidays).  In that post I honestly spoke to my group about our responsibilities and ways to be a par

t of the solution and not create other problems during the holidays if you are the alcoholic/addict who probably was at least a part of the reason for all of the problems.

I believe that to be something that absolutely has to be stated during this season, but I also believe that all of the people around this person have a responsibility to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem also.  I understand that you may feel that you are the alcoholic/addict and you did nothing wrong etc. and you may be correct as a whole or in part.  The challenge is that at the moment that the person in recovery starts to truly attempt to change and you become the force of resistance to that effort, the biggest problem moves from being that person and his/her alcoholism/addiction and suddenly you become the biggest problem.

That is not to minimize the responsibility that person has for all of his/her previous evils and the responsibility to make amends, but the truth is that what I am describing here is an completely separate problem.  In many things in life (if not in everything) each person is either a part of the solution or a part of the problem and this is definitely one of those areas.

On the other hand, what I am not saying here is that you should just be pushed around by every alcoholic/addict that proclaims aloud that he/she is in recovery and you are messing it all up.  There are some of us in recovery that will use such information to hold the more passive of our friends and loved hostage.  The type that use the fact of being in recovery as leverage to manipulate all who will play along as if to being in recovery somehow buys you the right to blackmail every person around you into serving you in lifelong slavery.

This is where some of the more general concepts in this passage are amazing.  Let’s look at a couple of these more general concepts:

Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

First, notice that the passage says “it is best not to take sides”.  That is key in this whole discussion.  If the person in recovery is in some level of conflict or uncomfortable situation, the normal response should not be to run over to beat him/her back into submission before crazy happens or to run to his/her rescue allowing that person to use you to cosign whatever trip that person is on at any given moment.  You are not helping this person by being his/her evil archenemy or by being his/her “Captain Save-a-Twelve-Stepper” either.

Being either one of these makes you the bigger fool in the situation.  The truth is that the person in recovery has some excuse for problem causing behavior:  “I’ve been being stupid, but now I am in recovery, in the process of learning to not do stupid things.  That means I will mess it up at times as I experiment with new thought processes and behaviors.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  Albert Einstein

On the other hand, the rest of you who have been put through the side effects of our crazy are supposed to be the sufferers who are in possession of the sanity that the person in recovery should be able to learn from and emulate.  The fact that you can fight one person’s stupidity by vomiting out some stupidity of your own does not somehow make you smarter than that person.  That simply makes you equally stupid at best.  It makes a part of the problem.

The thing is that you are not just a part of that person’s problem art that point.  At that point you become a major part of your own problem and a pert of the problems of everyone around you.

The next thing to notice in that sentence is the “Unless they actually need protection” part.  Although the general rule is not to be against the person or codependent cosigning this person’s every whim, there is a point where this person is crossing some line, where it is your responsibility to stop him/her.

Those of us in recovery tend to drift off to this whole independent thinker trip that can make us a bit crazy at times.  If we are susceptible to the influences of stupid people, this may be the right direction for us to be heading, but it does have a sort of sick and self-destructive side especially when trying to learn it’s limits and normal use by doing it in real life.

So lets say that I am going through this trip and I am always on and on about people telling me what to do and about letting do things my own way.  I’ll even throw in statements like, “I’m a grown man, I don’t need anyone telling me what to do” and I might throw in the:  “If you don’t let me do things my way I will never learn and you are screwing my recovery all up” card.  While these thoughts may hold some truth, they do have limits.

Now lets say that I see a glass of some cold refreshing liquid sitting on the counter in the kitchen on a seriously hot day.  I go over to drink it and one of my loved ones is standing there who knows that the substance in the cup is not a drink but some special chemical for cleaning that has no specific scent but is probably poisonous or harmful.

If that loved one sees me about to drink it, should that person try to stop me.  What if that person begins to try to stop, but I cut that person off ranting about telling me what to do etc. before I can hear what that person is trying to truly communicate, should that person spitefully say; “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral” or should that person, knowing that I am in recovery and prone to stupid behaviors in the process of learning to be less and less stupid, keep trying to stop me in spite of how rude or ridiculous I get?

I know that several of you reading this probably chose option one:  “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral”.  That is not however, the “part of the solution” answer.  That is the “part of the problem” answer.

The point is that there cannot normally be a that person’s side and my side, or a that person’s side and our side, or a me and that person’s side and everyone else etc.  To be a part of the solution, you should focus on using your energies “to promote better understanding all around.”  The person who is the voice of reason is the person that will lessen “that terrible tension”.

During this holiday season of gatherings, parties, gift giving and mixed emotions (for many of us in recovery or still in alcoholism/addiction; depression and self-loathing), there is a deep need for people who are part of the solution.  For the person in recovery the holiday season is full of temptations, traps and tensions that threaten our recoveries day by day and minute by minute.  WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET.

If your friend or loved one in recovery is being weird or stupid during this season, it is probably the signs of struggles, stresses and tensions or some challenges that are inherent to the recovery process.  That also means it is probably the sign of a time of great need.  Any and all help is desperately needed NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE PERSON THINKS OR SAYS IT IS NOT.   Drifting off into crazy is not only the act of not being helpful, but is dangerously destructive to this person at this point.

I stated earlier, that in such situations friends and loved ones should not take sides in arguments etc.  That is not entirely true because there is a side to take:  the side of common sense.  To be a part of the solution, you must use a common sense approach to communicating common sense to everybody involved, only when it is necessary.

You have to communicate in a way the person or people you are communicating with are likely to hear and respond to.  Way too may people get frustrated and communicate the right things in the wrong ways simply to get things off of their chests.  That is not attempting to be helpful to a person, that is an attempt to verbally punish that person for frustrating you (don’t get it twisted!).

One more point to consider is that being a part of the solution is communicating common sense “only when necessary.”  Running around being the “Recovery Person Messed Up Police” is not in any way being helpful.  That is to be a major part of the problem.  What I am describing is the person who runs around behind the person in recovery the way the parent of a child who has just learned to walk runs around behind the child catching the child every time he/she starts to fall and keeping that child away from anything that he/she might not know not to touch and so on.

Some mistakes are going to be okay.  The person in recovery will need to learn and needs to learn to make adjustments for little mistakes etc.  That is a part of the process.  Being followed by a “NAG” is not a necessary or useful part of recovery.  Making me nuts is not a helpful part of my learning to think more clearly, it is a muddling of my thoughts in barrage of outside thoughts that can only serve to keep me from being able to think clearly for myself.

All of this is based on the idea of balanced sensibility on your part, especially if the person in recovery is not using balanced sensibility.  I totally understand that this is a tall order, but it is also one of your greatest contributions to the health and growth of your friend/loved one that you can make.

Something else to consider, is the fact that in many cases, helping the friend or loved one to get better will help every person that person encounters have a little less crazy in their lives too.  That means you are not just helping him/her, you are helping yourself as one of the people that person encounters.

Ponder this passage:

He wants to make good. Yet you must not expect too much. His ways of thinking and doing are the habits of years. Patience, tolerance, understanding and love are the watchwords. Show him these things in yourself and they will be reflected back to you from him. Live and let live is the rule.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 118)

To our friends and loved ones, please be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem (no matter how crazy we may get);

To those of us in recovery or still in bondage to our alcoholism/addiction:

STAY SOBER MY FRIENDS;

Wade H.

Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

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Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84) 

This change is a huge one for many of us in recovery, but is often overlooked as part of the process.  Tolerance, patience and goodwill towards all especially those we would think of as enemies is a very tall order.  

The ideas of having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men all fall back to a concept that I repeatedly go back too:

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

Having intolerance, having impatience and not showing good will toward all men are all hinged on the idea that the world is somehow put here to keep you comfortable.  As if it is somehow the duty of every person on earth and of everything that happens to ensure that I am never made uncomfortable.  If something does make me uncomfortable, I either have to express that discomfort to the world around me or to those involved in some way.  Or there is the other unhealthy extreme:  If something makes me uncomfortable, I will keep it to myself (along with everything else that has ever made me uncomfortable) and let these feelings pile up until I become some uncomfortable with so many things that I can hardly stand to wake up in the morning. 

Both of these extremes are terribly destructive to any hope of recovery and are directly tied to one of the deepest problems all of us who are alcoholics/addicts suffer from:  “Selfishness – self-centeredness”!!!  Here is a rather blunt newsflash:

THE WORLD AND ALL OF THE PEOPLE IN IT WERE NOT PUT HERE TO KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE!!!!

That means that big part of what we have to learn in recovery is that there are things, people and times in life where we are each going to be uncomfortable and it needs to be okay. 

An awesome marriage or dating relationship most often begins with some awkward and uncomfortable conversation when the two meet and a marriage usually starts with a risky proposal and the potential for terrible rejection.

An amazing athlete at some point nervously stepped into the ring, onto the field, into the arena, onto the court, etc. for the first time with great discomfort.

The greatest scholars in the world most often become that way by years of challenging schoolwork and research that monopolizes all of their time and energy. 

Even the process of getting to all of the promises of recovery involves a trip through a great deal of discomfort, not the least of which is learning to be empowered by discomfort instead of avoiding it at all costs.

As a matter of fact, everything that will lead you to greatness is tied to some level of discomfort.  The new mindset has to be to embrace the necessary discomforts and to properly deal with the unnecessary discomforts. 

In the passages quoted above, we are speaking specifically about people who make you uncomfortable and the exact same ideas apply.  Some people who make you uncomfortable are actually providing the good kind of discomfort.  Some are providing kind of discomfort that you need.

A healthy parent, for example, will not keep a child comfortable at all times.  A child who is allowed to do whatever he or she feels no matter what is a child that will not learn what is needed for a successful life.  A child who constantly hits other children needs to be made uncomfortable to understand that hitting is okay.  That may mean just being told not to do what he or she feels comfortable doing or may be as dramatic as spanking, but discomfort is part of the process.

A good or a productive sponsor is not going to let you only do what you are comfortable with.  As a matter of fact, if you are truly and alcoholic/addict the mere idea of being abstinent to work through recovery is terribly uncomfortable and everyone trying to help is directing you to and through this uncomfortable experience.

How much of the discomfort you get from others is actually needed for you to grow or is retaliation for something you have done to them in the first place.   

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

One more has to do with the occasional occurrence where a person makes you uncomfortable, hurts you in some way or outright ticks you off for no apparent reason.  Is it possible that that person is suffering in some way or is somehow emotionally/mentally sick in some way?

Those who are familiar with Steps 8 and 9 will understand that a big part of working those steps is getting people to see that you were sick when you made them uncomfortable or hurt them and you are in the process of getting better.  For some of the people we made uncomfortable or who we hurt that is a lot to ask of them, but by the time you are doing those steps, you should know that this is the truth.  Is it possible that some of the people who make you uncomfortable or who hurt you are sick in the same way you are/were and simply have not gotten better yet.  This is what the first passage we quoted from page 70 was describing:

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

Maybe it would be far less selfish and self-centered to try to help such people get better rather than to try to force them to keep you comfortable.  The least you could do (assuming you are trying to not be as selfish and self-centered) is to be tolerant and patient with them knowing that they may be suffering as you have been. 

This is a concept that is deeply involved in working your 4th and 5th Steps.  The quote from page 70 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book is in a passage describing how you know when you are completed with a thorough personal inventory.   In other words you are not completed with your Step 4 (and definitely not completed with your Step 5) if you have not “begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies”.   If you were under the impression that you had done a thorough Step 4 or Ste p 5 and you have not seen or experienced this sort of change in yourself, you have missed something incredibly important to your recovery and to your life.  This is one of the key building blocks of building the new you.

To get different results in your life, you will have to be a different person.  To get new results in your life, you will have to be a new person.

After all a huge part of the whole recovery process is getting this new attitude.  At the end of the information about Step 4 the idea that a new attitude is a key goal of Step 4 is made completely clear:

Having made our personal inventory, what shall we do about it? We have been trying to get a new attitude, a new relationship with our Creator, and to discover the obstacles in our path. We have admitted certain defects; we have ascertained in a rough way what the trouble is; we have put our finger on the weak items in our personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 72)

In most cases not having enough tolerance, patience, or not showing enough goodwill toward all men (and women) are key obstacles in our path and list key attitudes that must be changed.

Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1Toilet Paper Trap

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. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The holidays are a time of celebration, of receiving and giving, of family gatherings and when friends get together to celebrate.  For those of us in recovery there are any number of challenges that arise from all of this.  Some of us associate all of these things with using and get a strong urge to use.  Some of us get so angry or hurt by what we get as gifts or don’t get as gifts that we cannot function well.  Some of us do not have the heart or mind for the giving part, while others of us give for the wrong reasons and end up frustrated.  Some of us have a strong urge to relapse at the mere thought of family gatherings for all sorts of different reasons.  For some of us gathering with friends is a recipe for relapse and others of us are depressed by the idea because we do not perceive ourselves to have any friends to gather with.  Some of us just simply hate the “holiday season” altogether or find ourselves depressed for no apparent reason during this time of year.   A few will find ourselves enjoying the holidays only to find that all of a sudden we cannot handle the feeling of enjoying ourselves and will have the urge to self-destruct our own enjoyment.   The way we tend to see things seems to be amplified this time of year and may seem like an inevitable train wreck waiting to happen.

The temptation is to focus on the negatives and sink into some kind of pity-party or try to act like the thoughts and feelings don’t exist.  As far as focusing on the negatives, we know that many of us that have been alcoholics or addicts can’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.  The truth is that realizing that the half empty glass is also half full is a good start, but is not enough.  For us there needs to be action to fill the glass the rest of the way also. Changing how we see things is good, but changing the parts of the situations that we control (ourselves) is better.

One of the simplest ways to begin to work through the holiday season before it overtakes you is to focus on Step 10 all day every day starting right now.

  1. Carefully watch yourself for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.
  2. When you notice any of these stop yourself; take a moment and ask God to remove whatever it is.
  3. Have mentors, sponsors, or wise persons of some kind that you can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit.  Whenever you feel one of these come up talk to one or more of them about it as soon as possible.
  4. If you did something that was wrong to someone else in that situation (even if that person did a whole lot more to you before you did anything and you feel he or she deserves what you did) you must make amends quickly.  Don’t let their crazy become your relapse because you are determined to prove some point (that would in reality be your crazy)
  5. Have somebody or a couple of people you are helping through recovery (sponsoring) during the holiday season.  You need to be the mentor, sponsor, or wise person of some kind that someone else can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit as well as working that person through the steps through the holiday season.
  6. When you perceive that someone else or some group of “someone elses” is throwing crazy into your world remember that love and tolerance is our code.  That means to respond lovingly and be as tolerant as is humanly possible of whatever it is that is going on.  Remember that other people’s crazy does not have to be contagious.  If they are in fact acting crazy, that is their sickness, if you get sucked in and start acting crazy also their sickness has spread like some plague to you with the potential of wreaking havoc in your world and possibly even causing your death.

A huge point to take away from all of this is that you have to start responding to the problem before it starts to build up.  Plan these things and make sure the people described are in place now.  Intentionally start living this way daily for the whole day so as the holiday season kicks into full gear you will already have the habit of living this way. 

…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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Change your mindset about all of the things listed from some things you do or from a Step you have to do or finish and begin to think of these things as a “way of living”.  You have to be so in the habit of thinking and acting in these ways that they simply become who you are and what you do.  These not only become how you think, but these things become the reasons behind why you think what you think.  You have to progress from:

  1. Have to – You do these things because you are told to in recovery and you realize you have no other good choice
  2. Want to – You do these things because you have done them for a while and you have started to feel good when you do them and to be able to handle hard to handle situations.  Doing them begins to be associated with feeling good.
  3. Is you – There is no longer any thought that goes into doing these things.  You have done these things so consistently and for so long that they are as natural as breathing.  These things kinda just happen (even if you don’t feel like it)

Also, take a second to ponder the word “vigorously” used in the previous passage.  In that “have to” phase (when you first start trying to develop these habits) these things seem time consuming, like a lot of work and possibly silly to some of us.  It will seem like really hard work to many of us at first to do these things.  You are going to have to “vigorously” push yourself to do these things in spite of how you feel.  Keep in mind that our feelings are important, but are often not the best guides for our lives.  Just because you suddenly feel like using or like punching someone in the face, that does not mean you should.  Just because you don’t feel like doing some of the proven recovery stuff doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In the words of some excellent tennis shoe marketers:  “Just do it!”

—————————————————————————-

Grow this way of living.  Why?  Here is one person’s answer:

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. 4243)

“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. 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. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This passage is an overview of the process we are to learn to do at Step 10, but this is actually a brief overview of the way we are supposed to live year to year, day to day and minute by minute.

There is a brief process listed here that could be more detailed or more complicated, but what is listed here does a great job of summarizing it.  These things are not to be relegated to just a process, but are supposed to gradually become the way you live.

This passage lists a process; the process is just stuff until you take action.  Once the action is taken it is supposed to be repeated constantly.  Once the process has been repeated constantly for a period of time it will become a habit.  Once a habit has been with you long enough it transition from a habit to a part of who you are.  It becomes a part of your lifestyle.  It is a part of who you are.  That is the goal.

Lets start by looking at the process briefly outlined in this passage:

FIRST, we continue to watch for negative and destructive thoughts or actions.  If you are at Step 10 and working your steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book, you probably have a good idea what destructive thoughts and actions are most destructive to your life and those around you.  The authors also included four that are often common to us working through recovery:

  1. Selfishness
  2. Dishonesty
  3. Resentment
  4. Fear

Even if you have your own personalized list, these four should be included.  We will call these “The Watch Four.”  These are the things that you are supposed to be on watch for at all times.  These (along with whatever other items you may list) are indicators that you are about to unleash crazy in your world or that you have already been unleashing crazy in your world.  If you are watching for these and see that one has begun arising in you, you are in deep trouble.  That is why it is imperative that you keep watch.

NEXT, you have to know what to do if you are watching and one of these crops up.  Before you respond or act in any way or even give all of this too much thought, STOP!  Ask God to remove the destructive thought, attitude or behavior on my part.  It does not matter who else is involved or what is going on, first I must stop my own crazy train.

AFTER ASKING GOD call, visit or somehow discuss whatever you have going on with someone helpful.  That means someone who is at wise enough to use common sense, far enough in recovery or in life not to give you stupid advice and strong enough to tell you the truth (even if it will make you angry). 

Too many people look for advice from people they already know will agree with whatever stupidity they are thinking or who won’t say anything they don’t want to hear.  It is helpful if you can find a few that have been through this process properly and understand.

The point is to test your thinking and get an outsider’s perspective and guidance.  For that to happen you need to be actively looking for these people and discussing this with them before something happens.  Then, when something like this comes up, these people will be expecting your call or visit and will know exactly what you are expecting.  (maybe you can prepare them by showing this to them)

AFTER TALKING TO SOMEONE, you need to take action to change.  If there was another person involved, you probably owe him, her or them an amends.  If this is the case do not put it off, do all you can to repair the situation as soon as possible.  Try to do anything you can as fast as you can to undo your part of whatever happened.

ONCE YOU HAVE MADE AMENDS focus on intensively working with someone else who is struggling with addictions, alcoholism or whatever you are struggling with.  This is the best way to deal with this sort of struggle (along with the other parts of the process).

PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Not only is working with others part of getting immunity from destructive thoughts or actions, working with others is part of ensuring immunity from relapse. 

This is the way we are to deal with the negatives and destructive things that enter into our lives.  I did skip one point from the passage on page 84 until now.  It is four very important words: 

When these crop up…  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

We are not discussing something that might happen, we are talking about things that will be trying to creep back into your life at every turn.  At first all of this may seem tedious or annoying.  After you do all of this long enough it will just become normal and seem less and less of a tedious effort and eventually just become the way you think. 

The point is to stop letting ridiculously foolish things from pouring out of your life or to stop holding in ridiculously foolish thoughts and feelings and deal with these things.  This is all a huge part of learning love and tolerance and these things are the code of all things Twelve Step.

Learning to live like this is change and change is what recovery is all about.  Like I always say:

IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED YOU ARE THE SAME AND YOU CAN EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS!

Wade H.

Inside the Head of the Addict or Alcoholic

Do you find my brain? - Auf der Suche nach mei...
Image by alles-schlumpf via Flickr

How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)

This passage is written specifically to wives of alcoholics (the chapter is named “To Wives”) but it really is a message to all who have a loved one or friend who has serious alcoholism or addiction issues. 

People around us that don’t suffer from the same addictions as us often have these or similar questions bouncing around in their minds.  “How could we be so unthinking or uncaring?”  The actual answer is that in most cases, we don’t know.  This is not (or at least not always) an attempt to excuse some bad behavior; this is often the actual answer.  As a matter of fact, in many cases we were asking ourselves the same questions.

My point here is not to excuse any behaviors or actions, but to help those who have a loved one or a friend who is suffering to understand that much of this is not personal, it is just part of what addicts and alcoholics do.  That by no means implies that you have to just sit back and let it happen, it just means that often it is not that we don’t care or want to hurt anyone, it is often just a crazy that seems compulsive to us.

In this post I hope to help those around an addict or alcoholic see what we do more clearly and for the addict or alcoholic to get an idea of how crazy our behavior seems to others. 

Let’s look at a few of these common things we do that confuse or hurt those close to us.  We will start with the progression that Bill W. (Bill W. one of the founding members) went through as his using got to be worse and worse.  You may see close similarities to your friend, loved one or to yourself if you suffer from addiction or alcohol problems.

1.  We ignore discussions and signs that we might be getting worse or “going overboard”

Though my drinking was not yet continuous, it disturbed my wife. We had long talks when I would still her forebodings by telling her that men of genius conceived their best projects when drunk; that the most majestic constructions of philosophic thought were so derived.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 2)

In this case he was starting to show signs of that his using might be developing into a serious problem.  His wife, who would know, was disturbed and would try to have discussion about it with him.  He not only wouldn’t consider what she was concerned about, he tried to convince her that it is better for people to be drunk because they somehow work better. 

This is a part of being a serious alcoholic or addict.  One of the first signs that we are losing our grip is that someone outside of you begins to be bothered or concerned.  According to this, she didn’t go nuts; she even had reasonable discussion about it.  Someone close to him was showing loving concern and it was as if they were speaking different languages. 

Old Bill also made sure he explained how geniuses and great philosophers were not on users of alcohol, but did their best thinking and working while drink.  I suspect that he was convincing his wife and himself at the same time.  Oh what a cloud of nonsense that we can disappear behind when confronted.  This is also a normal part of what it is to be an addict or alcoholic.  Not only do we not listen, we blurt out almost reasonable sounding excuses for our using.

2.  Everything seems like it is just better when using.  In Bill’s Story, Bill simply put it this way

Drink was taking an important and exhilarating part in my life. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

Using takes an important role in the life of the person.  I starts to become the source of excitement no matter what the person is doing.  If the person is doing something exciting, he or she feels like it would be a little more exciting if he or she were using and it is missing something if he or she doesn’t use. 

If we are in an environment where it is not socially acceptable to use we slip off to use or we just don’t enjoy ourselves.  It is a feeling like something is missing even in the most exciting of activities.

3.  Using moves from important to dominant.  It begins to take over as most important in the person’s life.

My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in our sumptuous apartment. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

So now, Bill is almost always drunk.  What that means is where it used to be that drunk was added to whatever he was doing, now, whatever he is doing is being added to the fact that he is drunk.  It no longer is just there to make other things better, the other things have to be reduced to things that make being drunk better (or they are not to be done). 

What all of that means is that the world becomes measured by how it interacts with my high or attempts to get high.  Getting high or drunk now dominates my thoughts and desires and everything else is in servitude to my new master; intoxication.  The way I like to see this is that it is not that person necessarily loves you or whatever he or she loved before less, he or she has just started loving being high or drunk more.

Then there is this remonstrances of his friends terminating in a row stuff.  What is all that?  Lets define two of the terms used using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • Remonstrances = an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance
  • Row = have a quarrel

So that translates to:  “The presentation of reasons opposing the amount of drinking Bill W. was doing let to quarrels or fights and he ended up being a loner.”  Every time people tried to bring to his attention how bad his using was getting, he would get into a fight with them to the point of chasing them off.  The fights would be so bad and his level of using so bad that the people who cared enough about him to say something to him decided to stay away from him all together.

That’s when our crazy really starts to come out.  There are these people who really care about us, enough to try and talk to us about our obviously growing problem, and we push them away.  We scream, holler, say stupid things, insult them, whatever it takes, just so they do not interfere with or try to interfere with our using.  Because remember, we usually haven’t started caring for the person who confronts us less, we just care about being high or drunk more.  So if that person is interfering, high or drunk must be protected at all costs.

One more thing from this passage, notice the change of tone in his relationship with his wife.  Before, they were having “long talks,” now they are having “unhappy scenes.”   Those of us who get to this level of using start pushing anyone who cares about us away, but some people are more tied to us than others.  So even though he had become a loner, his wife was there whenever he decided to be home.  It’s probably not about loving her less; it’s probably about loving being high or drunk more.  She may be second on the list, but if she is in any way going to interfere with his high or with his comfort, she is immediately a problem.  She probably stays in second place, but a very distant second place.

The pushing away of people is a normal part of the alcoholic’s or addict’s life.  There may seem to be many different reasons (such as to not think about how much we hate ourselves, to avoid facing the problem, to avoid the stress, etc.) but, the real problem is that sick as it may sound, in our heads, the high becomes the most important thing to be protected in our lives. 

None of that excuses it, but it is a fact at this level of using.

4.   There starts to be small physical changes

I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

This will vary between alcohol and other drugs of choice and will even vary between different people.  Different things happen.  It may be the shakes, bags under the eyes, breaking out or rashes, extreme weight loss or gain, lots of minor illnesses (colds, flu’s, etc.), and many other physical symptoms. 

These are some of the signs that the person’s body is having some troubles with the chemicals the person is ingesting.  The odd part is we rarely even notice these signs of problems and if we do we tell ourselves they are somehow normal.  As a rule if our bodies are trying to reject something or are have a negative response to something, it is a bad idea to continue taking in whatever it is.  Yet we always find some reason to go on anyway. 

When these signs start to appear, we are on the verge of serious problems (beyond whatever other serious problems we are causing ourselves).  This is the point that those around us should feel an urgency and a desperation for us, the problem is that by this time they are pushed away from previous attempts to talk to or deal with us.  We on the other hand, are at this point thinking in such a distorted way that we would be willing to have some physical problems as long as we can be drunk or high.

5.  It eventually progresses from being the most important thing in our lives to the totality of our life.  We have been pretty bad by this point and it is clear to those around us that we are an alcoholic or addict, but at some point it gets even worse

Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)

The way Bill W. observed this is that his addiction became as important as breathing, his heart beating and eating in his mind.   It was no longer something that he did, it became a must.  He was not able to function if not using.  This is another area that will look different depending upon the addiction and the person, but this is another sign that the problem has progressed to incredibly desperate levels.

At this point it is incredibly hard to stop, to want to stop, to see any way to stop or even to take a break.  IN previous levels in this progression, if a person wanted to stop there would be struggle and some confusion etc. but at this level, it is a much bigger challenge.  When a person tries to stop there is so much confusion and inner resistance to stopping that the person will have a terrible time mustering any desire to stop. 

If the person was one of those people who could quit for a year here or there or six months here and there, that becomes increasingly difficult from here on.  It’s like asking them to quit breathing or to want to quit breathing. 

The thought life of the person also becomes monopolized by the desire to use.  It is as if the person only lives to use.  Work becomes only a way to get more (if work is even an option at this point).  Interactions with loved ones become ways to keep their world together so as not to hinder their ability to continue to get high.  For example one of the main reasons someone like this might not want a divorce is because he or she may end up paying child support etc. and have a harder time finding money to use with. 

It may have started at an earlier place in this progression, but it is common by this stage to lie about the using or to sneak using if there are still people around that would be seen as somehow interfering with the using.

6.  Serious physical dependence

I began to waken very early in the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of sobriety which renewed my wife’s hope. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)

At this point not only his mind acts as if using is as important as breathing or the heart beating, his body now reacts as if something important has stopped working properly whenever he is not using.  Think about what he has just stated.  When he did get to sleep (whatever time that happened at) the amount of time he spent sleeping (not using) created such a stress for his whole system that he awakened early to get more.  When he awakened his body would be shaking violently desperate to use even a little bit.  After that he even had to use if he wanted to eat his breakfast without throwing up.  His body would not even allow him to eat if he wasn’t using.

At this point it is hard to even imagine quitting as an option.  Think of it this way:  “If I can’t be sober long enough to sleep, how am I gonna be sober longer?” 

Now lets do a little reading to look at some occurrences in Bill W’s life at this point in the hope of getting some more understanding:

Then I got a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in the profits. Then I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.
    I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.
    Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near being just that.
    Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cock-sureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well get good and drunk then. And I did.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 5-6)

So Bill had promising work that could put him back on his feet, but couldn’t stay sober long enough to go through with it.  He finally “gets it” and knows how bad he has gotten and that he no longer has control and focuses himself on quitting.  He meant business and could only hold on a short time before coming home drunk again. 

Did you notice that the same questions that we would have for him, he had for himself.  Where was all that “resolve?”  What was going on in his mind when he relapsed?  Is he crazy?  Did you notice he could provide himself with no answer?  That is why he or she doesn’t give a reasonable answer or any answer to those strong enough to still care after all of this:  the person doesn’t have an answer!

Then there was a period where it looked like he had figured it out.  He had done it all on his own and gave great hope to those that still cared about him.  Then without warning, another relapse.

This may seem pretty bad but it gets worse. 

7.  Complete hopelessness (and possibly suicide attempts)

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)

He had given up on the idea of sobriety and was scared while using too.  The only escape he had prior to this was no longer an escape.  Even using would not bring the desired escape any more yet sobriety even more unbearable.  There was no place to escape from the results of using so he went and used. 

For those who have never used or have never been this far along in their using, welcome to the insanity that is bouncing around the head of a person living at this level.  After this reality, sometimes a person reaches what seems to be the only logical conclusion (this may have been a problem previously and may have even preceded using, but it does seem to be supported by this twisted logic now).

Should I kill myself? No – not now.  Then a mental fog settled down. Gin would fix that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 6)

This is pretty serious hopelessness.  Once you completely give up on yourself, there is really no place to hide from that fact.  You cannot truly hide from yourself.  The closest you can get to hiding from yourself is the mental fog spoken of here.  That’s not just being tipsy or a little high; that is being completely blitzed.

In the case of Bill W. he reached this point and stuck it out for years he describes hi mind and body as having to endure “this agony” for two more years and described it as “physical and mental torture.” 

Eventually his alcohol was not enough to get enough of a mental fog and watch what happens:

A doctor came with a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative. This combination soon landed me on the rocks. People feared for my sanity. So did I. I could eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was forty pounds under weight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)

Bill W. who seems to have been content with only using alcohol, and never showed an interest in doing any other drugs, suddenly is mixing drugs with his alcohol use.  In other words, just when it looks like it couldn’t get any worse, those of us who use at this terrible level as if by magic find a way to make it worse. 

In brief, Bill goes through recovery at a hospital and does quite well.  He leaves and gets a period of sobriety.  He thought he had the answer and that he had enough self-knowledge to remain sober.  He thought this was the end of his using.

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. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum.
    They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)

Those who have lived this know the feelings, the thoughts, the despair, the hopelessness and everything else that comes at this point.  Those who use heavily but have not gone this far (yet) may not recognize some of the latter details, but if you think about it, you can see how these things are the logical end to the continued using.  They may not look exactly like this or be in exactly the same order, but this sounds like the stories of many, many others who have gotten this far along in addiction.

Now, for those of you who are the friends and loved ones of the person like this or somewhere in the process of getting more and more like this, this has been outlined mainly for you.  This is not a scientific analysis of addicts and alcoholics, or a series of long term studies:  This is one of us describing the process exactly as we experience it.  This is a glimpse into the mind of the person you are worried about.  This is his or her perspective. 

Every situation is different and your response to this information in every case probably needs to be different also.  Some of you may not be as intense in harassing the person, and some of you may need to be more direct and blunt due to your new realization about how serious the situation is.   That is a detail that you probably need to work out with a local professional in the field or a local support group etc. 

I hope this post is simply a new look at the person and the struggles that person is facing.  So now back to the passage we started with:

How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)

When you reread this with the insights we have just gone through, we get answers to those questions.  Not the perfect answers and possibly not even satisfactory answers, but at least an understanding of what is going on. 

I hope that this information is helpful  for all who read it.

Wade H.