The New Year’s Change

The New Year’s Change

...change...

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)

A new “way of living” is central to any idea of recovery.  If you stay the same, act the same and think the same you will end up with the same results.  If you do not change, you are the same and will end up getting the same results.

Here is the math:

THE SAME   =  THE SAME RESULTS

DIFFERENT   =  DIFFERENT RESULTS

Any hope of recovery must include an acceptance of the fact that you need to be okay with the idea of being an entirely different person to get different results.

This is a great time to look at this concept.  We have just passed through New Years after surviving the Mayan Apocalypse and those of us in the United States having survived a quick tumble over something called a ‘fiscal cliff” and here we are.

With the New Year, many cultures have the custom of making new resolutions, commitments or changes for the next year and for those of us in recovery this can be used as an important part of our recovery process as change is recovery.

Some changes may be simple commitments:  A person who has been in recovery circles and never seriously worked Steps may commit to actually working the Steps this year and find two or three people to ensure that happens.  Some people might have that one or two things that they have excluded from discussing when working their steps previously, such individuals might commit to working on those things this year (and call a couple of people you could meet with today and start discussing those things withor you won’t really do it).  Some, who may have never done so before, might commit to sponsoring others this year and contact two or three others who are good sponsors to walk them through the process.

The ideas are endless.  Now that I have you pondering this idea, let’s slow down and look at some of the changes founding member Bill W. did when he got started:

My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 15)

I use this passage because this brief summary gives both the good and the bad of this commitment to changing.  There were some negative results of his using that didn’t magically disappear with abstinence from using.

Bill W. was sober and helping others be sober (as well as starting Alcoholics Anonymous) and working recovery yet the world around him was far slower in the process of accepting his sobriety which meant during this whole period of sobriety he couldn’t find any work.

This is important, because many of us in recovery start changing and then get frustrated by the fact that people around us treat us like the scum of the earth or like the village idiot no matter how much we change.  Some of us get so frustrated that we just give up feeling that it doesn’t matter:  “No matter what I do my life is not going to get better” etc.

Let me help all of us with a fact:  YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE “YOU”.  YOU CANNOT CHANGE OTHER PEOPLE!  The changes that you are making start with “changing you” and the damage each one of us has done to the world around us is not in as big of a hurry to change as we need to be.  No matter what is going on around us, we have to still do the changing.

It is not a matter of if there will be problems, frustration and discomfort, it is a matter of how well you push through when the problems, frustrations and discomforts come up that is key to your recovery.  If your efforts to change cannot overcome these times, then your recovery can only work in times when there are no problems, no frustrations and no discomforts.  In other words, your recovery will not work.

There will be problems and a big part of the change is continuing to change and maintaining the changes that you have made already through the worst of times.

A big part of the changing that Bill W. did was working with others.

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.  It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Working with others is tied to his being able to hold on through these first tough times.  This is not an option, this is a must for all people working something that you are claiming is a Twelve Step program.

For any Twelve Step program, working with others who are struggling with what you are struggling with is central to making the whole thing work.  Not just working with other however; “intensively” working with others like yourself.

In the case of Bill W. on page 15 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book, he went searching for people to work with.

I am astonished, by the amount of people desperately seeking to have the sponsees come to them.  Understanding that “intensively” working with other people is at the core of any hope you have of changing and staying sober, waiting for sponsees to come to you is like sitting around waiting for recovery to just happen to you.  As if there is some recovery fairy that will magically show up, wave the magic recovery wand, sprinkle the magic recovery dust on you and all will be fixed.

Recovery is something you struggle desperately to get and so are those you work with:

Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic wives and relatives, innumerable trips to police courts, sanitariums, hospitals, jails and asylums. Your telephone may jangle at any time of the day or night. Your wife may sometimes say she is neglected. A drunk may smash the furniture in your home, or burn a mattress. You may have to fight with him if he is violent. Sometimes you will have to call a doctor and administer sedatives under his direction. Another time you may have to send for the police or an ambulance. Occasionally you will have to meet such conditions.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 97)

I am not promising you some easy time of magically changing as you plod along each day playing recovery in some meeting or other.  I am bluntly saying that change is hard work particularly in the hard times including in the key area of working with others.  FACTS ARE FACTS AND THAT’S THAT.

What I am hopefully doing is properly preparing you for the cost of changing and showing you a truthful view of what the honest hope of sobriety costs.

The good news about complete change is that what makes you happy will change also which means you will be made happy by things that right now you cannot imagine would make you happy.

Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 15)

If you do this long enough as intensively as you can eventually it will be the thing which lifts you up and keeps you on your feet.  It will be your joy and stability in the storms of life as well as in the quiet times of life.

Getting back to the point; as each of us begins on the path of walking through a new year, let’s all set a new course for change.  I put these ideas out there to contemplate as each one of us process what that might mean.

Make a plan for what you are going to do on the path to change this year, involve others (people with good sense and strong enough to confront you if you are not following through) in keeping you on course and accountable to your commitments, and start on the whole thing before you close your eyes to go to sleep tonight.

In conclusion, I wish you a Happy New Year.  Not in the sense that I expect that magic fairy dust will fall on you and joy will miraculously fall upon you (that is called being high and never really ends well).  What I mean in “Happy New Year” is:  May the efforts you are putting into finding change and the joy of sobriety be rewarded with a joy you have never known before and may that joy be passed through you into the lives of many, many others you encounter.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 8384)

Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.

The New Year’s Change

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The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: volantwish)

Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol.  (Alcoholics anonymous pg. 33)

Here we are, it’s almost New Years Eve.  If you are reading this, you have survived the Mayan calendar end of the world, Y2K, the 1999 end of the world, the cold war and if you are in the United States you might be bracing yourself t go over a “fiscal cliff”, yet you are a survivor.

If you are recovering from alcohol or drug use however, you need to know that these things are not your biggest concern.  Your end of the world can be summed up in seven letters:  R-E-L-A-P-S-E.

As the world prepares for the new beginning that is signified in a new year one of the biggest dangers to people in recovery looms on the horizon:  New Year’s Eve.

That night in many places is a time of celebration that is unmatched throughout the rest of the year.  For many of us in recovery, that same night might contain danger that is unmatched throughout the year.  How many people in my life (some well meaning, some for some evil reason and some just not caring or paying attention) have tried to offer me alcohol and drugs on New Year’s Eve?  Some have gone so far as to apply peer pressure and the power of public humiliation to attempt to nudge me into the direction of relapse and inevitable self-destruction.

Conversations about why this or that substance or this time doesn’t count. Why champagne does not count or why New Year’s Eve is somehow a magic time where using will not affect my recovery.  Why the New Year’s Eve celebration is somehow a safe environment to use and on and on.

Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There is no safe reason for or safe place for a person in recovery to use.  ANY USE AT ALL IS A RELAPSE NO MATTER WHERE OR WHEN IT IS.  YOU ARE EITHER SOBER OR NOT!  Any hiding place you find that you think makes it safe for you to use is only a hiding place from reality.  Any magic formula you find to use safely is only a formula for foolishness.

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Any reason for using (even on New Year’s Day) is “insanely insufficient” in light of the reasons you are in recovery in the first place.  There is no magic minute, hour, day, place or group of people that makes it safe for an alcoholic/addict to use again once in recovery.

Every use in the life of a person in advanced alcoholism/addiction comes with the probability of unleashing a tornado of chaos in the lives of every person who’s life has any contact with the person (including that person himself/herself) that may end with the absolute annihilation of any environment this person comes into contact with.  RELAPSE IS OUR END OF THE WORLD.

Once a person is in recovery, that person is on a path that is founded on two basic thoughts:

  1. Using intoxicating substances is absolutely destructive to my life and the lives of those around me.
  2. I must stop using intoxicating substances at all costs to be free.

Any reason you have for using or for feeling it is safe to use is an “insanely trivial excuse” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37).

No matter what you hear, where you are at, what everyone else is doing, how miserable or happy you may be at the time:

The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

There may be champagne drinking, drug using people who appear just fine by the next day and seem to move on with life.  That I of no matter to those of us in recovery simply because:  WE ARE NOT THEM!

There have been people who have jumped off of bridges and lived, should I go and do it too and expect to be fine.  There have been people that have been shot in the head and lived, should I shoot myself in the head.

The question is not if other people can or cannot use safely.  The question for those of us in recovery is if I have accepted that I can never use alcohol/drugs safely.

If you have not fully accepted this then New Year’s parties are among the worst places on earth for you to be.  If you have accepted this then keep in mind that New Year’s parties are still one of the most dangerous places on earth for you to be.  Even in these cases you may find temptation so great that you have to excuse yourself, make your way to an exit and run for dear life as fast as you can.

If these facts bother you (as it does most of us at some point) look at these words from founding member Dr. Bob had to say about those feelings:

I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181 – Dr. Bob’s Nightmare)

No matter what we were like before or how well others seem to handle it, we can never safely use again period.  Any of us who do not completely get this must not risk such events or gatherings.  It would be far better to spend New Year’s Eve with others in recovery and around strong support to carry us through this challenge.

If you have accepted this, it is still important to have people in place wherever you are that know if you are struggling and are strong enough to stop you if you begin to walk down the road to the stupidity of relapse.

One important point to remember also is that no matter if you decide it is safe to go out on New Year’s Eve or not, you must be willing to be a support for others in recovery also:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Sober Christmas, Sober Holidays, and Sober New Year’s…

Stay Sober My Friends…

 

Wade H.

Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

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

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

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.

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 5 – Insanely Trivial Excuses

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink. Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Sober my Friends…

Wade H.

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)

Having Depression vs. Managing Depression???

A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling.

A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 133) 

I was listening to a conversation today where somebody made a good point.  For this person, he always enjoyed the holidays and was fine emotionally throughout the holidays, but the period in January directly after the holidays is always a depressing time for him.  After all the excitement, hype, and gathering together of the holidays the abrupt stop that comes somewhere around January second always leaves him struggling.

Every year I try to address those struggling with the holidays, yet I have entirely missed this group.  The reality is that many of us in recovery suffer with bouts of depression at many different times.  The first thing to keep in mind is that this is normal and will not go away overnight.  Second, having ridiculous thoughts and responses to these bouts of depression (i.e. “twisted thinking”) will not disappear overnight either. 

In light of these two ideas, a great starting point for dealing with this kind of depression is to remember that they are a normal part of recovery and connect with others in recovery groups, church/spiritual groups, etc. who have similar struggles and share with them.

Another thing to remember when you are struggling with depression is found on page 89 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

When you are struggling intensively working with others is always something to think about.  The truth is this is a huge part of recovery that many miss out on.  This should really be a normal activity that is part of your recovery and not just an emergency measure, but a bout of depression can serve as a reminder to those of us who have lost that focus.

Be careful to notice that the passage on page 89 is describing “intensive work” and not just “service” as what will ensure immunity.  Service of any kind is good, but is in reality not what is described here as being the focus of Step Twelve or what will “ensure immunity.”

Something else you can do:

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 87-88)

For me personally, I can honestly say that a lot of the circumstances that trigger my bouts of depression are based on the fact that something is not going the way I think it should be going or in a way that makes me comfortable.  These moments of meditation and prayer on the fact that; “It’s not all about me” are key to my sanity.  This is a big part of what Step 11 is about when you look at that Step practically.

These things often work for what may seem like insurmountable bouts of depression, but sometimes there is depression that is not as manageable with just these measures.  For whatever strange reason (some of which may be bad experiences) many of us in recovery are resistant to getting help from mental health professionals and sometimes even from recovery professionals.

But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Most of them give freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 133)

The passage describes “fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners” and I understand that all of them are not “fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners” but they do exist and you should “not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons.”  Ask around, do research and find one.  This could save you a lot of unnecessary struggle and pain and in some cases may save your life.

The bottom line is that experiencing depression is a normal part of recovery; it happens to most if not all of us.  It is going to happen to you and I at some point (if not regularly) the question is how you manage the depression.