The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Ha...
Spanish Fighting Bull II by Alexander Fiske-Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.  All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals – usually brief – were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

 

I have been pondering this idea for a couple of weeks in the midst of several encounters with people struggling with alcohol/drug challenges who insist that the alcohol/drugs are not the problem.

Many of these encounters were conversations I was not directly involved in, but were taking place in a way that I was allowed to observe or I simply was not noticed.

As I watched these conversations I kept thinking to myself:  “If it is such a small thing to you, that you can take it or leave it, why don’t you just stop, just in case you are wrong?”

Then the word “delusion” from the preceding passage had new meaning to me that a definition cannot truly capture.

The cases I was observing were extreme cases where extreme cases where there were things like physical problems associated with excessive alcohol/drug use, history of excessive problems like arrest, violence, public and family embarrassment, spouse and family distress and complaining and on and on.

All of the people I witnessed had some level of functionality and thought they were managing their use.  I suppose in terms of the clinical idea of “harm reduction” these people are not nearly as bad off as they could be and their ideas of “managing” their alcohol/drug use have yielded some change in their amount of use.

The challenge I was noticing with these particular situations is that there were other people who had both past and more importantly present problems related to alcohol/drug use.

This is not always a perfect measure of ones using as the people around us as alcoholics/addicts could just be messed-up too and as such be just vomiting their crazy on us as we try to get better, but as I listened to these particular situations, I had to say that the basic points the friends and family in each situation were making sounded like valid concerns.  The problems they mentioned sounded like valid and immediate problems.

Then I remembered a couple of concepts that I was told in my recovery that I found to be key:

“I am not the right person to determine how good or bad my using is or my recovery is going”

“One of the first indicators that I am getting out of control or that I am out of control is that my using begins to bother others around me.”

“The self-diagnosis that I have it all under control is a part of the sickness of being an alcoholic/addict.”

“Lying to myself and others is a major part of the sickness and one of the biggest obstacles to recovering.”

These key concepts as a backdrop change the way I would have the same conversations if I was the person who was using.  If my relatives, friends, spouse, children, parents, etc. say that my drinking is starting to concern them, I have to assume that that is true, because I HAVE PROVEN THAT I AM NOT CAPABLE OF JUDGING IF I AM MANAGING ALCOHOL/DRUG USE MYSELF (one of the reasons I simply don’t use at all and plan to never drink alcohol or use drugs again).  I would be forced to respond as if it is a proven fact and stop, assuming that my drinking/using is at least a major part of the problem(s) if not the source all together.

This brings me back to a story I have used a few times here in different posts that I think has to be considered in this conversation:

Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.

On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?

You may think our illustration is too ridiculous. But is it? We, who have been through the wringer, have to admit if we substituted alcoholism for jay-walking, the illustration would fit us exactly. However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. It’s strong language – but isn’t it true?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 37 – 38)

As I listened to these various conversations, I had to ask myself a huge question:  “At what point does a person have to face the fact that their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use are failing and look at stopping altogether?”

When each person I listened to was planning their efforts at managing alcohol/drug use their mind allowed them “set the bar” at “As long as annihilation of my entire world has not happened ALREADY, I am doing a good job of managing.”

The conversations I overheard involved ideas such as divorce, death and other terrible occurrences in a way that sounded imminent.  The persons in question seemed to feel that as long as they could make some kind of argument that either shut the worried person(s) up or that made some other problem seem like a bigger problem alcoholism/using can be taken off of the table completely.

To be completely honest, the best way I can describe the conversations I was hearing is to LOOSELY quote an old saying that many of us have heard:

“IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH BULL-DROPPINGS!”  

The conversations sounded like one person grasping at every straw imaginable, and using every trick in the book to avoid one possible conclusion at all costs.  That conclusion is the one that says:  “My alcohol/drug use is a part of and possibly the source of this problem.”

I have come up with a new concept that may be a general rule for all of us:

If you have to argue, discuss, debate or otherwise convince others that your drinking/using is not a problem then it most likely is a very serious problem!

I believe there are people who are not as advanced as I was who can moderate or stop drinking/using with a little guidance, but I also believe there are those of us so far advanced that there is no longer a safe amount of alcohol/drugs we can use ever.  Those of us in the second category seem to often believe ourselves to be in the first category and this is what is known as “The Great Obsession”.

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. 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)

If you are not sure where you stand and others are concerned, I would advise assuming the worst and seeking treatment that will help you learn to stop using alcohol/drugs all together.  It would seem considerably better for a few people who could have moderated to stop completely then for several people who might have been saved to absolutely destroy their own lives and possibly even die thinking they are “moderating”.

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

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Facing Humility

Facing Humility

AA Big Book
AA Big Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it.

We heard no more of Fred for a while. One day we were told that he was back in the hospital. This time he was quite shaky. He soon indicated he was anxious to see us. The story he told is most instructive, for here was a chap absolutely convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who exhibited splendid judgment and determination in all his other concerns, yet was flat on his back nevertheless.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 40)

This passage from the Big Book demonstrates one of the more serious and more common problems in recovery.  Sobriety time grows into confidence, overconfidence, and then to outright pride.  This pride is what set this man up for a massive relapse and can be what sets all of us up for a massive relapse.

Staring at the basic root we have to go back to the root problem:

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

If you have read my blog before you have probably run across this concept at least once and it seems to be at the root of most (if not all) of our alcohol/drug related problems to some degree.  In this case it is clear the role that self-focus plays.

What I want to focus on in this article is not self-focus but overcoming it.

The focus on himself and belief in his ability to stay sober because he had learned a bunch of recovery stuff is in fact what set him up so perfectly to fail so miserably.

Before moving on, let me state one fact:  INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!  Information, in and of itself will not keep you sober although it is where a lot of recovery does start.  If the information is not used to cause major change in your life you are simply the same person with more information and can expect the same results except for more guilt.

Back to where I was going:  This man fell into the pit of pride and woke up at the bottom.  Having various struggles in recovery is part of the process of recovery.  For most I hope they are not this serious, but all people in recovery are going to have struggles.

It is not the absence of struggles that demonstrates that you are getting stronger in your recovery; it is the growing ability to face and overcome the struggles that come up.

There are many things a person has to do to grow their ability to face and overcome struggles, but the most basic root solution begins with humbly being honest.  Being brutally honest and then taking drastic action!

In this man’s case the action may not look that drastic when reading the story, but the most drastic action he took was admitting he was beaten (the powerless concept) and going back to the people who knew it best and told him what would happen.

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.

“Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to see me. They grinned, which I didn’t like so much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked this time. I had to concede both propositions. They piled on me heaps of evidence to the effect that an alcoholic mentality, such as I had exhibited in Washington, was a hopeless condition. They cited cases out of their own experience by the dozen. This process snuffed out the last flicker of conviction that I could do the job myself.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

In the most extreme cases, a person who has been working recovery relapses like this man and is way too embarrassed or way to prideful to go back and face the people who had been helping him or her.   It also may mean facing people that looked up to him or her for how well he/she was doing in recovery and letting them know that you are not invincible.

This humble “facing the music” is not an option amongst other options, this humble return is the only option.

The opposite of the selfishness and self-centeredness is humility.  Any time you are struggling in recovery, start with humility.  You have to overcome the idea that some self-serving concept or action will help the situation and run towards humility at all costs.  Protecting yourself from things you are uncomfortable with or that you fear is not recovery, it is choosing to remain in the bondage.

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

Self-protection and fear are not a part of the recovery they are obstacles to recovery.  The man in the story faced it and grew from it.  That is one of the most key points to the whole story.  This has to not only be something you do, this has to become a way of life in recovery.  This is a lifestyle of humility which is the opposite of a lifestyle of self-focus.  Does it seem like being really hard on yourself?  Absolutely!  That is why it is something we have to learn and not just something we all magically start doing.

We all need to develop the anxiousness to see those who will honestly help us move forward when it is the hardest to do so.

Remember this key idea:  YOU HAVE TO FACE IT TO START TO BE FREE OF IT!!!

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

In Recovery Remember “MY WAY IS THE GET HIGH WAY!!!”

In Recovery Remember “MY WAY IS THE GET HIGH WAY!!!”

Last Touches on the Mussle
 (Photo credit: goodnight_photography)

Thus we grow. And so can you, though you be but one man with this book in your hand. We believe and hope it contains all you will need to begin. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 162 – 163)

You may be just one man or one woman with this book, but that is at least enough to begin.  The reason that is the case is because all things Twelve Step have their beginnings in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

It will probably require the help of others who know what is in the book to really get beyond just beginning.

The key to all of this is the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  The writers of the book intended it to have all the information needed to do whatever it took for them to get the miracle of recovery that was supposed to be impossible for them.

Those of us who live in large cities are overcome by the reflection that close by hundreds are dropping into oblivion every day. Many could recover if they had the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall we present that which has been so freely given us?

We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone concerned with a drinking problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of this book. For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – Forward to the First Edition)

Let me get take a slight detour then get to the real point here:

One of the biggest problems that these writers thought we have is the need to have things our own way.

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

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

People who are at the worst level of alcoholism/addiction like to do things their own way in spite of what others around them tell them to do.  That is one of the major aspects of our sickness.  We do crazy stuff that causes all sorts of problems simply because we want to and in spite of what anybody says, proves and even in spite of past terrible results.

This brings us to why there was the need for a book in the first place.  There was a need for a standard of information that showed the course for recovery instead of letting people just do whatever they thought would work.  Most people who are starting recovery have already tried a few of their own ideas and failed miserably and that is exactly why he or she is in recovery to begin with.

Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums – we could increase the list ad infinitum.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 31)

I mention this to clarify the idea that recovery is strongly based on not doing what we want to do or what we think is right but that it hinges on being so desperate to get better that we are willing to do things that we absolutely do not want to do or that we find terribly uncomfortable.

Keeping all of that in mind; I finally get to my point.  People in recovery are by nature drawn to cutting corners and doing things incorrectly to keep themselves from being uncomfortable.

If we go through recovery just listening to this person’s and that person’s ideas and concepts of recovery we each will find what we believe is the best way by picking the parts of what each person tells us that we are each most comfortable with.  In other words we will use the commentary of others in recovery to search out our own ways to cut corners and do things incorrectly to keep ourselves comfortable.

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

The fact that people in recovery are usually looking for “easier” ways is not the exception to the rule, it is the rule and must be the rule for getting recovery advice from other individuals.

The only concept that could be used to combat such a universal problem is to come up with a standard of information that could be used both guide a person through recovery and to judge if the information one is getting in recovery is correct or not.  There has to be a standard of information that is both the source and measure of all related information.

That is precisely why the alcoholics book was written and why it is a must for all persons pursuing Twelve Step recovery of any kind.

I am regularly astonished by the number of people who I encounter who are either brought to my attention as experts or are self-proclaimed experts that know very little about what is in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Many A.A. meetings I have been to have been have been filled with people who are either empty handed or who have brand new, pristine copies of the Alcoholics Anonymous book on their lap (which means they own it, but have never read it).

Often there are one or two people with well worn books who are sitting in these same rooms shaking their heads or rolling their eyes at some of the things people are saying, but politely trying to be supportive of whoever because at least he or she is there and trying.

All of us need to stop it and get back to whatever the standard is supposed to be.  Owning an Alcoholics Anonymous book is not enough; we need to read it and learn it (and pass what is in it on to others).   We cannot grow in environments where everyone is creating his or her own “softer, easier way” of recovery and expect anything but foolishness.

Let me share a word of warning before you go on however.  IN THE LAND OF THE INSANE THE SANE PERSON LOOKS LIKE THE IDIOT!!!!

If you begin to learn what the Alcoholics Anonymous book actually says recovery is, do not suddenly become this angry crusader for truth yelling out page numbers over speakers at meetings.  The truth is that many you encounter will not want anything to do with what you have to say simply because it challenges the softer easier path they are on no matter how nice or how rudely you express it to them.

Just share the facts and those who truly are desperate to follow the path that is actually laid out will seek more and will get what they are supposed to be getting.  Those that do not care to hear it may be on the path to failure.  The bottom line is it is either the Twelve Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book or it is not.  Doing whatever you want because it is comfortable to you is not.

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Many of us live by the rule “It’s my way or the highway” which means things either go the way I want or something is wrong and has to go.  I am proposing almost the dead opposite.  Just think of this small statement as the bottom line:  MY WAY IS THE GET HIGH WAY!!!

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

 

Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. (Alcoholics Anonymous page_58)

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 59)

I know that many of those reading this may have to substitute alcohol with all sorts of things in Step 1 but that is not the point I was focused on.

Ladder Nemesis
(Photo credit: Trevor Dennis)

Obviously the common idea here is the unmanageable, letting go of old ideas part of these passages.

These are the kinds of cliches that we all regularly hear around recovery, but we rarely take the time to consider the depth of such concepts. What does it mean to understand you are powerless and let go of all of your old ideas. Many people unknowingly try to reduce these concepts to something you have to do in early recovery and can avoid thinking much about later.

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 60)

Self focus is a one of the main reasons we cannot “let go absolutely” or accept powerlessness and that our lives are completely unmanageable.

We all have to ask ourselves if we are truly ready to accept total powerlessness and let go of everything absolutely including everything I think I know and can control. After all, if I am powerless and my life is completely unmanageable what I know has no power and cannot help me control anything and I have to let go of those ideas. I have to be willing to let go of everything and start over.

I was reading over one of the stories in the back of the Fourth Edition; “The Man Who Mastered Fear”, and I was struck by how this man was a huge go getter who traveled and dated quite a bit and even with a debilitating set of fears could still make money selling things from his car and so forth and yet found the need to let go of everything he thought and rebuild himself from the ground up.

Within a year of my return to Detroit, A.A. was a definitely established little group of about a dozen members, and I too was established in a modest but steady job handling an independent dry-cleaning route of my own. I was my own boss. It took five years of A.A. living, and a substantial improvement in my health before I could take a full-time office job where someone else was boss.

This office job brought me face to face with a problem that I had sidestepped all my adult life, lack of training. This time I did something about it. I enrolled in a correspondence school that taught nothing but accounting. With this specialized training, and a liberal business education in the school of hard knocks, I was able to set up shop some two years later as an independent accountant. Seven years of work in this field brought an opportunity to affiliate myself actively with one or more clients, a fellow A.A. We complement each other beautifully, as he is a born salesman and my taste is for finance and management. At long last I am doing the kind of work I have always wanted to do but never had the patience and emotional stability to train myself for. The A.A. program showed me the way to come down to earth, start from the bottom, and work up. This represents another great change for me. In the long ago past I used to start at the top as president or treasurer and end up with the sheriff breathing down my neck. (Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition page 255The Man Who Mastered Fear)

We all have to learn how to “start from the bottom, and work up.” That is a fear for many of us. The fear of not having things the way I want them, when I want them and how I want them. The fear of letting go of the few things you feel you control or do not have to let go of.

If you have areas of your life that you think you can control or things from the past that you feel you cannot let go of you have not “let go absolutely.

How can you get free of a bondage if you are clinging to things from the bondage. It’s like a person who was in jail, getting released but trying to hold on to the bars on the way. That person will have to let go completely to actually get free.

There is freedom in recovery and it is offered to us, but one of the prerequisites is that we accept that we are powerless and let go completely. That means for all of us who are in recovery, starting recovery, or who have a friend or loved one in recovery we each have to ask ourselves if we are ready to let go completely and start from the bottom and work up (possibly several times).

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

crazy train - 1
crazy train – 1 (Photo credit: adotmanda)

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened?

I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.

“Come, what’s this all about?” I queried.

He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, “I’ve got religion.”

I was aghast. So that was it – last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had that starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire all right. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 9)

Bill has been trying everything imaginable to get sobriety.  He has failed miserably and is in a deep depression because of it deciding that his only hope is to never draw a sober breath to be forced to think about it.

How is it that when the first opportunity arises to meet a person who he knew was a s bad as he was that found the elusive answer to his problem comes along he does everything he can to destroy this person and then decides that person is somehow worse off then using.

One of the biggest problems we have in alcoholism/addiction is ourselves.  We blame circumstances, other people, the zodiac, God, bad luck, being cursed and on and on.  The truth is we are on the crazy train and we have gotten kinda comfortable there.  So comfortable that although we suspect things might be better if we get off, we also are partially convinced that anyone who is not on the crazy train is somehow missing out and lying about being happy about that.

Our alcoholism/addictions lie to us to keep us trapped, but the liar is not an intimate bottle or pipe or needle or pill etc.  The liar is a part of our brain that has to be overcome to even start recovery.

Bill W.’s goal here was not to listen to the miracle and see if he could do the same thing.  Bill’s goal was to prove that nobody could do it if he couldn’t.  Once that failed, rather than take in what he was saying and really work for it, his next goal was to ignore him as background noise to use to in spite of the fact that this person had come to blow his high.  He decided that what he had to say would be a distraction but he felt he had more alcohol than this person (Ebby T.) had time and talking energy.

Recovery requires a lot of overcoming, a lot of decisions, and a lot of actions that follow those decisions.  One of the first is the decision not to listen to your own crazy.  You have to decide to get off of the crazy train.

You are going to have ridiculously stupid thoughts and idea about recovery, in recovery and in fact you will have some throughout your life sober or not.

When starting recovery, you are not yet equipped to pesh these ideas to the side, s in the beginning you just have to not listen and get in contact with people who can help you overcome your inner stupid.

In this case, the man just kept going and would not give up.  Some of us are not lucky enough to have that person, yet we still need recovery.  You need to go find those people.  They are at meetings, in online groups, in residential and outpatient recovery programs at your local clinic etc.  Be desperate to find those people.

I am a person who has mixed emotions about the concept of ninety meetings in ninety days, not because it is a bad idea, but because it is misleading.  It is not just being in the building that helps (although it is a huge step in the right direction).  It is what you take in and respond to (as well as what you do not take in or listen to).  You have to seek out the right people and avoid the bad people and bad information.

Desperately seek out the people who will help you stop listening to the inner stupid and run from the people who will do all they can to call out the inner stupid.  Some will be like Bill was and do more to try to destroy you rather than seek to help.  You are supposed to be that helper to them when you are ready.

There is help, but it starts with not listening to the stupid that we all have going in then we are able to learn how to be stronger than that inner stupid and get off of the stupid train once and for all.

Stay sober my friends,
Wade H.

Sober is “But a Beginning”?

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

Sober is “But a Beginning”?

He is straining every nerve to make up for lost time. He is striving to recover fortune and reputation and feels he is doing very well.

Sometimes mother and children don’t think so. Having been neglected and misused in the past, they think father owes them more than they are getting. They want him to make a fuss over them. They expect him to give them the nice times they used to have before he drank so much, and to show his contrition for what they suffered. But dad doesn’t give freely of himself. Resentment grows. (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126)

This all describes a normal part of the family recovery process while also revealing some other aspects of the problem that may not be dealt with directly in recovery.  By family recovery process, I mean what the entire family experiences when an individual in that family is working through the process of recovery.   This example is specific in using the husband/father as the person in recovery, but the results are often similar with any family member.

But, let’s not focus on the other family members (in this description the wife and children), let’s focus on the trouble facing the person working recovery and what problems he/she may have that abstinence in and of itself may not fix.

What I am talking about are problems that the person in recovery may have had long before recovery and possibly even before using.

If a person has a collection of bad habits that existed prior to or outside of his/her using, it is possible that the bad habits are a separate set of problems from the using  (although they may contribute to one another).   In other words: If you had the problems before using alcohol/drugs or when without alcohol/drugs then simply going without alcohol/drugs, logically speaking, will not solve those problems.  ABSTINENCE WILL NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE HAD WHEN ABSTINENT IN THE PAST.

One of the reasons for the entire chapter that the passage above is in (Alcoholics Anonymous page 126 – The Family Afterward) is to help both the family and the person understand the fact that there is a lot work necessary for that person’s recovery and for the sanity of everyone in the family as part of the recovery process.  Abstinence is not the end all, be all of recovery.

We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

Many people get frustrated with the feeling of doing everything he/she can to be functional and abstinent because people around them seem to still not be satisfied.   It is awesome that you may feel like you are doing everything you can to fix everything, but even if you do not get the reception you think you deserve, there is no excuse for running back to dysfunction.  Recovery is about change and if you are not getting better, then you are staying the same and you should expect the same.  By the same I am describing the expectation that if you have not change you are still in your alcoholism/addiction.

In the example we started with, getting the wrong response was a trigger to resentment for the man in the story.  The expectation of a certain response was not met, leading to frustration and eventually leading to deeperand far more self-destructive feelings.  Ponder this thought:

First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

This man in the first story’s response to what he saw as his family’s inability to look at the efforts he is making and leave him alone (in other words, for them to bow down in worship of how awesome he is now) could be considered alcoholic/addict suicide.   I mean, after all, if the recovery information states that something destroys more alcoholics than anything else, it is assumed that you will do your best to avoid that something.   That something is having resentment and this guy’s expectation (unrealistic expectation) led to frustration and then to this destroyer that has the possibility of eating his recovery alive and in the end, eating his life up too.

Now here is a huge thought: a lot of people always think that their friends and family are not being fair to them because they keep focusing on the past.

The truth is: If the problems are not resolved for everyone involved, whatever problems you are talking about are not the past.  If those problems are things that are not resolved with someone in your home; that goes double!   If it something you have done, been doing, or did two minutes, two days, two weeks, two years or two decades ago is still bothering someone around you it cannot be called the past; it is a problem for them NOW!  If it creates a problem in the present, then it is a present problem not a past problem!

Let’s put this idea into family perspective:

The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home. He can scarcely square the account in his lifetime. But he must see the danger of over-concentration on financial success. Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded.

Since the home has suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under his own roof. We know there are difficult wives and families, but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much to make them so. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 127)

We all have our shortcomings and once a person begins to use heavily, those problems are multiplied exponentially.  This brings us back to the key change necessary for each of us to have any hope:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. 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)

Self-focus is the enemy.  The idea that these problems are the past is based on the fact that you simply don’t want to deal with those things or to discus those things.  If they are coming up the people around you feel differently about those things.  They want to make some attempt to deal with those issues that they have right now that may have to do with things from the past.  Ignoring these things is to say that you would like to ignore dealing with the things they want to deal with and that you do not care if they work through the things that they are going through simply because their desired topics make you uncomfortable.  Your comfort is far more important to you than their resolution of the problem they have right now (at least in your mind that is true).

That can only lead to disaster and that kind of selfishness is recovery poison.  It is a wholesale plunge into the fiery abyss that is the root of our troubles:  Selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let’s look at another side of the problem the guy in the story had.  Another problem he has is this idea that that focus on recovering fortune and reputation were good enough focuses to say he was doing all he could.  The truth is, if a person is truly trying to repair the damage of the past with the family start by looking at what they would like you to do to repair the damage done and not just on what you feel like doing for them or what you think is enough.

If they are not onboard with the plan to fix everything that you have is it really a plan to fix everything or just to make you feel good about yourself.  Isn’t this man’s plans described as a desire to feel responsible and respected.  Not evil things in and of themselves, but if there is no balance of efforts to repair the damage done in the home, you are failing in some pretty serious recovery tasks (such as Steps Eight and Nine for example).

I do also understand that some people are unreasonable etc. (and that may go double for some of our family members) , but as a person recovering from alcohol/drug abuse, you have to constantly remind yourself that it is not okay for you to allow other people’s crazy to be contagious.  We do not have such luxuries as building resentment or being crazy because my family is being crazy.   Those are high dive plunges into the fiery abyss of misery and possible relapse.

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book described the proper attitude for dealing with all of this as part of the latter stages of the recovery process (particularly at the point of working Step 10 but also parts of Steps Eight, Nine and Four) starting with:

Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This is your response no matter how they are acting.  This is our code, not theirs.

There are actually some instructions for the families, but there is no guarantee that they will follow these instructions:

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

If you are the one of the family members, it is important to consider the incredibly positive or incredibly negative role you can play in this person’s recovery.  Everyone plays a part in the growth and change, it is just that an unselfish and not dysfunctional environment is key.  The challenge for everyone involved is to not slip into a self focus which then is converted into the “What have you done for me lately” mindset or into resentments.  If you are the family member, please do not transform into a relapse generating machine as soon as we start trying to change!

There is much more to all of this  and I could go on and on, but remember this (which is not just about a husband, but anyone in recovery can be substituted:

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 117)

Reality is reality and it a much easier pill to swallow if you are realistic with yourself and with others. There is a great hope of freedom, but just being abstinent, although a very hard point to get to, is not enough. There is so much more to recovery and in knowing that there is so much more, there is so much more hope.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The Shortcuts and By-paths of Friends and Loved Ones

The alcoholic, his wife, his children, his “in-laws,” each one is likely to have fixed ideas about the family’s attitude towards himself or herself. Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We

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find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?

Cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. A doctor said to us,” Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic. The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Let families realize, as they start their journey, that all will not be fair weather. Each in his turn may be footsore and may straggle. There will be alluring shortcuts and by-paths down which they may wander and lose their way.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122– 123)

For the friends and loved ones around the alcoholic/addict each life is incredibly altered by the fact of having an alcoholic/addict in their world.  Some people act as if not affected, but most often this is simply a massive misconception that will only be unraveled somewhere down the road with significant amounts counseling or a significant shock to that their system.

The behaviors, thoughts, interactions etc. of the alcoholic/addict in relation to those around him/her cannot help but impact all who come in contact.

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 82)

These are the worst case scenarios, but all are affected to some degree or other from those who have a permanent raised eyebrow for that individual to those who suddenly feel the urge to vigorously bludgeon the person past death and past a state of rigor mortis simply because that person’s name was mentioned. 

Here is a newsflash that most of us, particularly those of us with no alcohol or addiction problems:  If you do not deal with (or have not dealt with) whatever negative effects that person’s using has had on you, YOU WILL BECOME ONE OF THE OBSTACLES TO THIS PERSONS RECOVERY AND GENERAL GROWTH IN LIFE.

You may have had no blame whatsoever in this person’s previous using, you may have been the codependent enabler of this person, or you might have been the direct cause of this person’s use, but at this moment you are either becoming a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

The person who has been building resentment for years that this person would never pay any attention to your protestations probably should not take the first moment of clarity to vomit up every injustice this person has ever done to you up to the point of dry-heaving insanity upon this person in his/her first hard fought moment of clarity.

I am not saying there is not a need for a time and a place to confront and resolve each injustice, but weaponizing your confrontation of legitimate issues for this first opportunity to act out an effective ambush is probably not the way, unless your goal is to utterly destroy this person.  If your goal is to utterly destroy this person, you need to leave this person alone and go get help NOW!

If you are the more passive, not wanting to set this person off, kind of person, that has a whole other set of issues that arise.  The fact for those of us in recovery is expressed in this passage written to help us focus our efforts to fix the past.  This is how we should be looking at dealing with you on these issues:

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)

If we do not get better “until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past” hiding the past from us or minimizing it is the equivalent of hiding our recovery from us.  We need your true feelings and emotions to have any hope of recovery.  We need your reality to understand how to correct the filters we use for our perception of reality. 

A person working Step Nine should not be allowed to blame you or manipulate you into minimizing what you feel or what happened.  Each person in recovery needs to work on preparing to look at the worst of his/her past, preparing to do whatever is humanly possible to repair each thing in the past and desperately and vigorously use that experience as the fuel to grow to a point of never repeating the same destructive behaviors ever again.  This person is supposed to be learning to be far less self focused and more humble in a healthy and balanced way.

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

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! .  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

That is the task that must be undertaken at some point.  There are appropriate times and places and processes of preparation that one must work through (Step Eight for example where you work towards each amends that you actually carry out in Step Nine) before each confrontation happens, but they have to happen or the recovery process has broken down completely.  The uncomfortable process that will serve as the motivating energy behind the radical changes the Twelve Step process requires to work simply does not exist if this is not carried out properly.  The change cannot happen and if you are not changed, you are the same and can expect the same results.  That means relapse and worse!

All of this needs to be confronted at the right time, in the right way.

Now, back to the family and the passage we started with (why we are really here):

We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness.

And why? Is it not because each wants to play the lead? Is not each trying to arrange the family show to his liking? Is he not unconsciously trying to see what he can take from the family life rather than give?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 122)

According to this passage, the alcoholic/addict in recovery may not be the only selfish and self-centered person in the mix.  This may not apply to you specifically, but each person needs to honestly ask himself/herself the question HONESTLY.  There is no excusing your self focus because that person has been more selfish or deserves it or is stupid or whatever.  Either you are being selfish and self-centered or you are not. 

If you are the person who has to confront this right now however you feel it needs to be confronted two things are evident:

  1. This confrontation has nothing to do with any aspect of helping that person get better it is all about finding some sense of victory while that person is in a weakened state.
  2. This confrontation has nothing to do with finding any real solution to the problem or you would be looking for the right time when the person would be properly prepared to really get together with you and do whatever it takes to resolve each issue. 

If you are one of the people who will act as if everything is fine and none of that mattered or the “well I just don’t want to make his recovery tougher” people:  STOP IT NOW!!!

You are robbing this person of their recovery simply so you won’t feel uncomfortable or feel responsible if they freak out.  If this person does freak out, there are really two possibilities:

  1. That person is simply not ready to deal with these issues properly yet and cannot consider his/her amends to you completed
  2. This person is so used to manipulating you that he/she can avoid any discomfort he/she perceives is related to you by manipulating you into feeling guilty until you shut-up.  (That is another area that that person would need to make amends for).

Either one is a situation that needs to change for that person to get recovery.

The truth is that the archenemy of the alcoholic/addict is selfishness and self-centeredness in any form.  Granted, that person has to learn to live with the fact that the planet finds itself covered with more selfishness than it has land for all of the selfish people to stand on and is highly unlikely a person could figure out a path in life that avoids all selfishness.  The question is not one about fixing all of the selfishness on the planet however, the question is firmly:  “Are you as an individual a part of the problem or of a part of the solution for this person?”

As I said before, you may have never do much as lifted a finger to cause this person to use ever before this.  That’s awesome, but please don’t start being a part of the problem now!!!  We all struggle with an alcoholic/addict and their thoughts and behaviors to some degree or other.  We need to be willing to struggle through some discomfort for their health and you will probably find that actual resolutions to the problems will do wonders for your mental and emotional health also.  Focusing on ensuring that you are not selfish or self-protective can’t hurt either.

I suppose there are those people who have all of this in line and struggle with none of these issues.  I commend you and I am thankful that you are on our planet as an example to the rest of us.  I do however, present to you the idea that individuals cannot judge such things about themselves safely without at the least the consultation of a few folks that understand what we are looking at and can honestly tell you the truth.

In other words, if you are a friend or loved one of a person in recovery, PLEASE seek some outside assistance or advice from someone who understands these things (assume you would like to be a part of the solution or at least not be a part of the problem).  And never EVER EVER EVER EVER use the sentence “He/she is the person with the problem, why do I need to…”  That statement in and of itself is an indicator of just being concerned with yourself and not doing anything for this person.

You can be a huge part of the healing process for your friend or loved one and all it takes is to unselfishly confront the issues at the time that is best for the person and for you.  Yes there is discomfort, but at least the discomfort is along the path to freedom and closure.  You may have been a hero in this person’s life standing by them all of this time and they may not have truly even noticed, but this is an opportunity to be a beacon of hope and freedom for a person in desperate need at the moment it will count the most to him/her.  You just have to stay off of the shortcuts and by-paths.

If you are the person in recovery, consider your responsibilities in all of this and the challenges those around you will have confronting these issues with you at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.  Don’t try to protect yourself from discomfort by avoiding any of these amends.  If you are not ready, then diligently work (with the help of others) on getting ready to make the amends.

There is a solution, and all of us involved can be a part of it.