What You Need To Learn For True Freedom

Jail Cell
Jail Cell (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

What You Need To Learn For True Freedom 

We have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to straighten out the past if we can.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 70)

This a segment from the part of the Alcoholics Anonymous book that describes the things that should have happened if you did your Fourth Step correctly.  In other words if these things have not happened, you are absolutely not done with your Step Four and should not be trying to move on to Step Five.  The change you were looking for has not happened.  Or, should I say, the change the authors felt you needed t get sober have not happened.

Look at this passage describing one of the focuses of Step Five:

They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 73)

The implication of this passage is that one of the reasons that there is a Step Five is to help each person get rid of MORE egoism, get rid of MORE fear, and get more humble.  This means that a big part of Step Four is to get humility, fearlessness and more honesty according to passage.  Step Five merely takes you deeper.

Consider this passage from a page before we start actually reading about doing the Fourth Step:

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)

Selfishness and Self-centeredness!  The archenemy of every alcoholic and addict is self focus.  This is supposed to be addressed in Step Four directly.  If you do not deal with the selfishness and self-centeredness then you stay the same.  If you stay the same then you are the same and can expect the same results at some point.  In other words:  If your recovery does not change you deeply, then you have gone through recovery and come out the same.  If you are the same you can expect to do the same at some point no matter how long you manage to put it off.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps.  For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.  Nearly all A.A.’s have found too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy.  (12 Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

The focus of Step Four and Step Five (and in reality of all of the Steps) is the attainment of humility.  I know I have crossed this bridge a few times, but because it is such a key focus of all we do this topic has to be more of a bridge we cross over daily in our commute to our one day at a time recovery instead a bridge we pass over and never look back at again. 

The obvious question that comes up when having this humility conversation is:  “What about the people who are not humble who have sobriety time?”  I say to that question:  “Bring three of those people to your mind.”  (I personally know a bunch)  How do you like to be around those people for a long time?  Honestly speaking, those people make me want to gag myself with a jackhammer.

Some are so miserable and angry about everything they encounter that I kinda have to resist the natural urge to avoid conversation with them.  The kind of person who gets up to share and describes how jacked up life is and the world and on and on yet throwing in the but I’ve been sober “X” amount of years (and people clap and cheer etc.).  Not to say that their recovery time is a bad thing.  I’m also not talking about the fact that all of us have those days and periods of time.  I’m describing the person who meeting after meeting, day after day, conversation after conversation and year after year has the same attitude and those same conversations.

I remember thinking to myself, when hearing guys like that over and over again; “If that is all there is to recovery, then I would rather keep using.  If sober is that miserable and being miserable is my motivation for wanting to be sober I’m stuck choosing between sober and miserable and drunk/high and miserable.

This passage says that sober and miserable is not the goal at all and that gaining humility is the answer. 

Another form of this being not “truly happy” because of not getting enough humility is seen in these people who cannot fell comfortable or good unless they are taking control of everything.  They always know more or have to get a word in or have to declare constantly how great they are etc.  Is not all of that truly the diametric opposition to humility.  The most opposite you could possibly get to it. 

If a person were this “truly happy” why would said person be so unhappy (or the disguise they use for this “uncomfortable”) when not in control?  Translation:  What kind of “truly happy” person needs to derive any kind of positive feeling from the manipulation of others.

I spoke on this previously so I will not go over this passage in detail but if you want to truly get a look at this kind of person look at pgs. 60, 61 and 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  The passages that use the example of the actor who wants to run the show and thinks if everyone would just act the way he/she wants them to all would be fine.

This person is not “truly happy.”  This person is sick (still sick) and manipulative.

I am not saying:  “Ooooh, you evil person!”  I’m saying there is a key obstacle that still has not been overcome that desperately needs to be (for your own good and the good of those around you).

Now back to what all of this has to do with the Fourth Step.  What does killing your selfishness, self-centeredness and gaining more humility look like in Step Four?

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

The book asks you (as a resentment list) to write down everyone you have ever been angry at in your life.

In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 64)

Without going too far down this rabbit trail, you list angers because people generally do not know all of their resentments off of the top of their heads.  Most people have five or so they can think of and that’s it.  But, if you list every time you have been angry (even if the other person never knew) then you are likely to realize that many of those (if not most) are some level of resentment, some of which you try to hide from yourself.

So if done like this, you end up with a massive, itemized list of every person who has ever ticked you off throughout your whole life.  Have you begun to “learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even your enemies” or have you just unearthed a whole lot of uneasy feelings, many of which you had neatly packed away to not think about.  When do you start looking at them as “sick people” you have hurt by your conduct and become willing to straighten out the past?

This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.  Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 66– 67)

First we look at them as people who are spiritually sick.  Sick in ways that are much deeper than just being the messed up person who chose to tick me off.  Two pages before, the authors use this same “spiritually sick” concept to describe the problem that has made us alcoholic/addicts and that made us hurt other people. 

The question here is, “Could it be that these people are suffering from a similar inner sickness that you suffer from.”   Is it possible that their real problem is that they need help that they may not even know they need like you and the rest of us recovery folks? 

Then you are asking for tolerance, pity, and patience.  The kind you show a sick person who accidently does something that you do not like because it is some symptom of their sickness.  Like a friend who has a week to live who vomits on your clothes.  What kind of person gets mad at that person and beats the terminally ill person up or cusses them out?

Next you are looking to be helpful to that person.  Instead of being a part of the problem, you are looking to be a part of the solution.  In other words; you are a sick person and this is a sick person.  You are trying to get better and have some ideas now about what it takes to get better.  You have encountered a person who is trapped in a similar sickness and you know how to point that person in the direction of getting better.  You can choose to overcome the urge to retaliate and look for ways to truly be helpful (even if it’s just dropping a tidbit of information that person may not even consider for many years) or you can just jump on the crazy train with that person and fan the flames of craziness in that person’s world while restarting whatever fires have been put out in you.

The fire starters and the people who fan the flames of others are continuing down the path of selfishness and self-centeredness and away from the key focus of Twelve Step recovery:  “The attainment of greater humility”.

Key to all of this is to seek freedom from the anger that normally rises.  They did not say resentment, the authors stressed “anger”.   Anger is really the feeling that there is this right to be angry which is really the spiteful desire to punish another person between your own ears in your head.  You may spew some of your own crazy on that person or others (or you may not) but in reality in trying to beat them up inside your head, you are in truth only beating a hole in the rock that is on top of your neck. 

That person did something to you:  “How dare they hurt someone as important as you?”  Forget the “sick” person part and the “how can I be helpful” to this person part.  This person had the nerve to hurt ME!

Another fine definition of “selfishness and self-centeredness” which is the root of our troubles.

After listing every person who has ever angered you in your life, you need to go over this with each and every person on the list.  You need to take this view of every person on the list and find an answer to the question:  “How can I be helpful to him” or her?

Then comes the deep part:  There is a test to see which ones you have been successful at making these changes on and the ones you haven’t so you can go back and work on those ones some more.

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)  

Now, you take this list of every person who has ever ticked you off ever and ignore that very fact completely.  All you have right now is a list of what is wrong with everyone else in the world and you may or may not have included yourself a few times on this list.  What did you do before or during whatever thing is listed to the listed person(s) that was in some way just not right?  If nothing what did you do to this person that was not right after this thing occurred (instead of looking for “How can I be helpful to” this other sick person)?

Is it not true that if you were not helpful to this person you were probably hurtful? 

The situation or the person may have required a calm discussion.  It may have needed a firm but caring confrontation.  It may have required the police be called and an abusive person arrested for their own potential growth and you to leave so that that person has opportunity to see that being abusive is not okay (even though he or she may never see it you focused on trying to be helpful instead of retaliation etc.) .  It may mean telling parents, principles and proper authorities about being abused as a child to get that person proper help and to save other children from such abuse. (An abused child will not have done anything to the person as a child but often as adults abuse themselves with resentments.  Those who were abused as children often also never even begin to think about how to be helpful to that person.  This is a deep part of the resentment and the self-protection manifesting.  That may mean demanding that person get help or you will expose them etc.  An abused child is never to be blamed but as an adult we have to take on responsibility to be free and to be helpful).

This is a deep and often painful look at what is wrong with you and not everyone else.  The “How can I be helpful to him” or her part is not just some cool psychobabble that the Twelve Step people invented.  It is the end zone for this part of Step Four.  It is the “attainment of greater humility” overcoming “Selfishness and self-centeredness” part.  If you don’t get this change, you are the same except now you have an itemized list of everything and everyone that ever worked your nerves. 

Or you might even be worse; you may be one of these people who has like three or four people listed and ramble on and on about not having resentments only to either relapse or to white-knuckle struggle your way through some abstinence while selfishness and self-centeredness keeps you never able to enjoy the world for what it is.

If we have been thorough about our personal inventory, we have written down a lot.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 70)

This is a lot of work and a tremendous amount of stress.  Well one would expect there to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of stress in the process of getting a tremendous amount of freedom.

A person chained up in a cage can get free from the chains and become free to roam within the cage and some can even get to roam around the whole prison which are levels of freedom but are not truly free.  We want true freedom and it is possible.

Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions.

Therefore, we started upon a personal inventory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 63– 64)

We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 65– 66)

Stay sober my friends;

Wade H.


The “No Matter What The Consequences” “Go To Any Length” Promises


 The “No Matter What The Consequences” “Go To Any Length” Promises

Simply we tell him that we will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost to straighten out the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 77)

I have discussed this before a few times in various ways (see Relapse and Recovery & Change The Past In The Present To Change Your Future. & “In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”), but it seems to be a never-ending debate (especially with those who are supposed to be working Steps Eight and Nine).

It is always amusing to me how many people ask me, doesn’t the Big Book tell you to, “make amends unless making it will harm you or them?”  They always have this look as if I have suddenly had my mind wiped clear of all recovery knowledge when I firmly answer them with a flat-out “NO!”  Then they always want to convince me that it does say that.  Then I casually refer them to page 79 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book and read:

Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79)

Then to page 59 which is the step they are terribly (and possibly fatally) misquoting:

9.  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

The correct quote is “except when to do so would injure THEM or OTHERS.  The Step and the book say absolutely nothing about avoiding the making of an amends because it might harm you.  As a matter of fact, the passage we looked at from page 79, we are to make all emends, “no matter what the personal consequences may be.” 

The conversation itself is an attempt to convince me of a path to recovery that is completely opposite to we are being told.

All those “Promises” that we are all taught through repetition to use as the carrot on our recovery stick.  These “Promises” are waved around as the big happy ending for us.   The point in our story where we got to the “and he/she lived happily ever after” part. 

I am not saying these promises are not true or that they are not a good goal to shoot for.  These are the truth and definitely an awesome goal to shoot for.  The problem is that people miss the fine print.  The disclaimer like the mumbling at the end of a commercial that tells you what is really going on with this contest, free gift or potential side effects of this medication.

The fine print that so easily slips by particularly clear in the first sentence of the paragraph containing these “Promises”.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 83)

For some of you that are reading this, it is not the first time you hear me discussing this, but it is important to ask yourself; “Which phase of my development is the “this phase” that is described here?”  That is because the promises are only for those who are painstaking about that “this phase”.

But before we get to that lets look at another passage that many of us may be familiar with, but often miss what it is really saying.  The paragraph after the paragraph containing the promises:

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Notice the “work for them” part.  If there is a “this phase of our development” then that is really the focus of what we are working hard at to get these “Promises”.

The next two sentences are a change of thought but also a continuation of the same thought. 

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests 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)

The change of thought is that we are transitioning from a discussion about Step Nine and moving into a discussion about Step Ten.  The continuation of the same thought is the fact that it states that you started to really work on your Step Ten as you were working on your Step Nine.

Making your amends is not just a step you check a box for, it is a major part of starting your new “way of living”.  If you only do a partial job of making amends, you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.  That means that the amends you leave out has left behind some of the old you and that is the old you that will drive you to do what the old you does.  That means a relapse or other fits of stupid. 

IF YOU ARE PAINSTAKING ABOUT STEP NINE – NO MATTER WHAT THE PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES MAY BE – THEN THE PROMISES ARE WHAT ARE BEING PROMISED TO YOU!  That does not mean however that not getting beat-up, not getting yelled at, not getting spit on, not going to jail etc. are promised to you.  Those are contained on the promises.  Freedom that comes from being an entirely new you is what is promised unless you only do a partial job of starting your new way of living.

So, to answer that question once-and-for-all (yeah right, someone will read this and immediately try to tell me I am not reading it right):  There is no passage that says to make amends unless it might hurt you or make you uncomfortable.

In fact the amends that will have the most effect in your life are the ones that are the most uncomfortable and the most risky.

That whole concept that you don’t do it if it is somehow uncomfortable or risky is a lie from the darkness of your root problem:

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

Not making amends to someone you did something to is totally about protecting yourself from physical harm or from being emotionally hurt in some way.  It is a completely selfish act.  If you have so latched on to the root of your problem you are locked on to the very thing which is destroying you, but you don’t want to let go. 

There are awesome promises for you, but only if you are painstaking bout making ALL OF YOUR AMENDS!!!

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. 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.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests 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. We have entered the world of the Spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83– 84)

Stay Sober My Friends,

Wade H.

Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

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Tolerance, Patience and Good Will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Sober My Friends;

Wade H.


How to Survive The Holidays Pt 4 – Ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

How to Survive The Holidays Pt 4 – Ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

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)

Many people have all kinds of things to say about things that are important to recovery, yet this extremely important point is often missed.  All of us using at these heavy levels are concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity.” 

This is one of the most key messages that we all need in recovery, yet is the one people ignore the most.  Here is the problem; there are few times throughout the year as tempting to a person overly concerned with “ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity” as the Christmas holiday.

If a person is selfish and self-centered in the most traditional sense of the words that person will be completely focused on what others give to him or her.  If that is your focus there can only be a tremendous let down.

If a person is more of a self-pity type, that person may be a codependent who is obsessed with getting others stuff for Christmas and find himself or herself depressed at the inability to get purchase the happiness or appreciation of others.  This is a person who will believe himself or herself to be as unselfish as you can be with the obsession for doing things for others when in fact there is something that person is looking for in return for the gifts and services rendered etc. 

If a person is seething with resentments or in bondage to the hurts of others from the past, then the family gatherings and Merry Christmas stuff from the very same folks you are uncomfortable with (openly or secretly resentful towards) are the recipe for inner turmoil and torment.  This person may not have any problems with the gifts received or given as there may be neither to worry about.

Before going any further into this, it is important to remember just because you feel something that does not mean it is true or sensible.  Some of the things you feel may just be a part of your being an addict or alcoholic. 

If the root source of all things Twelve Step states that “the root of our troubles” is “selfishness – Self-centeredness” then it is probable that as an addict or alcoholic everything you feel may be filtered through an exaggerated focus on yourself.   That also means that one of the main focuses of everything in the Twelve Steps is to overcome this “root of our troubles.”

Wherever you are in working your steps, you may not overcome this struggle prior to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  A good place to start is by first recognizing that the problem may be simply a problem of your perspective and not one dealing with the reality of the situation or situations.

A problem so big that it is described as “the root” of your problems is not the kind of thing that you can read a cure in a two or three page blog posting:  But, the steps were originally written as a cure for this root struggle.  I understand that each of us may be in different places in our recoveries, but before you even consider dealing with the whole Christmas thing, this is an excellent time to greatly increase your efforts in your recovery.  Do more of and more quality recovery activities.  From Steps to meetings with your sponsor and other mentors to general recovery meeting attendance increase the amount and quality during the holiday season.  Get some strong people in place that you can meet with regularly to reality test your thoughts (because we cannot trust our own interpretations). 

We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

In an extremely simplified most basic sense retaliation and argument are not options for us.  We are not ready to judge what to respond to with our distorted understanding of events.  We must focus on how to be helpful to those people we feel these kind of feelings for and not expect any appreciation or acknowledgement from these people.  I understand that this is easier said than done, but in considering that Christmas is this week it is the best way to go. 

Make this Christmas be about making the holidays better with you around than it would have been without you around and have no expectation of appreciation or acknowledgement.  Do it only as part of your recovery and as part of staying healthy.

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

One more thing… 

Find someone else who is struggling like you and help that person.  The exact things that are going on with you and I during the holiday season will be going on with millions of addicts and alcoholics around the world for similar reasons.  Take the focus off of ourselves and devote some of your time to the service of someone else struggling with the same insanity that threatens us during this season.  Who better to talk to about these things than one of us who knows the same struggles?  You may not feel like you understand all of this all that well, but you may understand it a whole lot more than the next person and be extremely helpful to another person. 


May you have the happiest and most sober Christmas you have had to date,

Wade H.


How To Survive The Holidays – Part 2 (Black Friday & Christmas shopping Edition)

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 2 (Black Friday & Christmas shopping Edition)

We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

A few years ago on a festive Thanksgiving night, after enjoying several warm espresso drinks each, much of my family found ourselves up and still wide awake around midnight.  Most of us had never been to a “Black Friday” event, so we decided to pile in a couple of SUVs and drive around until we found a store we all liked and join the all night experience. 

The things we saw, heard and experienced would make a nun beat someone down.  Christmas shopping, “Black Friday” and in reality the holiday season in general seems to bring the “crazy” out in an inordinate amount of people. 

Here is a fact for all of us.  “SOME IDIOTS CANNOT BE AVOIDED!”  There are idiots in this world and at certain times even the nicest of people will act like idiots.  Many of us in recovery focus on how other people are idiots and use that as justification for doing things that set in motion chains of self-destructive events.

For those of us in recovery there is a rule that goes with that fact:  “IF OTHERS ARE IDIOTS WE CANNOT LET IT BE CONTAGIOUS!”   We do not have the luxury of catching the stupidity of others as if it were a cold as if somehow because the coughed “stupid” all over us we have to let the “stupid” virus run it’s course in our lives.

We avoid retaliation or argument.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

I am not trying to say that there will never be conflict in your life, but I am saying that those of us in recovery have to do everything in our power to avoid retaliation and arguments.  When someone does something that offends us, our argument or retaliation can often be the entire sacrifice of our world, life and possibly recovery just to get even with someone who probably doesn’t care anyway.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 66)

What does it mean to be free?   Does that mean you will never again experience the feeling of anger?  Of course not!  What it means is that when the feeling of anger or associated feelings come up they no longer dictate how you think, act or even feel.   Angry situations are not our problem, how we react to those situations is our problem. 

Retaliation and argument are not the solution for us, but what about people who do nothing and just keep their angry feelings to themselves.  The hidden feelings which we often act like they do not exist are called resentments.

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.

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

The point is that holding resentment secretly devours your emotions, your mental state, and your life and shuts you off from everything that not only allows you to be happy, but also from everything that will keep you sober. 

So basically in our discussion we have ruled out angrily responding to other people’s crazy and we have ruled out doing nothing.  For many of us those are the only two options and if that is the case what we have discussed so far seems completely impossible.  After all, if those are the only two options and we have made a case for why both options will utterly destroy your entire world then there is no hope.

The problem is that these are not the only two options.  The problem we have is not one of how we respond.  The problem is why we respond the way we do.  So let’s just jump right in:

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

Again the problem is not how you react, it is why you are reacting the way you do!  In many cases it is all about a feeling of “How dare this person do _______ to me!”  As if you were the Queen of England or the Crown Prince or something.  Here is a newsflash for all of us in recovery: 


We are all people.  We all have good and bad days.  We all get caught in the heat of the moment and do stupid things.  Part of our recovery (particularly Steps Eight and Nine) are focused on going to people we have hurt or adversely affected with our actions in the past to repair the damage.  The hope is that they will see that the person that hurt them is not who we really are deep inside regardless of if that was just a bad moment or if that was who we were and we are changing now. 

How can we expect others to give us the same benefit of the doubt if we cannot give the same benefit of the doubt to others?  When I judge the world completely on how I feel (especially in the heat of the moment) I am declaring myself God and ruler of the universe.  After all, the whole world is measured by how good or bad something makes me feel.  I have decided the whole world must bow down to my decisions on what is good or bad as dictated by my feelings at the moment.  Is that not one of the highest levels of selfishness imaginable? 

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!   (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This is the crazy that makes us unable to play well with others.  We have to learn to think of what is going to be helpful to the other person.

Let’s say I’m on the freeway on my way to go shopping and I am minding my own business when suddenly this car rocketing down the freeway speeds into my lane leaving only a fraction of an inch between our bumpers never once even considering the use of a turn signal.  Now, I get to the store I was going to and here is the guy that just cut me off hurriedly walking into the same store and he suddenly falls down dropping a handful of stuff.

I could cuss him out, I could punch him in the nose,  I could call him all manner of evil things under my breath and wish I had punched him in the nose as I walk away or I could calmly smirk and think to myself “That’s what he gets.”  Or I could calmly say something like hey you should slow down a bit as I help him out.  Then maybe mention that he cut me off earlier.  The truth is that even the last response could be good or bad.  Because remember it is not how you respond, it is why you are responding the way you are.

If the only goal is to make sure that he knows that he offended you then it is again all about you.  This is a person who is incredibly hurried and may or may not have had a reason for that.  Most of us have been late for something or just having a terrible day and have cut someone off.   Some of us have heard the words, “If you are late one more time you’ll be fired!”  Has it ever occurred to you that this person might be in the middle of some major crisis and didn’t mean to offend you specifically?  What could someone do for you when you are in a crisis and find yourself offending people that  you don’t even notice that you offended?

So, if you walk over to the guy and help him just so you can have an easy opportunity to tell him what a jerk he is (just politely) you are still being crazy.  You are just being crazy with a smile. 

If you walk over to help, because you realize that this person might legitimately going through something and you try to offer the help you would want in the same situation you have learned to think of someone else other than yourself.  Should something be stated about the fact that the person cut you off?  I believe yes.  But, with the mindset I am describing it would be a bit into the conversation and I think it would be more of a part of the planting of a seed to help the person know what things to change in his life than just pressure to apologize or to feel bad.

I understand that for some reading this sounds weak, soft, or ridiculous.  The truth is, this is what it is to be unselfish and not self-centered.   The crazy people shopping at the holidays are in a shopping frenzy.  If you cannot yet handle being offended without some terrible emotion or action arising then you simply can’t go.  I guess you are going to have to shop on Cyber Monday instead of on Black Friday. 

As for family and friends on the holidays, not only should you consider what they are going through that might be making them act however they act, you should consider what you might have done to them in the past that they are still hurt over or angry over.  Just because you are trying to go through recovery does not mean that everyone around magically forgets the hurts and anger you have caused in the past.

Also, I think it is important to note that just because you chose to have the right mindset and take the right actions that does not mean that the other person is going to respond correctly.  The guy that cut you off then dropped his stuff in front of the store might cuss you out when you come over to help him.  You still have to keep your unselfish stand and hopefully when that person is working his Eighth and Ninth Steps you’ll come up as a person he cannot find to make amends to that deserves one.  Remember, that person may still be sick and just because that person is sick, does not meant that you have to get sucked into being sick with him or her.

This is what is meant by taking a “kindly and tolerant view” of everyone around you.  This is one of the major keys to surviving the holidays. 

We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)