Discouragement is Not the Problem

Discouragement is Not the Problem

Bitterly discouraged, he found himself in a strange place, discredited and almost broke. Still physically weak, and sober but a few months, he saw that his predicament was dangerous. He wanted so much to talk with someone, but whom?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

Of course he couldn’t drink, but why not sit hopefully at a table, a bottle of ginger ale before him? After all, had he not been sober six months now? Perhaps he could handle, say, three drinks – no more! Fear gripped him. He was on thin ice. Again it was the old, insidious insanity – that first drink. With a shiver, he turned away and walked down the lobby to the church directory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

But what about his responsibilities – his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah – yes, those other alcoholics? There must be many such in this town. He would phone a clergyman. His sanity returned and he thanked God. Selecting a church at random from the directory, he stepped into a booth and lifted the receiver.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 154-155)

In recovery and in life discouragement and discouraging situations are just a part of the normal ups and downs of what it means to be alive.   Everyone on earth has their bad days and bad seasons of life.  That is not a question.  The problem is not that there are discouraging periods of life, the problem is what we do to manage our discouragement during those times.

Do we sit and feel sorry for ourselves and gradually drift into enough misery to make life intolerable.  Do we get a bad attitude and try to take control of the situation or just to make other people feel the pain we feel.  These are major problems for those of us in recovery.  Both of these and many other possibilities are in reality evidence of us sinking into ourselves, selfishness and self-protective behavior.

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

In other words our natural response to being down and discouraged is to sink deeper into the worst and most destructive part of our problems and in effect make our problems worse.  Being down and being discouraged are not the enemy, our responses to them is the enemy.  Sinking into self-protection and self focus are the biggest enemies.

As a first thought, the passage at the opening describes Bill W. as needing someone to talk to.  That is an excellent place to start:  Someone to talk to who will understand and be supportive.  The lifestyle of a person who desires to remain sober and not absolutely miserable requires some kind of support system that you can turn to in these kinds of times. 

This is one of the deep purposes of what we call “support groups”:  Support!  If what you are calling a support group does not offer you this kind of support either you are not connected enough in the group or it is not the right “support group” for you.

These kinds of groups are something you find and maintain.  These are people you see regularly and have some level of personal connection with.  These are people that care about and care for one another. 

These are also something you want to find and maintain before you are bitterly discouraged so that when those periods of life arise you know exactly where to go. 

Secondly, Bill became interested in helping another person.

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

As part of seeing the root of our troubles as self focus we find that one of the tasks that is most helpful in overcoming a self focused period is to focus on helping another person.  Think of the passage as reading this way:  “Nothing will help you more with being self focused as helping someone else.”

A key to what you read in the story Bill W. is telling is that he understood this so much that when he was just about to use because of it, he stopped and actively engaged in searching for a person to help.  He desperately sought out a person to help as combat against his sickness rooted in selfishness.  To use the recovery language of today, he went on a desperate search for someone to sponsor.    

This kind of mindset/attitude was the mark of the first groups and is still described in the materials as a major part of what makes us able to remain sober.  Dr. William D. Silkworth describes this kind of attitude as one of the most noticeable aspects of the early groups that made them different from other recovery groups and programs.

We feel, after many years of experience, that we have found nothing which has contributed more to the rehabilitation of these men than the altruistic movement now growing up among them.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. xxviii – 4th Edition)

Altruism = the attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts: (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

Altruistic = showing a wish to help or bring advantages to other people, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

The idea that selfishness and self-centeredness were at the root of our problems was combated by creating an environment of unselfishness and teaching the individuals to care about and help others.

So the idea is that an unselfish support group and unselfish actions are the best way to overcome discouragement, depression and our addictions and alcoholism. 

Near the end of the program portion of the book you find the following paragraph:

Still you may say: “But I will not have the benefit of contact with you who write this book.” We cannot be sure. God will determine that, so you must remember that your real reliance is always upon Him. He will show you how to create the fellowship you crave.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

If you cannot find the kind of support system described here, then you may have to search out the individuals and “create the fellowship you crave.”  If you are in one of those periods of discouragement, you may have to go out and find someone to be helpful to.  In either case you need to be out looking for all of this before you run into the times of discouragement so you are prepared for those moment when (not if) they come up.

Stay sober my friends

Wade H.

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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. 

And…

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

Wade H.

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

Every once in a while I revisit the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness as the root of our troubles (see Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62) and look at that concept from another angle.  This is another of those times. 

Look at these two quotes from Bill’s Story:

Here was love, applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor. I forgot the strong warnings and the prejudices of my people concerning drink. In time we sailed for “Over There.” I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 1)

The drive for success was on. I’d prove to the world I was important.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Look at the statements:  “I was [art of life at last” and “I’d prove to the world I was important.”  What do you see in these statements?  Clinical folks might talk of signs of self esteem issues or narcissism or blah blah blah blah…

Let’s make it simple with the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness in mind.  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Selfish = : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

Self-centeredness = : concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests

For recovery purposes I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable.  If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.

Dr. William D. Silkworth in his contributions to the Alcoholics Anonymous book says it this way:

They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – The Doctor’s Opinion – pgs. Xxvi-xxvii in the 4th edition)

Did you notice that in the above quote from Doctor Silkworth the “restless, irritable and discontented” part exists prior to any using?  We are always wanting to be on the go, we can be easily frustrated or irritated, and are not happy with where we are, what we have or what we are doing.  This may be a huge generalization, but to some degree or other these are often the case with addicts and alcoholics even in sobriety.

Let’s look at the passages from Bill’s Story and notice these ideas in the quotes we looked at earlier. 

Clearly Bill W. was not happy with who he was and where he was in life during these times.  He basically didn’t like himself.  Suddenly when he encounters nice people and drinking (really he discovered nice people and tipsiness) he feels a temporary sense of comfort he doesn’t remember feeling before.  (I was part of life at last)

Later he feels lonely and decides that he wants to feel that same comfort, so he simply tries to repeat what he had done at the previously mentioned party.  He did some drinking (I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol)

In another quote we saw that Bill stated that he’d “prove to the world” that he was important.  He didn’t feel like the world knew he was important (he possibly didn’t feel like he was important) and felt the need to prove it.  In other words he was “restless” and “discontented” and needed to experience some sense of ease and comfort from the restlessness and discontentment. 

At that point Bill had decided that becoming a lawyer would give him a sense of ease and comfort, but when it wasn’t’ doing it he turned back to drinking.

Potential alcoholic that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Later, the answer do his being “restless, irritable and discontented” was going to be Wall Street.  Yet although he made an enormous amount of money on Wall Street, he still did not overcome his restlessness, irritability and discontentment. 

By the time I had completed the course, I knew the law was not for me. The inviting maelstrom of Wall Street had me in its grip. Business and financial leaders were my heroes. Out of this alloy of drink and speculation, I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its flight like a boomerang and all but cut me to ribbons.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

This should have completely satisfied him, but he was restless, irritable and discontented.  But, Bill still had lots to prove to the world.  He moved next to playing golf and becoming the greatest golf player there ever was.

In 1929 I contracted golf fever. We went at once to the country, my wife to applaud while I started out to overtake Walter Hagen. Liquor caught up with me much faster than I came up behind Walter. I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

Then the stock market crashes, he goes broke and many of his friends commit suicide.  He is lucky enough to find a friend that not only still has plenty of money, but is willing to take care of his family.  He should be okay, but he has to use to get that true “sense of ease and comfort” and in the process destroys the relationship leaving him completely broke with nothing.

Next morning I telephoned a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left and thought I had better go to Canada. By the following spring we were living in our accustomed style. I felt like Napoleon returning from Elba. No St. Helena for me! But drinking caught up with me again and my generous friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

In all of that you may or may not have noticed, but his constant focus on his own ease and comfort not only led him to be constantly disappointed even when he was successful but also led him to have to constantly run back to the ARTIFICIAL ease and comfort of using.  If even success could not give him the “sense of ease and comfort” he was seeking he had to go back to what always made him feel “a part of life at last.” 

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. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

This idea of constant ease and comfort is absolutely self-destructive.  We do everything we can to get the world to work as we would like it to and rarely does it even kind of cooperate.  This can only lead to frustration, more frustration and worse frustration.

So to bring the idea home lets just go back to the basic point:

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

If this is the root, then solving the puzzle of your own selfishness or never-ending desire to be comfortable is a key focus.

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

No matter if a person is brand new to Twelve Step recovery or if a person has been working Steps for years and years:  THE MORE FREE FROM SELFISHNESS AND SELF-CENTEREDNESS YOU BECOME, THE BETTER YOUR RECOVERY.  The less free of selfishness and self-centeredness you are the more you are continuing the self-destructive mindset that keeps you in bondage. 

If you are not overcoming this selfishness and self-centeredness you are not in the process of Twelve Step recovery you are just doing “stuff.”

Wade H.

The Key to All Steps and to Recovery!

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. 63)

I revisit this idea every once in a while and I think it is something that every person in recovery from anything should rethink regularly.  Let me start by being clear.   If your worldview is based on the idea that:  “Whatever makes me comfortable is right and whatever makes me uncomfortable is wrong,” what we read above is speaking directly to you.

In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 61)

In this passage the authors are describing what this looks like using the example of an actor who wants to control the show he is acting in (controlling the other actors, controlling the script, controlling the director, controlling the set design etc.). 

This passage is saying that some people trying to control the show are polite and influencing.  That person might even blame him or herself for not doing enough to let the others know how much he or she knew that could have made the show better.  Some people like this are extremely giving, but in their minds there is always the expectation that since I am giving you this or that you should trust my opinion more or you owe me appreciation etc.  This person and possibly the people around this person may not even think of this person as selfish.

The passage is also saying that this person might have a whole different approach.  This person might be pushy or overbearing.  Showing the others every mistake they make.  This person might manipulate and even lie to get his or her way.  This person must have his or her way at all costs.

These are the extremes and most of us have some mixture of both.  The key is that no matter which extreme, combination or amount of this we are describing, the fact is that it is selfishness. 

Selfishness or the absence of selfish motives cannot be measured accurately just by looking at your own actions.  Selfishness is about the motives behind the actions.

Here is an example:

Two people hear about a child in some third world country that just lost her parents and is in an orphanage that cannot afford to feed her.  The first person immediately thinks, “That is awful.  No child should have to endure such tragedy.”  Then that person sends $1000.00 to feed, clothe, and take care of that child.  The second person is a guy at a bar trying to build a relationship with a girl he just met.  This guy, in an effort to keep the conversation going, brings up the little girl’s story.  He really hadn’t paid that much attention to the story, but now that he sees the girl’s interest he states that he was thinking about donating a thousand dollars to help.  The girl states she would like to give also, so they go together and the man donates $1000.00 and the girl is impressed.

Both people were seemed giving and caring.  Both gave to a worthy cause and ultimately “did a good thing.”  But, one of these people is a truly caring person.  The other is using the orphaned girl’s plight as an opportunity to “pick-up” a pretty young lady in a bar.  This person used this little girl (who will be grateful anyway), used whatever organization was coordinating the donations, and used the orphanage as a “pick up line.”  His main motive for giving and for even considering giving is to get what he wants.  The fact that this was not really what he was going to do and to impress this girl he states and acts like this is what he was going to do is in fact a lie.  He lied to this girl to impress her.  Even deeper, he pretended to be someone he really isn’t to  get her attention. 

So let’s say the man who was “picking-up” the girl in the bar is successful in impressing the girl and they end up dating.  Eventually she will discover that he is way more focused on getting from people than giving.  More importantly, far more self-centered than the person she met or the person she thought she was dating.  She was sold one thing and received a totally different thing. 

Wouldn’t that cause problems?   If he is not in reality the type of person that the girl from the bar would like to spend time with, wouldn’t it be better to find out before the two people are emotionally invested in the relationship.   Wouldn’t it be better for him to be in a relationship with a person who likes him for who he is rather than a fictitious person that is totally different than who he really is?  This relationship is a recipe for disaster.  Isn’t he the one that set it up for failure?

Think about that relative to the following statement from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

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)

The two sentences directly before this passage are how we know that the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps)thought that this self focus was a huge issue that must be dealt with:

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

They thought this self-centered interaction with the world is the deeper issue behind our other issues.  What this also means is that, if you do not work on becoming less self-centered and selfish all the work a person does in recovery will not be sufficient.  To look at it from a another angle, think of if this way:  If a person in recovery is not growing more and more humble, that person is not truly working on the deeper issues in his or her recovery or in his or her life.

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.  (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

If a person is working any Step of the Twelve and is not growing more humble, that person is not working the step properly.  I believe that any person that works the Steps will get some level of humility just by what the activities involved entail.  According to this passage, that person might even be able to remain abstinent in terms of his or her addiction, but still be a total mess.  This idea explains a lot of people I meet in recovery circles that talk about how long they have been sober.

If you run into a person who seems to be a mess, but has some sobriety time, that person may have possibly missed this key point.  If you run into one of these people who are always describing what an expert he or she is or is otherwise trying to prove him or herself important to others in recovery, that person may possibly have (probably has) missed this extremely key point.  A person working the steps and not changing is possibly a person who is not getting this key point.  If any of those people just listed is you, you may have missed this very key point.

The point of all this is to make sure that gaining humility and losing selfish motives have to be a huge key to everything we do in recovery.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

    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 pg. 60)

According to this passage, if you get past Step 2 and are moving into Step 3, you cannot even say that you have begun Step 3 if you are not convinced that these selfish motives must die and humility must start to grow in your life.