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 Misleading Mindset

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Misleading Mindset 

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. 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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 39– 40)

This passage is an excellent description of the mindset that misleads many people in recovery.  There is this crazy idea that the memory of the problems that using has caused in the past and attaining a whole lot of information about using, recovery and myself will keep me sober.

There are some people who use heavily who can think themselves sober and in reality, there are some people who are pretty messed up from using that don’t need to learn, think or any of that; this (small) group of addicts/alcoholics just decides to stop and never uses again.  The problem is that many of us in recovery (more like most of us) are not in either of those categories and need to come to terms with that before we can even consider ourselves having started recovery.

Thinking and learning in and of themselves are not enough for most of us to remain abstinent (although they are important parts of the process). 

Look at the conclusion to the story we started with:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. 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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41– 42)

There are moments when your body and some parts of your mind will have such a desire to use that the parts of your mind that you would like to use to force yourself to stop will not be strong enough to overpower the desire.  One desire within your self will be trying to resist a desire that is in your body and mind and that is often also driven by your social and spiritual health (or lack thereof).  Recovery has to be approached from all four of these areas to have any hope or to even be considered recovery.  The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps) knew this to be true:

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.

Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these matters are, from their very nature, controversial.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

There is hope for those of us who are at the most desperate levels of alcoholism/addiction.  This hope relies on us not getting sucked into the flawed idea that “information is what will keep me sober.”  INFORMATION WILL NOT BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  Information is just one of the tools that is supposed to help get you to what will keep you sober.  Look at the information that the early A.A.’s gave to the man in the story we started with when he relapsed:

“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.

“Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems. I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42– 43)

The solution is described here as “a way of living” that is more satisfying than anything before.  The hope of recovery rests in finding a completely new way of living.  A new basis of life that will result in changes in the way you think and why you have those thoughts, changes in what feelings you have and why, all of this leading to changes in what you do.  In other words:  RECOVERY IS ABOUT ENDING UP BEING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON THAN WHO YOU WERE WHEN YOU STARTED.  IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED, YOU ARE THE SAME AND WILL GET THE SAME RUSULTS.

If you do not plan on being changed completely, then you do not plan on getting recovery.  If you do not aim towards a new way of living that is infinitely more satisfying than any way of living you have had before you have decided to stay with the same way of living and have decided to continue to live the life of an alcoholic/addict.

I beg you to move beyond knowledge to the desperate desire to be a completely different person, because that is where your hope lies.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

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The Crux of the Problem:  Obviously

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

This is one of the most key statements in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  To even begin to look at this statement, we have to look at the word “crux” in a bit of detail.  According to merriam-webster.com the word “crux” is defined as:

1:  a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

2:  an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

3:  a main or central feature (as of an argument)

Notice that the exact words used in the Alcoholics Anonymous passage are used in #2 as an example.  So to be the “crux” of the problem means that “the mental state that precedes a relapse” is “an essential point requiring resolution”.  To be the “crux” this mental state is also a “main or central feature” of the problem as well as being a “puzzling or difficult” problem in and of itself.

Something that I find interesting about this statement is that it needs to be stated at all.  It seems perfectly obvious, but it is put out there as if it is a huge change of mindset for many in recovery.  In fact, it often seems to be such a huge change of mindset.

The idea here is that the big problem in a relapse is not the relapse itself, the big problem is what was going on in your mind at the time you were sober and trying not to use that makes you or allows you to use when you should be able to soberly stop yourself.

If a person keeps being barely saved from having consumed poison is the real problem poison in that person’s system or that the person repeatedly makes a conscious decision to take in poison.  In this example, isn’t just saving the person from the effects of the poison just a Band-Aid put on a symptom but doing little to solve the real problem (since the person has a history of just taking in the poison again).

In the same way, isn’t focusing on abstaining from alcohol and drug use and simply fixing the stuff you have done in the past while using drugs or alcohol just a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem.  Isn’t the real “essential point requiring resolution or resolving” what is going on in your mind when wanting to remain sober and while still abstinent that makes you suddenly do the thing that you most want to not do and know has the potential to be the most destructive force in your world. 

In other words, what kind of fool is surprised by anything a person is capable of after he/she is drunk/high?  After a person has chemically distorted his/her thinking it would seem logical to assume that his/her actions would also be twisted or distorted.  If a person desperately does not want twisted or distorted actions that result from this twisted or distorted thinking why do the one thing most likely to case all of that.  That is the real problem not the twisted thinking and actions that happen after you take something that you know will cause twisted/distorted thinking.

All of that being said, what is going on in our heads before a relapse?  If you interpret the information found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two categories described:

  1. Thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have
  2. Thoughts that we should be having that we sometimes don’t have

 

The first one, “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is described best in the like this:

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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

In other words there is this weird idea in the back of our minds that there will be a way to use or to be intoxicated that will somehow not count as a relapse.  There is some magic formula that will allow me to take some magic “feel good” stuff while not having any negative consequences.

This is the idea behind sentences that begin with things like:  “This does not really count because…” or “Well, this is not the same because…” or “My problem is _______ not ______ so…” and on and on.  There are also ideas such as:  “Well, since I have been sober ______ amount of time, I should be fine if I use a little now” or “Well, it’s a special occasion so a little won’t hurt” etc.

Just speaking from a logical perspective, it’s not only the fact that you could destroy yourself (again) that is the problem.  The real question is, why would you take the risk?  If there is even chance that you might destroy yourself or your life, what is so valuable in relapse that the risk is worthwhile. 

In the most extreme cases, we are talking about a person who has lost everything to using and had no hope.  Then this person rebuilds his/her life through a process of abstinence and some painful work in recovery.  This person gets a deep understanding that using means possibly losing everything again and possibly even more this time.  Then in a moment the person decides:   “This time it’s okay because…” Then no matter how much the person should see that the risk of loss is far greater than whatever it is that’s gained the person still thinks it will be okay.  Even to the point of having some unlikely reason as to why it will be okay.  “This time is different because…”

This is (especially from an outsider’s perspective) an unreasonable train of thought.  It is thinking something that makes no sense and that should probably not be though.  This is “the great obsession” that sucks us in like a black hole.    According to merriam-webster.com the word “obsession” is defined as:

: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly: compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>

So this “great obsession” is a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with the unreasonable idea or feeling that it is somehow there is a safe way to use. 

Let’s be clear:  There is no such thing as kinda using or kinda sober or kinda abstinent.  You are either abstaining or not.  You are either using or you are not.  “Just a little” does count.  Whatever you use may not be exactly the same as before, but you are either using or you are not.  If you are seeking sobriety, any using at all is the enemy, no matter what reason or excuse you have.

The problem is that PRIOR TO USING our brain has a section that keeps trying to convince us that there is a reason or a way to make using not count.  That little voice in our heads and in our hearts is this “Great Obsession.” 

The Second one “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is best described in these passages:

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

These moments in time where a person cannot seem to muster up any serious or effective thought of what the terrific consequences might be have a name:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

They are called “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  They happen “during the period of premeditation” which means that this phenomenon also happens prior to using.

But, let’s slow down and look at this concept.  In spite of all of the information and advice a person might get on various things a person should do to remain abstinent or sober most people ignore all of that and use one very simple method:  Whenever a craving or temptation arises the person forces him/herself to think of all of the reasons he/she should not use and that consciousness of what could be lost and pain might be caused will be enough to repel the person.

The trick that gets people obsessed with this method of remaining abstinent is that it will work much of the time for a majority of us in recovery.  The fact it works most of the time convinces us that it works all of the time. 

A person using this defense who relapses often comes up with some reason why he/she relapsed and then convinces himself/herself that the same defense system should be put up.  

Think of an ancient city that was protected by a large wall.  When most armies would come to attack it they would not be able to get around the wall.  But there was this one army that would come once in a while and somehow could just cut a hole in the wall, march right in and start killing and destroying.

If the government of that ancient city kept rebuilding the wall exactly the same way, because it worked most of the time, wouldn’t they be fools.   The fact it worked most of the time did not make it good defense system if once in a while it would fail completely.

This is the idea of the “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  If your only defense is to force yourself to think of reasons not to use at moments when some part of you desperately wants to use you will have success sometimes, but at other times you will feel like you had no defense system at all.

Now lets relook that passage that describes the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

There are moments where the urge to relapse is so strong that you will not be able to force yourself to think about consequences, losses, pains, etc. at all.  If this is your only defense system you will be doomed in those moments.

So, what we have discussed so far is that a serious alcoholic/addict has a hidden obsession (often hidden from himself/herself) with the idea that there will be a magic way of getting intoxicated without any consequences.  Then, with the ability to lie to yourself about there being any consequences there come strange phenomenon of not being able to force yourself to consider the consequences (the ones you are trying to convince yourself are not there).  Once you convince yourself of the first lie and then stop fighting the lie with the second; YOU ARE DOOMED TO RELAPSE!

So the “crux” of the problem or “the mental state that precedes a relapse” and that is “an essential point requiring resolution” are described as “The Great Obsession” and these “Strange Mental Blank Spots.” 

The real problem is even simpler than “the mental state that precedes a relapse.”  The real problem is that you cannot trust your own brain or thoughts before you relapse to stop you from relapsing.  If you cannot trust your own brain and your own thoughts then your defense system cannot be based on what you can think or force yourself to think.  Recovery must be more than forcing yourself to think a few things or it will fail.

This is a big part of what it is to be POWERLESS.  In other words, this is a huge part of what you must understand to truly work Step 1.

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot. Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:
•Resentment
•Jealousy
•Envy
•Frustration
•Fear

frustration.
frustration. (Photo credit: nicole.pierce.photography)

How to Not Poison Your World In Bad Times

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Some of us who have been in 12 Step circles for a while will recognize these as a part of what is known to many as “The Promises”.  These particular parts of the promises focus on an important struggle in our recovery; dealing with the rough times in life, and how we are able to be able to overcome them.

To start with, lets look at a basic rule of life that many at the worst levels of using struggle with:  Bad things happen to everybody including you.  This is an important concept.  Life is like playing cards:  You are going to be dealt good hands and you are going to be dealt bad hands, but you have to know how to play both.

To begin with there are the words passed on by generation after generation of Twelve Steppers:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference

This concept of first knowing the difference between the things you can change and the things you cannot.  Then being giving the strength and determination to change the things you are able to change or the strength and ability to not get emotionally eaten alive by the things that you cannot change make the difference in our lives.

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 145)

In other words, when something bad happens in our lives there are several things that are absolutely NOT options for those of us in recovery:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

These are a poison to our recoveries, to our lives and to everything and everyone that is touched by our lives at all.  These are the hidden hand grenades that then if allowed to be in our world will explode causing destruction on all sides. 

These rise up in every person, but the reality is that no matter what bad things come up in your life, there are only two options:  Either I can do something about it or I can’t.  Being frustrated, resentful, fearful etc. will fix nothing in either case.  If a bad thing that happens to me is something I can do something about, I need to get up and do whatever I am able to do about it.  That’s the solution.

If it is something that I can do nothing about, then drinking the poisons of frustration, resentment, fear and so on are ABSOLUTELY NOT the solution.  In fact, these attitudes compound whatever the problem is with a whole bunch of new problems.  Having these is simply taking a problem and making it terribly worse.

Picture it this way:

Imagine a person accidently drinking a few sips of spoiled milk.  This person gets so freaked-out about having accidently consumed the spoiled milk that he/she decides to drink rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid. 

Does any of that help with the problem of having accidently consumed the spoiled milk? 

Isn’t this response actually more of a problem than the original problem? 

If this person didn’t freak out, couldn’t better solutions be found?

If resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration and fear are in fact the greatest enemies of alcoholics/addicts, isn’t responding to bad things that happen in our lives with these emotions like drinking rat poison, rubbing alcohol, toilet bowl cleaner and battery acid

There is one other thing that has to let go of to handle the bad things that arise in every person’s life:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Selfishness and self-seeking will have to be let go of.  We do not have the luxury of being self focused as it is also a terrible poison to those of us in recovery or those of us who use alcohol/drugs heavily.

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)

The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the root of all things 12 Step) are convinced that the root of all of our struggles can be summed up as “selfishness” and “self-centeredness”.

If you look at the list we discussed previously as the enemies of alcoholics/addicts:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Frustration
  • Fear

are these all not rooted in being “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?”  This exaggerated self focus erupts in an explosion of self destructive feelings and emotions that can only find expression in the world through destructive and self-destructive actions.  In other words these and their root (selfishness – Self-centeredness) are the poison alcoholics/addicts drink whenever bad things happen to us.   

Instead of letting the poisonous serpent of alcoholic/addict thinking bite us when bad things happen, we have to seek the strength to see which of the two possible solutions is appropriate and take that action. 

When something bad happens I either need to do something about it or accept it as the way things are and move on.

Whenever you encounter bad things in life you either drink the cure or the poison.  To drink the poison is to consume the seeds of misery, destruction and relapse. 

Now look at this portion of the promises:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

These things are not just promises, they are keys to success.  If these changes of attitude and changes of your whole outlook on life don’t change then you will be shaken to the core of your being every time life deals you a bad hand.  A person who does not have these changes of attitude is doomed.  A person who has a submits to the greatest enemies of his/her recovery every time something bad happens has a terribly weak recovery at best.  

A recovery that cannot handle the bad times is not a recovery at all, because there will be bad times in every person’s life.  Freedom means not poisoning your world when bad things happen.  It means settling in and asking for the peace to accept any things that are beyond your power to change them.  It means asking for the strength and ability to face up to and do something about anything that you can change.  Most importantly, it means asking for clarity on which instances are which.  In other words we need clarity on the facts and to deal with the facts for what they are:  FACTS!  

Do not be like a card player who could be dealt twenty good hands in a row, stacking a huge pile of winnings and suddenly the first time he gets dealt a bad hand he looks at the cards, freaks out and poisons himself.  He should play that hand the best he knows how to and if it’s time to fold from that game, that is the right thing to do.  If it’s time to play that hand out and hope to get a break, than that’s what he should do.  If it’s leave that table time, while he is still ahead, that is also what he should do.  If it’s time to just play out this hand up to the point of losing it and looking ahead to the next hand, then that’s what he should do.  But, drinking poison is probably not the best solution.

If a card player knows how to play and win with the bad hands, that person is truly amazing.  If we can learn to not only stay in the game when life deals us bad hands, but also to play the game of life to win during the bad times, we will also be truly amazing.  

 

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

Learning Yourself Sober?

Learning Yourself Sober?

But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 39)

The idea that you will be unable to stop using by gaining information alone is a very important point that must not be ignored.  It is amazing how many people are interested in learning themselves sober.

Information
Information (Photo credit: heathbrandon)

Don’t get me wrong, I obviously think that learning alcoholism/addiction information and recovery information have an important role in the recovery process, but I am not under the misconception that if a person gets enough information that the fact they have enough information will magically keep that person sober.

This is one of the grave errors that many of us in recovery and many of us trying to help others through recovery often make.  We assume that somehow the right amount of information will keep you sober, it is just a matter of getting you to swallow enough data.

My brother-in-law is a physician, and through his kindness and that of my mother I was placed in a nationally-known hospital for the mental and physical rehabilitation of alcoholics. Under the so-called belladonna treatment my brain cleared. Hydrotherapy and mild exercise helped much. Best of all, I met a kind doctor who explained that though certainly selfish and foolish, I had been seriously ill, bodily and mentally.

It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three for four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer – self-knowledge.

But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 7)

This man (Bill W.) understood himself and why he did what he did.  That knowledge made him feel like he had struck recovery gold.  He was filled with information about alcoholism/addiction but was not able to abstain from using for long even with that information.  He actually felt worse after relapsing with all of that information than he did without the information. 

Here is the truth:

INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!!!

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 13)

Notice the words “way of living”.  The information does nothing unless you end up with a new way of living.  How good or useful the information is to you can be measured by how much the information creates positive change in you.  If the information does not create change in you it is merely occupying space between your ears.  In one story the result is described this way:

I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42-43)

This is the objective:  A new way of living more useful and more satisfying that the one you had before, no matter what your old life looked like.  Information is simply one of several tools used to get you there, but the attainment of information is not the destination.  

Your goal in recovery is to be a different person than you have been, so you will do different things than you have been so you can end up getting different results than you have been.  If you stay the same, you will do the same and get the same or worse results. 

How much you know does not necessarily come into play.  For example there are people who are highly educated, well educated in recovery information, who have been in and out of programs of all kinds who are somewhere getting lit at the same time as you are reading this.  There are also people dumb as stumps that getting the same kind of high at the very same moment (possibly they are together).   I suppose one is smarter about doing something incredibly stupid and one is stupidly doing something stupid, but they are both doing exactly the same stupid act:  Destroying their own lives.  The amount of information retained has not even come into play, nor has the lack of information.   They are simply to people who are intoxicated or drunk or high or “on one” or whatever.

I obviously think information is a great help to those of us working through recovery and to those around us.  The key is that I feel it is only helpful if you can use the information to help you change. 

I suppose a great method to use whenever you take in any recovery information is to ask yourself what I should change about myself or do differently because of what you learned.  If you are serious about these changes, you ought to write each one of these things to change about you down and really work on changing these things.  You might also get others to help you with each thing you think you should change.  And remember:

EITHER YOU ARE CHANGING OR YOU ARE STAYING THE SAME!

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

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.

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

Only Two Options – Sober or Not Sober!

For those who are unable to drink moderately the question is how to stop altogether.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 34)

This seems like it should be obvious, but too many of those in recovery to totally believe in this concept may be more elusive than anyone could imagine.  The problem is a certain aspect of our alcoholism/addiction that often leads to thoughts like this:

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will beat the game.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 23)

This “Great Obsession” is insane idea that you can use safely in spite of the enormous amount of evidence that clearly shows that this is not true.  It is probably the most persistent and destructive lie that many of us tell ourselves.

From the heavy alcoholics who thinks it is okay to drink a little light beer (in other words relapse) to the person who abuses a heavy substance who decides to remain sober but smokes marijuana because it’s not his/her drug of choice.

Whatever the reason that you may come up with; if you are at the higher levels of using there is no such thing as safely using a small amount etc.  The only choices are:  sober or not sober.  THERE IS NO KINDA SOBER!!!!  You either are sober or you are not.

This Great Obsession is an idea that comes up over and over again that tries to convince you that you can use safely.

It’s as crazy as regularly having a feeling that makes you want to hit yourself in the face with a baseball bat.  You know it will hurt, you know it could kill you, you may even know it is an incredibly stupid thought to even have, yet you repeatedly find yourself in the hospital trying to recover from injuries sustained from a self-inflicted bludgeoning.  You even remember the pain and agony of the last time you did this, the pain of the reconstructive surgeries and some of the permanent issues you have from previous attempts at this.

The real moment of truth is found in the thoughts you have right before you do such a crazy thing.  In this example the thoughts might sound like:

  • “This is not the same thing.  Last time I hit myself with an aluminum bat, so this time I will use a wooden bat.  Wood is softer than aluminum and the bats even break on baseballs sometimes.”
  • “Last time I held the very bottom of the bat, so this time I will move my grip up just a little so the hit is not as hard.”
  • “Last time I hit myself in the face, this time I will hit myself on the top of the head where my head is a bit harder.”

I know these all sound ridiculously stupid, but these excuses to do something ridiculously stupid are similar to how our excuses to use any kind of drugs or alcohol (in light of destructive results of our using in the past) sound to others around us.  The fact is that in light of the amount of destruction that using can cause in our lives (and often already has caused) almost any excuse is actually that ridiculously stupid.

But there was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran some insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.  Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check.  The insane idea won out.  Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

Here is a newsflash for anyone in recovery who gives themselves a reason to use (a reason that says “It is okay this time because _______”):  In light of the risk and the fact that you are in recovery (trying not to use or to learn to not use), ANY REASON IS AN INSANELY TRIVIAL EXCUSE!

Many people who relapse actually reason themselves into relapse.  They tell themselves that this is different because (insert something incredibly stupid that sounds intelligent at the moment here).  Things like:

  • “I drink hard liquor, this is just beer, I’ll be fine”
  • “I use meth.  I’m not an alcoholic.  A couple of drinks of wine will not be of affect to me.”
  • “Marijuana is not a drug and is not an addictive drug so I can smoke it and nothing will happen”
  • “The doctor prescribed these to me.  If I take an extra one, how much difference could it make?”

If you think something like this there is a huge question that must be answered:  Why?

Why do you need to drink at all?  Why do you have to use something that involves intoxication at all (even if your initial plan involves stopping before intoxication).

WHY?  WHY?  WHY?

Why take the risk when so much is at risk and so little stands to be gained.  Why, while trying to be sober, do something that clearly does not qualify as remaining sober.

We must accept this kind of thinking as part of the insanity and sickness of addiction and alcoholism.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SAFE USING FOR A PERSON WHO IS IN RECOVERY!!!   EITHER YOU ARE SOBER OR YOU ARE NOT!!!  There is no categories for:  kinda sober, almost sober with an excuse, relapsed but excused with good reason, etc.  All of these are “RELAPSED” and need to be considered as such by you and those that work with you and any sort of mentor etc. around you.

That also is true prior to doing this in your consideration process.  It does count this time no matter what reason you choose.   It is a relapse and may be your complete destruction even if the reason you are using seems good or satisfying to you.

The real point here is that it is a part of the recovery process to experience moments where you feel like there is a reasonable reason to use some intoxicating substance safely.  These are important moments in your recovery.   Either you overcome this temptation (which is strong and extremely convincing) or you do not.  Being aware of what we have discussed here is only a beginning; each individual in recovery has this battle to fight repeatedly throughout the rest of our lives and it is a fight that none of us can afford to lose.

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.