The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

The Illusion and the Bull-Droppings

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

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

 

Stay sober my friends,

 

Wade H.

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

The Insanely Insufficient New Year’s Excuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

 

Wade H.

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

Truly Letting Go – Starting at the Bottom

 

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

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

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

Ladder Nemesis
(Photo credit: Trevor Dennis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

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

The Crazy Train and Our Inner Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay sober my friends,
Wade H.

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.

“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

AA meeting sign
AA meeting sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In The Face Of Expert Opinion To The Contrary, We Have Recovered”

Many of Alcoholics Anonymous were like that. Everybody had given them up. Defeat seemed certain. Yet often such men had spectacular and powerful recoveries.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 113)

You may already have asked yourself why it is that all of us became so very ill from drinking. Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The second passage listed is in a chapter named “There is A Solution”.  The idea is that there is hope:  Even if you are amongst the most hopeless and most desperate of alcoholics/addicts, there is hope. 

What it does not say in these statements is that it is this kind of miraculous change is going to be a magically easy process.  Nowhere are you promised that the magic recovery fairy will sprinkle magic recovery dust on you and you will never use or even wish to use again.  There is hard work, a great deal of discomfort, a complete change of who and what you are and a desperation to be free that drives you to continue through all of this.

In the statements above, it is implied that those around you even those closest to you and some experts in the field might even feel it is impossible for you to even change a little.  Using those of us who have walked this path and experienced such impossible change:

  “…in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

The question a newcomer should have was stated above:

“What do I have to do?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

There are many paths that claim to lead to freedom many of which even call themselves Twelve Step Programs.  Without going into a major history lesson on Twelve Step Programs just understand the Alcoholics Anonymous book itself to be the source of all things Twelve Steps (there are other sources and observations led to the creation of the Twelve Steps, but they were first seen in the manuscript of the Alcoholics Anonymous book).

So anything claiming to be doing Twelve Step recovery should line up with the concepts outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book or whatever it is has just hijacked the Twelve Step name as a marketing scheme.  Example:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

There are many I have encountered who think the more complicated the program sounds the more legitimate it must be.  There are self-proclaimed experts coming up with all sorts of complex and deep sounding recovery tasks that are supposed to be the series of puzzles and adventures you are supposed to solve and complete to get the magic of recovery.  As if this were Indiana Jones and the Twelve Step Temple of Recovery.

“Simple but not easy” means that the concepts are simple it is that hurts, fears, angers etc. that make these simple tasks hard for the individual to do.

Do not be put off by the idea that there is this super-intellectual Rubiks-cube that you must solve to work recovery.  The struggle is not in the complexity of the Twelve Steps.  The struggle is in the desire to face hurts, fears, angers, facts, yourself, others, your past etc. on such a deep level and to be willing to finish a completely different person than when you started.

All of this packing on of super-complicated work to be completed and long, drawn out, overly complicated describing and pontificating about what the each sep is to contain in detail is a hiding place to avoid the real struggle each of us has in recovery:  OVERCOMING MYSELF!

In other words, the focus on complexity and the logistics of Twelve Step recovery is often a complete failure to truly have accepted Step 1.  A failure to accept that your situation is so desperate that “I must do anything it takes IMMEDIATELY with all of the desperation of a drowning person.”  This focus on complexity and triviality is simple a distraction to put off or to completely avoid the inner discomfort of working recovery.

We must not hide behind complexity and confusion to avoid truly dealing with ourselves.

We must focus on doing that which we find extremely hard to do or that we desperately do not want to do.

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)

Your recovery hinges on this and you “must not shrink at anything.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79). 

There is hope beyond what seems reasonable and beyond what seems possible.  The direction of this hope is not hidden behind some secret, super complicated series of riddles and adventures that you must undertake and solve; the process is not complex at all.   The challenge that must be overcome to gain what is hoped for is the challenge of overcoming yourself using that uncomplicated process as a tool. 

You must be willing to do the things that your mind and your heart will try all means to avoid. You must be willing to resist fear, to resist your own anger and resentment, to resist your own resistance and to overcome your own foolishness, stupidity, crazy etc.  Do not be distracted by other people’s confusion and so on that keeps you from this focus or your own attempts at creating confusion. 

You are in a desperate situation looking for a miraculous solution to an extremely desperate situation.  There is simply no time to waste in weird endeavors that put off dealing with the real problems.  The mindset needed to work (or even to start working) the Twelve Steps is best described in these 2 questions:

If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

A spectacular and powerful recovery is a possibility for all of us.  There is great hope.  YOU JUST HAVE TO BE DESPERATE ENOUGH TO AVOID CONFUSION AND OVERCOME YOU!  That is the how and why that will allow what is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book to work for you.    

Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body. If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking -“What do I have to do?”

It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

When you have the right mindset and focus, then you are ready to start to be changed by what is in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

Human brain - midsagittal cut
Human brain – midsagittal cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fatal Sickness Of Mind And Body

But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little chance he can recover by himself.

Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it. Keep his attention focused mainly on your personal experience. Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The chapter containing this passage is the chapter focused on helping us to understand how to work with others in recovery (Working With Others).  In speaking of alcoholism/addiction as a fatal sickness of the mind and body we have already started to look at this in the previous post (The Crux of the Problem: Obviously) with a discussion of the mind as the crux of the problem.

As far as talking about the body, there has been much by way of research to show how the body and the actual physical traits of the human brain are altered by using and how some of those alterations actually create a deep craving for alcohol or other drugs of choice, in some cases for any kind of intoxication or in some other cases for any imbalance in life that might create a feeling that is even similar.

Prior to much of this research that we now have a Doctor by the name of  William D. Silkworth M.D. who was; “A well-known doctor, chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition) describes these bodily changes as being similar to an allergy:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

Simply put, the doctor observed that using seems to make some alcoholics/addicts develop a response to possibly intoxicating substances that is different from the majority of other people on earth.  He is even implying that this is only the most advanced levels of addiction and alcoholism and that other types do not have this response or at least have yet to develop it yet.

Though the aggregate of recoveries resulting from psychiatric effort is considerable, we physicians must admit we have made little impression upon the problem as a whole. Many types do not respond to the ordinary psychological approach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXV – 4th Edition)

The type that have this abnormal response to intoxicating substances (which relates to the idea of having an allergy) are described as being bodily different than even other alcoholics/addicts.  Without all of the details we have today, the doctor knew that the body was altered in such a way in some of us that if we get any possibly intoxicating substance into our system we were going to suddenly have a desperate feeling of need to get intoxicated (if not on whatever possibly intoxicating substance triggered it we would take in that substance and get a desire for alcohol or our drug of choice).  This is his basic explanation of what is going on with our body.  He called it the “Phenomenon of Craving.” 

If I get near to the feeling of a buzz, I am going to experience a bodily and mental craving to get intoxicated.

This may seem like an overly simplistic view to those who read research and study things about recovery and all of the scientific details, but it is a basic overarching concept.  That is the condition of the “body” that is to be described in working with others.  Simple and easy to understand is key.

Now back to the conversation we were to have with the person just starting in recovery:

Explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 92)

The idea of being doomed is centered here on the idea that if you are at a very advanced level of alcoholism/addiction your body has developed this terrible quirk that if you get anything into your system that seems like it could get you intoxicated you are going to have a deep desire to get intoxicated (Allergy, Phenomenon of Craving).  The deeper part of the problem is not that if you get any you are going to want more, the deeper part of the problem is that in sobriety, even with a desperate desire to remain abstinent, your own brain will both fail to stop you from using something potentially intoxicating (Strange Mental Blank Spots) and will in fact be trying to find a way to use safely even though other parts of your mind will know that any using means having relapsed (The Great Obsession).

The basic idea is that your body will drive you to destroy yourself if a certain thing happens (encounter something possibly intoxicating) and that not only will your mind not stop from that certain thing, but a part of your own mind will secretly be trying to trick you into making that certain thing happen then you cannot trust your own mind or body no matter what you learn or stop doing for now.

Now to the stories of “personal experience” that are included in the book to help us all process this information.  Look at this part of an included example of all of this:

We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is his story: “I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years. I had eaten there many times during the months I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to have another glass of milk.

“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36)

All of what we just discussed is contained in this story.  He went to a bar (one that he had been going to for years – clearly to drink for some of those years) with no thought of drinking then suddenly thinks it’s okay to drink if milk is involved (The Great Obsession).  Then the mindset that normally would stop him was reduced to:  I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).  That is an excellent description of the Strange Mental Blank Spots in action.

Then come the Allergy and the Phenomenon of Craving.  The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 36).

Think about it, he felt it would be okay to take a little bit with certain circumstances in place.  Then, he decides that that little bit did nothing so a little bit more would be okay.  How does all of this end:

Thus started one more journey to the asylum for Jim. Here was the threat of commitment, the loss of family and position, to say nothing of that intense mental and physical suffering which drinking always caused him. He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not drinking were easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk!

Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else?

 (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 36– 37)

 

And there you have the fatal sickness of mind and body that many of those who suffer from it have no idea they have.  This is a major part of understanding and admitting the powerlessness that we are working out in Step 1.  If you are trying to get the through Steps One or Two or think you already have passed them, here is the point:

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 43)

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.