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.

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To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

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

We have been discussing the importance of overcoming selfishness for the past few posts.  That may mean learning to think about someone other than yourself to those of us who are quite obviously self focused.  But, with the definition of selfishness that I used for this study:

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

…there are other changes from different personality types.  Some of the most giving people or those that spend the most time taking care of others do so simply because of compulsive need to feel needed or to have a person rely upon you which is a passive way of controlling a person.  This is actually not about the other person this is also about being focused on yourself.

I suppose there are many other subtle variations of this, but the variations are not the issue as all of these must be changed.

Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

The actions are not the focus of the change.  The motivations behind the actions are the focus of the changing that we must do and once the motivations behind the actions change, then the actions change also.

In the last post we looked at some of the key actions that must change and touched a bit on a couple of the motivations behind those actions.  The thing we haven’t really looked at is HOW to change the motivations behind what we do.  After all we are talking about changing selfish motivations and we have no idea yet of how to do that.

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

According to this passage, nothing is more important to our recoveries than overcoming the selfish motivations behind what we do.  “Above everything” else we “must” be rid of it or what?  That is the real question.  The answer is most plainly outlined in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book.

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. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.  (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

One word best encompasses the change of motivation that we must have to be “rid of this selfishness”:  “Humility!”  According to this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Getting this “humility” is the deepest point behind each step of the Twelve Steps.

This stands to reason in light of the information that we have been studying from the Alcoholics Anonymous book which states several different ways that the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is selfish motivations.

I Googled the word “humility” and here is the main definition I found in return:

A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness (Google search=humility)

In light of my previously stated definition of selfishness I would define humility as:

Having a mindset that does not see one’s own comfort as most important, but that sees the comfort of others as at least as important.  This mindset also understands that experiencing discomfort is a necessary part of life and growth not some ultimate evil to be avoided at all costs.

The gaining of this mindset of humility is key to the Twelve Steps and key to any part of the Twelve Steps.  In other words (according to this passage), anything that you do from the Twelve Steps or as a part of working a Twelve Step program that does not help you gain more humility is not being done correctly.

Something else found in this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book that is interesting is the idea that you can get enough humility to remain sober, but still need to gain more to find happiness.  According to this passage there is a level of sobriety that involves simply being abstinent from drugs and alcohol, yet lacks happiness.  Then there is a higher level of sobriety that has both abstinence and general happiness.  Both levels require attaining some degree of humility but what determines which kind of sobriety you get is the amount of humility one gets.

Plainly put, what this passage is trying to communicate is that the more (genuine) humility you gain the better the quality of your recovery experience.  The more humility you gain the better you will be able to overcome adversity through summoning “faith.”  The more humility you gain the more you can live to useful purpose.

It is a misconception that the point of the program to get you to act differently.  If all you do is “act” differently you are the same at the core of your being and forcing your outward expressions to be something different.  The point is to change the source of the ideas and reasoning behind your actions and the natural result will be the changing of your actions.  If you want to really be different and not just act differently you will have to change the source of the actions and not just change the actions.

Here is the catch.  You know how commercials have that part where the tell you the catch or if it’s a medication they will tell you all of the terrible possible side effects.  Here is that moment in this overcoming selfishness discussion.

Gaining humility will most often require situations that force us to gain more humility or force us to see the need for more humility.  A good word for situations that will nudge us towards gaining more humility is “humiliating”.  Recovery is humiliating to the point of humility.

I Googled the word humiliating and found:

  1. Causing someone to feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect  (Google search = humiliating)
    • – a humiliating defeat

Think of the injuring as not just an injuring of one’s dignity and self-respect, think of it as tearing down one’s unhealthy levels of dignity and unhealthy levels of self-respect.

Another definition in that same Google search was:

    • demeaning: causing awareness of your shortcomings; “golf is a humbling game”

…which I think best captures the idea of the word “humiliating” in reference to the experience of our recovery.  The experience of taking actions and encountering situations that cause awareness of our shortcomings as part of a process that leads you to real change.

The problem is that we are resistant to being humbled and many of our attempts to be humble are surface deep, simply covering selfish motivations which lie below.  How do we overcome the desire to be self focused, self-protective, self-driven, etc.?

Well let’s just look at where you start.  In Step 1, you get the humbling experience of admitting you are “powerless” and that you are “not like other people, or presently may be”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30).  Then you move to something we have just touched in the quotes from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, but have not really discussed in this selfishness conversation yet:

Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This is the obvious answer if you ask yourself one question:  “What comes next after Step 1?”  The answer is obviously Steps 2 and 3:

2.        Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.        Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

When you see the words “we had to have God’s help” above describing the way that we overcome selfishness, we are discussing Steps 2 and 3.  Step 2 is accepting the idea and Step 3 is committing to the idea.  Let’s take these three steps and simplify them by reading more from page 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

The beginning of unselfishness and selfish motives is find a higher motivation for your life.  If you are to stop believing that the world is here to keep you comfortable, you have to focus on the comfort of one other than yourself.

Step 2 is about who that somebody else is and Step 3 is about changing your focus from your own comfort to a focus on the comfort of that “somebody else.”

Look at this passage from the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

The point this section of the book is trying to reveal to you is that everything that one has read prior to getting to this point was focused on convincing the reader of three things:

  1. That the reason that you are reading this and working Twelve Step stuff is because you cannot fix yourself.
  2. That nobody else seems to be able to help you
  3. And that God can help you and will.

That is Steps One and Two.  If you are convinced and truly know you are powerless and are convinced that God can and will help you, then you are ready to look at working Step Three.  The next couple of pages discuss the biggest challenge to this before really discussing Step Three.  That biggest challenge to working Step Three that keeps a person stuck at Step One or Step Two is “selfishness” and “Self-centeredness.”

This is just a taste of what it takes to overcome the selfish motives and selfish desire to be comfortable at all times that we suffer from and a demonstration of how a couple of the steps focus on this, but it is a good place to start.  This is a brief description of the battle with selfishness we have in the first three steps.

The real question is not about this information, but about where you are in readiness to truly let go of control of your life and your attempts to control others for your own comfort.

The key to freedom is letting go of control.  The key to bondage is trying to hold on to control.  The key to the whole thing is God control!!!

Wade H.