Past Experience vs. Your Present Experience

Past Experience vs. Your Present Experience

Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The alcoholic’s past thus becomes the principal asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only one!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 124)

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Ghosts of Christmas Past (Photo credit: KM&G-Morris) DEAL WITH THE GHOSTS OF YOUR PAST!!!

Something that has to be a change in the way we think for all of this to work is how we see the past.  It is astonishing how many people will skirt around truly working the steps as outlined simply to avoid having to look at the darkest areas of their past.  The fear of looking at the past makes it clear that what we are calling the “past” is still the present.  If it was not a problem in the present, there could be long detailed discussion and the angry, deeply saddened or seriously uncomfortable feelings would not come up.

In other words the things in your past are either resolved or they are not.  If they still create some kind of negative emotions, these are still problems.  If you find yourself having to manipulate the way you work your steps to avoid even talking about this and that from your past, then those things are some of your deepest unresolved problems in the here and now.

We cannot remain afraid of our past and hide that fact by saying things like:  “Nothing can be done about that, why bring it back up” or “I’m over that, I just don’t feel like talking about it” or “Why do I need to talk about that, I’m not the person who did something wrong there” etc. 

Then there are those who think that all of this is right and that the people working them through recovery and the people who wrote the Twelve Steps didn’t really understand this particular situation so I just won’t say anything to these people and will not put it on my Fourth or Eighth Steps and ignore it.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs.83– 84)

For those who are familiar with what are called the Promises, this is the first part of these “Promises.”  Did you notice the “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Part?  If you are trying to ignore parts of your past of just act like these major events did not happen, you are heading in the wrong direction.  You are choosing to stay in bondage to alcohol/drugs and to painfully limp along to a slow and dragged out, miserable death with nothing but insanity and pain along the way.

A few might be strong enough to get many years of sobriety with this same misery only to eventually find that nothing satisfies your life and eventually relapsing.  These may seem like sweeping generalizations, but they do happen to be my observations and also happen to be the point the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book are making here.

If you are even beginning to think that you should just not talk about or deal with some things from your past, freak out and begin trying to deal with those specific things with a sponsor right then and there.  The freaking out is warranted if you actually grasp the seriousness of the consequences if you do not deal with these things.

THE PAST IS ONLY THE PAST IF THESE THINGS DO NOT AFFECT YOU NEGATIVELY IN THE PRESENT AND WILL NOT IN THE FUTURE!!!

If you need to avoid just talking about something because the feelings that arise are too uncomfortable, then not only are you imprisoned by this thing from your past, but you have left a time bomb in your life that can go off at any moment and destroy you.  It will eventually come up and you will probably not be in an environment where you are working through those sorts of things when it does.

Leave no stone unturned, leave no incident from your past off of your inventories and leave no past issue in your life unresolved. 

If you deal with all of these things and resolve them to the point where they can come up without those destructive or fearful feelings then the rest of this “Promises” stuff will apply to you (the promises appear at the end of Step Nine in the Alcoholics Anonymous book).  You are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  You will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace; and so on.

To set up a better future you will have to deal with those things from the past that are waiting to subtly destroy that future.

A final note to consider about the first passage here is that the passage is speaking of the entire family, not just the alcoholic/addict.  If there is to be any healthy growth in the family, all will have to deal with the past until all things are resolved in this manner.

The excuses that “He/she is the alcoholic/addict, I shouldn’t have to do this” is a cop out.  You are protecting your own self destroying time bomb that will destroy your family, the person working recovery and possibly you too.

The bottom line:

DEAL WITH IT BEFORE IT DEALS WITH YOU!!!

 

Stay sober my friends;

Wade H.

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

Arguing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

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

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83– 84)

Stay Sober My Friends,

Wade H.

The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WORLD WAS NOT PUT HERE TO KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE.  THERE WILL BE TIMES WHEN YOU ARE TERRIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE.  THE CHANGES YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR SOBRIETY HAVE TO WORK WHEN LIFE IS UNCOMFORTABLE OR THEY DO NOT WORK AT ALL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Recovery: More Than Information and Memories

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Recovery:  More Than Information and Memories

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)

Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse?  We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back.  I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.

Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:

“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)

Here is the issue that this man is describing.  This man did what many of us do in
recovery.  He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan.  Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.

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 pg. 40)

The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking.  If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold. 

I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie:  They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission.  I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs.  In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.”  No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it. 

Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice.  This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”

The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all.  In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.

Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)

The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored.  The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?”  Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.

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. 42)

Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”).  That is why so many of us are fooled:  The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using.  Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.”  The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.

Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough.  The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough. 

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 pgs. 42)

To put it bluntly:

INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
SOBER!!!!!

There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change.  More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.

The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1.  If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless. 

I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use.  I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.