The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will? (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question! This is a huge question in you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict. This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict. This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

The Sick and the Sick Who Make Them Sicker

Creepy Clown Doctors
Creepy Clown Doctors (Photo credit: Chris Kealy)

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

This is a big question!  This is a huge question if you are the friend or loved one of an alcoholic/addict.  This is a bigger question if you are a person who is called on to help someone who is an alcoholic/addict.  This becomes a question of if you are any good at what you do if you are considered a professional or considered some kind expert in the field of recovery.

Before you talk to or about this person;  can you get past the feeling that this person is just weak, just an idiot, stupid etc.

When dealing with an alcoholic, there may be a natural annoyance that a man could be so weak, stupid and irresponsible. Even when you understand the malady better, you may feel this feeling rising.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 139)

This is a natural feeling to have and to some degree or other may be rooted in some level of truth.  The question you have to ask yourself is are you going to be another part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Lately I have noticed more and more of these negative conversations taking place with, around or about people in desperate need.  As I stated a second ago, these feelings and discussions may hold some elements of truth or even be entirely true, but the mere fact of these discussions may reveal deeper problems.

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This passage is speaking specifically about alcoholics/addicts and the root of the problem, but is it possible that this is the root of some of the problems that some of the people around the alcoholic/addict.  Not to make anyone uncomfortable, but if you are participating in activities like that is it possible that you may be a contributor to the problem by vomiting your own sickness all over the sick person in need.

Let me explain.  One big question about these conversations is why?  Why are you saying what you are saying or even thinking what you are thinking?  Is there some way that this conversation helps the person or is that in reality incredibly unlikely.

It’s amazing how many times we who are supposed to be the friends, loved ones or helpers of a person in need see them wounded and decide that the best help we can give is a series of poison darts shot from our mouths.

Why would a group of people that know a person in need have a conversation focusing on what is wrong with the person and spend little if any time discussing what things any of them could do to help the person.  Wouldn’t that be just about getting each one of their feelings communicated to someone, about making sure that the others understand why you feel that way and to ensure that they are converted to feeling the same way as you do (in other words compounding the hurts and harms that this person has caused to each of the individuals in the conversation with the harms and hurts of the others).  Remember what is at the root of the person’s problem:

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

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

If this is the wellspring of stupidity in the life of this person, are you sure that it is the best choice of possible contributions you can make to their life?

In some cases it is an individual conversation with the person, that is the culprit.  Someone who has real problems with this person (real or imagined) that he/she wants to express right now.  Right now: even if the person is not listening or will be terribly damaged by the conversation etc.

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that these conversations need to be had.  I am also fully aware that there are times when full-blown reality checks are needed.  It is the when, why and how that I am questioning.

Talking smack about or to a person and using “It’s for their own good” to justify it.  Or should I say to justify the fact that it is for your own good no matter how it may damage the person or the person’s relationship with others including you.

Here is a reality check for each one of us:  To some degree alcoholism/addiction is contagious.  I don’t mean that in the sense that if you get around an alcoholic/addict you automatically become one also.  I meant that in the sense that if a person who is sick with this disorder is around you the tendency is to pick up some of the symptoms (such as selfishness and self-centeredness).

An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents – anyone can increase the list.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 18)

There are appropriate times, places and ways to have necessary conversations about real concerns and wounds.  There are also times when we want to engage in such conversations mainly because we are “concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity”.

A good reality check for all of us is to look at ourselves and how sick we are ourselves before we get busy about relieving the pressure inside of each one of us to erupt into an explosion of what’s wrong with another person.

Those who work in medicine have an obligation to “do no harm”.  It would seem that it is a good rule in general and a great way to measure when it is right and wrong to express these things.  After all, what right do you have to rant about the problems that person has if you are a part of the problem yourself (that includes even just influencing the other people this person encounters by talking about that person “behind their back”).

It is not a matter of if the alcoholic/addict person is indeed a sick person.  It is a question of if you are so sick that you are going to make the sick person sicker instead of better.

Think of the reality involved in reality checking like you think of nuclear energy:  It can be used (carefully) as a cheap and powerful source of energy and a huge benefit or it can be unleashed in a way that creates chaos and global annihilation.  The reality check is not good or bad in and of itself it is a matter of how it is used.

That brings us back, full circle, to our original question:

Can you discard the feeling that you are dealing only with habit, with stubbornness, or a weak will?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 140)

Can you deal with this person and with those you discuss this person with in a way that is focused on not doing harm to him/her or how others view him/her.  If you find that not to be possible, you may be at a point where you are a part of the problem also.  You may have gotten there because of that person and what he/she has done to you, but the reasons do not change the facts.  If you do not like the problems and want to be free of the problems, one of the first things you need to do is see if you are a part of keeping the problem going and if so STOP!

If you are supposed to be helping the problem and you are dong things that make the problem worse are you not like a person who sees a person dying of thirst and gives that person poison to drink.

I was going to stop there, then a thought occurred to me:  “There are going to be some of us who suffer from alcoholism/addiction that are going to weaponize this article and use it to attempt to fend off any attempts that a person would make to reality check him/her.

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

If you are in recovery, you must not forget “The Rule”:  you have to be considerate of how others feel and at the same time be hard on yourself.  If a person is inconsiderately vomiting their hurts and other problems they have with you at the wrong time in the wrong way, you may have to deal with it as if your life depended on what they have to say (it might).

The key in that case is to “eat the fish and spit out the bones.”  You need to find ways to sift through the crazy and find the elements of what that person is saying that is true and is a fact that you have to face if you are to get better.

What you cannot do, in attempting to deal with your own problem, is to lose focus on what you are working on by hiding behind or whining about the problem another person has (like not communicating with you properly).

What I am getting at is that everyone involved has to think of himself/herself as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.  Every person involved also has to think of every other human being as a person who is growing and is a work in progress.

I am not saying that anyone is to be a verbal or emotional punching bag for another individual.  What I am saying is that times, places, approaches and reactions need to be considered carefully with the question:  “Am I being selfish and self-centered in some way or am I seeing a problem and trying to be a helpful part of the solution?”

There are the sick and there are the sick that make them sicker.  Both need to work on getting better and all of us need to work on avoiding living as either.

Stay sober my friends!

Wade H.

Facing Humility

Facing Humility

AA Big Book
AA Big Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

We heard no more of Fred for a while. One day we were told that he was back in the hospital. This time he was quite shaky. He soon indicated he was anxious to see us. The story he told is most instructive, for here was a chap absolutely convinced he had to stop drinking, who had no excuse for drinking, who exhibited splendid judgment and determination in all his other concerns, yet was flat on his back nevertheless.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 40)

This passage from the Big Book demonstrates one of the more serious and more common problems in recovery.  Sobriety time grows into confidence, overconfidence, and then to outright pride.  This pride is what set this man up for a massive relapse and can be what sets all of us up for a massive relapse.

Staring at the basic root we have to go back to the root problem:

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

If you have read my blog before you have probably run across this concept at least once and it seems to be at the root of most (if not all) of our alcohol/drug related problems to some degree.  In this case it is clear the role that self-focus plays.

What I want to focus on in this article is not self-focus but overcoming it.

The focus on himself and belief in his ability to stay sober because he had learned a bunch of recovery stuff is in fact what set him up so perfectly to fail so miserably.

Before moving on, let me state one fact:  INFORMATION WILL NOT KEEP YOU SOBER!  Information, in and of itself will not keep you sober although it is where a lot of recovery does start.  If the information is not used to cause major change in your life you are simply the same person with more information and can expect the same results except for more guilt.

Back to where I was going:  This man fell into the pit of pride and woke up at the bottom.  Having various struggles in recovery is part of the process of recovery.  For most I hope they are not this serious, but all people in recovery are going to have struggles.

It is not the absence of struggles that demonstrates that you are getting stronger in your recovery; it is the growing ability to face and overcome the struggles that come up.

There are many things a person has to do to grow their ability to face and overcome struggles, but the most basic root solution begins with humbly being honest.  Being brutally honest and then taking drastic action!

In this man’s case the action may not look that drastic when reading the story, but the most drastic action he took was admitting he was beaten (the powerless concept) and going back to the people who knew it best and told him what would happen.

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.

“Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to see me. They grinned, which I didn’t like so much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked this time. I had to concede both propositions. They piled on me heaps of evidence to the effect that an alcoholic mentality, such as I had exhibited in Washington, was a hopeless condition. They cited cases out of their own experience by the dozen. This process snuffed out the last flicker of conviction that I could do the job myself.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

In the most extreme cases, a person who has been working recovery relapses like this man and is way too embarrassed or way to prideful to go back and face the people who had been helping him or her.   It also may mean facing people that looked up to him or her for how well he/she was doing in recovery and letting them know that you are not invincible.

This humble “facing the music” is not an option amongst other options, this humble return is the only option.

The opposite of the selfishness and self-centeredness is humility.  Any time you are struggling in recovery, start with humility.  You have to overcome the idea that some self-serving concept or action will help the situation and run towards humility at all costs.  Protecting yourself from things you are uncomfortable with or that you fear is not recovery, it is choosing to remain in the bondage.

The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 74)

Self-protection and fear are not a part of the recovery they are obstacles to recovery.  The man in the story faced it and grew from it.  That is one of the most key points to the whole story.  This has to not only be something you do, this has to become a way of life in recovery.  This is a lifestyle of humility which is the opposite of a lifestyle of self-focus.  Does it seem like being really hard on yourself?  Absolutely!  That is why it is something we have to learn and not just something we all magically start doing.

We all need to develop the anxiousness to see those who will honestly help us move forward when it is the hardest to do so.

Remember this key idea:  YOU HAVE TO FACE IT TO START TO BE FREE OF IT!!!

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.

The Holidays “One Day at a Time”

The Holidays “One Day at a Time”

One Day At A Time
One Day At A Time (Photo credit: sidewalk flying)

Now that most of us are relatively sure that December 21, 2012 is not the end of the world, we have to get back to living one day at a time through the holiday season.  There are insane occurrences and problems in the news:

There are fiscal cliffs to fall off of, people freaking out and shooting people, children being horribly killed and on and on.  The problem we have is that we have to remain clean in spite of anything that is going on.

I wonder how many people who were in recovery and really believed that the twenty-first was the end of the world decided that it was okay to relapse before dying in global destruction.  The “one last party before I go” thing since “we’re all going to die anyway.”  Now, as we head into December 22, those people are simply people who relapsed over some “insanely trivial excuse”.

As for the rest of us, we still have to make it through the usual chaos of the holidays plus all the added stresses of the economy and all of the things going on around us.  Like I said, just like before our supposed end of the world and just like any other time that is not the holiday season, we have to take life “one day at a time.”

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 86)

According to this passage, one key aspect of “living one day at a time” is to re-look each day and honestly look at your actions.

The first thing to notice is the implication that we are all going to mess it all up sometimes.  In all of our gathering together, fighting our way through shopping malls, fighting with holiday traffic and so on we still cannot allow ourselves to slide back into stupidity.  The problem is that at some point many (if not most) of us will slide back into stupidity.

It is not okay to let this happen, but at times we all fall short.  According to this passage we have to catch it as quickly as possible and fix the situation as soon as possible.

In the heat of the moment, many of us will feel justified in whatever crazy action we take and probably will not notice how crazy we are being.  The idea is to stop at the end of the day, step out of your current perspective and take a brutally honest look at your actions from the day.

The passage doesn’t stop there, it goes on to instruct us to involve someone else.  It implies that the “someone else” is not just anyone however.  The passage implies that it is a person of good sense.

I have seen many people pick such accountability partners, mentors, sponsors and various kinds of spiritual guides by looking for the person most likely to go along with whatever crazy trip that you go on without ever telling you you are wrong.

This person (or group of people) needs to be a person that can be brutally honest with you if you are being crazy in the moment and you need to be ready to listen even if you disagree.

That means a daily assessment of if you are being: resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid in anything.  Are you hiding something?  Were you kind and loving toward all people?  Do you owe someone (an immediate) apology for something?  Were you thinking of others or just yourself in all situations?

All of this is really just a part of Step Eleven which is really tied to working your Step Ten:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The same methods for reviewing the day are what you are supposed to be doing throughout the day.  If you do notice yourself drifting off into crazy land, stop right there, stop yourself, talk to whoever you have put in place to reality check your crazy moments and make any amends you need to make right then to whoever you owe them to.

These two things are key to our staying clean and to our staying away from our own self-destructive silliness.

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)

These things are not just good ideas, they are major parts of the new way of living that is recovery.  In harder times (such as the holiday season) we simply work harder at focusing on these key elements of our recoveries.

We each have to have a means for honestly (brutally honestly) taking an inventory of our actions and be willing to fix anything that is discovered to be wrong immediately.

We are not only supposed to do these things, we are supposed to vigorously live this way.  The word “vigorously” is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

: done with vigor : carried out forcefully and energetically

We don’t just live this way, we force ourselves to live this way energetically.

Living one day at a time is not just about focusing on not drinking/using today.  Living one day at a time is about living your life in this whole new way each day.  Not only living this way, but assuming there will be challenges and failures and putting measures in place to stop and immediately fix these things when they come up.

We can all live our recovery one day at a time if we first know what that means.  Once we know what that means each of us must “vigorously” live this way and even more so during more challenging times.

All of this may seem completely unlike your normal personality, but member:  “If you keep doing the same things, you can expect to keep getting the same results.”  If you are going to get different results (i.e. recovery) then you are going to have to do different things.  The fact that this does not sound like who you are naturally is not necessarily a bad thing.  The idea is that there is “way of living” that is “commenced” because it is new to you.  You are trying to live a new way of life that is dramatically different than the way you have lived in the past which by nature is uncomfortable.

This is why all of this is carried out “vigorously”.  It is uncomfortable to do and at times, you have to force yourself.

The very next paragraph from the passage I just quoted contains what most of us in recovery call “The Promises”.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 84 – 85)

This is the “way of living” that brings you to these promises and that can sustain these promises through the holiday season.  These are why you would force yourself to do things that are so uncomfortable.

If you do what the passage says will lead to these promises, you will then get the promises.  If you live this way one day at a time then you will get the promises one day at a time.

Live this way of living and you will get through the holidays one day at a time.  Live this way and you will also find yourself getting through every day one day at a time.

May you have the happy holidays as promised in the promises and…

Stay sober my friends;

 

Wade H.

Holiday Gatherings: Explain or Avoid

Holiday Gatherings:  Explain or Avoid

Why sit with a

Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New ...
Jazz band playing at New Years Day party, New Orleans. Shown are Clive Wilson, trumpet; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Seva Venet, guitar, and Lawrence Batiste, drum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

long face in places where there is drinking,

sighing about the good old days. If it is a happy occasion, try to increase the pleasure of those there; if a business occasion, go and attend to your business enthusiastically. If you are with a person who wants to eat in a bar, by all means go along. Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 102)

This passage demonstrates an important point that we all need to keep in mind during the holiday season, all the way from Thanksgiving in the United States, to Hanukkah, Kwanza and so on all the way through New Years Day.  This concept is that we need to be open and truthful about our condition to others and to ourselves.

This passage applies to being around alcohol (assuming you are far enough along that you can be around it for periods of time without issue) and does not apply that the crack addict should spend Christmas at the local crack house, with a group of celebrating (yet nodding off) heroin addicts, or at a bar full of strangers trying to fight off the urge to relapse.

If there is a family gathering and a few people having a few glasses of wine with dinner, you may be able to handle the situation with the proper precautions in place.  On the other hand, if ten minutes into the gathering everyone breaks out the one hundred and ninety-five proof moonshine and begin passing the crack pipes it may not be a good idea to visit.  If you feel you need to go then a ten minute visit may be all you can do.

Either way, openness and honesty are a must!  Not only in terms of appropriately telling the friends, family and others you will be with.  This means being open and honest enough to ensure that a couple of people that will be in attendance are enlisted to watch you and make sure you do not use.

If you are of the impression that feeling like you wont use or that having been abstinent for some amount of time guarantees you will remain abstinent, you might not be ready for these kinds of gatherings.   If you think you will be safe if you use just a little bit and stop:  PLEASE DO NOT GO, YOU ARE IN GRAVE DANGER IF YOU DO.

The bottom line is that you are either abstaining or not, you are either sober or not, you are either in recovery or not.  If you are planning to drink or use some other possibly intoxicating substance you have simply planned your relapsed and somehow convinced yourself that doing the same thing you and others have done before which ended in misery will somehow end differently this time.

Think of yourself as a person making the decision on holiday gatherings like a person who cannot swim being invited on a small boat.  It is dangerous, but can be managed.

  • If the person is sensible, wears a life-jacket, and makes sure there are others aboard the boat that can swim well enough to save him/her and are informed of the fact he/she cannot swim, it should be okay.
  • If this person not only cannot swim, but keeps jumping in the water when nobody is looking to the point of having almost drowned several times before, then the boat trip is probably an incredibly horrible idea.  Especially if the person says that he/she plans on jumping in for a swim again this trip:  “but, only a little one.”
  • If the person goes on the trip, but nobody on the boat knows that he/she cannot swim then why would anyone think it important that this person is not wearing a life-jacket and is sitting on the rails at the back of the boat?
  • If the person is invited aboard small boat in incredibly rough waters where everyone must work on the deck through the storm, it is probably too dangerous for a person who cannot swim and will probably cause more problems for everyone else by being there.

I’m sure many of us get the symbolism here, but for those who don’t.  The sensible person is the person who let’s everyone know and takes precautions like staying away from drinking games, beer runs etc.

The person who will keep telling himself/herself that it will be okay to swim when nobody’s looking even though it is ridiculous in light of past experiences is the person who feels the same way about using just a little.  That person is an unnecessary risk just by thinking about drinking or using, much less by being around it.

The person who goes on the boat, yet tells nobody and doesn’t use a life-jacket is the person who goes to gatherings, but is afraid or uncomfortable telling anyone about his/her alcoholism/addiction.  That person puts himself/herself in undue risk that could be easily eliminated by just being open to others and really to himself/herself.

The people inviting the person who cannot swim to a small boat in incredibly dangerous waters are like the friends and family that use and abuse alcohol/drugs that are inviting you to party with them.  That kind of gathering is the kind of gathering that should probably be avoided at all costs.  There is way too much at risk and way to little to gain to make the whole thing worth while.  If you have to go to this boat stay on the shore and see them off.  In other words say your hello’s and then when the alcohol, pipes and needles come out say your goodbye’s.

The bottom line is that it is possible to go to gatherings if you are far enough into your recovery, if you take the right precautions and if you are open and honest with others and yourself.

To truly know if you are ready for this in any particular situation you will need to consult your sponsor, your, counselor or clinician, members of your recovery support community, your friends and family etc.  But, do not just trust your own judgment as our own judgment as alcoholics/addicts has show the possibility of breaking down (or just not working at all in some cases).

So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experience with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn’t.

You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 101 – 102)

An important final note from this passage:  If you are in recovery or were at some point in your life an alcoholic/addict then you cannot afford to go to a gathering to just think of having fun, because this is not really the proper venue for your fun.  Don’t get me wrong there will be fun at such an event for you, but a part of the focus has to be how you can be helpful to others.

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

Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Don’t only look at what you can take out the gathering but also focus on what you can contribute to the lives there and how that can best be done.  The counterintuitive part is that if you do this (once you get used to it) you will, in most cases actually find the gatherings more enjoyable.  More important, you will be more likely to keep your sobriety intact.

Stay sober my friends,

Wade H.

A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

A Common Sense Approach to Communicating Common Sense

The same principle applies in dealing with the children. Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking. Use your

Help Wanted
Help Wanted (Photo credit: Egan Snow)

energies to promote a better understanding all around. Then that terrible tension which grips the home of every problem drinker will be lessened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

This passage is speaking directly about the wife of an alcoholic and how she should deal with issues relating to the immediate family relative to that person.  The thing is that there is a more global concept for all loved ones an

d friends of addicts or alcoholics especially during this holiday season.

In my last article, I spoke directly to those of us who are the addicts and alcoholics about the interactions we will be having during this holiday season (Treated as an Alcoholic/Addict or Weirdo During the Holidays).  In that post I honestly spoke to my group about our responsibilities and ways to be a par

t of the solution and not create other problems during the holidays if you are the alcoholic/addict who probably was at least a part of the reason for all of the problems.

I believe that to be something that absolutely has to be stated during this season, but I also believe that all of the people around this person have a responsibility to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem also.  I understand that you may feel that you are the alcoholic/addict and you did nothing wrong etc. and you may be correct as a whole or in part.  The challenge is that at the moment that the person in recovery starts to truly attempt to change and you become the force of resistance to that effort, the biggest problem moves from being that person and his/her alcoholism/addiction and suddenly you become the biggest problem.

That is not to minimize the responsibility that person has for all of his/her previous evils and the responsibility to make amends, but the truth is that what I am describing here is an completely separate problem.  In many things in life (if not in everything) each person is either a part of the solution or a part of the problem and this is definitely one of those areas.

On the other hand, what I am not saying here is that you should just be pushed around by every alcoholic/addict that proclaims aloud that he/she is in recovery and you are messing it all up.  There are some of us in recovery that will use such information to hold the more passive of our friends and loved hostage.  The type that use the fact of being in recovery as leverage to manipulate all who will play along as if to being in recovery somehow buys you the right to blackmail every person around you into serving you in lifelong slavery.

This is where some of the more general concepts in this passage are amazing.  Let’s look at a couple of these more general concepts:

Unless they actually need protection from their father, it is best not to take sides in any argument he has with them while drinking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 115)

First, notice that the passage says “it is best not to take sides”.  That is key in this whole discussion.  If the person in recovery is in some level of conflict or uncomfortable situation, the normal response should not be to run over to beat him/her back into submission before crazy happens or to run to his/her rescue allowing that person to use you to cosign whatever trip that person is on at any given moment.  You are not helping this person by being his/her evil archenemy or by being his/her “Captain Save-a-Twelve-Stepper” either.

Being either one of these makes you the bigger fool in the situation.  The truth is that the person in recovery has some excuse for problem causing behavior:  “I’ve been being stupid, but now I am in recovery, in the process of learning to not do stupid things.  That means I will mess it up at times as I experiment with new thought processes and behaviors.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  Albert Einstein

On the other hand, the rest of you who have been put through the side effects of our crazy are supposed to be the sufferers who are in possession of the sanity that the person in recovery should be able to learn from and emulate.  The fact that you can fight one person’s stupidity by vomiting out some stupidity of your own does not somehow make you smarter than that person.  That simply makes you equally stupid at best.  It makes a part of the problem.

The thing is that you are not just a part of that person’s problem art that point.  At that point you become a major part of your own problem and a pert of the problems of everyone around you.

The next thing to notice in that sentence is the “Unless they actually need protection” part.  Although the general rule is not to be against the person or codependent cosigning this person’s every whim, there is a point where this person is crossing some line, where it is your responsibility to stop him/her.

Those of us in recovery tend to drift off to this whole independent thinker trip that can make us a bit crazy at times.  If we are susceptible to the influences of stupid people, this may be the right direction for us to be heading, but it does have a sort of sick and self-destructive side especially when trying to learn it’s limits and normal use by doing it in real life.

So lets say that I am going through this trip and I am always on and on about people telling me what to do and about letting do things my own way.  I’ll even throw in statements like, “I’m a grown man, I don’t need anyone telling me what to do” and I might throw in the:  “If you don’t let me do things my way I will never learn and you are screwing my recovery all up” card.  While these thoughts may hold some truth, they do have limits.

Now lets say that I see a glass of some cold refreshing liquid sitting on the counter in the kitchen on a seriously hot day.  I go over to drink it and one of my loved ones is standing there who knows that the substance in the cup is not a drink but some special chemical for cleaning that has no specific scent but is probably poisonous or harmful.

If that loved one sees me about to drink it, should that person try to stop me.  What if that person begins to try to stop, but I cut that person off ranting about telling me what to do etc. before I can hear what that person is trying to truly communicate, should that person spitefully say; “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral” or should that person, knowing that I am in recovery and prone to stupid behaviors in the process of learning to be less and less stupid, keep trying to stop me in spite of how rude or ridiculous I get?

I know that several of you reading this probably chose option one:  “Whatever idiot, it’s your funeral”.  That is not however, the “part of the solution” answer.  That is the “part of the problem” answer.

The point is that there cannot normally be a that person’s side and my side, or a that person’s side and our side, or a me and that person’s side and everyone else etc.  To be a part of the solution, you should focus on using your energies “to promote better understanding all around.”  The person who is the voice of reason is the person that will lessen “that terrible tension”.

During this holiday season of gatherings, parties, gift giving and mixed emotions (for many of us in recovery or still in alcoholism/addiction; depression and self-loathing), there is a deep need for people who are part of the solution.  For the person in recovery the holiday season is full of temptations, traps and tensions that threaten our recoveries day by day and minute by minute.  WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET.

If your friend or loved one in recovery is being weird or stupid during this season, it is probably the signs of struggles, stresses and tensions or some challenges that are inherent to the recovery process.  That also means it is probably the sign of a time of great need.  Any and all help is desperately needed NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE PERSON THINKS OR SAYS IT IS NOT.   Drifting off into crazy is not only the act of not being helpful, but is dangerously destructive to this person at this point.

I stated earlier, that in such situations friends and loved ones should not take sides in arguments etc.  That is not entirely true because there is a side to take:  the side of common sense.  To be a part of the solution, you must use a common sense approach to communicating common sense to everybody involved, only when it is necessary.

You have to communicate in a way the person or people you are communicating with are likely to hear and respond to.  Way too may people get frustrated and communicate the right things in the wrong ways simply to get things off of their chests.  That is not attempting to be helpful to a person, that is an attempt to verbally punish that person for frustrating you (don’t get it twisted!).

One more point to consider is that being a part of the solution is communicating common sense “only when necessary.”  Running around being the “Recovery Person Messed Up Police” is not in any way being helpful.  That is to be a major part of the problem.  What I am describing is the person who runs around behind the person in recovery the way the parent of a child who has just learned to walk runs around behind the child catching the child every time he/she starts to fall and keeping that child away from anything that he/she might not know not to touch and so on.

Some mistakes are going to be okay.  The person in recovery will need to learn and needs to learn to make adjustments for little mistakes etc.  That is a part of the process.  Being followed by a “NAG” is not a necessary or useful part of recovery.  Making me nuts is not a helpful part of my learning to think more clearly, it is a muddling of my thoughts in barrage of outside thoughts that can only serve to keep me from being able to think clearly for myself.

All of this is based on the idea of balanced sensibility on your part, especially if the person in recovery is not using balanced sensibility.  I totally understand that this is a tall order, but it is also one of your greatest contributions to the health and growth of your friend/loved one that you can make.

Something else to consider, is the fact that in many cases, helping the friend or loved one to get better will help every person that person encounters have a little less crazy in their lives too.  That means you are not just helping him/her, you are helping yourself as one of the people that person encounters.

Ponder this passage:

He wants to make good. Yet you must not expect too much. His ways of thinking and doing are the habits of years. Patience, tolerance, understanding and love are the watchwords. Show him these things in yourself and they will be reflected back to you from him. Live and let live is the rule.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 118)

To our friends and loved ones, please be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem (no matter how crazy we may get);

To those of us in recovery or still in bondage to our alcoholism/addiction:

STAY SOBER MY FRIENDS;

Wade H.

The Idiot in My Mirror

Mirror Mirror (EP)
Mirror Mirror (EP) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My drinking assumed more serious proportions, continuing all day and almost every night. The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf. There were many unhappy scenes in our sumptuous apartment.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 3)

This passage makes a key point that many of us who struggle with alcoholism/addiction struggle deeply with but it is often missed.  There are a couple of reasons why the points of the passage are missed so often and one of them is the language.  One of those reasons is wordiness.  The way it is written it is just one of those things that many brains just tune out as if this passage were simply some kind of background noise.

Let’s start with two of the key words:  Remonstrances and row.

Remonstrance:

a protest or reproof, esp. a petition presented in protest against something

Row:

noun

1. a noisy dispute or quarrel; commotion.

2. noise or clamor.

verb (used without object)

3. to quarrel noisily.

So that turns:  “The remonstrances of my friends terminated in a row and I became a lone wolf.”  Into: The petitions of my friends against how bad my using was getting ended in a noisy quarrel or commotion and I became a complete loner with no more friends.

This may not be exactly what has happened to you, but it does describe a major problem.  That problem is that we tend not to listen to the people who are trying to help us (and who are often right) and we tend to act as if they are the problem.

I had a completely unrelated experience the other day that opened my mind to the idea of how we perceive the people around us incorrectly.

I was driving in the morning commute near my house and there was an inordinate amount of traffic on the streets in the direction you go to get to the freeway.

I moving along in the herd from stoplight to stoplight (emphasis on the word STOP) when I noticed that all of the cars had moved except for the car in front of me and those behind me.  Then the ones behind me started zooming into the other lane trapping me behind this person.

As they were passing me I seemed to be getting several versions of the evil-eye and some looks that could only be described using the comic book term “#*@*%*^” if you get my drift.  Horns were honking, people were yelling and I did nothing but get stuck behind some idiot.

Finally, the idiot in front of me looked up from texting, setting the GPS, twiddling her thumbs, doing her nails or whatever she was doing and started down the road.

I was fuming, but was doing a good job of trying to talk myself down because people like us cannot afford to let other people’s crazy be contagious.

I was just about to speedily change lanes and pass this woman when I noticed that she was not only driving slowly but swerving into the other lane repeatedly in a way that could only be described as driving like a wino.

She was swerving from lane to lane and slowing down keeping me trapped behind her and practically going nowhere.

As time progressed (which seemed like forever by now) I was losing my ability to keep myself calm.  Finally, whatever was distracting this person was finished and she finally had a chance to pass this idiot.

I was still trying to keep myself calm and apparently decided that I would get myself over it and not let it ruin my day but not until I let out my frustration in the form of a serious look of distain.  I was going to get my revenge by giving her the evil-eye she had caused me to get.  I was going to give her deep discomfort (if only for a few seconds) as punishment for her evil.

So that seemed like a great compromise; give her the evil look and then, having my revenge, I would be able to free myself.  So I did this.

I zoomed into a position next to this woman and looked over with my best evil-eye.  The Freddy Kruger, Jason about to kill you look!  She looked like she knew immediately and had a deep look of embarrassment and regret.  MUHAHAHAHA, my evil plan had worked.  I had won.

Then I turned to go back to look at the road and turned just in time to notice that I had swerved slightly to the left and at this point was about two inches away from crashing into the concrete divider in the middle of the road.  (They have been redoing the roads near my house and I could normally drive this section of the road with my eves closed, but part of what they did was widen the center divider)

So now I had to react in a hurry.  I swung the wheel rapidly to the right, swerving to the right towards her car and narrowly missing the center divider and wobbling down the road a bit.

Now I was really angry.  LOOK WHAT THAT IDIOT MADE ME DO!  Then suddenly it dawned on me:  Looking at her for five seconds of revenge almost cost me my car and I am calling her an idiot.

I wondered what the cars behind both of us were thinking when one wino driver who was holding us all up was upstaged by another one that was not only holding us all up but was going to cause a wreck and stop us altogether.

Reality struck and I realized that I am at least the bigger idiot if not the only one.

In the passage we started wit, founding member Bill W. has friends that are concerned who are trying to tell him is getting out of control (if you read the whole story, nobody could have guessed how right they were).  Bill gets so mad at them that he gets into noisy fights with them.  Such big fights that he drives them away from himself completely and ends up with few, if any friends left.

They were trying to help him and to him they were the idiots who were interfering with his happiness.  In other words, in his mind they were the idiots.  The problem is, when you read the rest of the story you realize that they were not the idiots, Bill was.  It was perception that kept him in bondage to the point of a wreck.

Those of us who are in recovery or in need of recovery do not have the luxury of declaring people idiots.  We get confused and wreck (our lives, our cars and many other things).  The truth is that we need to deal with the idiot in the mirror before we go exacting our revenge upon all of the other idiots on earth.  If you really get what you are supposed to get out of recovery, you will find that revenge is the punishing of yourself in most cases and is not worth it.

Stay sober my friends from the idiot in my mirror,

Wade H.