Inside the Head of the Addict or Alcoholic

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How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)

This passage is written specifically to wives of alcoholics (the chapter is named “To Wives”) but it really is a message to all who have a loved one or friend who has serious alcoholism or addiction issues. 

People around us that don’t suffer from the same addictions as us often have these or similar questions bouncing around in their minds.  “How could we be so unthinking or uncaring?”  The actual answer is that in most cases, we don’t know.  This is not (or at least not always) an attempt to excuse some bad behavior; this is often the actual answer.  As a matter of fact, in many cases we were asking ourselves the same questions.

My point here is not to excuse any behaviors or actions, but to help those who have a loved one or a friend who is suffering to understand that much of this is not personal, it is just part of what addicts and alcoholics do.  That by no means implies that you have to just sit back and let it happen, it just means that often it is not that we don’t care or want to hurt anyone, it is often just a crazy that seems compulsive to us.

In this post I hope to help those around an addict or alcoholic see what we do more clearly and for the addict or alcoholic to get an idea of how crazy our behavior seems to others. 

Let’s look at a few of these common things we do that confuse or hurt those close to us.  We will start with the progression that Bill W. (Bill W. one of the founding members) went through as his using got to be worse and worse.  You may see close similarities to your friend, loved one or to yourself if you suffer from addiction or alcohol problems.

1.  We ignore discussions and signs that we might be getting worse or “going overboard”

Though my drinking was not yet continuous, it disturbed my wife. We had long talks when I would still her forebodings by telling her that men of genius conceived their best projects when drunk; that the most majestic constructions of philosophic thought were so derived.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 2)

In this case he was starting to show signs of that his using might be developing into a serious problem.  His wife, who would know, was disturbed and would try to have discussion about it with him.  He not only wouldn’t consider what she was concerned about, he tried to convince her that it is better for people to be drunk because they somehow work better. 

This is a part of being a serious alcoholic or addict.  One of the first signs that we are losing our grip is that someone outside of you begins to be bothered or concerned.  According to this, she didn’t go nuts; she even had reasonable discussion about it.  Someone close to him was showing loving concern and it was as if they were speaking different languages. 

Old Bill also made sure he explained how geniuses and great philosophers were not on users of alcohol, but did their best thinking and working while drink.  I suspect that he was convincing his wife and himself at the same time.  Oh what a cloud of nonsense that we can disappear behind when confronted.  This is also a normal part of what it is to be an addict or alcoholic.  Not only do we not listen, we blurt out almost reasonable sounding excuses for our using.

2.  Everything seems like it is just better when using.  In Bill’s Story, Bill simply put it this way

Drink was taking an important and exhilarating part in my life. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

Using takes an important role in the life of the person.  I starts to become the source of excitement no matter what the person is doing.  If the person is doing something exciting, he or she feels like it would be a little more exciting if he or she were using and it is missing something if he or she doesn’t use. 

If we are in an environment where it is not socially acceptable to use we slip off to use or we just don’t enjoy ourselves.  It is a feeling like something is missing even in the most exciting of activities.

3.  Using moves from important to dominant.  It begins to take over as most important in the person’s life.

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)

So now, Bill is almost always drunk.  What that means is where it used to be that drunk was added to whatever he was doing, now, whatever he is doing is being added to the fact that he is drunk.  It no longer is just there to make other things better, the other things have to be reduced to things that make being drunk better (or they are not to be done). 

What all of that means is that the world becomes measured by how it interacts with my high or attempts to get high.  Getting high or drunk now dominates my thoughts and desires and everything else is in servitude to my new master; intoxication.  The way I like to see this is that it is not that person necessarily loves you or whatever he or she loved before less, he or she has just started loving being high or drunk more.

Then there is this remonstrances of his friends terminating in a row stuff.  What is all that?  Lets define two of the terms used using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • Remonstrances = an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance
  • Row = have a quarrel

So that translates to:  “The presentation of reasons opposing the amount of drinking Bill W. was doing let to quarrels or fights and he ended up being a loner.”  Every time people tried to bring to his attention how bad his using was getting, he would get into a fight with them to the point of chasing them off.  The fights would be so bad and his level of using so bad that the people who cared enough about him to say something to him decided to stay away from him all together.

That’s when our crazy really starts to come out.  There are these people who really care about us, enough to try and talk to us about our obviously growing problem, and we push them away.  We scream, holler, say stupid things, insult them, whatever it takes, just so they do not interfere with or try to interfere with our using.  Because remember, we usually haven’t started caring for the person who confronts us less, we just care about being high or drunk more.  So if that person is interfering, high or drunk must be protected at all costs.

One more thing from this passage, notice the change of tone in his relationship with his wife.  Before, they were having “long talks,” now they are having “unhappy scenes.”   Those of us who get to this level of using start pushing anyone who cares about us away, but some people are more tied to us than others.  So even though he had become a loner, his wife was there whenever he decided to be home.  It’s probably not about loving her less; it’s probably about loving being high or drunk more.  She may be second on the list, but if she is in any way going to interfere with his high or with his comfort, she is immediately a problem.  She probably stays in second place, but a very distant second place.

The pushing away of people is a normal part of the alcoholic’s or addict’s life.  There may seem to be many different reasons (such as to not think about how much we hate ourselves, to avoid facing the problem, to avoid the stress, etc.) but, the real problem is that sick as it may sound, in our heads, the high becomes the most important thing to be protected in our lives. 

None of that excuses it, but it is a fact at this level of using.

4.   There starts to be small physical changes

I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

This will vary between alcohol and other drugs of choice and will even vary between different people.  Different things happen.  It may be the shakes, bags under the eyes, breaking out or rashes, extreme weight loss or gain, lots of minor illnesses (colds, flu’s, etc.), and many other physical symptoms. 

These are some of the signs that the person’s body is having some troubles with the chemicals the person is ingesting.  The odd part is we rarely even notice these signs of problems and if we do we tell ourselves they are somehow normal.  As a rule if our bodies are trying to reject something or are have a negative response to something, it is a bad idea to continue taking in whatever it is.  Yet we always find some reason to go on anyway. 

When these signs start to appear, we are on the verge of serious problems (beyond whatever other serious problems we are causing ourselves).  This is the point that those around us should feel an urgency and a desperation for us, the problem is that by this time they are pushed away from previous attempts to talk to or deal with us.  We on the other hand, are at this point thinking in such a distorted way that we would be willing to have some physical problems as long as we can be drunk or high.

5.  It eventually progresses from being the most important thing in our lives to the totality of our life.  We have been pretty bad by this point and it is clear to those around us that we are an alcoholic or addict, but at some point it gets even worse

Liquor ceased to be a luxury; it became a necessity. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)

The way Bill W. observed this is that his addiction became as important as breathing, his heart beating and eating in his mind.   It was no longer something that he did, it became a must.  He was not able to function if not using.  This is another area that will look different depending upon the addiction and the person, but this is another sign that the problem has progressed to incredibly desperate levels.

At this point it is incredibly hard to stop, to want to stop, to see any way to stop or even to take a break.  IN previous levels in this progression, if a person wanted to stop there would be struggle and some confusion etc. but at this level, it is a much bigger challenge.  When a person tries to stop there is so much confusion and inner resistance to stopping that the person will have a terrible time mustering any desire to stop. 

If the person was one of those people who could quit for a year here or there or six months here and there, that becomes increasingly difficult from here on.  It’s like asking them to quit breathing or to want to quit breathing. 

The thought life of the person also becomes monopolized by the desire to use.  It is as if the person only lives to use.  Work becomes only a way to get more (if work is even an option at this point).  Interactions with loved ones become ways to keep their world together so as not to hinder their ability to continue to get high.  For example one of the main reasons someone like this might not want a divorce is because he or she may end up paying child support etc. and have a harder time finding money to use with. 

It may have started at an earlier place in this progression, but it is common by this stage to lie about the using or to sneak using if there are still people around that would be seen as somehow interfering with the using.

6.  Serious physical dependence

I began to waken very early in the morning shaking violently. A tumbler full of gin followed by half a dozen bottles of beer would be required if I were to eat any breakfast. Nevertheless, I still thought I could control the situation, and there were periods of sobriety which renewed my wife’s hope. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 5)

At this point not only his mind acts as if using is as important as breathing or the heart beating, his body now reacts as if something important has stopped working properly whenever he is not using.  Think about what he has just stated.  When he did get to sleep (whatever time that happened at) the amount of time he spent sleeping (not using) created such a stress for his whole system that he awakened early to get more.  When he awakened his body would be shaking violently desperate to use even a little bit.  After that he even had to use if he wanted to eat his breakfast without throwing up.  His body would not even allow him to eat if he wasn’t using.

At this point it is hard to even imagine quitting as an option.  Think of it this way:  “If I can’t be sober long enough to sleep, how am I gonna be sober longer?” 

Now lets do a little reading to look at some occurrences in Bill W’s life at this point in the hope of getting some more understanding:

Then I got a promising business opportunity. Stocks were at the low point of 1932, and I had somehow formed a group to buy. I was to share generously in the profits. Then I went on a prodigious bender, and that chance vanished.
    I woke up. This had to be stopped. I saw I could not take so much as one drink. I was through forever. Before then, I had written lots of sweet promises, but my wife happily observed that this time I meant business. And so I did.
    Shortly afterward I came home drunk. There had been no fight. Where had been my high resolve? I simply didn’t know. It hadn’t even come to mind. Someone had pushed a drink my way, and I had taken it. Was I crazy? I began to wonder, for such an appalling lack of perspective seemed near being just that.
    Renewing my resolve, I tried again. Some time passed, and confidence began to be replaced by cock-sureness. I could laugh at the gin mills. Now I had what it takes! One day I walked into a cafe to telephone. In no time I was beating on the bar asking myself how it happened. As the whisky rose to my head I told myself I would manage better next time, but I might as well get good and drunk then. And I did.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 5-6)

So Bill had promising work that could put him back on his feet, but couldn’t stay sober long enough to go through with it.  He finally “gets it” and knows how bad he has gotten and that he no longer has control and focuses himself on quitting.  He meant business and could only hold on a short time before coming home drunk again. 

Did you notice that the same questions that we would have for him, he had for himself.  Where was all that “resolve?”  What was going on in his mind when he relapsed?  Is he crazy?  Did you notice he could provide himself with no answer?  That is why he or she doesn’t give a reasonable answer or any answer to those strong enough to still care after all of this:  the person doesn’t have an answer!

Then there was a period where it looked like he had figured it out.  He had done it all on his own and gave great hope to those that still cared about him.  Then without warning, another relapse.

This may seem pretty bad but it gets worse. 

7.  Complete hopelessness (and possibly suicide attempts)

The remorse, horror and hopelessness of the next morning are unforgettable. The courage to do battle was not there. My brain raced uncontrollably and there was a terrible sense of impending calamity. I hardly dared cross the street, lest I collapse and be run down by an early morning truck, for it was scarcely daylight. An all night place supplied me with a dozen glasses of ale. My writhing nerves were stilled at last.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 6)

He had given up on the idea of sobriety and was scared while using too.  The only escape he had prior to this was no longer an escape.  Even using would not bring the desired escape any more yet sobriety even more unbearable.  There was no place to escape from the results of using so he went and used. 

For those who have never used or have never been this far along in their using, welcome to the insanity that is bouncing around the head of a person living at this level.  After this reality, sometimes a person reaches what seems to be the only logical conclusion (this may have been a problem previously and may have even preceded using, but it does seem to be supported by this twisted logic now).

Should I kill myself? No – not now.  Then a mental fog settled down. Gin would fix that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 6)

This is pretty serious hopelessness.  Once you completely give up on yourself, there is really no place to hide from that fact.  You cannot truly hide from yourself.  The closest you can get to hiding from yourself is the mental fog spoken of here.  That’s not just being tipsy or a little high; that is being completely blitzed.

In the case of Bill W. he reached this point and stuck it out for years he describes hi mind and body as having to endure “this agony” for two more years and described it as “physical and mental torture.” 

Eventually his alcohol was not enough to get enough of a mental fog and watch what happens:

A doctor came with a heavy sedative. Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative. This combination soon landed me on the rocks. People feared for my sanity. So did I. I could eat little or nothing when drinking, and I was forty pounds under weight.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)

Bill W. who seems to have been content with only using alcohol, and never showed an interest in doing any other drugs, suddenly is mixing drugs with his alcohol use.  In other words, just when it looks like it couldn’t get any worse, those of us who use at this terrible level as if by magic find a way to make it worse. 

In brief, Bill goes through recovery at a hospital and does quite well.  He leaves and gets a period of sobriety.  He thought he had the answer and that he had enough self-knowledge to remain sober.  He thought this was the end of his using.

But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum.
    They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 6-7)

Those who have lived this know the feelings, the thoughts, the despair, the hopelessness and everything else that comes at this point.  Those who use heavily but have not gone this far (yet) may not recognize some of the latter details, but if you think about it, you can see how these things are the logical end to the continued using.  They may not look exactly like this or be in exactly the same order, but this sounds like the stories of many, many others who have gotten this far along in addiction.

Now, for those of you who are the friends and loved ones of the person like this or somewhere in the process of getting more and more like this, this has been outlined mainly for you.  This is not a scientific analysis of addicts and alcoholics, or a series of long term studies:  This is one of us describing the process exactly as we experience it.  This is a glimpse into the mind of the person you are worried about.  This is his or her perspective. 

Every situation is different and your response to this information in every case probably needs to be different also.  Some of you may not be as intense in harassing the person, and some of you may need to be more direct and blunt due to your new realization about how serious the situation is.   That is a detail that you probably need to work out with a local professional in the field or a local support group etc. 

I hope this post is simply a new look at the person and the struggles that person is facing.  So now back to the passage we started with:

How could men who loved their wives and children be so unthinking, so callous, so cruel? There could be no love in such persons, we thought. And just as we were being convinced of their heartlessness, they would surprise us with fresh resolves and new attentions. For a while they would be their old sweet selves, only to dash the new structure of affection to pieces once more. Asked why they commenced to drink again, they would reply with some silly excuse, or none. It was so baffling, so heartbreaking.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 107)

When you reread this with the insights we have just gone through, we get answers to those questions.  Not the perfect answers and possibly not even satisfactory answers, but at least an understanding of what is going on. 

I hope that this information is helpful  for all who read it.

Wade H.

Starting Step 1 – The Lie Must Die

at a meeting
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This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

To begin with, when a person is starting recovery, the minimizing and denial must stop! One of the struggles that many have in early recovery is this idea that I have problems and I am going a little overboard, but I am “not that bad” (not a serious alcoholic or a serious addict). In other words I am fairly normal, but I am just overdoing it a bit.

In one story located in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two examples of what this looks like…

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 39-40)

We first saw Fred about a year ago in a hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad case of jitters. It was his first experience of this kind, and he was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the hospital to rest his nerves. The doctor intimated strongly that he might be worse than he realized. For a few days he was depressed about his condition. He made up his mind to quit drinking altogether. It never occurred to him that perhaps he could not do so, in spite of his character and standing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

These are both excerpts from the same story, but both descriptions come from the observations of the members who were trying to work with him. Listen to how Fred himself describes this (after his big relapse):

“I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful in licking my other personal problems, and that I would therefore be successful where you men failed. I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would be only a matter of exercising my will power and keeping on guard. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 40)

This mindset says; “All that recovery stuff you are telling me is interesting, but I am not so bad that I need to do all that.” That is often a lie and it tells a person that he or she can just pay attention to what he or she is comfortable hearing. “If it’s something I find uncomfortable or I don’t like it, I can just ignore it because all of that is for people who are worse off than me” (like the person or people talking to me).

On page 568 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that:

Willingness, honest and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 568)

Let’s look at this kind of thinking and all how it resists these three essential mindsets:

  1. WILLINGNESS = If a person is suddenly faced with the reality that he or she is a serious alcoholic or addict and a person comes who not only offers a solution but is living it comes along it would seem like the reasonable choice to make is to try to do whatever that person does. That would also imply that if there are parts that you do differently than that person, then you will clearly get different results. The more you choose NOT to do, the more different your results. Are you willing to do exactly what that person did to try to get exactly the same results?
  2. HONESTY = In the case of Fred, in the story discussed above, he was in the hospital being confronted by doctors and others with similar problems who were diagnosing him as pretty advanced in his alcoholism. Even though he knew he had lost control to some degree and it had clearly led to some problems, he somehow convinces himself that he is more of an expert than the doctors, addicts, alcoholics and anyone else that might have tried to tell him differently. At what point does a person move from misled to flat out lying to himself or herself? Recovery requires being brutally honest with yourself and working to fix whatever problems are observed.
  3. Open-Mindedness = Even if it is hard to swallow, when both experts and people who have had the same experiences agree that your problem might be worse than you think it is, you should probably assume you might be wrong and they might be right. If a person who is not really an addict were to do all of the things an advanced user has to do to achieve sobriety, that person will still get many benefits (or at the least does no real harm). On the other hand, if a person who is an advanced level alcoholic or addict doesn’t do the things it takes to get sober the problem worsens. Lying to yourself is part of alcoholism and addiction and an open mind is a must if you are to get past it.

A person who is still driven by the lie that he or she is not as bad as the facts show clearly, or who knows it is a problem but justifies it by picking someone and saying, “At least I’m not as bad as that,” is failing to work the first step. No matter what that person says, writes, does etc. as long as that mindset persists, the lie will win and at some point tell that person it is okay to use again.

THE LIE MUST DIE OR THE RECOVERY IS JUST PART OF THE LIE!

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

Family, Dating and Marital Relationships in Recovery

In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish. As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain. This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish.  As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain.  This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

The truth is that the pains of the past are yet to be fully resolved if resolved at all.  For example, if a person was cheated on and one or the other finishes a recovery program, there will still be pain.  One or both of the parties may be better prepared to start working through the pain involved, but there is still hurt and confusion.  As the passage on page 117 states:  “Many of the old problems will still be with you.”  This is the absolute truth.  There will still be some of the old problems and, “This is as it should be.  ”

Why is it that this “is as it should be”?  Because, the discomfort and pain one feels when these old problems come up are not evil, they are actually opportunities in disguise.  Here is the fact:  Pain and discomfort are not your enemy!!  Pain and discomfort are neutral. 

Think of a thermometer.  If you stick on in your mouth and it states that your temperature is 98.6˚ you are doing fine.  If however, you stick the thermometer and it reads 106˚, you have a problem.  It would be foolish to get mad at the thermometer and yell at it or do everything you can to avoid the thermometer or to avoid talking about what the thermometer says.  The thermometer reading 106˚ simply indicates that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with just like the coughing, sneezing, stomach ache etc. that probably brought that person to the thermometer also were indicators of a problem that had to be dealt with.

These uncomfortable feelings and emotional pains that will come up are the same.  They are not evils to be yelled at or avoided, they are indicators of something that is wrong and needs to be properly dealt with.  Just like yelling at or avoiding the information on the thermometer, not only do such actions not help, the problem usually gets worse when not properly dealt with.  The discomfort and pain are not the problem.  That is what the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book mean when they say “This is as it should be.  ”

The faith and sincerity of both you and your husband will be put to the test. These work-outs should be regarded as part of your education, for thus you will be learning to live. You will make mistakes, but if you are in earnest they will not drag you down. Instead, you will capitalize them. A better way of life will emerge when they are overcome.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

These uncomfortable events that arise are called “work-outs” here.  Think of what working out is.  In the case of weight lifting, a person gets resistance in the direction a muscle moves which tears down the muscle tissue.   This tearing down of the tissue allows the muscle to be rebuilt larger and stronger.  These uncomfortable events may feel like they are tearing you down, but they are simply allowing everyone involved the opportunity to be rebuilt stronger if confronted.

But what about if not confronted or if confronted improperly? 

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

What may seem like a little thing can be blown way out of proportion in a hurry and the result will be far more tearing down than building up for everyone involved.  As far as the resentment or improperly handled issues every person in the situation, including the person in recovery carries “the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control.”  That does not mean not confronting things, that simply means; “be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.”

Notice in the beginning of this passage I quoted:  “If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy.”  That is because every person has growing that he or she should be doing.  If you have been around an addict or an alcoholic, it is often the case that you have problems that either helped in making this person worse or that are a result of this person’s problems.  Blame, anger, resentment and so on will not do you or that person any good and may erupt into terrible harm.  The absolute truth is:  YOU CANNOT FIX ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, BUT YOU CAN WORK ON FIXING YOURSELF!!!  Along with that is the fact that you cannot fix another person, you can however do great harm to another person. 

The bottom line is that the discomfort, pain, disagreement and such are probably not bad; they are most likely just opportunities in disguise.  Confronting things in a “resentful or critical spirit” is the evil that will keep all involved from the “very happy” described here.

 Wade H.

Having Depression vs. Managing Depression???

A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling.

A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 133) 

I was listening to a conversation today where somebody made a good point.  For this person, he always enjoyed the holidays and was fine emotionally throughout the holidays, but the period in January directly after the holidays is always a depressing time for him.  After all the excitement, hype, and gathering together of the holidays the abrupt stop that comes somewhere around January second always leaves him struggling.

Every year I try to address those struggling with the holidays, yet I have entirely missed this group.  The reality is that many of us in recovery suffer with bouts of depression at many different times.  The first thing to keep in mind is that this is normal and will not go away overnight.  Second, having ridiculous thoughts and responses to these bouts of depression (i.e. “twisted thinking”) will not disappear overnight either. 

In light of these two ideas, a great starting point for dealing with this kind of depression is to remember that they are a normal part of recovery and connect with others in recovery groups, church/spiritual groups, etc. who have similar struggles and share with them.

Another thing to remember when you are struggling with depression is found on page 89 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

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)

When you are struggling intensively working with others is always something to think about.  The truth is this is a huge part of recovery that many miss out on.  This should really be a normal activity that is part of your recovery and not just an emergency measure, but a bout of depression can serve as a reminder to those of us who have lost that focus.

Be careful to notice that the passage on page 89 is describing “intensive work” and not just “service” as what will ensure immunity.  Service of any kind is good, but is in reality not what is described here as being the focus of Step Twelve or what will “ensure immunity.”

Something else you can do:

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 87-88)

For me personally, I can honestly say that a lot of the circumstances that trigger my bouts of depression are based on the fact that something is not going the way I think it should be going or in a way that makes me comfortable.  These moments of meditation and prayer on the fact that; “It’s not all about me” are key to my sanity.  This is a big part of what Step 11 is about when you look at that Step practically.

These things often work for what may seem like insurmountable bouts of depression, but sometimes there is depression that is not as manageable with just these measures.  For whatever strange reason (some of which may be bad experiences) many of us in recovery are resistant to getting help from mental health professionals and sometimes even from recovery professionals.

But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Most of them give freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 133)

The passage describes “fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners” and I understand that all of them are not “fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners” but they do exist and you should “not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons.”  Ask around, do research and find one.  This could save you a lot of unnecessary struggle and pain and in some cases may save your life.

The bottom line is that experiencing depression is a normal part of recovery; it happens to most if not all of us.  It is going to happen to you and I at some point (if not regularly) the question is how you manage the depression.

Making it through the Tough Times

From – Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions.   (Alcoholics Anonymous® pgs 87-88)

To set the stage for today’s entry, I will simply say that I am going through a bad time in my life with a few deaths in my family and friends, some seriously ill family members, my wife and child are both sick, and I have a feeling of just too much going on and I began to sink into a depression. 

Then I thought about what I would tell others in such situations. 

First, all people suffer from periods of  “excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions” at times, but for us who have in the past alleviated such feelings through some form of artificial “escape from reality” these things can often be exaggerated.  Our emotions can be at times an overreaction.  What I am trying to say is that if a stress in our life would normally get 2 units of anger or worry, we experience 10 units of anger or worry and then respond at that level of desperation. 

That all sounds great, but what should one do?  One of the greatest gifts the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous® gave us, is FELLOWSHIP.  The popular term to describe such fellowships is “support groups”  There are people within the groups we attend and the circle of those in recovery that are strong and wise that can be of great assistance in the hard times.  The key is that we need to have a deeper more personal relationship with them than simply the sharing we do at meetings and an occasional discussion at the coffee pot.  Simple talks with some friends (preferably those who are wiser and working good programs) in recovery can sometimes be a great help in the hard times.

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)

Intensive work with others in recovery does many things which are of great assistance to each of us in recovery.  One of the keys is the idea of going back to the basics of our own steps and our own program.  The old saying spoken by “old-timers” throughout the world  states:  “You gotta give it away to keep it!”  This is so true.

 As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.” We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions.   (Alcoholics Anonymous® pgs 87-88)

This is one of the most important things we can do and in reality the first thing to do:  Stop, talk to God, and look and listen for some kind of answer.  The “Big Book” states on page 62 that selfishness and selfishness are the roots of all of our problems.   The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book tells us on page 70 that the goal of every step in the program is to gain humility.  It goes on to say, that not only is the gaining of this humility a must for sobriety, but:  “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.”    Key word is happy.

A simple look at this from the bible (the book early A.A.’s used before there was a “Big Book”):

“…GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”  (James 4:6b NASB)

In other words the same pride described in the “Big Book” as “selfishness, Self-centeredness!” is the key to finding yourself in direct opposition to God.  This passage also states that humility is the key to closeness to God.  “I am no longer running the show, God let your will be done” is our mantra.  With this closeness to God our joy and peace are gifts from Him along with the self-control that will keep us sober.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…  (Galatians 5:22-23 NASB)

This praying, seeking others that can listen and mentor me in these tough times, and continued work with others are what keep me standing and sober in these periods where emotions threaten to overtake me.  I am far enough in my recovery where the idea of craving seems a thing of the distant past and I do not have any urge to use at all, but the reality is that much stronger people than me have relapsed.  I need to focus on these things when any troubles or discomforts arise.  If I were to wait until I felt a deep craving or realize that I have been having cravings it may be way too late.

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.   (Alcoholics Anonymous® pgs 87-88) 

This has been carrying me through the day and I hope this will be of assistance to all who read this….

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God will constantly disclose more to you and to us.  (Alcoholics Anonymous® pgs 164)

Continue to Watch (The New You)

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

This passage appears as part of Step Ten and contains many of the everyday keys to remaining sober and gaining and maintaining happiness. 

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Pg 62 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that Selfishness and Self-centeredness are the roots of our troubles.  If this is the case then watching for them and preventing them are the roots of our recovery.  If at any point something makes you uncomfortable and you think that means you have to rearrange everyone around you (either by force or manipulation) until you are comfortable you are being selfish. 

Dishonesty is a selfish act and is an attempt to hide reality.  We have lied to others and to ourselves to a point where some of the lies seem true to us.  Lying must go!  It is a habit from a lifestyle that we no linger wish to lead and a poison that will slowly kill our joy and our recoveries.

Pg 64 calls resentment; “…the ‘number one’ offender.”  Pg 66 states plainly that:  “It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.”  If resentment is this much of a problem, it is another area that you want to see in your life while it is still small enough to deal with easily.  To many people want to wait until it overtakes them to even recognize it is a problem.  Being watchful for even a slight touch of resentment is a must if one wishes to have recovery or to find any happiness in life.

Pg 67 describes fear as:  “…an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”  This includes the fear of looking bad, fear I’m too nice, fear I’m not nice enough, fear of being alone, and on and on.  We have to watch for it and deal with it immediately.

WHAT DO WE DO WHEN THESE THINGS COME UP IN OUR LIVES?

1.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them

If we are powerless and the problems that we are powerless over show up it is only reasonable to seek out One who does have power to help in the fight.  In the words of the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book from pg 59:  “Without help it is too much for us.  But there is One who has all power-that One is God.”  A person who does not recognize this yet is not a failure, that person is just stuck at steps 1 and 2.  It does not matter what step that person or their sponsor says that person is on, that person is only working the first 2 steps (“Two-Stepping”).  We must start by enlisting the power of the One who is not powerless.

2.  We discuss them with someone immediately

Each of us must have a few people of good sense who are not afraid to confront us directly that we can discuss our struggles or confusions with.  Some, most or all of them should be people who have gone through a thorough recovery and are reaching back to get you up to where they are.  When you see yourself stumbling, these people should be contacted to talk you through it.  Trying to go it alone is foolish.  How much can you trust a mind that has lied to you in the past without outside guidance?

3.  make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone 

Step 10 is “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  Notice the word “promptly.”  This is half of what is stated here.  If you are in the wrong it must be fixed immediately.  It does not matter if the person is more at fault, if you are still mad, if you don’t like that person, if it’s too embarrassing, etc. 

All of what we have just discussed is a spot check inventory.  Once the inventory is done and you realize that you were wrong you cannot be overly concerned about what the other person needs to fix in his or her life.  Pg 67 states:  “Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened?  Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely.  Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s.”

THE STEPS ARE ABOUT FIXING YOU NOT ABOUT FIXING OTHER PEOPLE.  The only fixing you do involving other people is fixing the wrongs you have done also known as making amends.

4.  Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.   

Pg 89 states plainly that:  “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.  It works when other activities fail.”  Working with others is one of the strongest tools we each have to fight against the things which will lead us backwards in our recoveries. 

Notice however that the passage from pg 89 is not just talking about service (as so many say) it is far more specific:  “intensive work.”  In other words, leading another human being through the process of recovery is absolutely key to keeping your own recovery on track. 

Serving coffee and chairing meetings are good services and help, but are not what is described here.

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If you look carefully, you can actually see Steps 10, 11 and 12 all here in what has been just described.  This is a big part of what the new you is supposed to look like.  This may not be the way you are used to living life, but the way you had been living life has been a part (or the root) of your trouble.  If you are not different, you are the same and can expect the same results.

If there is not a new you, you are still the old you.  Step 10 is explained on pg. 84 as “…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.” 

As you clean up the past starting at Step 8 and by making amends quickly whenever you have harmed anyone you are building the foundations of the new “way of living” mentioned here. 

Mastering Resentments

We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how?  We could not wish them away any more than alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 66)

This is a key to the process of recovery.  In looking at the 4th step part of how you know that you have reached a point where you are ready to start on a 5th Step is that you:  

“…have begun to learn tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our enemies, for we look on them as sick people.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 70)

My experience has been that many who are supposedly working 12 Step programs are not even aware that this is part of the process and definitely not aware that this is part of the 4th Step.  Many also have no idea what to do to achieve this end.

On page 66, upon completion of the 3 Column inventory which is where you list the person you are resentful at, the cause, and how it affects you, you are instructed to turn back to the list.  This is where the text literally says “We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick.”  But how does one come to that realization.  That question is answered on pg 67 with the words:  “We asked God…”  Then the passage goes on to give examples of what to pray:

“We asked God to Help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend…This is a sick man.  How can I be helpful to him?  God save me from being angry.  Thy will be done.”

To work through this process, a person must actually turn a corner so as to see the people and the situations that bring up feelings of anger, pain, resentment and so on completely differently.  An area which for some can be misleading is the idea that if you say the words listed above or something similar the fact you said the words will magically fix the feelings and you will be healed.

The more clear idea of the process one should be undertaking for every resentment listed on the 3 column part of the 4th Step can be found near the end of the Personal Stories (Testimony) section of the Alcoholics Anonymous book. 

“If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for that person or the thing that you resent you will be free.  If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free.  Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free.  Even when you don’t really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway.  Do it every day for two weeks, and you will find you have come to mean it and want it for them, and you will realize that where you feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 552 – 4th Edition)

It’s not just saying the words, it is continuous seeking of that change until the change actually occurs.  Not only are you supposed to be learning to release that person, but learning to desire good things to be happening to that person, even to the point (as mention in the prayer from pg 67) of looking for ways to be helpful to them getting these good things.

The question is:  “We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how?”   The answer is an acrostic:  “P.U.S.H.”

                                          P = Pray

                                          U = Until

                                          S = Something

                                          H = Happens