The Misleading Mindset

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
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The Misleading Mindset 

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

This passage is an excellent description of the mindset that misleads many people in recovery.  There is this crazy idea that the memory of the problems that using has caused in the past and attaining a whole lot of information about using, recovery and myself will keep me sober.

There are some people who use heavily who can think themselves sober and in reality, there are some people who are pretty messed up from using that don’t need to learn, think or any of that; this (small) group of addicts/alcoholics just decides to stop and never uses again.  The problem is that many of us in recovery (more like most of us) are not in either of those categories and need to come to terms with that before we can even consider ourselves having started recovery.

Thinking and learning in and of themselves are not enough for most of us to remain abstinent (although they are important parts of the process). 

Look at the conclusion to the story we started with:

“As soon as I regained my ability to think, I went carefully over that evening in Washington. Not only had I been off guard, I had made no fight whatever against the first drink. This time I had not thought of the consequences at all. I had commenced to drink as carelessly as though the cocktails were ginger ale. I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come – I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 41– 42)

There are moments when your body and some parts of your mind will have such a desire to use that the parts of your mind that you would like to use to force yourself to stop will not be strong enough to overpower the desire.  One desire within your self will be trying to resist a desire that is in your body and mind and that is often also driven by your social and spiritual health (or lack thereof).  Recovery has to be approached from all four of these areas to have any hope or to even be considered recovery.  The authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps) knew this to be true:

We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone concerned with a drinking problem.

Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these matters are, from their very nature, controversial.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 19)

There is hope for those of us who are at the most desperate levels of alcoholism/addiction.  This hope relies on us not getting sucked into the flawed idea that “information is what will keep me sober.”  INFORMATION WILL NOT BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU SOBER!!!  Information is just one of the tools that is supposed to help get you to what will keep you sober.  Look at the information that the early A.A.’s gave to the man in the story we started with when he relapsed:

“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.

“Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems. I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 42– 43)

The solution is described here as “a way of living” that is more satisfying than anything before.  The hope of recovery rests in finding a completely new way of living.  A new basis of life that will result in changes in the way you think and why you have those thoughts, changes in what feelings you have and why, all of this leading to changes in what you do.  In other words:  RECOVERY IS ABOUT ENDING UP BEING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON THAN WHO YOU WERE WHEN YOU STARTED.  IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED, YOU ARE THE SAME AND WILL GET THE SAME RUSULTS.

If you do not plan on being changed completely, then you do not plan on getting recovery.  If you do not aim towards a new way of living that is infinitely more satisfying than any way of living you have had before you have decided to stay with the same way of living and have decided to continue to live the life of an alcoholic/addict.

I beg you to move beyond knowledge to the desperate desire to be a completely different person, because that is where your hope lies.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

How To Survive The Holidays pt 3 – Action in the Way of Life

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 85)

One of the best ways to ensure your recovery survives the holidays with family, partying, Black Friday and Cyber Mondays, crowds, expectations and so on is to be proactive.  There are many reasons that can come up that might cause a person problems with his or her recovery, but the most dangerous are the subtle changes that we do not notice in time to respond to.  If you are waiting until you have a problem with your recovery to take action, you are resting on your laurels as described in this passage.  That means you are headed for trouble.

Let’s take a few minutes and look at one aspect of the subtlety of addiction and alcoholism before we go on with discussing what kind of action we are talking about.

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

No matter how far you are along in recovery you are there is a fact that remains true of those that are the most severe addicts and alcoholics.  WE ARE POWERLESS!  If you have trouble with this concept and you are working a Twelve Step program, you are stuck.  You are stuck on Step One:

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

Understanding this idea and responding correctly are incredibly important during this time of year.  A time of celebration for many, a time of incredible stress for many, a time of drinking and using for many, a time for great depression for some, and so on.   Few people go through the holiday season without some profound change of emotion, good or bad. 

If you are totally relying on yourself to remain sober through all that a person encounters, experiences, and feels during the holiday season, you are at terrible risk.  

So what is this “powerless” that the Twelve Step information describes?

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 24)

The reason that I put both of these paragraphs here is because most people hearing the word “powerless” have an understanding that lines up with the first paragraph but that misses the ideas detailed in the second paragraph (as well as a few details in the first paragraph). 

Most people only think of “powerless” as “I cannot stop myself.”  With that limited understanding the next logical thought is that if “I cannot stop myself, then it is not my fault and it is useless to try to stop.”

Let’s look at that concept in detail:

In the first paragraph there are the words “at certain times”.  So whatever is going on here happens periodically and is not a constant.  The idea that; every time I get around someone that is using I just jump in and use, is not a part of the concept of powerlessness as described here.  As a matter of fact, what makes what the authors are describing here so sinister is the fact that it is something that only happens sometimes and you never know when it will happen. 

Think of having something electrical that has a short-circuit.  Whatever it is usually runs okay most of the time, but every once in a while the short-circuit takes over and cuts off the power and whatever it is stops working or has terrible problems.  This can happen with little or no warning and sometimes at the worst possible moments. 

The best example of a short-circuit that stands out in my mind is from a car I have that has a short-circuit in the headlights.  Every once in a long while I’ll be driving at night and the headlamps will just cut off.  When this happens, I just simply reach under the dashboard and jiggle the wires until the lights are on again. 

One night I was comfortably driving up the freeway minding my own business and then at the very same moment that I noticed a California Highway Patrol officer on the side of the freeway watching for speeders, my lights cut off.  I hurriedly reached under the dash to juggle the wires which then made the lights flash on and off until they finally went back to normal.  Could there have been worse timing?  

Without warning and in this case at the worst possible moment, the short-circuit took over.  This is how the “Strange Mental Blank-Spots” mentioned on page 42 are.  They happen without warning and can happen at the worst possible moment.  The biggest difference however is that most of the times that my car lights short out, very little happens and I can just jiggle the wires and move on.  When the strange mental blank spots happen there is usually a full blown relapse to follow.

Every once in a while there is a moment in our thoughts, emotions and resulting actions that will make it impossible to “bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.”  Bluntly put, there are moments that come up randomly, where our minds will not think about the reasons we shouldn’t use with enough force to keep us from using. 

Our sound reasoning failed to hold us in check. The insane idea won out. Next day we would ask ourselves, in all earnestness and sincerity, how it could have happened.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

You may be one of the most disciplined people on earth in other things and may think yourself out of using most of the time, but in the short-circuit moments (the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”) those thoughts will either be a distant whisper or will not come up at all. 

Why that is such a problem is that many people in recovery develop only one true defense system and don’t even know it.  That defense system is:  “If I think I am about to use, I will force myself to think about all the reasons I shouldn’t and that will keep me from using.” 

What makes the Strange mental Blank Spots so insidious is the fact that they allow such a defense system to work much of the time so the person gets the idea that the defense system he or she has built works great.  Then without warning it fails miserably and there is this relapse and in some cases there is no sensible reason for the relapse.

…there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

The truth behind the “powerless” idea described in the Twelve Step Information is that it describes a person whose ability to reason sometimes shorts out and at those moments does not have the power to stop the person from absolutely destroying himself or herself. 

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

You may be new to recovery or you may have been in sobriety since well into the last century, but either way this is something that must be at the very foundation of all of your recovery and ultimately your whole life.  With the changes that transpire in the world around us and within each of us in our own lives during the holiday season it is time for a recovery foundation checkup. 

You may hate the words “Higher Power”, you may be working out the idea of a Higher Power, or you may believe you have the whole Higher Power thing all worked out, but it is time to make sure that your defense is founded on a Higher Power idea that will really works even when your brain doesn’t.  A good place to start is to rework the first three steps as you are heading into the holidays and rebuild your foundation as strong as it can be built.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Something else to do at this time is to go back to the basics.  Go to Twelve Step meetings.  Get together with a sponsor, with mentors, with others in recovery etc. regularly throughout the holiday season.  Be open and humble about your problems with those around you so that there is not confusion and discomfort if you chose to leave situations where everyone is drinking, using, or that are otherwise troubling to your recovery.  In other words the holidays are not a time for taking a break from recovery related activities.  ‘Tis the season to increase your recovery activities.

There is one activity I failed to mention that you hear me mention quite regularly…

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Who are you sponsoring and working through recovery.  If you need more recovery efforts during this holiday season, so do others in recovery.  If you are sponsoring someone, that person needs more focus on recovery and particularly the first three steps just like you do.  If you are not helping someone through recovery, now is the time to look.  Be proactive and look for solutions to the challenges to your sobriety before there is a problem (and teach your sponsees to do the same).  Don’t wait till you are desperate and barely holding on to decide to start trying these things. 

I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

The things I have suggested here and many more things mentioned throughout the Twelve Step Materials are not magical activities that if done in a certain order will align the Rubiks Cube of recovery.  They are the elements of new way of living your life that creates the environment that allows you to remain sober.  The holidays are a time for us to focus or refocus on living the way of life that provides the wonderful gift of recovery as a byproduct of that new way of living.

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 13)

Either you take action as part of your new way of living or you are resting on your laurels and heading for trouble.  

 

Seek the New Way of Living,

Wade H.

Self-knowledge is NOT the Cure!!!

Self-knowledge is NOT the Cure!!!

That may be true of certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

Looking at this passage the first thing we have to consider is that there are different groups described here.  There is one group all of this discussion is going to apply to and one this does not apply to.

There is the group who can stop using and actually not go back and there is the group who cannot stop without going back to using.

Now, before you feel relieved and tell yourself you are in the “can stop” group, let’s look a little deeper. 

Picture sitting with me at a bar or if you are more comfortable watching a reality show about alcoholics and addicts and I am this weeks star who is sitting in a bar.  Everyone is having a good time, but I am drinking heavily.  The bartender says something to me about my daily drinking and how I am overdoing it now.  The bartender then suggests that I may actually be an alcoholic.  I tell the bartender I am in complete control and in complete control of my alcohol use.  I then suggest to the bartender that I can prove it.  I am going to stop right now and pour ot the rest of my drink.  Five minutes later, I say, “See I can stop whenever I want to and don’t have to go back.”  Then I proceed to order another drink.  Have I really proven to anyone that I am in total control and not an addict?  

What I am getting at is that if you have periods of sobriety and then returns to using, it is probable that you DO NOT have control of your using and you probably are an addict/alcoholic.  Quitting for a week, a day, a month, six months or a year or two is not really quitting:  THAT IS TAKING A BREAK!

If you are in the “unable to stop” group or the “think I am able to stop, but just realized I only take breaks” group then this passage is written to you.  Those who can stop completely are not as far along as us or are somehow different than us and that has to be okay with us.  They are different than me and I am absolutely not one of them.  This reality is a huge part of the Step One experience.

For those that can stop PERMANENTLY whenever they want there simply has to be a strong enough reason for them to stop.  For them just information might be the cure.  This is the kind of person who when someone mentions that he or she might have a big problem, they never use again.  The kind that the first time that he or she is arrested or is almost arrested while he or she is using decides to quit altogether and never uses again.  The kind of person who the first time he or she notices that he or she gives less attention to his or her child when using quits completely and permanently.  For this kind of person just telling him or her that their using is causing a problem in an understandable way will bring about complete abstinence.

If that is not true of you, then it is likely that no amount of showing or telling you about the way that using destroys you, the lives of those around and destroys everything you care about eventually will make you stop for too long if it can stop you at all.

“Self-knowledge” will not be enough to keep someone like us sober.  That is who this passage is written for and in fact all of the Twelve Step materials.

The bottom line:  Information, in and of itself will not keep you sober.  The information is only as powerful as the amount of changing it causes in your life.  The Information is one of MANY tools that can be used in the process of change, but hearing and retaining information about alcoholism, addiction and about recovery will not keep you sober just because you heard it or heard and remembered it. 

No amount of information will keep you sober.  Either you are different or you are the same.  If you are the same, then you will get the same results.  If you are different, then you will get different results.  That includes being the same and knowing more stuff.  If you are pretty much the same except for knowing a bunch of recovery stuff.  You will do the same except for knowing a bunch of recovery stuff.  You may end up as a high or drunk person with a little more guilt because of the information you now have.

I say this because – – – well, as you read this, you can clearly see that I am in the information business.  What I am not is under the delusion that reading and memorizing this stuff will somehow magically make you sober as if I was writing a magic spell book that you can read and get better.  Nor is the alcoholics anonymous a spell book as such.  As a matter of fact, no recovery information is the MAGIC CURE. 

Information and education are a big part of the recovery process, but all of the information you take in MUST be an instrument of change or it is just more stuff padding the inside of your head to keep your ears from falling inward.

The knowledge is not the cure, you must somehow be changed completely by the knowledge you take in.  After all; either you are different or you are the same.  If you are the same it is reasonable to expect the same results.