Discouragement is Not the Problem

Discouragement is Not the Problem

Bitterly discouraged, he found himself in a strange place, discredited and almost broke. Still physically weak, and sober but a few months, he saw that his predicament was dangerous. He wanted so much to talk with someone, but whom?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

Of course he couldn’t drink, but why not sit hopefully at a table, a bottle of ginger ale before him? After all, had he not been sober six months now? Perhaps he could handle, say, three drinks – no more! Fear gripped him. He was on thin ice. Again it was the old, insidious insanity – that first drink. With a shiver, he turned away and walked down the lobby to the church directory.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 154)

But what about his responsibilities – his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah – yes, those other alcoholics? There must be many such in this town. He would phone a clergyman. His sanity returned and he thanked God. Selecting a church at random from the directory, he stepped into a booth and lifted the receiver.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 154-155)

In recovery and in life discouragement and discouraging situations are just a part of the normal ups and downs of what it means to be alive.   Everyone on earth has their bad days and bad seasons of life.  That is not a question.  The problem is not that there are discouraging periods of life, the problem is what we do to manage our discouragement during those times.

Do we sit and feel sorry for ourselves and gradually drift into enough misery to make life intolerable.  Do we get a bad attitude and try to take control of the situation or just to make other people feel the pain we feel.  These are major problems for those of us in recovery.  Both of these and many other possibilities are in reality evidence of us sinking into ourselves, selfishness and self-protective behavior.

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

In other words our natural response to being down and discouraged is to sink deeper into the worst and most destructive part of our problems and in effect make our problems worse.  Being down and being discouraged are not the enemy, our responses to them is the enemy.  Sinking into self-protection and self focus are the biggest enemies.

As a first thought, the passage at the opening describes Bill W. as needing someone to talk to.  That is an excellent place to start:  Someone to talk to who will understand and be supportive.  The lifestyle of a person who desires to remain sober and not absolutely miserable requires some kind of support system that you can turn to in these kinds of times. 

This is one of the deep purposes of what we call “support groups”:  Support!  If what you are calling a support group does not offer you this kind of support either you are not connected enough in the group or it is not the right “support group” for you.

These kinds of groups are something you find and maintain.  These are people you see regularly and have some level of personal connection with.  These are people that care about and care for one another. 

These are also something you want to find and maintain before you are bitterly discouraged so that when those periods of life arise you know exactly where to go. 

Secondly, Bill became interested in helping another person.

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)

As part of seeing the root of our troubles as self focus we find that one of the tasks that is most helpful in overcoming a self focused period is to focus on helping another person.  Think of the passage as reading this way:  “Nothing will help you more with being self focused as helping someone else.”

A key to what you read in the story Bill W. is telling is that he understood this so much that when he was just about to use because of it, he stopped and actively engaged in searching for a person to help.  He desperately sought out a person to help as combat against his sickness rooted in selfishness.  To use the recovery language of today, he went on a desperate search for someone to sponsor.    

This kind of mindset/attitude was the mark of the first groups and is still described in the materials as a major part of what makes us able to remain sober.  Dr. William D. Silkworth describes this kind of attitude as one of the most noticeable aspects of the early groups that made them different from other recovery groups and programs.

We feel, after many years of experience, that we have found nothing which has contributed more to the rehabilitation of these men than the altruistic movement now growing up among them.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. xxviii – 4th Edition)

Altruism = the attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts: (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

Altruistic = showing a wish to help or bring advantages to other people, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

The idea that selfishness and self-centeredness were at the root of our problems was combated by creating an environment of unselfishness and teaching the individuals to care about and help others.

So the idea is that an unselfish support group and unselfish actions are the best way to overcome discouragement, depression and our addictions and alcoholism. 

Near the end of the program portion of the book you find the following paragraph:

Still you may say: “But I will not have the benefit of contact with you who write this book.” We cannot be sure. God will determine that, so you must remember that your real reliance is always upon Him. He will show you how to create the fellowship you crave.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

If you cannot find the kind of support system described here, then you may have to search out the individuals and “create the fellowship you crave.”  If you are in one of those periods of discouragement, you may have to go out and find someone to be helpful to.  In either case you need to be out looking for all of this before you run into the times of discouragement so you are prepared for those moment when (not if) they come up.

Stay sober my friends

Wade H.


“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. 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)

This passage is an overview of the process we are to learn to do at Step 10, but this is actually a brief overview of the way we are supposed to live year to year, day to day and minute by minute.

There is a brief process listed here that could be more detailed or more complicated, but what is listed here does a great job of summarizing it.  These things are not to be relegated to just a process, but are supposed to gradually become the way you live.

This passage lists a process; the process is just stuff until you take action.  Once the action is taken it is supposed to be repeated constantly.  Once the process has been repeated constantly for a period of time it will become a habit.  Once a habit has been with you long enough it transition from a habit to a part of who you are.  It becomes a part of your lifestyle.  It is a part of who you are.  That is the goal.

Lets start by looking at the process briefly outlined in this passage:

FIRST, we continue to watch for negative and destructive thoughts or actions.  If you are at Step 10 and working your steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book, you probably have a good idea what destructive thoughts and actions are most destructive to your life and those around you.  The authors also included four that are often common to us working through recovery:

  1. Selfishness
  2. Dishonesty
  3. Resentment
  4. Fear

Even if you have your own personalized list, these four should be included.  We will call these “The Watch Four.”  These are the things that you are supposed to be on watch for at all times.  These (along with whatever other items you may list) are indicators that you are about to unleash crazy in your world or that you have already been unleashing crazy in your world.  If you are watching for these and see that one has begun arising in you, you are in deep trouble.  That is why it is imperative that you keep watch.

NEXT, you have to know what to do if you are watching and one of these crops up.  Before you respond or act in any way or even give all of this too much thought, STOP!  Ask God to remove the destructive thought, attitude or behavior on my part.  It does not matter who else is involved or what is going on, first I must stop my own crazy train.

AFTER ASKING GOD call, visit or somehow discuss whatever you have going on with someone helpful.  That means someone who is at wise enough to use common sense, far enough in recovery or in life not to give you stupid advice and strong enough to tell you the truth (even if it will make you angry). 

Too many people look for advice from people they already know will agree with whatever stupidity they are thinking or who won’t say anything they don’t want to hear.  It is helpful if you can find a few that have been through this process properly and understand.

The point is to test your thinking and get an outsider’s perspective and guidance.  For that to happen you need to be actively looking for these people and discussing this with them before something happens.  Then, when something like this comes up, these people will be expecting your call or visit and will know exactly what you are expecting.  (maybe you can prepare them by showing this to them)

AFTER TALKING TO SOMEONE, you need to take action to change.  If there was another person involved, you probably owe him, her or them an amends.  If this is the case do not put it off, do all you can to repair the situation as soon as possible.  Try to do anything you can as fast as you can to undo your part of whatever happened.

ONCE YOU HAVE MADE AMENDS focus on intensively working with someone else who is struggling with addictions, alcoholism or whatever you are struggling with.  This is the best way to deal with this sort of struggle (along with the other parts of the process).

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)

Not only is working with others part of getting immunity from destructive thoughts or actions, working with others is part of ensuring immunity from relapse. 

This is the way we are to deal with the negatives and destructive things that enter into our lives.  I did skip one point from the passage on page 84 until now.  It is four very important words: 

When these crop up…  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

We are not discussing something that might happen, we are talking about things that will be trying to creep back into your life at every turn.  At first all of this may seem tedious or annoying.  After you do all of this long enough it will just become normal and seem less and less of a tedious effort and eventually just become the way you think. 

The point is to stop letting ridiculously foolish things from pouring out of your life or to stop holding in ridiculously foolish thoughts and feelings and deal with these things.  This is all a huge part of learning love and tolerance and these things are the code of all things Twelve Step.

Learning to live like this is change and change is what recovery is all about.  Like I always say:


Wade H.

Intensive Work…Making Coffee???

 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)

I was speaking to some folks about working with others in recovery recently and had a whole group of people copout at once.  It was the scariest thing I have seen in a while.  They said things like “I’ll just serve coffee” or “why do I have to do that” or even “I’ll never do that” and things like this. 

The scary part was that this was not a group of people new to recovery.  Some of the group had been through recovery several times.  I was reacquainted with something I had forgotten:  The little things that were originally put in place to help a person get a little taste of what it might look like and to assist in the growth of the “humility” spoken of as being “foundation principle of each” of the Twelve Steps (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70) have somehow become a replacement for “intensive work”.  In other cases, the idea of work with others was just written off and was replaced with checkboxes.

By checkboxes I mean that it is as if people are convinced that if I can say I did each Step (even if not done correctly) somehow I will magically remain sober.  Saying you did the Steps and doing a “minimum to get by” effort at working the Steps is far different than really working the Steps.

Later in the same paragraph, in describing what the focal point of Step Twelve is and in describing what the whole chapter is about to teach us how to do it says:

This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Your addiction might be drugs, overeating, gambling or whatever, but the Twelfth Step has a major focal point that way too many people miss:  “Carry the message” and “Intensive work”!  Here is another key part that is often missed:  “It works when other activities fail.”

How much more direct are we expecting them to be:  “nothing will so much insure immunity”.  I’m not saying don’t serve coffee or chair meetings, but I am saying that that does not fit what is stated in this one paragraph. 

Here is my point to all of this:  If you are not Intensively working with others, you did not get out of your Twelve Step program what you were supposed to.  This is the focus point of your Step Twelve because the authors of the Twelve Steps felt that when all of the other stuff you do or have learned fails you, this is the only thing that will work to keep your sobriety.

This is the weapon to end all weapons, the greatest tool that they offered you in recovery and most ignore it and some do something kinda similar, but few even have any inkling to do this.

Let me help you with clarity:  THIS IS SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO DO IF YOU WANT TO GET SOBRIETY OUT OF THE TWELVE STEPS.  This is one of the keys to twelve Step culture and it is impossible to have worked the Twelve Steps if you skip the most important part of the Twelfth one.

Please Twelve Steppers, go out and find someone to work intensively with.  If that person doesn’t make it find another and another.  If you do not know how to “intensively work” with others, look around until you find that rare Twelve Step “diamond in the rough” and have that person teach you how to “intensively work” with others (and possibly have that person take you on as a sponsee). 

So go chair your meetings, make the coffee, and so on, but more importantly, INTENSIVELY WORK WITH OTHERS!

Wade H.