The Crux of the Problem: Obviously

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The Crux of the Problem:  Obviously

So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously this is the crux of the problem.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 35)

This is one of the most key statements in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  To even begin to look at this statement, we have to look at the word “crux” in a bit of detail.  According to merriam-webster.com the word “crux” is defined as:

1:  a puzzling or difficult problem : an unsolved question

2:  an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome <the crux of the problem>

3:  a main or central feature (as of an argument)

Notice that the exact words used in the Alcoholics Anonymous passage are used in #2 as an example.  So to be the “crux” of the problem means that “the mental state that precedes a relapse” is “an essential point requiring resolution”.  To be the “crux” this mental state is also a “main or central feature” of the problem as well as being a “puzzling or difficult” problem in and of itself.

Something that I find interesting about this statement is that it needs to be stated at all.  It seems perfectly obvious, but it is put out there as if it is a huge change of mindset for many in recovery.  In fact, it often seems to be such a huge change of mindset.

The idea here is that the big problem in a relapse is not the relapse itself, the big problem is what was going on in your mind at the time you were sober and trying not to use that makes you or allows you to use when you should be able to soberly stop yourself.

If a person keeps being barely saved from having consumed poison is the real problem poison in that person’s system or that the person repeatedly makes a conscious decision to take in poison.  In this example, isn’t just saving the person from the effects of the poison just a Band-Aid put on a symptom but doing little to solve the real problem (since the person has a history of just taking in the poison again).

In the same way, isn’t focusing on abstaining from alcohol and drug use and simply fixing the stuff you have done in the past while using drugs or alcohol just a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem.  Isn’t the real “essential point requiring resolution or resolving” what is going on in your mind when wanting to remain sober and while still abstinent that makes you suddenly do the thing that you most want to not do and know has the potential to be the most destructive force in your world. 

In other words, what kind of fool is surprised by anything a person is capable of after he/she is drunk/high?  After a person has chemically distorted his/her thinking it would seem logical to assume that his/her actions would also be twisted or distorted.  If a person desperately does not want twisted or distorted actions that result from this twisted or distorted thinking why do the one thing most likely to case all of that.  That is the real problem not the twisted thinking and actions that happen after you take something that you know will cause twisted/distorted thinking.

All of that being said, what is going on in our heads before a relapse?  If you interpret the information found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two categories described:

  1. Thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have
  2. Thoughts that we should be having that we sometimes don’t have

 

The first one, “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is described best in the like this:

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker.  The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

In other words there is this weird idea in the back of our minds that there will be a way to use or to be intoxicated that will somehow not count as a relapse.  There is some magic formula that will allow me to take some magic “feel good” stuff while not having any negative consequences.

This is the idea behind sentences that begin with things like:  “This does not really count because…” or “Well, this is not the same because…” or “My problem is _______ not ______ so…” and on and on.  There are also ideas such as:  “Well, since I have been sober ______ amount of time, I should be fine if I use a little now” or “Well, it’s a special occasion so a little won’t hurt” etc.

Just speaking from a logical perspective, it’s not only the fact that you could destroy yourself (again) that is the problem.  The real question is, why would you take the risk?  If there is even chance that you might destroy yourself or your life, what is so valuable in relapse that the risk is worthwhile. 

In the most extreme cases, we are talking about a person who has lost everything to using and had no hope.  Then this person rebuilds his/her life through a process of abstinence and some painful work in recovery.  This person gets a deep understanding that using means possibly losing everything again and possibly even more this time.  Then in a moment the person decides:   “This time it’s okay because…” Then no matter how much the person should see that the risk of loss is far greater than whatever it is that’s gained the person still thinks it will be okay.  Even to the point of having some unlikely reason as to why it will be okay.  “This time is different because…”

This is (especially from an outsider’s perspective) an unreasonable train of thought.  It is thinking something that makes no sense and that should probably not be though.  This is “the great obsession” that sucks us in like a black hole.    According to merriam-webster.com the word “obsession” is defined as:

: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly: compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>

So this “great obsession” is a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with the unreasonable idea or feeling that it is somehow there is a safe way to use. 

Let’s be clear:  There is no such thing as kinda using or kinda sober or kinda abstinent.  You are either abstaining or not.  You are either using or you are not.  “Just a little” does count.  Whatever you use may not be exactly the same as before, but you are either using or you are not.  If you are seeking sobriety, any using at all is the enemy, no matter what reason or excuse you have.

The problem is that PRIOR TO USING our brain has a section that keeps trying to convince us that there is a reason or a way to make using not count.  That little voice in our heads and in our hearts is this “Great Obsession.” 

The Second one “thoughts that we are not supposed to be having that we repeatedly have” is best described in these passages:

But even in this type of beginning we are obliged to admit that our justification for a spree was insanely insufficient in the light of what always happened. We now see that when we began to drink deliberately, instead of casually, there was little serious or effective thought during the period of premeditation of what the terrific consequences might be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 37)

These moments in time where a person cannot seem to muster up any serious or effective thought of what the terrific consequences might be have a name:

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

They are called “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  They happen “during the period of premeditation” which means that this phenomenon also happens prior to using.

But, let’s slow down and look at this concept.  In spite of all of the information and advice a person might get on various things a person should do to remain abstinent or sober most people ignore all of that and use one very simple method:  Whenever a craving or temptation arises the person forces him/herself to think of all of the reasons he/she should not use and that consciousness of what could be lost and pain might be caused will be enough to repel the person.

The trick that gets people obsessed with this method of remaining abstinent is that it will work much of the time for a majority of us in recovery.  The fact it works most of the time convinces us that it works all of the time. 

A person using this defense who relapses often comes up with some reason why he/she relapsed and then convinces himself/herself that the same defense system should be put up.  

Think of an ancient city that was protected by a large wall.  When most armies would come to attack it they would not be able to get around the wall.  But there was this one army that would come once in a while and somehow could just cut a hole in the wall, march right in and start killing and destroying.

If the government of that ancient city kept rebuilding the wall exactly the same way, because it worked most of the time, wouldn’t they be fools.   The fact it worked most of the time did not make it good defense system if once in a while it would fail completely.

This is the idea of the “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”  If your only defense is to force yourself to think of reasons not to use at moments when some part of you desperately wants to use you will have success sometimes, but at other times you will feel like you had no defense system at all.

Now lets relook that passage that describes the “Strange Mental Blank Spots”:

They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 42)

There are moments where the urge to relapse is so strong that you will not be able to force yourself to think about consequences, losses, pains, etc. at all.  If this is your only defense system you will be doomed in those moments.

So, what we have discussed so far is that a serious alcoholic/addict has a hidden obsession (often hidden from himself/herself) with the idea that there will be a magic way of getting intoxicated without any consequences.  Then, with the ability to lie to yourself about there being any consequences there come strange phenomenon of not being able to force yourself to consider the consequences (the ones you are trying to convince yourself are not there).  Once you convince yourself of the first lie and then stop fighting the lie with the second; YOU ARE DOOMED TO RELAPSE!

So the “crux” of the problem or “the mental state that precedes a relapse” and that is “an essential point requiring resolution” are described as “The Great Obsession” and these “Strange Mental Blank Spots.” 

The real problem is even simpler than “the mental state that precedes a relapse.”  The real problem is that you cannot trust your own brain or thoughts before you relapse to stop you from relapsing.  If you cannot trust your own brain and your own thoughts then your defense system cannot be based on what you can think or force yourself to think.  Recovery must be more than forcing yourself to think a few things or it will fail.

This is a big part of what it is to be POWERLESS.  In other words, this is a huge part of what you must understand to truly work Step 1.

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

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)
To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: “There is a Solution”

Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darkness, Powerlessness, and the Dawn

Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We went to live with my wife’s parents. I found a job; then lost it as the result of a brawl with a taxi driver. Mercifully, no one could guess that I was to have no real employment for five years, or hardly draw a sober breath. My wife began to work in a department store, coming home exhausted to find me drunk.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

One thing that is terribly tough for those of us in recovery and those around us is to find the balance between facing reality and maintaining some kind of hope. 

To even have any idea of the need for recovery, one must usually see how big the problem is.  A serious reality check has to happen to see how desperate the situation is which will lead to a willingness to take desperate measures to change the situation.

On the other hand sometimes those of us in alcoholism/addiction are so fixed on feeling sorry for ourselves that we use such information to throw a self-destructive “pity party”.  Some of us experience these “reality check” moments regularly (particularly after a relapse) and feel it so impossible to get better or change that it gives us the opposite effect.

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)

This may just be an excuse for using or in politer terms an attempt to self medicate unbearable emotions, but the reasoning does not make any of this any less real to the person experiencing it.  The sense of impending calamity is real to us because it is true to some degree in all alcoholics/addicts. 

To have a healthy balance, Step 1 (which is really what we are discussing) must strike a balance between a strong reality check and the message which titles chapter 2 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:  “There is a Solution”

Chapter 2

THERE IS A SOLUTION

We, of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem.

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 17)

The message to all of us that desperately need recovery has to be both a clear reality of how desperate we are and a solid stand that there is hope.  If you are a person around one of us who desperately needs recovery and would like for a that person to get free then you must stand strong in your conviction to both parts of the message:  “You are a terrible mess” and “There is a way you can get free of all of this and build a better existence.

There is a disclaimer though.  You know what a disclaimer is; it is that thing at the end of commercial for medications, diet pills, and car manufacturers where after they have made the extraordinary claims, they rapidly mumble what the hidden catch is.  Here is the disclaimer as clear and concise as it can be:

Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 14)

Recovery is a simple process as far as the explanation of what to do and the laying out of the Steps.  Recovery is not easy because the things you have to do, although simple to explain are really hard to do.  The simple steps outline things we simply do not want to do.  Things that are terribly uncomfortable or that outright hurt:  Things that both our unconscious and conscious minds will want to resist at all costs.

Now here is how the balanced messages of honestly facing the truth and continuing to have hope come together:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

Another part of the disclaimer is that each person trying to work through recovery has to be brutally and painfully honest with himself/herself or the process is doomed to fail.

As I have repeatedly said in previous posts:  “Facts are Facts!”  Ignoring them, “candy coating” them, lying to yourself and others about them, etc. is a part of the bondage.  Being willing to first face these things and then being willing to do whatever it takes to be free of all of these uncomfortable things is necessity for any kind of recovery.  That is where the hope is. 

There is hope, but you have to be willing to face and fight through terrible discomfort to get there.  This starts with really facing how desperate the situation really is.  Step 1 states that:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 

And that is truly where to begin once a person has discovered the need for recovery, but a certain amount of Step 1 has to have been completed to begin working Step 1.  I know that sounds confusing, but look at this explanation of what to ask someone before you start working him/her through the Steps:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

The hidden connection between understanding the desperation of the situation and having the hope of getting free is being willing to do anything to get free.  That is where the two seemingly opposites meet.  In other words the bridge between understanding it is a hopeless situation and the hope of freedom is willingness.  This is the starting point of freedom.

Now look at this statement again and it should be a clear idea of the role it plays in the recoveries of others:

How dark it is before the dawn!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

We have to see how dark it really is to look for and truly appreciate the light.

Stay sober my friends…

 

Wade H.

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181)

Things you can't do at the Scenic Overlook
Things you can't do at the Scenic Overlook (Photo credit: maveric2003)

Crazy Talk, The Great Obsession

Unlike most of our crowd, I did not get over my craving for liquor much during the first two and one-half years of abstinence. It was almost always with me. But at no time have I been anywhere near yielding. I used to get terribly upset when I saw my friends drink and knew I could not, but I schooled myself to believe that though I once had the same privilege, I had abused it so frightfully that it was withdrawn. So it doesn’t behoove me to squawk about it for, after all, nobody ever had to throw me down and pour liquor down my throat.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 181)

For some of us who are in recovery this rings very true to each one of us.  For others of us who suffer with these kinds of cravings, we are not familiar with the idea because our cravings are disguised as what we believe to be logical thoughts.

In other words some of us are having deep cravings to relapse but we keep telling ourselves that the “crazy-talk” going on inside our head is really sensible reasoning.  Thoughts like: 

“That person uses and seems to be doing fine, I just need to use like them.” 

“If I change to _______ it is not what I normally use so it doesn’t count.”  

“I cannot handle life like this; I just need a little to mellow out.”

“I cannot handle life like this; I just need a little to help me focus.”

These and similar thoughts are the proverbial “devil on your shoulder” trying to talk you into self destructive craziness.  Anytime we find ourselves listening to that voice or pondering what it has to say, you are well into the kind of cravings we are describing here.

For some of those around us, we may even seem to be more fun or somehow better when using.  These people may even try to help us find reasons or ways that we can use safely.  They become (whether knowingly or unknowingly) the voice of the devil on our shoulder.   Look at this passage:

He enjoys drinking. It stirs his imagination. His friends feel closer over a highball. Perhaps you enjoy drinking with him yourself when he doesn’t go too far. You have passed happy evenings together chatting and drinking before your fire. Perhaps you both like parties which would be dull without liquor. We have enjoyed such evenings ourselves; we had a good time. We know all about liquor as a social lubricant. Some, but not all of us, think it has its advantages when reasonably used.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 110)

The fact is, if you find yourself in recovery, in jail, in a hospital due to your using, being told by recovery or psychological professionals that you have an alcohol/drug problem, you have legal, social or family problems that others tell you are because of your using etc. you can never safely use. 

All of the ways we looked at before that disguise the craving or if you are just fighting an obvious craving, the focal point is should not be what the reasons, reasoning or feelings are to use.  The focal point is one question:  Can I ever use safely? 

Let’s focus on the idea of comparing ourselves to other people that use and seem to still function reasonably or who in some cases seem to function perfectly.  There are many reasons a person could give why this may just be appearances or that these people are only functional in some ways etc., but these arguments have little to do with the real point that is being missed.  It doesn’t matter if that person is the smartest rocket scientist on the planet who smokes crack for breakfast, drinks moonshine for lunch, shoots heroin for dinner and is a tenured university professor in the evenings while smoking methamphetamines during class breaks.  That is them!  The point is you are not that person.

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)

All of this is tied to Step 1 of any Twelve Step program:

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

Part of recognizing that you are powerless is the idea that you are not like that person or any other person:  YOU ARE YOU!  EITHER IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO USE OR IT IS NOT!  No matter what you see others doing, no matter what ideas you can come up with that make this time or this way different, no matter what someone else is telling you makes it safe for you; EITHER IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO USE OR IT IS NOT!

Despite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class. By every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to the rule, therefore nonalcoholic.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 31)

Neither does there appear to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of our kind like other men. We have tried every imaginable remedy. In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30– 31)

All of us at this level of using have a problem:  WE ARE DRAWN TO BEING INTOXICATED.  We have a particular way of getting there and type of “high” that we prefer (A.K.A. our drug of choice) but our true love is the “high”.  There are different reasons, and different preferences, but we have one thing in common:  the deep, compulsive desire to be intoxicated. 

Whenever we give in and use something that can get us intoxicated we are in terrible trouble.  No matter what the reason, no matter who else can do what with no problem, no matter if it is your preferred “high” or not, no matter if it is strong as what you usually drink/use and on and on.  In recovery a key rule to remember is:  YOU ARE EITHER SOBER OR YOU ARE NOT!  There is no “kinda sober” or “partially sober” or “almost sober”:  EITHER YOU ARE OR YOU ARE NOT SOBER.

If you are at the more advanced levels of alcoholism/addiction then any time that you are under the assumption that you can control your desperate desire to be intoxicated you are convincing yourself of a lie.  That is a complete breakdown of Step One in your recovery.

In the original Twelve Step materials (the Alcoholics Anonymous book) the authors described this as “The Great Obsession”:

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

This terminology is a great description.  The word obsession is defined at Dictionary.com in these ways (Obsession @ Dictionay.com):

  • the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.
  • psychiatry – a persistent idea or impulse that continually forces its way into consciousness, often associated with anxiety and mental illness
  • Compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
  • A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.

The big persistent idea that continually forces itself into your consciousness and dominates your thoughts is the ridiculous illusion that there will be some way to use that will somehow not be destructive to you.

I had some discussions today about things like drinking when that is not your “drug of choice” and how smoking marijuana is not destructive like other intoxicating substances so it should not count (“after all you don’t hear about people killing people on marijuana…”).  It is not the various arguments that are the sign of a problem or the truth/lack of truth of the arguments that is the problem:  it is the fact that a person in recovery is having to try to justify some reason for getting high that is the evidence of a problem.  If it really wasn’t a problem then first off you would not be in recovery, discussing recovery, etc.  Second if these things were really a problem than the obvious thing to do, considering that several people who call themselves experts say it might be a huge risk, if you could really take whatever or leave it would be to leave it all alone just because it is too much risk with too little to gain. (Yet many of us can find the small group of people and experts who have some theory that you can somehow use safely and we run to that with desperation and a sense of relief – another sign of a problem).

I love the arguments for marijuana.  The question I always ask is what would you do if all the marijuana you smoked had no THC and did not get you intoxicated at all.  Most people hate that idea at the core of their pot smoking beings.  The real reason almost all people use marijuana is to get a high.  If you are an alcoholic/addict in recovery then that is the worst possible scenario.  Picture a recovery program with classes all day and group sessions at night and all of the people there are drunk and high.  It might be quite entertaining, but probably not really productive.

The real problem here is not if some people can drink/use safely, the real question is if you can drink/use safely.  If you are in recovery the answer is NO!  The point is to stop using and you want part of your recovery to be using.  You can’t love Mary-Jane, Capt. Morgan, and recovery at the same time.

If other people can use safely then that’s good for them; YOU AIN’T THEM!  It’s you that cannot use safely.  Even the need to argue about what you can use and not use is a part of the craving and the insanity that we all need to be free of.

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

There is a Solution. Well, What is it Then?

There is a Solution.  Well, What is it Then?

Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Pol...
Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

For those of us who have struggled with the devouring monster that is alcoholism/addiction, these words offer some level of relief.  For those around us who care about us or love us this is a glimmer of hope.  There is a solution to a seemingly impossible problem.  There is some kind of hope where there seems to be absolutely none whatsoever.

Before going on I think it is very important to include those of us who do not see things as that desperate.  Those who think; “Yeah, I have a problem, but it’s not that bad.”  The kind of person who sits in their forth or fifth recovery program secretly thinking to himself or herself; “I am not as bad as all of these people, I don’t even really need all of this.”  For you there is a solution too.  If in fact you really are not that far advanced in your using, let’s get you to stop before you are.  If you are that advanced and just lying to yourself (which you probably wouldn’t know) then there is a solution that will also deal with lying to yourself.

Here are a few details of what you must be willing to do to get this solution.

  1. Self-searching
  2. Leveling of your own pride
  3. Confession of your shortcomings

The first is self-searching.  Knowing what is really wrong with you is a key part of the proc

ess (although in and of itself it will not keep you sober).

We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly. First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 64)

The reason behind this is very simple:

Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 64)

So, part of our recovery is to search for the things within ourselves that are problems and to do whatever it takes to be rid of those things.  We are to take an honest look at ourselves and be willing to take even the most extreme actions to be rid of the things that are not good.

A big part of doing this is seen in the Fourth Step.  

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

It is not just a look at yourself that we are talking about, it is a “searching and fearless moral inventory” that we are taking of ourselves.  The searching is not just a casual look that never drifts past your comfort level. Look at some of the definitions you find in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for search:

: to look into or over carefully or thoroughly in an effort to find or discover something: as a: to examine in seeking something

: to look or inquire carefully

: to make painstaking investigation or examination

(Merriam-Webster.com)

You notice words like carefully, thoroughly, examine carefully, look into or over carefully, painstaking, etc.  These are key. 

The word fearless is also of great importance.  Think of the fears as those things that are hidden behind such thoughts as:  “This is stupid”, “Why do we have to look at all of this, my problem is using, not all of this”, “What does this have to do with my recovery”, and other such thoughts.  Fear often disguises itself as seemingly logical reasons why you should not take an honest look at yourself.  

Stop looking for reason not to take a good look at yourself and take a fearless, careful, thorough, painstaking, examination and investigation of yourself.  That is the call to self-searching.

Second comes the level of your pride.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

If selfishness and self-centeredness is such a problem than overcoming any pride (be it hidden or obvious) that is in your life is a key task for you.  Those who are aggressively selfish probably know this about themselves and their recoveries.  Those who are more passively selfish (like codependents and those that otherwise seem giving and selfless but underneath have other selfish motivations/expectations) this may be a bit harder to see about yourself.  Again a “searching and fearless” inventory is a good place to clear up all of the mystery.

Last but not least is the third in that list:  Confession of your shortcomings.  In a basic sense this is broken down into two parts and really two levels in a Twelve Step Program.  There is a more personal facing of these things and a more public facing of these things.

The more personal facing of these things takes place from Step 5 up to Step 7, but let’s focus on the Step 5 portion:

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

After inventorying these things we sit with God, ourselves and another person not only to admit these things, but to search out deeper clarity on these things.  But, why do I call this the “more personal facing of these things”?  Steps 8 and 9 bring the more public facing of these things.  Let’s look at Step 9 briefly:

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

We go to every person we have hurt because of these shortcoming (not the least of which being selfishness and self-centeredness) and we confess our problem to each one.  Here is the catch:  It is probable that if you do not want to do some or all of these amends that you are so busy protecting yourself from discomfort that you have no concern for helping the other person/people feel better, get closure, begin to process etc.  That really means you are being selfish and self-centered which, as we read above is a huge part of our problem as alcoholics/addicts.  Not wanting to do this means you are stuck in your recovery and not recovering at this point.

Step 10 is really doing all of the things we have just talked about all of the time.  

This probably all sounds like a really tall order.  This may all seem like too much to do or the more subtle way of saying the same thing “All of this is not worth it.”  That is what Steps 1 through 3 are all about (and also why they come first).

The problem is not how hard these tasks are, the real problem is how desperate you are to be better.  

Drastic problems often require drastic solutions!

In describing Steps 8 and 9 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book the authors write:

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

At the beginning of recovery, you must decide that you are ready to “go to any lengths” for recovery.  In other words at the beginning, you must believe that your problem is so desperate that you must be willing to do whatever it takes to get better, no matter what that means.  That is true recognition of powerlessness and this is the beginning.

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

This is the essence of Step 1 an I think the mindset is best described in one phrase in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 28)

So; recovery is going to require Self-searching, leveling of your pride and confession of your shortcomings which are very deep and terribly hard to do properly.  The reason people do it is because they are so desperate to be recovered that it can only be compared to the desperation that a drowning person has for air.  This is recovery for the hopeless variety of alcoholic/addict, but this is not a negative thing as many of us automatically think.  The glass is not only half empty!!! 

This is hope where there is no hope.  This is the life preserver thrown at the drowning person.  THERE IS A SOLUTION where there seemed to be none and although it may not be comfortable, it is worth it…   GO FOR IT!!!

 

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.

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

We have been discussing the first three Steps of Twelve Step programs (please read part 1 before continuing to read this post which is part 2).

If you understand that you are in a desperate situation that has grown so desperate that you have placed yourself beyond human aid, than you are at the point of deciding if you can accept “spiritual help” or not.  Can you or are you not willing to deal with spiritual tools and the topic of God or not?

We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 44)

Did you notice that the terminology of previous quotes (“spiritual tools” “spiritual help” etc.) has now changed to living “on a spiritual basis.”  You may not have caught what just happened, but they just laid out what the desired end result of the program is:  THAT YOU LEARN TO LIVE ON A SPIRITUAL BASIS!   If you cannot deal with any spiritual topics or even discuss such things without tuning out or getting mad, how are you going to “live on a spiritual basis?”

Some people at this point try to say that I can talk of spiritual stuff on my terms, I just don’t like to talk about God.  As long as I accept that something is greater than me (get some humility) I can do everything.

This is true of working Step 1 and for starting Step 2, but is not the case for working Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 and in fact is not even true for being ready to go from working Step 2 to starting Step 3.  I know some feel that God discussion is not necessary and some think it is somehow outlawed in all things 12 Step and that a person at most has to say blurbs about a “power greater than ourselves” of some sort.

I am proposing here that there must be discussion about “God” and that even the “power greater than ourselves” talk is really just a part of beginning the discussion about “God.”

Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?

Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought he had neatly evaded or entirely ignored. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 45)

According to this passage, the Alcoholics Anonymous book and all it contains (including the Twelve Steps which are the source of all other Twelve Step programs) are based on the idea of helping a person find God and learn to live by the principles of God.

Did you notice that God is mentioned directly and bluntly?  In this passage the authors mention that the struggle with the idea of or discussion of God is a problem for many in recovery at this point.  If you are having trouble with what you are hearing right now, it’s okay.  Many people do.  It is something that you are going to have to work through.

You may have to start with terms like “higher power” or “power greater than myself” but you are going to have to understand that we are talking about God and you simply are not there yet.

Did you notice that the word “God” is part of  Step 3.  Before you can start on Step 3 you are supposed to have started turning that corner.  In other words, if you cannot handle the topic of “God” or even the mention of the word “God” how can you work a Step the has “God” as part of its description?

The challenge of Step 2 is to not only believe, but to believe that he can and will free you of all of this alcoholism and addiction stuff.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

Notice the words “Being convinced, we were now at Step Three.  If you are not thoroughly convinced on these three ideas, you are not ready to start working on Step 3.  That means you can only go as far as Step 2 and that is where you are stuck.

  1. Are you an addict or alcoholic who cannot manage his or her own life?
  2. Are you so advanced in your addiction or alcoholism that nothing that normal human power has to offer seems to be able to help you?
  3. Do you believe that “God” can and will help you if you seek Him?

Until you can answer yes to all three of these questions because you are absolutely convinced that they are all true about yourself, you are stuck at Steps 1 and 2.

These two questions are like a test on Steps 1 and 2 and if you are not convinced you have failed the test and have to redo the previous classes before you can go on.

I leave you with thought in summary from the chapter in the Alcoholics Anonymous book that is supposed to teach us how to work with a newcomer:

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 pg. 98)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

Once a person accepts that he or she is actually an alcoholic or an addict, the next question is obvious…  WHAT NOW?  Well, in reality, knowing you have a problem that you cannot seem to solve is only Step 1.  That means that the answer to what is next is to do whatever Step 2 is.

Look at the first 3 Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:

  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)

Step 2 is a polite way of stating the fact we started with from page 25:  “

…we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

The key is that the statement we started with from page 25 must be looked at first:  “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were.”  So if you are as far along in your addiction to be one of the people who feel that

  1. Life is becoming impossible
  2. You have passed into the region from which there is no return through normal human aid

You may require more than what people who have not gotten this bad need to overcome your addiction.  A person this advanced in addiction or alcoholism has only two choices according to this passage.

  1. Keep getting more and more miserable on the road to a slow miserable death or
  2. Accept something called “spiritual help”

If you are a person in need of recovery and you do not know if you are “that bad” then you are still at Step 1.  That is why Step 1 has the wording it does.  Think about the idea of being “powerless” and admitting that your life is “unmanageable” when compared to the wording used on page 25 and you see that there is far more to Step 1 than just realizing you have a problem.

Either you life is becoming impossible and you cannot find your way back through human aid or this is not true.  That is Step 1.

A person who is deeply resistant to “spiritual help” or to talk of God is a person who is not finished with Step 1.  This is not necessarily the end of the world (that person may just need more Step 1 work), but there is no reason for that person to be trying to work other steps.

If the authors felt that the only solution is something called “spiritual help” then everything they put together is “spiritual help.”  A person who will not accept or even discuss such things does not want what the authors of the Twelve Steps felt was the only way out.

With that mindset, working steps is taking actions you don’t believe in or want and expecting the good results to come from something else completely. 

The sentence sounds complicated and ridiculous because it is.  The results you are looking for are supposed to come from the “spiritual help.”  The whole program is supposed to be “spiritual help.”  “Spiritual Help” is described as the only way out for people who are this advanced in alcoholism or addiction.

Either “spiritual help” is the only hope or it is not.  If it is the only in fact the only hope, then you  either are that advanced in your addiction or alcoholism or you are not.  If you are, your only choice is if I want to be more and more miserable or accept “spiritual help?”

If you have accepted that you are that desperate, but are having some challenges with the ideas we are talking about, consider this:

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

It is the only option and the longer you resist, the longer you are resisting even starting your journey towards freedom.  If you cannot turn the corner and still find yourself completely uncomfortable with this topic, YOU ARE STILL ON STEP ONE.  It is okay to realize this if you plan to work through it.  If you just want to avoid the topic and move on to other steps, you are simply running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage running in place.  You are doing stuff and getting no place.

If you are one of those people, you should probably spend some time reading all of the previous posts on this blog and reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book (where all things 12 Step found their start) before reading part 2 of this post.  Part 2 will only disturb you more by belaboring the point more and by taking a far more detailed look at the facts behind Steps 2 and 3.