More Than Willpower

End No Alcoholic beverages.
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More Than Willpower

I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape; they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.   (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. xxix – xxx [4th Edition “The Doctor’s Opinion”])

This is a very interesting concept that must be considered by all of us in recovery, all of us who work with others in recovery and all of us who are around alcoholics and addicts.

There is a common idea that is often verbalized that people who are alcoholics/addicts are basically people who do not have the willpower or are not focused enough to use their willpower to stop using.  Amongst many of us that are working recovery many of us focus on the idea that I have to just decide not to use and if I am about to use I just need to decide harder.

I am not saying there is not some truth to this, but I also think there is more to it.  It does strike me strange that so many people think that that is where a person is going in recovery when it is also where most of us start in recovery.  For example most recovery programs require you to use your willpower to stay sober while in the program yet they also assume you still need the program in spite of the fact that you are “willpowering” sobriety from the start.  

It seems ironic that so many people decide that the very things that were the bare minimum to start recovery are to become the finish line and magic cure also.

The real problem is that quite a few of us have enough willpower to abstain for periods of time, yet periodically, without warning we relapse.  Some of us have a knack for waiting til the worst moment imaginable to relapse.

He has a positive genius for getting tight at exactly the wrong moment, particularly when some important decision must be made or engagement kept. He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish. He often possesses special abilities, skills, and aptitudes, and has a promising career ahead of him. He uses his gifts to build up a bright outlook for his family and himself, and then pulls the structure down on his head by a senseless series of sprees.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 21)

People think it must be a stupid person or a person who should just be put away in a padded room somewhere that cannot willpower himself/herself sober.  That goes double for a person that is doing great on his/her willpower then suddenly at the worst possible moment relapses.  Take a glimpse of how this was worded in the 1930s:

How many times people have said to us: “I can take it or leave it alone. Why can’t he?” “Why don’t you drink like a gentleman or quit?” “That fellow can’t handle his liquor.” “Why don’t you try beer and wine?” “Lay off the hard stuff.” “His will power must be weak.” “He could stop if he wanted to.” “She’s such a sweet girl, I should think he’d stop for her sake.” “The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again.”

Now these are commonplace observations on drinkers which we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of ignorance and misunderstanding. We see that these expressions refer to people whose reactions are very different from ours.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 20)

These statements contain some truth, and most of us who have lived through the worst levels of alcoholism/addiction have had to admit at times we have been stupid and probably should have been in a padded room for our own protection.

The truth is that we are not stupid (although there is probably a good case for temporary insanity) and there is hope outside of a padded room.  The problem is that that hope cannot lie solely in our ability to use willpower or whatever abstinence we do get will break down sometimes at the worst possible moment.

Willpower cannot be the solution because there are parts of your mind that fight for that one more buzz or high while other parts of your mind are mortified by the idea.  There are things going on in your body that make you want to use sometimes desperately.  There is obviously more to all of this than just changing your pattern of thinking and using willpower more.  We have to change whatever causes us to think the things we think and to act the ways we act.  There has to be some kind of change at the core of our being that leads to changes in why we think what we think which means it causes change in what we think.

The doctor said: “You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you.” Our friend felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang.

He said to the doctor, “Is there no exception?”

“Yes,” replied the doctor, “there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 27)

The ideas, emotions, and attitudes which have been the guiding forces of our lives have to be cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives has to dominate us.  IF WE ARE NOT CHANGED WE ARE THE SAME AND CAN EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS!  The alcoholic/addict who is still the same but is using willpower to remain abstinent has not found the answer.  That is a person who is just making the first baby-steps towards beginning the process.  Abstaining by willpower is not the end zone. Abstaining by willpower is more like getting dressed to get on the field and hopefully, get in the game. 

This change has to be a massage change of everything about the person from the deepest level’s of his/her being.  This is the measure of this “vital spiritual experience” that Dr. Jung is talking about in this discussion.

Recovery cannot be measured by how sober you are:  YOU CAN RELAPSE AT ANY MINUTE AND HOW SOBER YOU WERE THE MINUTE BEFORE WILL NO LONGER MATTER!  How deep you are changed and how changed you are is a better measure.

There is more to the process and a lot more detail to getting to the depth of change we have been describing here.  The main point is that just using mind control to force yourself to do something that your mind has probably failed miserably at on previous occasions is absolutely not the solution to your problem of alcoholism/addiction.  We are talking about a completely new way of living that includes abstaining from alcohol and drugs as a byproduct of the change:

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)

I beg of you, if you are seeking recovery seek more than just abstaining by willpower.

 

Stay sober my friends…

Wade H.

Recovery: More Than Information and Memories

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Recovery:  More Than Information and Memories

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)

Why do those of us that truly want to quit relapse?  We say and believe we want to stop, we do things to stop, yet in a moment we go back.  I suppose that no single reason will cover why everyone who relapses goes back, but let’s look at one that many of us have experienced yet may not have been able to explain to others or even to ourselves.

Listen to how this man describes it looking back on a relapse:

“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)

Here is the issue that this man is describing.  This man did what many of us do in
recovery.  He had listened to lots of “stuff” about recovery and what is needed, but had taken all he had learned and converted to his own recovery plan.  Let’s look back a page before I explain what that recovery plan was.

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 pg. 40)

The plan that he had converted all of the recovery “stuff” he learned into was thinking.  If he felt any urge to use (no matter how tremendous the urge) he was going to force himself to remember how humiliating all of this was and think about some recovery facts and that would stop him cold. 

I don’t know how many of us remember the movie “The Blues Brothers,” bet there was a basic theme to the movie:  They were on a “mission from God” and to fulfill this mission they did all kinds of crazy things that didn’t even make any sense to them to achieve this mission.  I am telling you this because in the 80’s and 90’s the term “on a mission” jokingly became the terminology used for a person who had one of those periods of time where he or she could think of nothing else but using and would do crazy things to get alcohol or drugs.  In the 2000’s the common term is a “run.”  No matter what you call it, these terms describe periods of time where all you can think about is getting whatever you are addicted to and use it. 

Those of us that have had this experience know that once you get into that mindset, it is rare that you will think about anything else but getting and using your drug of choice.  This man and the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book describe those times as “Strange Mental Blank Spots.”

The term “Blank Spot” is misleading as many take it to mean that one does no thinking at all.  In fact, the truth is that a better description is that the focus on getting and using is so strong that any other thoughts are easily ignored and forgotten.

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 24)

The mind is not in fact blank; the focus on using is so strong that everything else is completely ignored.  The point is, that if you convert all of the recovery “stuff” you learn to information and memories that you plan to force yourself to remember at the moment you feel like you are going to use, what are you going to do in those “Strange Mental Blank Spots?”  Those times when your focus on using is so strong that you cannot even consider other thoughts that come up.

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. 42)

Will power and self knowledge do work in many situations, but not in those “strange Mental Blank Spots” (Not when you are “on a mission”).  That is why so many of us are fooled:  The knowledge and memories can be forced into our minds at many times that we are thinking about using and can in fact stop us from using.  Not every time that we think about using is a “Strange Mental Blank Spot.”  The fact that fording ourselves to think works a lot of the time for some of us makes us assume that it works all f the time.

Like this man, when we are down and out and getting educated about recovery, we assume that the added information is what was needed and that the information we had before was simply not strong enough.  The problem is that if you are in a “Strange Mental Blank Spot” the information will never be strong enough. 

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 pgs. 42)

To put it bluntly:

INFORMATION AND MEMORIES WILL NOT KEEP YOU
SOBER!!!!!

There is a much deeper change that must take place and the information and memories are just two of the tools that can be used to get you in the direction of that change.  More information and memories however, are not the totality of this change.

The idea that you can use more knowledge and memories to stop yourself from using is an absolute failure in working Step 1.  If you are admitting you are powerless what makes you think you can force yourself to think about certain things at certain times when you are the most powerless. 

I am not saying to just give up and resign yourself to the fact your powerless so you can go and use.  I am saying that you need to look at recovery as far more than just getting more information to force yourself to think and look for something far deeper.

Recovery Manifesto 101

From – March, 2010

If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago.  But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.  We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 45) 

Many times when people are confronted with a person with addiction or alcoholism related issues the more obvious problems tend to be the way these people seem to act without regard for themselves or others or they simply seem to just not understand how life is supposed to work (or the depth of the problem). 

How many times people have said to us:  “I can take it or leave it alone.  Why can’t he?” “Why don’t you drink like a gentleman or quit?” “That fellow can’t handle his liquor.” “Why don’t you try beer and wine?” “Lay off the hard stuff.” “His will power must be weak.” He could stop if he wanted to.” “She’s such a sweet girl, I should think he’d stop for her sake.” “The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 20) 

This appearance of being morally bankrupt or just not getting life are the obvious symptoms of the addict/alcoholic but are not the totality of the problem.  Many who want to help us try to force us too see how flawed our thinking is or try to ram morality down our throats.  The truth of the matter is many of us know our actions may not make sense and deep down inside many of us are angry at ourselves for not being better morally.  

In a vague way their families and friends sense that these drinkers are abnormal, but everybody hopefully awaits the day when the sufferer will rouse himself from his lethargy and assert his power of will.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 23) 

All of this implies that the totality of the problem with addicts/alcoholics is a problem of self control.  Self control is a problem for all of us in addiction/alcoholism but there is so much more.  That means that the things listed above are true to some degree, but if those thoughts are the only changes that happen, it will not be enough of a change for those f us in the advanced stages of chemical dependency. 

Some of us filling our heads with such information will make us feel better and more knowledgeable only to almost immediately find ourselves using in spite of our newfound knowledge.  Some of us can use such information and training to stay sober for long periods and then suddenly find ourselves devastated by our own relapse again.  We emerge either with odd excuses that make no sense or with the honest reality that we have no idea why no matter how much we really wanted to stop we have no idea why I did it again. 

If you ask him why he started on the last Run, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis.  Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates.  They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, hits himself in the head with a hammer so he can’t feel the ache.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 23) 

Teaching us logic would only work if we used some sort of logic to start using.  We often remember no sensible thinking when we went on a run.  We can plan and scheme to get whatever we use, but often that is the full extent of logical thought.  This is a big part of the idea of being powerless. 

This does not excuse this behavior, but it does show that just new ways of thinking are not the totality of the cure.  If a person has knowledge but at times cannot get the brain to process that knowledge that means that more knowledge may not be the solution.  That may just be more that the brain may not process at those certain times. 

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 fro a Higher Power.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 43) 

The point here is that if you cannot trust your own brain and cannot trust your own brain to use the input of others what can help.  Something stronger than what people or you can put into your brain.  Something must become more powerful in your life than your brain (sort of like how drugs, alcohol, or both have become). 

The point can be summed up in this sentence: 

But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual way of life-or else.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 44)

That is the power for the powerless in very brief form:  “A spiritual way of life”

“Fearless,” “Thorough” and “Brutally Honest” From The Start!

…we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 58)

According to Miriam-Webster

  • Fearless = free from fear : brave
  • Thorough = 1 : carried through to completion : exhaustive
    2 a : marked by full detail b : careful about detail : painstaking c : complete in all respects
    d : having full mastery (as of an art)

We went back through our lives.  Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 65)

According to Miriam-Webster

  • Honesty = adherence to the facts: sincerity
     

To work a recovery program particularly a 12 Step program means change.  If you are in recovery and stay the same then you can only expect the same things to result simply because of who you are (still). 

The process of change is uncomfortable.  This is because the process of change begins by stepping out of actions and thoughts that are comfortable and stepping into thoughts and activities that seem (and probably are) very uncomfortable. 

Recovery requires many conscious decisions to just push yourself through activities, thoughts, and interactions that will cause you a great deal of discomfort and in some cases emotional pain. 

This pushing yourself through what you see as terribly uncomfortable is the essence of the word fear as it is used here. 

The truth is that we all would prefer if we could be the way we are and the world around us just change.  There is a certain security in the idea of staying basically the same but just having a few problems go away.  A man named John Lilly said it best when he said:

“Our only security is our ability to change.”
 Somehow most of us find ourselves shying away from these uncomfortable experiences and from the changes we need to make.  The early A.A.’s didn’t just ask, they begged you to be fearless in facing the uncomfortable and in facing the change that is to be the new you. Somehow most of us find ourselves shying away from these uncomfortable experiences and from the changes we need to make.  The early A.A.’s didn’t just ask, they begged you to be fearless in facing the uncomfortable and in facing the change that is to be the new you. If you stay the “same old” you, will get the “same old” results.  If you become a new you, you can expect new results.  EMBRACE THE CHANGE!
Somehow most of us find ourselves shying away from these uncomfortable experiences and from the changes we need to make.  The early A.A.’s didn’t just ask, they begged you to be fearless in facing the uncomfortable and in facing the change that is to be the new you. Let’s move on to the next word; “thoroughness,” by taking the example of cancer treatment.    I am no surgeon, but my understanding of cancer surgery is that the goal is to get out all of the cancer.  If you cut out some of the cancer and leave some the removal of the cancer is just a temporary solution or a postponement of the problem.   It will return.  The more you leave the faster it will probably return even though it is actually not a return because in truth it was never gone. 

Somehow most of us find ourselves shying away from these uncomfortable experiences and from the changes we need to make.  The early A.A.’s didn’t just ask, they begged you to be fearless in facing the uncomfortable and in facing the change that is to be the new you. Let’s move on to the next word; “thoroughness,” by taking the example of cancer treatment.    I am no surgeon, but my understanding of cancer surgery is that the goal is to get out all of the cancer.  If you cut out some of the cancer and leave some the removal of the cancer is just a temporary solution or a postponement of the problem.   It will return.  The more you leave the faster it will probably return even though it is actually not a return because . If you do not get all of the causes of your negative behaviors and thoughts, they come back (or never really leave).  You need to get as much of the root problem(s) as possible out.  Your need to get the ones that lead to your destructive thoughts and actions and change them.  This will change you which changes what you do.  That really is the thoroughness needed for recovery.  Everything you do in the recovery process must be “marked by detail” and you must be “careful about” the details just as the dictionary definition describes.

Now about honesty.  I like to describe what they are talking about here as “brutal honesty.” 

Recovery requires a commitment to being honest with yourself no matter how painful it is. 

In some cases this may require professional treatment due to the depth of what some of us have been through.  The fact is that telling yourself something is not there does not make it disappear.  It must be dealt with at all costs.

All of us have lied to ourselves at times.  We are all capable of this.  The truth is however, that in recovery there is no room for this.  Any area that we are not honest about is an area where we will not see the need to change.  That becomes the cancer left behind after the surgery.

Not doing or changing these things almost certainly leads to failure.

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. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.  They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 58)

You must fearlessly and thoroughly follow the path and face everything with brutal honesty until you grasp and develop a manner of living that is rooted in this kind of brutal honesty.  This new you will get the new results.
 

To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 93) 

In recovery and especially in all things 12 Step there is much debate about spirituality and what that should look like in the recovery process.  Can a person use a chair or a doorknob as a “higher power.”  Is the “higher power” in recovery just a crutch that you use until you finish the rest of the recovery process then you just let that go and go to meetings, and on and on.

One word in this statement changes all of that and that word is “vital.”  From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary we get the following definition: 

concerned with or necessary to the maintenance of life

Something that is vital is in effect something that is necessary for your life.  The faith that you base your recovery on and the object of that faith must be understood as necessary for life like air, food, water, or blood pumping through your heart.  It is not just a formality, the faith in a power greater than yourself is the faith in what will be the absolute foundation of your life from now on.

Next this sentence describes an attitude and type of action that comes from having this “vital” kind of faith.  If the faith you have and the object of that faith are indeed “vital” then a change will occur in you and will be expressed in all you think and do.  If you change something that is vital and improve on it the results will also change.

If you go from smog to clean air you will breathe better.  If you go from drinking dirty water to clean water you will be healthier.  If you have contaminated blood in your system don’t they try to get more pure blood into your system so you can run better.  If you make these changes and something better is not happening, then there is a problem. 

Notice that the words “self sacrifice” and in describing the actions we make afterwards “unselfish” are used.  Pg 64 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book states clearly: 

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

Addiction and alcoholism is about a focus on “what I think makes me comfortable.”  This faith in God changes it over to what I think (and learn) makes God comfortable.  This change in my attitude is measured by how much change there is in my actions.  If I am feeling like I am unselfish, but my actions are very selfish, are my feelings correct or is the evidence as seen through my actions correct.  The actions are the true measure!

In other words, No matter how you feel, if you are not different, you are the same. 

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)

There is a recovery process and it is summed up as 2 things:

  1. Trust in God
  2. Clean House (Step 4)

In other words, faith and action as described above. 

If a repetition is to be prevented, place the problem, along with everything else, in God’s hands.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 120

The point is unselfish faith in God and the resulting unselfish actions are the marks of recovery and in reality are the recovery process.