The First Step Is No Theory — Part 1

All 12-step programs use some variation of the following as their first step: “We admitted we were powerless over (insert addiction here)–that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Many of us had trouble admitting to ourselves that we were powerless, and in some cases were unable to come to terms with the idea that our lives were unmanageable.  So here’s as simple an explanation as I can come up with.

Relationship Withdrawal

Why Breaking Up Hurts: Similar to Addiction, Says Study – TIME

Say you’re a college student who was recently dumped by the person you thought was the One. You’re moping around campus in your I’ve-given-up sweatpants and eating crappy comfort food when you come across a flyer seeking people who are still pining for their exes. You think, at last, someone to talk to!

Well, not exactly. When about 15 sad sacks responded to the flyers, which had been distributed around the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Rutgers University, they discovered they were actually being invited to take part in a psychological study: researchers wanted to gauge the kind of pain felt by people on the business end of a breakup.

The corollary to these findings, that the early lust of a new relationship has qualities almost identical to addiction, is old news to addiction specialists.  It also helps to explain why relationships are the number-one cause of relapse.  They render us  incapable of thinking about other, more realistic issues.

Bill Wilson’s Gospel

Op-Ed Columnist —

On Dec. 14, 1934, a failed stockbroker named Bill Wilson was struggling with alcoholism at a New York City detox center. It was his fourth stay at the center and nothing had worked. This time, he tried a remedy called the belladonna cure — infusions of a hallucinogenic drug made from a poisonous plant — and he consulted a friend named Ebby Thacher, who told him to give up drinking and give his life over to the service of God.

Wilson was not a believer, but, later that night, at the end of his rope, he called out in his hospital room: “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything. Anything!”

As Wilson described it, a white light suffused his room and the presence of God appeared. “It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing,” he testified later. “And then it burst upon me that I was a free man.”

Wilson never touched alcohol again….

Bill Wilson’s Gospel

A Letter To A Recovering Friend

(Unnamed website) looks interesting, and I’m glad that you are getting something out of it.

Please understand that my remarks are not specific toward (unnamed website).  I don’t know enough about it to judge.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever reviewed or recommended a commercial site.  Once that starts, everyone and his brother wants a review, and I’m not able to take the time (nor do I have the expertise) to read books, evaluate programs, analyze philosophies and so forth.   In any case, I’ve read too many explanations of karma already — some accurate, and some off the wall — and too many efforts at trying to take millennia-old ideas and wrap them in new paper for the sake of selling what is widely available for free.

But the main reason I avoid recommending programs of this kind is that they are not specifically about recovery, and do not focus people’s minds on the details that are necessary to recover from addiction.  Being told that the Universe is watching over us is of little use when we’re jonesing for a drink or a hit, or subtly convincing ourselves that “one or two won’t hurt.”  At that point we need people to talk to who will understand exactly where we are coming from, won’t shame us and call us “weak,” and who can share with us the intimate details of how they got through such tough spots themselves.  In other words, we need a 12-Step or similar support group of addicts and alcoholics working with other addicts and alcoholics, not spouting lofty philosophy.

Finally, I am convinced that if a person gets involved in AA, NA or the other groups, and really puts his or her mind to it, that it will take all the time and energy they can muster for at least several months.  There is no time for distractions.  This is a life and death issue. Personally, I almost distracted myself into a major relapse because I thought those folks had nothing to tell me.  I was different. I was better-educated.  I knew how the world worked. What could that bunch of people have to teach me?  Besides, they were too cheerful.  Didn’t they know the world was a serious place?  Et cetera, et ctera, et cetera…

All they had to give me was a proven way to save my life, that I almost missed.

I don’t push the 12 Steps because they’re a fad, or a religion, or anything like that.  I participate for the same reason I’m a Buddhist, because both are based on cold, hard reasoning.  They both provide guidelines for emotional, physical and spiritual improvement.  They are both specific to me and my life.

But your mileage may vary, and that’s OK.  As long as you do the next right thing, and don’t drink, and stay open to change and new ideas (not the strong suit of most alcoholics), you’ll be OK.  The key is change.  As I’ve said before, if you keep on doing the same old things, you keep on getting the same old results.  To quote another philosopher, “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”


Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and other less-odious thoughts

I was with a group of folks this evening who were discussing the fact that alcoholism is as much a problem of the mind as of the body.  Yes, it is a disease — recognized as such by the AMA and APA more than 50 years ago — but it is also a complex of emotional difficulties and turmoil that can ruin a person’s life even after they have put the cork in the bottle (if they manage to keep it there without cleaning up their emotional mess, that is).  The same is true of other kinds of addicts who get clean, but fail to make the necessary changes.  Call it a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is one of the main things that lead to relapse, or misery while technically still clean and sober.

The subject tonight was stinkin’ thinkin’ — the idea that we have it down pat, and can go ahead and drink socially.

No one there seemed to have been successful at it, and no one said that they knew anyone who had, but that is not to say that those folks don’t exist.  If one had wandered by, it’s unlikely he or she would have joined our little discussion.

Everyone in recovery has one of those stories, or knows someone else who tried to go back to occasional drinking with predictable results.  It often starts out with a program that has gone smoothly for years.  Then the person begins to think that maybe they can “handle it.”  Sometimes they try, sometimes not, merely teetering on the edge for a bit.  The ones who did try tend to have the most interesting stories, and they all center around the idea that they convinced themselves that they didn’t have to remain abstinent, or that they concentrated on some terrible thing that someone had done to them, fixating on that instead of the good things in their lives, or simply forgot to look for the good and concentrated on the bad — so that drinking or using drugs seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way they were feeling.

Which got me to thinking.

One of the things I’ve learned through years of meditation, both the 11th Step kind and some other stuff I do, is that I do, indeed, have a reasonable amount of control over what I think.  When you meditate, you try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — your breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts.  This allows your subconscious to percolate uninterrupted, mostly.  To begin with it’s hard.  Thoughts about all sorts of things come along, unbidden, and you get really pissed off at your inability to do anything about it.  Then someone tells you that such things are a normal part of meditation, and that the idea is not to fight them, but just let them arise and then bring your mind back onto the breathing, or mantra, or Hail Marys, or whatever you’re using as a meditation tool.  The key is, I can’t stop thoughts from coming to my mind, even over and over again, but I can control whether or not I concentrate on them.

Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, I can choose to bring my mind to something else.  I can do it over and over again, until eventually I’ve distracted myself into thinking about other things entirely.  The same is true of other obsessions, like drinking, or unsatisfied sexual urges, or the new toy that I think I need desperately.  It is entirely within my power to control those thoughts; not to pretend they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but to choose not to dwell on them.  In doing so, I rob them of most of their power, instead of giving them all of mine.

Get it?

Q&A: Do you believe an addict can become addicted to the recovery center or support group they use?

In a word, “No.”  That said, let me go on to what I know can happen.

Getting clean and sober is a life-changing experience, in the literal sense: we are successful only if we give up the world that we built for ourselves and tried to hold together with alcohol and other drugs for one that is new and strange.  It’s scary.  One of the things that makes it possible — in fact, for most people the main thing — is the bonds and feelings of safety that form, centered on our recovery center and/or support group, and the people who were and are there for us.  This is our new home.  These are our new friends and teachers.  This is where we feel safe, protected from the wolves of our addiction that still prowl around “out there.”

Nonetheless, recovery is about resuming (or finally attaining) a place in the world.  This means moving away from our safe space, slowly but surely, and expanding our circle of friends, acquaintances and activities to encompass the rest of the community — not dropping our old friends and our program, but making new friends and developing outside interests, getting jobs, reconnecting with families, and growing into the adulthood of our recovery.  Change is never easy for human beings, and here we are, faced with the prospect of making huge changes: moving away from the place we feel we “belong” into a world where — we intuitively understand — the vast majority of people don’t even know we are alive!

It’s no wonder, then, that some people become stuck, unable to move onward in their recovery.  They have found a new family, a new nest, a new place “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”  It takes courage to move out of that glow and into the real world.  Addicts and alcoholics are people who have never learned that it is OK not to feel OK.  So we get stuck.  Some of us don’t want to become unstuck.

It’s not addiction, it’s fear — of change, and of changing.  People don’t get addicted to the rooms, but some certainly abuse them.