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.

I heard a gal tell a judge in court she was clean and sober, and he said she was clean but not sober. What does that mean? What is the difference between clean and/or clean and sober?

We are clean when the drugs (including alcohol, which is just another drug) are no longer in our system.  But there is a whole lot more to sobriety than simply being drug-free.  I sometimes tell people that I’ve been clean for over twenty years, but sober for only about eight or ten.  That’s sort of a joke, but the thought behind it relates exactly to your question.

There are many issues involved in recovery, and only a few of them are directly related to whether or not we have drugs in our bodies.  To understand this, you have to understand that addiction occurs because semi-permanent (sometimes permanent) physical changes occur in our brains that cause us to believe, on a level below that of conscious thought, that we must have our drugs or our very being is threatened.

This imperative changes our lives:

  • The way we relate to situations (Can I use?);
  • Time (When can I use?);
  • People (Will they try to keep me from using?);
  • Society (Using is more important than participating);
  • Money (How can I get more drug(s)?);
  • Ethics and morals (What do I have to do to keep myself supplied?)
  • Religion and spirituality (I’m a bad person; God doesn’t love me, how could He?)
  • …and life itself (If I don’t get my drugs, life is not worth living).

By the time we have lived under those conditions for a while, our entire way of thinking and outlook is seriously skewed.  Add to that the terrible physical and emotional traumas to which we are prone while using, and we may well suffer from post-traumatic stress and other emotional disorders as well.

There are three aspects to sobriety:

  • Physical sobriety, where we are abstinent for a long enough time for our brains to begin to recover so that we can think more clearly and make decisions based on reality instead of confusion and fear;
  • Emotional and spiritual sobriety, where we come to terms with who we are, what we have done, and what we must do to right the wrongs we have perpetrated (to the extent possible), learn to re-connect with other people, and begin to get comfortable in our own skins; and
  • Social sobriety, where we re-enter the world by actually making things right with others, and develop socially so that we are re-integrated with the world outside the recovery community.

These things take time.  Physical recovery alone can take a couple of years, depending on the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves, and sometimes it takes months before we can even begin to think straight.  We may need help from friends, counselors, even physicians, in order to get our neurological system and lives back in order.  We need to be working on our attitude toward life and toward ourselves and the things we have done. (This is where the support groups like AA, NA and the others can be of profound importance.)  And we need to become employed, make amends for the past, renew our relationships and grieve those that are not, for one reason or another, renewable; to remember — or perhaps learn for the first time — how non-addicts live and relate to each other, their jobs, their spirituality and the world at large.

As you can see, looked at this way, there is a HUGE difference between “clean” and “sober.”  Sobriety is a continuum, that begins the moment we decide that we can no longer live the life of an addict and continues to where we are again a part of society.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t easy.  It isn’t even especially simple — but it is possible.  Millions of us have gotten sober in the past, and millions of us will in the future — as long as we stick with the process until it is finished.  If we forget our goals, or fail to continue to reach for them, we are soon on the way down the slippery slope of addict thinking that leads to that first drink or drug.  It is frequently a one-way slide.

The judge knew that, and that is what he meant.

Thanks for a great question!

Stuck On The Bridge?

“…There is a mountain of difference between worshiping the Big Book and adopting the Twelve Step design for living that is its message. You may have experienced with folks so focused on THE BOOK and THE INVENTORY that they never seem to get unstuck from that ‘mid-span’ of the bridge — over to God and maximize their usefulness through continuous spiritual growth. …
One Day at a Time

Hosting an Addict or Alcoholic

Social occasions that involve people in recovery—especially early recovery—can pose some perplexing problems for the hosts. On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation. On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests. A host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests in recovery — especially those only a short way along on their journey.

There are some simple things to remember…. MORE>>>

What do cross addiction and cross dependence mean?

All addictions work in the same parts of the brain, by modifying or imitating the production of neurotransmitters that cause pleasant feelings. This is as true of shopping addiction as it is of heroin. Thus, people who have taught themselves that their moods and feelings can be altered by certain actions or chemicals, have a very good chance of cross-addiction to chemicals and actions that have similar effects. Gambling, for example, is the number two substitute addiction for alcoholics and addicts, after relationships.

In a slightly different sense, the actions of some chemicals are so similar that a person addicted to one will almost automatically become addicted to the other. Alcohol and benzodiazepine tranquilizers are one example. Heroin and other opioid drugs are another, as are alcohol and heroin.

Cross addiction and cross dependence are the same thing, really. “Cross dependence” is just a way of saying it that makes it sound less important. Thus the term is much favored by drug companies.