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FrothyJay

FrothyJay

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

The typical picture painted of alcoholism is the staggering, drooling drunk-- usually a pathetic, affable person making a scene of some sort.  

I've come to understand that this does not capture the true essence of alcoholism.  It merely paints a picture of the alcoholic who has found a temporary solution (alcohol).   The spiritual malady has been sedated, the resentments and fears that eat their insides daily have been put to sleep.  Drunkeness provides relief from alcoholism.

To see true alcoholism, watch the sober, untreated alcoholic.   They are coming out of their skin, perhaps because they are doing all they can to fight a physical compulsion to drink, or maybe because they've been without a drink for a week or a month or a year and are battling daily mental urges to drink.  Impatience, irritability and edginess mark their day, they often appear forlorn and lonely, and any happiness often appears disingenuine and affected. For me, I often felt like my head might explode at any given moment, and I often wished for it.

This is why we drink:  this condition becomes unbearable.  It's often a choice between a bottle of vodka and a three state killing spree.  And we choose vodka, thankfully. When we hear it said that certain dry alcoholics should just drink, this is what drives it:  that person creates less havoc, misery, and destruction when they are drunk than when they are not.

Abstinence does not treat alcoholism, it aggravates it.   It's an untenable, in-between state for the hopeless alcoholic-- they either return to drinking or they find a spiritual solution to their spiritual problem.  

Don't ever tell me my worst day sober was better than my best day drunk.  Utter nonsense.

Cross-posted at Thump.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Our former group secretary started her share yesterday saying "I have no idea what happened," and unintentionally captured the most maddening, misunderstood quality of alcoholism.  She got drunk the night before, and-- in addition to being shocked and mortified-- was scratching her head.

"I had to plan it, because there was no alcohol in the house," she said.  "So I had to go the liquor store.  You would think I would have stopped myself at some point."

It reminded me of one of my own relapses.  I was strapped to a hospital bed, tubes in my mouth, and my sponsor at the time stood at the end of the bed and asked, "Why didn't you call me?"

"Really?" I remember thinking. "That's what you've got for me?" 

"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called willpower becomes practically non-existent.  We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our conciousness 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." Alcoholics Anonymous, page 24

The majority of people in A.A. continue to believe that this program is about building obstacles to the first drink, about not taking the first drink no matter what, about creating a support network of people that will stand between you and alcohol.  As well-intentioned as these tactics are, they ironically only work for non-alcoholics. If simple awareness and understanding of the disease, or the admonishment of another human being, are sufficient to keep you sober, you aren't powerless over alcohol.  Don't misunderstand- perhaps it's better that you not drink. There are plenty of hard drinkers who create havoc and misery, and if you have a desire to not drink, there's a place for you in A.A. But when I read the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, I see you differently than me. 

I require a spiritual awakening to survive, you require a well-charged cell phone.

But back to the point--dissecting relapses is a staggering waste of time, and a thinly veiled attempt to regain power over the disease of alcoholism.  I've come to appreciate my relapses as critical evidence about the futility of my condition, as experience that lined up perfectly with the information I was presented from the AA Text Book.  I can't not drink. I must find a power greater than myself that will solve the problem for me.

There are several components to the first step.  The physical allergy-- when I put it in me it says "give me more"-- is just the first part.   This is the part that nearly everyone in A.A. gets.  But the second part-- the mental obsession-- is casually dismissed by most.  The broad side of Alcoholics Anonymous operates under the painfully misguided idea that once sober, once dried out, the alcoholic must now use willpower and other humans to stay away from the first drink.  And when the alcoholic fails at this-- and most do-- they are often told that "perhaps they are not ready."  Or, "maybe you need to drink more."  

This sort of staggering ignorance could drive a man to violence, you know?

If I believe my disease is ocassion-based, I will likely have occasion-based sobriety.

 

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

"We're going to shoot pool tonight, and you're coming."

That was the first phone call from Demi, way back in 1996, and I remember groaning audibly.

"Are you going to sit in your apartment and feel sorry for yourself?  Besides, there will be girls there.  Pick you up at 7."

I was a day removed from a hospital stay for alcohol poisoning.  I'd been sober six months prior to that, one of those months in rehab.  I was in a state of shock that I'd drank again despite the years of pain it had brought me. Making matters worse, I'd shown up drunk at work, knocked a printer off a file cabinet, and then been sent to my parents' home in a car service (my employer was familiar with my problem). Since my parents weren't home, I raided their liquor cabinet. They came home to find me sprawled unconcious on the kitchen floor (in a rather nice suit).  It would be my last drink for 11 years.

I met Demi at the first meeting I attended after leaving the hospital.  His real name was Demetrius. I shared in a quivering voice what had happened and that I was really serious this time.  Truth was, I was already planning my next drink-- I'd gone to the meeting to get my parents off my back.  I knew I was in trouble, but dealing with that trouble was incomprehensible.  I needed to be drunk.  Whatever happened after that, so be it.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

I noticed this weekend in a local AA meeting that the group member list -- a document distributed for members to contact one another-- includes a column for sobriety date.  It wasn't the first time I'd seen the list, but it was the first time I noticed the sobriety date column and it made me uncomfortable. It was not lost on me that when I had 11 years of sobriety, I probably liked it listed next to my name; now that I had 18 months, well, not so much.  But there was more to it than ego.   

Despite proclamations that "we've only got today" and "whoever woke up earliest has the most time," time is the most respected AA vital sign.  Many people like to slip it in casually when they share, and it's often the first or second question asked when people meet someone in the fellowship for the first time (how much time do you have?). It's human nature--we want to know how we stack up.  If you don't believe me, try to think of someone in your home group whose sober time you don't know.

On one hand, I get it-- the amount of time you've been able to stay away from a drink has to indicate something about your qualifications, right?   If you're hiring, you want someone with continuous experience, not the guy who's been in and out of jobs.

But when I started to think about what it used to be like for me-- way back when I had double-digit sobriety and never hesitated to work it into a conversation ("'Hey, Jay, how you doin'?' 'Fine, thanks, for a guy with 11 years!'"), I started to see something clearly.

All I had was time. 

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

At what point does Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) become a subtle form of laziness? Do we really believe that the years spent living on self-will and all the attendant behaviors we've learned and damage we left will be "simply" fixed? Writing your fourth step is not simple-- it requires guidance, patience, and focus. Anyone can do it, but the endeavor should not be dismissed as easy. Our ninth step amends are ususally delicate interactions that require advance planning and rehearsal. Not simple, but achievable. 

I see "keep it simple" as used far too casually, often times in response to a question or issue that requires a bit of thought. Yes, there may be no right or wrong answer, but that does not mean that as recovered alcoholics we should not be spending time with the idea. Taking on intellectually-challenging concepts are a form of spiritual growth, no?

I do not tell my sponsees that it is a simple program. I tell them there is work to do to achieve a sense of simplicity in life. I don't dismiss their questions as "over-thinking," but try to offer my thoughts and then redirect them to the work at hand.

Cross-posted at Thump.

 

 

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Next time you're in an AA meeting, take a look around the room. Maybe there are 25 people and, with rare exception, most of them are sober, right? In fact, many are months removed from their last drink, and you've probably got a group that has decades of sobriety. Putting aside where each person may be in their own recovery, that room is irrefutable evidence that AA works, right?

OK, multiply the number of people by 20. You've got 500 alcoholics now. Can't fit them, right?  Imagine them on each others' laps, standing in the doorway, lining the hallways.  Maybe you can hear them murmuring outside in the parking lot, unable to get in the door. What you've now added is the number of people who came to AA and left after a year, according to AA's own study:

"After just one month in the Fellowship, 81% of the new members have dropped out.  After three months, 90% gave left, and 95% have discontinued attendance inside one year." (Kolenda, 2003, Golden Text Publishing)

Now look around the room at the mostly drunk, strung-out, quivering mass of humanity. Still think AA works?

Most members of the AA fellowship will tell you that AA works because it works for them.  I know this because it's precisely what I did for 10 years.  It was the newcomers' responsibility to get it, not mine to impart it.   If they stopped showing up, I got good at shrugging my shoulders and saying, "they aren't ready," or worse, "they don't want it."

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

"Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not."

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 34, More About Alcoholism

Of the many internal rearrangements I experienced as a result of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most profound was in how I understood the disease.  This shift was a direct result of being able to align the experience and pain of my repeated relapses with the explanation of the disease in the first 63 pages of the Alcoholics Anonymous text book (with the help of a terrific teacher).  Ideas and concepts I had held for decades about the nature of alcoholism were rendered embarassingly inaccurate.  Many of the AA sayings  I had chanted effortlessly for years (just don't pick up the first drink!) suddenly felt like codependent sloganeering.

Had you asked me several years ago what the difference was between a drinking problem and alcoholism, I would have likely responded "not much."  Try to explain it to me?  I'd have politely nodded but dismissed you as someone with way too much time on their hands.  I simply was not there-- I had double digit sobriety, a good life and the assurance that by keeping my memory green about where alcohol had taken me, I'd never drink again.  I've since learned that alcoholism is cunning and baffling; it can also masquerade as sobriety.  In retrospect, I was unaware that the very proclamations I valued as manifestations of my sobriety were really untreated alcoholism.  And it was biding its time, trying to find another way in.

But back to the point of the post-- what's the difference?  I see it this way:  the person with a drinking problem should stop, and usually can.  The person with alcoholism must stop and cannot.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

I made the tactical error this afternoon of revealing in an AA meeting that part of my first step experience was the realization that many of the AA slogans I'd been mindlessly repeating for over a decade were completely at odds with my new understanding of my condition.  I call it a mistake not because I regret saying it, but because the rest of the meeting became an impassioned defense of AA sloganeering.  As a friend pointed out afterwards, I had inadvertently provided the red meat that our fellowship often prefers over a discussion of recovery.  My bad.

The point I had tried to make was that once I'd conceded to my innermost self that I was powerless over alcohol-- that I had no effective defense against the first drink-- expressions like "Don't Drink And Go To Meetings" and "Just Don't Pick Up The First Drink" rang incredibly hollow.  I just couldn't line them up with what I was reading in the AA textbook.  I mean, how can I understand that alcoholism is a disease of insanity, that we experience strange mental blank spots where we inexplicably pick up a drink again, and then appreciate the wisdom of "Think The Drink Through?"

Unfortunately, though, my point was lost.  No matter how I choose my words-- and admittedly, I sometimes choose badly-- when you suggest that the tools people have used for eons to not drink don't really work with alcoholism-- you're in for a long hour.

My issue is not with slogans, per se-- I'm all for whatever helps someone get through the day.  But the problem as I see it is the slogans have overtaken the program of recovery-- they are the only tools we offer in many AA meetings.  I'd have less of an issue with them if they were presented as a nice complement to the actual program of recovery-- the steps.  The slogans are garnish-- pretty, but largely inedible.

Cross-posted at Thump.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

"Yet we can't well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomers themselves. Perhaps a great many didn't receive the kind and amount of sponsorship they so sorely needed. We didn't communicate when we might have done so. So we AA's failed them. Perhaps more often than we think, we still make no contact at depth with those suffering the dilemma of no faith."

Bill Wilson, AA Grapevine, April 1961 "The Dilemma of No Faith"

Cross posted at Thump.Increase

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

IncreaseI stole this Nikos Kazantzakis quote from the Facebook page of a Thump fan, Robi Carlson, because I love language that challenges conceptions of spiritual power.

"The Great Spirit does not toil within the bounds of human time, place, or casualty. The Great Spirit is superior to these human questionings. It teems with many rich and wandering drives which to our shallow minds seem contradictory; but in the essence of divinity they fraternize and struggle together, faithful comrades-in-arms. The primordial Spirit branches out, overflows, struggles, fails, succeeds, trains itself. It is the Rose of the Winds."

In order to be willing to believe in a power greater than myself, I needed to set aside all of my ideas and concepts about "God."  I wiped the slate clean, even of the word "God." My conception of a higher power could not be tethered to human expression, not because I was special or intelligent, but because all language and expression carried some baggage, and I needed to be free of that.  It was the only thing that would work.  I needed to experience a power greater than myself, not define it.

Cross-posted at Thump.

 

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