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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Nine Reasons Recovering Addicts Run

In order to stay sober, the alcoholic and addict need to learn natural ways to get high. It's a crucial part of recovery. Running seems to be a great fit for those who are trying to enjoy live free from alcohol and other drugs.  Here are nine reasons. (adapted from Chasing the Dragon: Running to Get High)

1. You Only Get What You Give

Distance running by its nature lends itself to the addictive personality, if there is such a thing, of rewarding those who blast past barriers. It not only rewards but demands the obsessive brain, the kind who goes to a $5 all-you-can-drink keg party and asks for $10 worth. It's the metaphorical potato chip that, once it's on your taste buds, lights up something deeper within you that craves more.

Yes, addicts can be cowards, immature, fragile, obnoxious, and so on (it's an `in' group thing, so I can get away with saying that) but lazy is one thing we are not. Maybe lazy when it comes to responsibilities, sure, but not lazy when it comes to getting what we want. 

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

I recently called a friend to talk with her about a choice I needed to make. I've learned through the program of recovery how valuable perspective beyond my own helps assure I’ll do the next right thing.

However there are times, like this one, when I already know what I want to do yet I go through the motions anyway.

Bad idea.

Sure enough things didn't pan out the way I had wanted. When I ran into my friend, I had to fess up about the result. This is pretty much how that conversation went:

FRIEND:  So how did everything work out?

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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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Posted by on in Alcoholism

On the first Monday of each month, my beginners meeting reads from Living Sober.  I'm not sure who wrote this tragic little book, but the fact that Living Sober is conference-approved AA literature is one of the great mysteries of the AA fellowship.  Put nicely, there's just very little in Living Sober that you can line up with the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous.  In fact, much of it runs completely counter to the Big Book.  I like to think of it as  an operators' manual for the willpower.

And last night, we found ourselves reading one of my favorites, the chapter "Using the 24 Hour Plan."  This little treatise suggests that anyone can stop drinking for 24 hours, and that sobriety is really just stringing those 24-hour successes together.   One could argue that since AA has largely become a pep rally for abstinence, "Using the 24 Hour Plan" could be our new "How It Works."

I've got nothing against keeping it simple in the early phases of sobriety.  Getting past the physical urge to drink or use drugs is arguably the hardest thing we do, and unless we're locked up somewhere, it does require willpower.  Getting clear of that craving-- that maddening itch that needs scratching-- can be helped by breaking it down into digestable time segments.  I get it.

The problem, as I see it, is that many never get past One Day At A Time.  They grind it out, the physical obsession quiets, and they feel better.  They equate that physical restoration with recovery.  The condescending term used in AA for this feeling is a "pink cloud."  "Be careful," nods the sage oldtimer, "you're on a pink cloud."  This diagnosis is rarely followed with precise direction as to what the newcomer might do to guard against the looming relapse, unless you consider "keep coming back" to be meaningful advice.

What happens?  The mental obsession kicks in, and the alcoholic finds themselves defenseless against the first drink.  They are left confused and befuddled as to how they could have possibly thought that picking up again was a good idea.  They believe they have failed, when the truth is, by not presenting the dire nature of their condition and the path to recovery through the 12 steps with urgency, AA has failed them.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

"90 meetings in 90 days" gets my vote as the saddest old saw in Alcoholics Anonymous.  Don't get me wrong-- I absolutely love AA meetings, and I did the 90 meetings in 90 days ritual a couple times. Problem was, that was the extent of my recovery, so I lived with this nagging superstitious fear that if I missed a day, I was destined to drink.  And my AA friends apparently had no desire to disabuse me of that notion.  

So where did this oft-repeated commandment come from?  You can't find it in the original AA program literature, but then again, much of what you'll hear in meetings today doesn't come from the AA program. No, like many of our modern pearls of wisdom in AA, the 90 in 90 idea comes from rehabs that felt obligated to give some direction to the freshly-detoxed alcoholics and addicts they were churning out like processed cheese.  So, in addition to a headful of slogans and a copy of Living Sober, the wide-eyed rehab graduates were instructed encouraged to get to 90 meetings in 90 days, lest they find themselves back in rehab (where, conveniently, most major credit cards are accepted).

The problem with 90 in 90 is that it implies attendance at meetings is all that's required to recover, and that could not be further from the vision of Alcoholics Anonymous.  When it is not paired with an almost immediate immersion in step work, 90 in 90 is tantamount to putting the new person on a shelf.  And it's nearly impossible to stay sober there.

To be clear, attending AA meeting is far better than not attending AA meetings, and if having a little rigid structure early in your recovery is helpful, then by all means, do 90 in 90. The real issue with the idea is one of emphasis. It's so over-used that it has become a form of temporary sponsorship, unfortunately because we're either reluctant to (or incapable of) telling the new person just how urgent their situation is and what's required to recover. Sadly, 90 in 90 provides cover for the person who lacks a message of depth and weight, who masquerades as an informed, experienced member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  

In other words, me, for over a decade.

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