Saturday, 20 February 2010

"Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk"

... sang 'Bloody Mary', appropriately, in South Pacific.

I've said in the past, "this is the only disease where you get better by talking." Talking is involved. But this is only part of the truth, for me.

Sometimes, AAs assert that time should be given over in meetings for people to say "what is going on for them", in case they "take it home with them and drink".

Sometimes there is great resistance to Tradition Five ("Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers"); any suggestion that group members, when sharing, confine themselves to carrying the message—their knowledge and experience of the Twelve Steps of recovery as set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the 'Big Book')—is usually rebuffed with the assertion that people just need to be able to express themselves freely on whatever is "current" for them.

My experience: talking no more treats alcoholism than crapping treats diarrhoea.

"Does anyone have a burning desire to share?"

I loved this when I was new. A whole room of people looking at me while I squeezed out—with increasing articulacy and an increasingly honed ability to captivate and amuse—the emotional pus of my alcoholic infection: the trouble I was having with other people, my emotional nature and its control over my decisions and actions, the misery and depression that would ambush me, the worry and anxiety, and my low self-worth (this is the modern term for the "feeling of uselessness" the Big Book talks about). Does anyone recognise the middle paragraph of page 52 (the "bedevilments")?

All I was doing was relieving the emotional symptoms of my untreated alcoholism without treating the cause.

I would feel a moment of relief and satisfaction. "I'm glad I got that out; I would have taken it home otherwise." Because I was not treating the cause, all I did once I left the meeting was start producing more and more symptoms, sometimes the next day, sometimes on the way home, sometimes in the meeting itself, after I had shared!

I have shared, felt better, and been convinced that that was why I did not drink on a particular occasion.

I have also shared, felt better, gone to the pub, and got drunk.

There is no relationship between sharing my pain and drinking or not drinking: "If he gets drunk, don't blame yourself. God has either removed your husband's liquor problem or He has not," (p. 120).

To believe that I can prevent myself drinking by sharing my emotions suggests I have control over alcohol. And it's a great way of blackmailing a room of AAs into listening to me: "I'll drink unless you give me the chance to tell you how I feel."

Do the symptoms need addressing?

Absolutely: get to meetings early, leave late, go for additional fellowship after the meeting, hang out with AA people, talk, talk, talk, let it all out, express everything. Get a gang of friends in recovery—actually in recovery, i.e. in the process of working the Twelve Steps, not just people attending AA meetings—and talk out everything inside you.

This is not inconsistent with what I'm saying above: if you are bleeding, you need to tend to the wound.

Just because treating the symptoms does not treat the cause does not mean the symptoms do not need to be treated!

Why not in meetings?

When one person shares his or her experience on how to apply a particular Step, Tradition, or Concept, everyone can benefit.

I have sat for years in AA enduring the dumping of the symptoms of untreated alcoholism so that just one person in the room could get temporary relief. What is the benefit to the room?

Alcoholics are selfish, and selfishness, self-centredness: that, we think, is the root of our troubles (p. 62:1)!

Meetings provide an irreplaceable forum for sharing collective experience on how to recover from alcoholism, and our very lives as ex-problem drinkers depend on our constant thought of others (p. 20). Sharing is for others, not for myself.

Meanwhile, mopping up emotions can take place one-to-one at any time.

So, is talking any part of the solution?

Emphatically, yes.

A newcomer needs to talk, talk, talk. We need to listen, listen, listen, so we can work out how to present the program of recovery most effectively to that person and, most importantly, how to present alcoholism in such a way that the newcomer can identify himself or herself as an alcoholic.

The first three Steps (up until the Step Three decision and prayer) involve a close discussion between two alcoholics, one of them recovered, about what alcoholism is and what the nature of the solution is.

The recovering alcoholic needs to convey the exact nature of his wrongs in Step Five. I felt terrible for a couple of days last week. What lifted me was listing the exact nature of my wrongs in the situation in question and calling a sequence of people to confess those wrongs. And I was immediately healed.

Step Ten suggests we discuss matters at once with another person when we spot selfishness, resentment, dishonesty, or fear (p. 84).

Step Twelve is using the faculty of speech to convey the message of Alcoholics Anonymous.

That's the real happy talk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard this dumping of one's crap called "spreading the disease" when I was new, and it is our duty as we grow in the program to educate those who come to us from treatment and would water A.A. down, or convert it to something barely resembling A.A. Yes, our Big Book says that meetings offer a place for the newcomer to bring his problems. And I would rather folks come to a meeting and talk about their suffering than go tell the bottle. And had I never heard people in meetings sharing their pain when their world was falling apart, how would I have known when MY world was in the dumper and I thought the pain would kill me, that I don't have to drink. I can go to lots of meetings and lick my wounds. I believe that meetings can fulfill those purposes.

But too often I sit through a whole meeting and never hear that "There Is A Solution." Sure, they'll read "How It Works" but does anyone comment on how the steps we take ARE the A,A, program of recovery? That right after that portion of How It Works we hear in every meeting the chapter goes on to say that we have to get down to causes and conditions? That we MUST be rid of self or it kills us?

No, far too often I hear the "just don't drink no matter what" message, which is lovely for the hard drinker. "But what about the real alcoholic?" our Big Book asks? How about those of us without a mental defense? That advice heard over and over in meetings to "think the drink all the way through" will kill a real alcoholic like me!

When all else fails, a Big Book Study or 12 x 12 study will save the day. And in the end it's nobody's responsibility but mine to study our literature so that I know for myself whether what I hear in an A.A. meeting is A.A. or not.

My 2 cents ~~ Julie P., Renton, WA