Friday, 8 February 2013

Problems other than alcohol

I finally stopped relapsing when I decided to endure whatever difficulties sobriety required, because sobriety, itself, was a sufficient goal. When my goal was sobriety plus happiness, sobriety plus usefulness, sobriety plus freedom from pain, sobriety could not be attained, as, the moment the happiness, the usefulness, the freedom from pain faltered or vanished, sobriety seemed a second-rate prize, and the trap-door into another realm offered by alcohol started to beckon once more.

The reason I wanted sobriety and only sobriety (though bonuses in other areas were quite welcome) was because I no longer wanted to drink. It was not that I no longer wanted the consequences—I had not wanted the consequences for quite some time. It was the experience of drinking itself I no longer wanted.

Sometimes people develop other problems, sober. Two years, five years, twenty years in. Food, sex, and romantic indulgence seem the most prevalent and pernicious. The opening conversation with such a person (as the opening conversation was once with me) focuses typically on the consequences. When that's the case, best to wait. The willingness will likely last as long as the consequences. As soon as the consequences abate, so will the willingness.

What you're listening for is this: 'I don't even like the thrill these days. It makes me feel sick.' 'Even when it's apparently working, I know it's an illusion. I don't want it anymore.'

It is no good throwing steps at something like this, when the core of the problem is still active, because it will burn through whatever layers of goodness you paste around it, like a hot coal through a ball of tissue paper: if you're still having fun, suck it dry. Come back when you're done. Done not just with the consequences, but with the thing itself.

How might that be brought about more rapidly? Awareness. Before, during, and after. And, if that does not work, try awareness, awareness, awareness.

So, once you think you're really done:

Sometimes people ask whether the whatever-it-is is a bone fide 'other addiction' requiring 'the working of Step One' or whether it can be snappily dealt with in Step Seven by simply asking for it to be removed and getting on with the remaining Steps.

This question is predicated on a false distinction: I am powerless over alcohol. I am powerless, also, over the other defects in my life, whether such consist in catastrophic addictive or compulsive behaviour or a minor but persistent insistence on hurrying everything I do.

And we're not alone in suggesting powerlessness as the root of such problems: I'm not going to go into details here, for this is not a religious blog, but, say, Paul in Romans 7 will talk about the horror of watching yourself do whatever-it-is for the umpteenth time, fully aware of the motion of every cog and piston, but quite powerless to do anything about it.

The principle remains the same in either case: only once the thing itself (not the consequences) is objectionable—to me—will I be truly willing (cf. page 76 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous).

One might validly ask the question whether another twelve-step fellowship is necessary. Perhaps some identification is required. Perhaps that identification is available in one's existing twelve-step fellowship. If you're struggling to find someone to identify with, in relation to the whatever-it-is, you're probably not talking to enough people, however, as AA certainly seems replete with people with other problems clogging up their lives—and with people who've solved those problems. But when you go to the other fellowship, you'll unfortunately discover that they have the same Twelve Steps. The recovery geographical leaves you with the same stark choice: stop whatever it is and decide to live for God, not for self … or continue down the same dark path to which you have become accustomed.

If another twelve-step fellowship is helpful, great! But sometimes the problem is not that we're not attending the right fellowship.

Furthermore, it is as well to remember that you'll likely develop obsessive, compulsive, or persistent problems for which no obvious twelve-step fellowship exists, and the simplicity of the Twelve Steps of AA will have to be applied as they stand. Whether you apply Step One to connect to your powerlessness, in analogy to alcohol, or whether you apply Step Three, conceding you cannot be rid of your selfishness without God's help, is neither here nor there. Both approaches work. What matters is turning to God with empty hands and score cards reading zero.

A note of warning: sometimes, 'going back through the Steps', particularly if some elaborate process is in prospect, will be enticing, because it will delay actually having to change.

You think you're at Step One. Perhaps. Or maybe, you're at Step Seven, and, rather than stopping whatever it is and facing the consequences (withdrawal and the discomfort of learning to fill your life with different activities and learning to fill your mind with different thoughts), you want to engage in another bout of extensive self-examination, thus putting off indefinitely the dreaded moment, under the guise of being a diligent Step-worker.

Rather than 'going back through the Steps', one might validly use the Steps that are already there, waiting for you to apply them. Step Ten. Step Eleven. The second half of Step Twelve. Live just one day for God rather than for self, whatever the emotional consequences.

You can't solve the problem at the level of the problem. You need to go to God and be lifted above the problem to another realm, where the problem does not exist. The problem will then cease to be part of your experience.

This will require courage, however: the courage to feel whatever the first weeks and months of abstinence or separation from the problem-that-seemed-like-a-solution requires.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, my forays into other compulsions etc. and the attempt to deal with them in other fellowships has eventually led me to creep back to these two sentences:

"Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail." BB p89

Note the word 'when' not 'if'.

Realizing that my problem centered in not carrying the message enough if at all- thanks to my sponsor's observation of this- I am back writing another, more thorough inventory.