An Addicted Brain but a Recovering Mind

This blog used excerpts from

Do I still have an “Alcoholic Mind”!?

 

When I first came into recovery I used to get frightened by other abstinent  alcoholics proclaim that they were so glad they did not get the “wet tongue” when they saw alcohol or people drinking alcohol.

I used to feel ashamed as I did have an instantaneous “wet tongue” or mild salivation (Pavlovian response) and still do  years later when I see people drinking alcohol. Is this a “craving” for alcohol, do I still want to drink? Do I still have an “alcoholic mind?“. Did I do my steps properly?

It used to churn me up, these so-called alcoholics who had no physiological response to alcohol-related “cues”. By “cues” I mean the sight, sound and smell of alcohol and alcohol  related  stimuli, like wine gulping , glasses clinking, people having a good time, etc.

Part me also thought it was linked to addiction severity, how bad or chronic one’s alcoholism become, how far down the line or how low your rock bottom was? There may some validity in that observation.

It was partly because of mixed messages from alcoholics that I decided to take matters into my own hands and do some research into my alcoholic brain.

What I have discovered is that I have an “alcoholic brain” and not a “alcoholic mind” and there is a huge difference.

I found there is a difference between by addicted brain that has been altered by chronic abuse of alcohol and drugs and my recovering alcoholic mind, that  essence of me that is dedicated to recovery from alcoholism and addiction. These are very distinct – let me explain – on a daily basis I use my mind to help my brain recover.

For example, I meditate, I ignore the incessant chattering of my “illness”.

Both these are the function of my mind affecting the neuroplasticity of my brain.

In other words my mind is in control of my brain, the brain’s functions and structure can be shaped by my mind.    This is in effect, recovery.

For example, meditation can strengthen my control over emotional states, especially negative emotional states, by building yo the neural “muscles” of brain regions which regulate emotion.

Hence my mind and brain are distinct from each other, one effects the other.

So if there are people out there relatively new to recovery, listen up.

For chronic alcoholics there is an automatic physiological response when we see cues such as other people drinking. Mild salivation, quickening heart rate etc.

These are automatic, habitual, these responses happens to us rather than us wanting or willing it to happen. It happens unconsciously without our say so!

If you get a “wet tongue” i.e. you mildly salivate, then this is what happens when you have crossed the line into chronic alcoholism.

Loads of studies have shown there is this automatic response and have also shown there is also an attentional bias to alcohol cues. We notice alcohol cues in the environment before anything else. They have a heightened “noticeableness”.

Have you ever been in a new town and counted the number of drinking establishments automatically or had a heightened awareness of half drunken bottles of alcohol lying in the street? This is an attentional bias, we notice alcohol related stuff before anything else.

Some researchers in science call this a craving. I disagree.

I call this a physiological urge, distinct from craving.

I think a craving is more akin to a “mental obsession” about alcohol.

Alcohol has only had ‘luring’ effect on me while very emotional distressed or in the early days of recovery I was very scared that  I would drink but, looking back, I never had any desire to.

It is hugely important for recovering persons that we distinguish between urges and craving, in a clear manner that science seems to have been unable to do!

Lives can depend on this.

We are so vulnerable in early recover that we need sound direction on what is happening to us automatically and what we are encouraging to happen, consciously.

An urge for me is a physiological response to cues, external and internal (e.g. stress). A craving is different but interlinked.

Let me explain.

If I have an urge and it becomes accompanied by automatic intrusive thoughts such as a drink would be nice, and maybe a suggestion on where to get this drink, this does not mean I want a drink.

It is simply automatically prompted intrusive thoughts, the type of thought I used to get all the time and so became habitual, stored away in an automatized addiction schema or addiction action plan.

If I realize this and simply let these thoughts go, i.e. do not react to them, then they lessen and dissipate altogether.

This is not a craving. I have not consciously and emotionally engaged with these intrusive thoughts (although we often do in early recovery when they scare the life out of us!).

If I consciously engage, emotionally react, to these thoughts either because I want a drink (elaboration of these thoughts as in embellishing a desire state) or the thought scares the life out of me (averse reaction) I can end up in a mental obsession.

If in recovery, we try to suppress these thoughts then they will come back stronger than before which will raise  already high stress levels and recruit a whole host of memories of why I should drink, with who, where, and how much I will enjoy it.

They will also activate an Alcoholic Self Schema (different to the recovery self schema still being formed in early recovery).

Then I have a memory Hydra effect where attempting to suppress this terrible flowering of desire based memories or to cut off the heads of these thoughts and memories leads to them increasing and increasing.

 

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Then there are lots of these memories driving you crazy and scaring the life out of you.  And this is in someone who does not want to drink but wants to remain in recovery!!?

The other guy who is embellishing these thoughts is kinda thinking about drinking or toying with the possibility, so but again he is reacting cognitively and consciously to these intrusive thoughts. He is elaborating on them. He is using a different more cognitive part of the brain and a different memory system to those activated when he was simply having unconscious, habitual, automatic intrusive thoughts. He is now involved in this process rather than it simply happening to him.

So what I am saying is that there is no simple urge state that automatically leads to drink. We have to cognitively and emotionally react to it.

In my time in recovery, I have rarely heard of or witnessed  someone lured siren-like by a cue to a drink and when I have it is because he wanted to drink really, was testing their alcoholism, or he was in huge emotional distress and went “to hell with it!”

As we will see in later blogs,  there has to be a  cognitive-emotional reaction which mediates between an urge and a relapse!

If you have urges of a “wet tongue” accept this fact, that it is because you are an alcoholic. Non alcoholics are bedeviled with these things, only alcoholics are.

Thank the heavens you have had this reminder of your alcoholism. I used to replace this urge states with gratitude, and thank God for giving me another insight into my condition.

 

The Nightmare of “Drinking Dreams”

This blog uses excerpts from “In dreams…an illness that never sleeps!”

 

A main purpose of this blog  The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism is to provide some explanation or answers to the experience of early recovery form alcoholism and addiction.

To provide some insight into  the sometimes very difficult days of early recovery.

The initial days and weeks or recovery were for me some of the most challenging in recovery and I found that recovery got better and better after these at times exasperating and at times frightening and confusing first weeks.

If we can hang in there, we find things get better and fairly soon.

So here I will blog for the next week on some of the issues that very much bothered me in early recovery.

I want to give some answers that I wish had been available to me at the time so that you do not have to agonize over psychological processes which are natural, automatic and sometimes unavoidable to the early days of recovery.

I want you to know you are not alone in feeling what you are feeling, experiencing what you are experiencing in early recovery.

Hopefully this week’s blogs can be a guide through some of the issues of early recovery.

We have all gone through what you are going through, and came through as you can too!

Let’ start with “drinking dreams” – having dreams in which I was drinking alcohol was very common in the first weeks and months of recovery.

They used to terrorize my sleeping hours. I would fortunately  always drink to drunkenness in these dreams and rarely at “one of two” and left it at that, although in later recovery I have had this type of dream too.

I would either awake from this drinking dreams, terrified by their content, or would awake in the morning extra tired that I had had  a number of these drink-based dreams in the night.

They greatly troubled me – why was I having them, did I really still want to drink?

Was I actually committed to recovery at all? Was I kidding myself, did I simply just want to drink?

And not want to be in recovery?

Talking to my sponsor and other recovering alcoholics reassured me I was not alone and made me realise that drinking dreams were very common to alcoholics especially in the early  weeks and months of recovery.

In later years I still have the odd drinking dream but this is usually when I am very anxious or worried about something and my anxiety goes and ketches the symbols I am most frightened of, which is my fear of ever drinking again.

In the last year, I have come across a great article to help newcomers in early recovery with understanding “drinking dreams”.

According to this study – drinking dreams in recovering alcoholics is not a sign of wanting to drink again but the very opposite – drinking dreams are the sign of being completely motivated not to drink and stay abstinent and in recovery!

“It is often said that we have an illness of addiction that never rests..

In the early weeks and months (years) of recovery I often had “drinking” dreams  in which I would dream about drinking alcohol. In early recovery these used to scare the life out of me and confuse me greatly. Did I still want to drink?

The study (1) we cite today shows the opposite that “that alcoholics would have more drinking dreams if they wanted to stay sober and that to dream of drinking was a good indicator of continued abstinence.” 

The drinking dreams, I later realised,  would normally occur when I was fearful of anxious. They were fear based dreams not appetitive, i.e. they were not about wanting to drink but about being afraid of drinking again.

That would appear to my greatest fear so when I was anxious about something in my daily life, at night I would have dreams about drinking alcohol.

In these early days, fortunately, in the drinking dreams the drinking would have dire consequences and I would get out of control drunk.

Now if I have the odd drinking dream I simply use it as a prompt to look at what is going on emotionally in my life. I have to say that my dreams have increasingly used other symbols of fear and anxiety in recent years, like buildings collapsing, having to save people’s lives etc etc.

I must also be rigorously honest here and state that many of my fear based and drinking dreams occur when I have not done my step 10 properly or thoroughly. A way to a sound sleep is a sound step 10!

Anyway this study (1)  from a few years ago which looked at the dreams of alcoholics. It showed that the self esteem issues that sometimes plague alcoholics in recovery are also present in their dreams although these lessen as time in recovery increases.

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“This study focused on people who had self-labelled themselves as ‘Alcoholics.’ They all had a previously previous history of severe alcohol use, but were currently abstinent and recovering in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Moore (1962)  found that alcoholics often dreamt of themselves as victims.

Scott (1968)  found alcoholics reported significantly more dreams about drinking, often associated with guilt.

Scott concluded that alcoholic’s dreams depicted problems, conflicts, insecurity, and sadness…alcoholics were “unable to use their dreams therapeutically as do controls … alcoholics incorporate their feelings of helplessness whilst controls are able to integrate strength into their dreams” (Scott, 1968, p.1317).

Cartwright (1974) predicted that the ‘psychologically healthy’ would have greater continuity between their waking and dreaming life. This is due, in part, to the assumed internal emotional and mental equilibrium that exists in individuals with assumed psychological balance. This early literature suggests that alcoholics in early abstinence, or during hospitalization, may report dream content which is more unpleasant in terms of emotion and themes.

Studies have begun to focus on the reason why drinking dreams appear in alcoholism (or other substance misuse disorders).

Choi (1973) compared those who experienced drinking dreams at 3 months, with those who did not and found that 80% of those who had drinking dreams were still abstinent compared to 18% of those who did not.

He concluded that alcoholics would have more drinking dreams if they wanted to stay sober and that to dream of drinking was a good indicator of continued abstinence.

Denzin (1988) points out, using anecdotal reports from AA members, that drinking dreams are usually fearful, and this may reflect waking preoccupation with the fear of returning to active alcoholism, rather than a desire to return to drinking.

 

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provide a program of self-help where addiction is ‘accepted’ rather than ‘abstained’ from.

The difference between ‘acceptance’ and ‘abstinence’ is the same as the difference between being highly motivated to not drink and being highly unmotivated to not pick up the first drink or drug (Colace, 2004; Berridge, 2001).

This difference would be clearly observed in the self-construal of the ‘recovering’ alcoholics who took part in this study. If drinking dreams are indicative of where the person is in their recovery process, then wanting to drink intermittently is arguably the most natural of states that an alcoholic may find themselves in.

Drinking dreams are not predetermine indicators of relapse: how they act on may be. Rather, the occasional presence of drinking dreams which are accompanied by unpleasant emotional affect, including guilt and remorse are a common part of the recovery process(Marshall, 1995).

Knudson (2003) suggests dreams are seen as indicators of either the past (retrospective), or the present moment (concurrent), but includes a further prospective function used to make positive change.

Using this model, drinking dreams can be seen as indicators of needing to take prospective action, such as increased access to support, talking about these dreams in AA meetings, or with sponsors and therapists (McEwing, 1991; Marshall, 1995).

 

References

1. Parker, J., & Alford, C. (2009). The dreams of male and female abstinent alcoholic’s in stage II recovery compared to non-alcholic controls: are the differences significant?. International Journal of Dream Research, 2(2), 73-84.

Are other Alcoholics Insecure too?

 

Over the next six months I will be blogging about my adventures in coming to terms with my insecure attachments in recovery.

I will blog on how “helping others” helps me (or not) with my insecure attachments.

I do think sitting in a room of recovering alcoholics helps one find a more “secure base” or experience a learnt attachment via recovery groups.

I have always thought 12 step groups seem to be full of people with insecure attachment issues so maybe we can see this in each other and can help each other finding loving bonds with others in “the rooms” or help mend or increase loving bonds in our own private lives too.

We do essentially heal and recover in recovery because of the loving actions of others. It is difficult recovering without deciding to trust at least one other person in recovery.

We have to let someone in to our private selves it seems.  We have to bond with another human being!

But then again, do alcoholics have this attachment issue – can I talk on behalf of a whole recovery movement?

And if  other alcoholics do suffer from it, can we deduce that these issues were there prior to recovery?

Are they antecedent to alcohol problems, are they part of the pathomechanism that drives additive behaviours?

Is addiction partly driven by attachment disorders?

We will start by looking at alcoholics and then in later blogs look at sex and eating disorders too. I think we may find that insecure attachment to primary care givers has a big part to  play in all addictive behaviours.

So is addiction partly driven by attachment disorders?

The study (1) has shown that people with alcohol dependence significantly differ from non-alcoholics in terms of attachment style.

They also received significantly higher scores on insecure attachment style – anxious-ambivalent and avoidant style, and higher scores on attachment dimensions – anxiety and avoidance.

Empirical studies clearly confirm that the history of the attachment relationships significantly affects the shape and quality of interpersonal relationships formed in adulthood, shaping personality and developing a sense of identity, emotional functioning, coping with stress etc

Two distinct dimensions with regards to bonding are: anxiety – corresponding to fear of rejection, and avoidance – referring to avoidance of intimacy (closeness).

Empirical studies confirm that patients addicted to alcohol and other psychoactive substances are very likely to have insecure attachment styles and to display severe anxiety and avoidance in attachment dimensions.

The results of this study confirm our hypothesis that alcohol dependent persons are significantly more likely to exhibit insecure attachment styles (anxious-ambivalent and avoidant styles) than non-alcoholics, and significantly less likely to display secure attachment style.

As indicated by the results obtained, alcohol dependent persons also differ from non-alcoholics in terms of anxiety and avoidance attachment as they received higher scores on these dimensions.

These results are consistent with the results of other studies in which the percentage distribution of the occurrence of the secure style in people addicted to alcohol varies from 5.4 to 40%, while insecure attachment styles vary from 66 to 94.6% [21, 23, 24, 35].

Studies have also shown that among addicts variables such as the avoidance of closeness and fear of intimacy assume much higher values than in patients without addiction [22].

It seems therefore, that the occurrence of insecure attachment styles and dimensions of such intensity (that indicates feelings of mistrust in interpersonal relationships) is prevalent in patients with alcohol dependence.

Both men and women dependent on alcohol exhibit difficulties in establishing secure, trusting interpersonal relationships and at the same time have an increased tendency to feel anxiety and fear about the stability of the relationship, resulting from the lack of a sense of security and/or actively avoiding forming close, intimate relationships.”

So it seems the prevalence of insecure attachment style is very high from 66-95% in alcoholics which suggests the vast majority of recovering alcoholics know exactly what I am sharing about when I mention my issues around insecure attachment – and are also in a position to help me with these issues.

References

Wyrzykowska, E., Głogowska, K., & Mickiewicz, K. (2014). Attachment relationships among alcohol dependent persons. Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, 27(2), 145-161.

Is My Neediness linked to My Insecure Attachment?

I am reblogging this blog again, from 6 months ago, because I find it still very pertinent to me at the moment and because another blogger commented on it’s pertinence to them in recovery as well. I have been in recovery a decade and have continually come up against the same issues over and over again. which are namely low self esteem issues, feeling less than or unworthy, and issues of trusting others which I believe to be the consequence of my own insecure attachment to my mother when growing up. As I will be blogging this week again about the power scars of the past can still exert on me I thought I would kick off with a well received blog from the end of last year. Unfortunately the issues seem as raw and resonant today as when I wrote this 6 months ago. I think this is because my awareness of attachment issues has risen throughout my recovery and I am probably the best placed I have ever been to delve, more deeply into these issues, however reluctantly. The same record playing in my head has become a bit boring over the months and years. It is also important to realise that there is an “earned attachment” out there with other recovering people too, helping others helps me, showing love helps me receive love etc. A secure base can be found in serving others. This is what I intend to do increasingly over the next 6 months. I intend to keep you all up to date with how it goes too. Perhaps we can only rewire our brains by changing our behaviours – perhaps to get the love we needed as children we have to show that love to others as adults. Perhaps we have to get what we need by giving it away? Paul x

The Alcoholics Guide to Alcoholism

I don’t know about you but I have previously been described on occasion, and still can be, as being a bit needy, a bit grasping of affection, a bit manipulative in attempting to coerce others into given me attention, affection and so on.

It is not a trait that I particularly like in my self. I believe it is directly linked to my insecure attachment based on an uncertain, unpredictable and sometimes conditional relationship I had with my mother, in particular.

My mother was affectionate at times, distant at others. You could never really count on her being there for you.

Her affection  seemed dependent (conditional) on how she felt. Given that she was probably experiencing some form of mental breakdown and had already started taking the Valium that would in later years become full blown dependence would explain her ambivalence to me and my emotional needs.

I have forgiven my…

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How Stories Transform Lives

When I first came to AA, I wondered how the hell sitting around in a circle listening to one person talking, and the next person talking and …. could have anything to do with my stopping drinking?

It didn’t seem very medical or scientific? Did not seem like any sort of treatment?  How could I get sober this way, listening to other people talking?

It didn’t make any sense. Any time I tried to ask a question I was told that we do not ask questions, we simply listen to other recovering alcoholics share what they called their “experience, strength and hope”?

How does this help you recover from one of the most profound disorders known, from chronic alcoholism?

I did not realise  that this “experience, strength and hope” in AA parlance, is fundamental in shifting an alcoholic’s self schema from a schema that did not accept one’s own alcoholism, to a self schema that did, a schema that shifts via the content of these shared stories from a addicted self schema to recovering person self schema.

Over the weeks, months and years I have grown to marvel at the transformative power of this story format and watched people change in front of my very eyes over a short period of time via this process of sharing one’s story of alcoholic damage to recovery from alcoholism.

I have seen people transformed from dark despair to the  lustre of hope and health.

One of the greatest stories you are ever likely to hear and one I never ever tire of hearing.

Through another person sharing their story they seem to be telling your story at the same time. The power of identification is amplified via this sharing.

If one views A.A. as a spiritually-based community, one quickly observe s that A.A. is brimming with stories.

The majority of A.A.’s primary text (putatively entitled Alcoholics Anonymous but referred to almost universally as “The Big Book,” A.A., 1976) is made up of the stories of its members.

During meetings, successful affiliates tell the story of their recovery. In the course of helping new members through difficult times, sponsors frequently tell parts of their own or others’ stories to make the points they feel a neophyte A.A. member needs to hear. Stories are also circulated in A.A. through the organization’s magazine, Grapevine.

But the most important story form in Alcoholics Anonymous describes  personal accounts of descent into alcoholism and recovery through A.A. In the words of A.A. members, explains “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

Members typically begin telling their story by describing their initial involvement with alcohol, sometimes including a comment about alcoholic parents.

Members often describe early experiences with alcohol positively, and frequently mention that they got a special charge out of drinking that others do not experience. As the story progresses, more mention is made of initial problems with alcohol, such as job loss, marital conflict, or friends expressing concern over the speaker’s drinking.

Members will typically describe having seen such problems as insignificant and may label themselves as having been grandiose or in denial about the alcohol problem. As problems continue to mount, the story often details attempts to control the drinking problem, such as by avoid-ing drinking buddies, moving, drinking only wine or beer, and attempting to stay abstinent for set periods of time.

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The climax of the story occurs when the problems become too severe to deny any longer. A.A. members call this experience “hitting bottom.”

Some examples of hitting bottom that have been related to me include having a psychotic breakdown, being arrested and incarcerated, getting divorced, having convulsions or delirium tremens, attempting suicide, being publicly humiliated due to drinking, having a drinking buddy die, going bankrupt, and being hospitalized for substance abuse or depression.

After members relate this traumatic experience, they will then describe how they came into contact with A.A. or an A.A.-oriented treatment facility…storytellers incorporate aspects of the A.A. world view into their own identity and approach to living.

Composing and sharing one’s story is a form of self-teaching—a way of incorporating the A.A. world view (Cain, 1991). This incorporation is gradual for some members and dramatic for others, but it is almost always experienced as a personal transformation.

So before we do the 12 steps we start by accepting step one  – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol——that out lives had become unmanageable –  and by listening to and sharing stories which give many expamples of this loss of control or powerlessness over drinking. .

Sharing our stories also allows us to stat comprehending the insanity or out of contolness (unmanageability)  of our drinking and steps us up for considering step 2 –  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity – through  to step three, so the storeies not only help us change self schema they set us on the way to treating our alcoholism via the 12 steps.

In these stories we accept our alcoholsimm and the need for persoanl, emotional and spirtual transformation. The need to be born anew, as a person in recovery.

Reference

1. Humphreys, K. (2000). Community narratives and personal stories in Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of community psychology, 28(5), 495-506.

 

 

WE

This week saw Alcoholics Anonymous celebrate it’s 80th Birthday.

Many media outlets have stated that AA was founded 80 years ago but this is not correct.

AA was co-founded 80 years ago when Bill Wilson passed on a message of hope to Dr Bob, or Dr Robert Smith to give his full name.

Dr Bob like Bill Wilson had intermittently stayed sober via involvement with the Oxford Group but they had always relapsed back to drinking.

When Bill Wilson first met Dr Bob he convinced him that he had a spiritual malady coupled with a abnormal reaction to alcohol, which meant he could not control the amount he would drink and could not control when he was going to drink, he had, in effect,  become powerless over alcohol and only help from a power greater than himself could help him.

The original power greater than himself, as for millions of alcoholics  over the last 80 years (and for some it stays this way) is another alcoholic. One recovering alcoholic or a group of recovering alcoholics is a power greater than oneself.

The message of recovery is usually from someone who has recovered from alcoholism, this is a power greater than yourself as he/she has used certain tools to recover and this is now being passed on to you, as they were passed onto him or her. The solution to your alcoholism is the same as the solution to their alcoholism.

There are no individualistic programs or people simply doing their own thing, it is a collective program of action.

Thus at the heart of AA is one alcoholic helping another get sober. It is a reciprocal relationship. Helping other get sober helps us stay sober too.

It is the most perfect win-win situation.

The wounded healer principle personified.

Bill Wilson had got this idea of abnormal, or allergic reaction to alcohol, from a physician, Dr Silkworth,  who had treated him at Towns Hospital.  It seemed to account for his uncontrolled drinking.

Dr Bob did however relapse again soon after receiving the message from Bill Wilson, briefly, and this only served to reinforce his view that Bill Wilson was correct about this abnormal reaction to alcohol and his inability  to continue not drinking  under his own steam.

Today this would be termed “despite negative consequences”.

Hence his first day of sobriety is taken as the first day of AA, although the AA organisation as we know it today took longer to come in to being.

It symbolizes that this was the day when one alcoholic helped another alcoholic achieve lasting sobriety.

Dr Bob, it is aid, went on to help over 5,000 alcoholics achieve sobriety and died sober.

The basic tenet of this, is that it takes one alcoholic to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. This has been borne out in millions of cases around the world.

Millions of lives have been saved not to mention the lasting benefits it has brought to families, and societies once harmed by alcoholism.

When asked what he thought was the greatest accomplishment of the 20th century, Henry Kissenger replied, “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

AA saved my life and I can never put into words the gratitude I have for AA. I cannot express how happy it has allowed my wife, family and friends to become.

I can never properly describe the chrysalis effect it has had on me and on everyone close to me.

The age of miracles is still my us, our recoveries prove that. It is a gift that keeps giving, freely.

Thus my original point is not semantic, AA was not founded by one person, it was co-founded as we alcoholics achieve sobriety with the help of other alcoholics.

It is “we” of Alcoholics  Anonymous, as the very first line of the Big Book of AA states.

In the twelve-step groups the focus is not on the individual self, but on the group or the community. Mutual aid and equality are the core principles of the twelve-step groups. Each member of AA help themselves by helping others who are in the same situation.

Essentially as one academic put it, The «power»
referred to in several of the twelve steps is therefore unrelated to religion; it refers to the potentially healing power inherent in interpersonal relationships based on reciprocity and equality.

Most active ingredients accounting for AA’s benefit are social in nature, such as attending meetings, and the 12 steps mention “we” 6 times but not “I” once.

AA’s 12 steps are a spiritual program of recovery but at the heart of that spirituality is the role of sponsoring.

Sponsorship embodies the fellowship’s  altruistic orientation, reflecting a “helping and helper  therapy principle” . Sponsorship plays an important role in the recovery process.

High sponsor involvement over time has been found to predict longer recovery .

Although social support is key to early engagement in the Twelve-Step membership, over time, spiritual issues emerge as increasingly important and helping others achieve recovery is at the heart of this.

The spirituality of AA is exemplified in helping others, it creates a feeling of wholeness and connectedness with others.

This is why we celebrate this great anniversary, this co-founding of AA, as it is the start of this therapeutic and spiritual connectedenss with other alcoholics needing help and giving help and with the wider world.

Thank God For AA!

 

 

Helping Others Helps Us.

In AA they say people who engage in service, i.e. helping out at meetings, sharing, making the tea and coffee, sponsoring others, helping on A A telephone helplines, inter group etc  have a much greater chance of staying sober and in recovery  long term than those who do not.

Although I was scared of my own shadow when I came into recovery and my brain was still incredibly scrambled and disorientated, I believe doing service in AA is one of the main reasons for me still being in recovery nearly 10 years later.

It helped me become part of AA not just someone who turned up and hung around on the periphery. 12 step recovery is a program of action not self absorbed introspection. The spiritual and therapeutic aspect of 12 step recovery is connectedness with others who have the same condition and share the same common purpose of wanting to remain sober and in recovery.

Doing service is an outward sign of one taking responsibility for their own recovery and declaring it too others in the meetings via service. When I see a newcomer to recovery start to do service it gladdens my heart as I know they have dramatically increased their chances of remaining sober and in recovery long term.

This has been my experience.

A reality, however, seems to be that most people are very anxious, lacking in confidence and fearful when they reach the rooms of AA.

When you have spent a long time drinking in increasing isolation, suddenly being at a meeting among strangers can have it’s problems.

When we go to meetings, to begin with, we are often unaware that we are actually in the company of people just like us, sensitive souls. Most have at some time at issues around social anxiety.

It is often said that this social anxiety is linked to the not belonging” feeling that many alcoholics experience throughout their lives prior to drinking.

Some have said it can be traced to insecure attachment to a primary care givers or to trauma or abuse in childhood.

Equally I have known many alcoholics who had idyllic childhoods who also have this feeling on not belonging socially, not fitting in, so I suggest that this social anxiety or not fitting in may be the result of some genetic inheritance which gets worse via the adverse effects of abuse or insecure attachment.

The vast majority of alcoholics I have met over the years have this sense of not belonging, having a “hole in the soul”.

I believe it is some neurochemical deficit, such as oxytocin deficit that has a knock-on effect on other brain chemicals, that decreases our feelings of belonging,  which  we all inherit and which can be made more severe via stressful adversive childhoods.

It often leads to isolation, being a loner, not only in adolescence but sometimes in recovery too. We seem to often like our own company but equally it is something to be wary of.

I have often heard of people relapsing after becoming isolated from 12 step fellowships. They stopped doing service, then reduced meetings and then disappeared off the scene, locked away in isolation.

So we seem to have a tendency to isolate and this may be due to many of us having social anxiety issues. Social events often seem like too much effort and this can be a dangerous thought.

So who do we cope with a room full of people?

I just came a cross a study recently which addressed how AA is almost perfect for dealing with this issue of social anxiety.

I will use some excerpts from it. It relates to youths in recovery but is applicable to all people in recovery or seeking recovery.

“In treatment, youths with social anxiety  disorder (SAD) may avoid participating in therapeutic activities with risk of negative peer appraisal.

Peer-helping is a low-intensity, social activity in the 12-step program associated with greater abstinence among treatment-seeking adults.

The benefits from helping others appear to be greatest for individuals who are socially isolated.

Helping others may benefit the helper because it distracts one from one’s own troubles, enhances a sense of value in one’s life, improves self-evaluations, increases positive moods, and causes social integration.

The myriad of existing service activities in AA are readily available inside and outside of meetings; are low intensity; and do not require special skills, prior experience, time sober, long-term commitment, transportation, insurance, or parental permission.

Peer-helping in AA, such as having the responsibility  of making coffee at a meeting, empathetic listening to others, reading inspirational meditations to others, or sharing personal experiences in learning to live sober, may have the effect of greater engagement in treatment and improved outcomes due to patients’ active contributions.

Learning to live sober with social anxiety is a challenge in society where people can be quick to judge others

Coping with a persistent fear of being scrutinized in social situations often requires learning to tolerate the opinions of others, feeling different, appropriate boundary setting, and enduring short term discomfort for long-term gain—skills that are in short supply among adolescents and those in early recovery.

The low-intensity service activities in AA offer youths—and those with  social anxiety in particular—a nonjudgmental, task-focused venue for social connectedness, reduce self-preoccupation and feeling like a misfit, and transform a troubled past to usefulness with others.

AA should be encouraged for socially anxious youths in particular.

As stated by a young adult, “I wanted to be at peace with myself and comfortable with other people. The belonging I always wanted I have found in AA. I got into service work right away and really enjoyed it”

References

1. Pagano, M. E., Wang, A. R., Rowles, B. M., Lee, M. T., & Johnson, B. R. (2015). Social Anxiety and Peer Helping in Adolescent Addiction Treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(5), 887-895.

 

 

Trust

In order to  fully  recover from alcoholism, addiction and addictive behaviours, we find we have to trust at least one other human being.

This might be easy for some, to trust, but for me it was very difficult.

Considering my upbringing, this was a big step but as I had little choice…

I am not talking about trusting my wife, loved ones, family etc.

I am talking about trusting someone in recovery. A practical  stranger. Someone who is the same boat as you. Who has been where you have been, felt how you have felt.

Like a sponsor for exammple.

Someone you are going to open up to and discuss intimate stuff with, someone who will ultimately know the shameful secrets that can keep a person spiritually and emotionally sick and will continue to do so until we share this stuff and let it all go.

It chains us to the past and endangers recovery because we drank on shame and guilt.

I certainly know I did?

Sorry for being so direct in this blog, it is a message of hope, there is a way to completely turn your life around.

Shameful secrets can fester in the dark recesses of our minds and inflame our hearts with recrimination and resentment.

They  can have constant conscious and unconscious effect on our behaviors, how we think and feel about ourselves and how we interact, or not, with others.

Due to the nature of frequent episodes of  powerlessness over our behavior,  attached to addiction and alcoholism, we often  acted in a way we would never act in sobriety. We had limited control over behaviour at times due to intoxication  and acted on occasion in a way that shames us today.

Most of us were determined to take these secrets, these “sins” to the grave.

We often take them to grave sooner rather than later unless we  decide to  be open and share our secrets with another person.

This has been my experience.

Everyone in recovery has secrets they would rather not disclose,  but there are not many “original” sins as one suspects and that haven’t been shared in 12 step recovery.

Almost disappointingly I found some of my sins were quite tame when compared to other people I have spoken to in recovery.

That is not to say I did not frequently hurt others, especially loved ones,  but under examination they were not as monstrous as my head made them out to be.

These secrets are the emotional and psychic scars of our alcoholic past and they need to be exposed in order for us to fully heal.

In steps 4 and 5 we listed wrongdoings to others and although initially petrified to share them with another, found that it wasn’t as  difficult as we thought it would be, once you wrote down the worst top ten. There was an immediate release in fact. A sense of cleansing almost.

Sharing them was obviously awkward but a good sponsor shares his at the same time.

It is therapeutic exchange and shame reducing to know someone else has committed similar sins or has acted for similar reasons; they were powerless over their behaviours.  Just like me, just like you.

Alcoholism erodes our self will and choice.

There is nothing so bad that cannot be shared.

The 12 steps were influenced  by the Oxford Group who said sins cut a person off from God, and that there was such a thing as sin disease.

This sin disease had very real psychological, emotional and physical and physiological effect on the mind and body. Sins were a contagion that mixed with the sins of others and the sins of  families, groups, societies, cultures and countries.

The sin disease  idea became the “spiritual malady” of AA.

We can also see this as years of not being able to regulate our negative emotions properly, if you wish to see them as sins.

I see these “sins” also, and perhaps alternatively, as hundreds of unprocessed negative emotions from the past which were never consigned to our long term memories, so they just swirl around our minds for decades shaping how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

Steps 4 -7 and the amends to those people wronged in steps of 8 and 9 allow us to be completely free and in a sense reborn.

It can be viewed as spiritual or an emotional rebirth.

Isn’t this rebirth, catharsis, renewal, a becoming free from the old self, which was kept us ill in our shame and guilt about the past?

We have the chance to be free from the sick version of our real self, the self that has been in bondage, in addiction.

It is almost miraculous, the sudden transformative effect it can have on us.  I have seen it many times with my own eyes.

By freeing ourselves from the past,  we become who we really are.

We have a sea change in how we think and feel about ourselves and the world around us.

In fact we never become who we really are until we have examined our past and consigned it to the past.

We do fully recover until we do this I believe.

Otherwise we have not really completely treated our alcoholism.

We have simply got sober, sometimes stark raving sober.   

We are not bad people getting good but ill people getting well.

All this because we plucked up enough courage to ask someone we barely knew to be our  sponsor.

Because we trusted one person enough.

In reality we asked a fellow sinner to hear our sins and through God’s help have them taken off us, or if one prefers, have had the past finally   processed and consigned to long term memory where it will take only a special and quite frankly bizarre decision and effort to go rooting around and digging it up again.

I look at the past fleetingly sometimes to help others but I never stare at it too long.

It is a former self.

I have been reborn, I have become who God had intended me to be.

I have become me.