You are Enough, We are Enough!

“The wounded healer” refers to us, who suffer greatly from shame, helping others via love, tolerance and understanding who also suffer greatly from shame.

We can help others and be helped because we all know what it is like to feel the chronic, toxic shame the drives addictive behaviours.

Our understanding of shame is not out of a book it is real, lived experience. We know how it can drive one into chronic addiction and we know how to recovery from the persistent effects of this shame.

The main thing that struck me when I first went to AA was a lack of judgement which was amazing considering I was very jaundiced at the time.

I was accepted in the group without  reservation. This greatly helped my damaged sense of belonging, my not feeling part of.

It made me feel that this is the place I need to be. Have always needed to be?

The “shares” or testimonies of other recovering people made we realise they suffered the same shame as me and had worked to overcome it via the steps, via having fellowships, people in their lives who understood and who helped them. They told me of their triumphs over their emotional difficulties, over their chronic lack of self esteem, over not feeling good enough, of feeling less than.

A failure –  they talked about me and how I felt about me. How I had always felt about me!?

I had never been in a group of people who had talked so openly about their intimate feelings which was amazing. In doing so they were talking about my intimate feelings too. This gave me a sense of not being alone anymore. They seemed to be shining a light of hope into the dark recesses of of my shameful psyche.

It addressed my sense of isolation right away.

I had spent my life feeling not good enough, bad, l had that knawing feeling of less than, that hole in the sole.

I was like these people. They were like me.

I felt and continue to feel more like these people than I do my own family.

They became my surrogate family, my newly learnt attachment.

They were like me. They had not learnt this stuff out of a book, by professional observation but by having been through this stuff themselves. This was real not learnt.

They had been there. They were here now for me.

They knew what they were talking about.

This was the beginning of my psychic change. A person who was to become by therapist at the local treatment  was at my first meeting and he later said that he felt I had a psychic change at that my first meeting.

I had come in utterly beaten, at  death’s door and had left with hope.

The journey started with hope.

I had found a portal in the universe – it was Alcoholics Anonymous but from the shares it might have been called Shame sufferers Anonymous.

Shame ran through every share. They say fear is the corrosive thread which ran through our lives but it is equally the case that shame does too and causes just as much distress and damage.

It is difficult to live life when you do not have your own back, believe in yourself as  worthy of the good, healthy, things  in life. That you are not worthy them. That these things happen to others. Not you as you do not deserve them.

Why recover at all when you are not worth it?

This is how many of us feel? We are not worth it, this recovery.

The truth is the opposite, we are worth it. We do deserve it.

We are heroes who suffered so much and come through so much. We deserve happiness more than most! As a result we have  so have so much to offer others. We are all wounded healers.

We are here to help others like ourselves, in a way that only we can!

It was via others, like parents that we have this shame and these negative self schemas.

It is through human relationships that these start to heal. Shame is a social emotion which needs a social treatment.

We need to reconnect to overcome the isolating force of shame.

You are enough! We are enough!

Finally Found What We Were Looking For

Quenching that Spiritual Thirst

I have been keeping up  my regime of getting more spiritually fit – went to mass and then a meeting.

I have also been doing a lot of walking too (approx 5 miles a day).

Although I still blog on the neuropsychology of addiction on my other blog (kinda alcoholic having two blogs isn’t it?) http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/ my heart and soul is moving noticeably back into the world of recovery and doing recovery.

My head has been learning what my heart knows already.

Not just turning up at a meeting and sharing my experience and insights but also doing low level service, like always helping clear up after the meeting, stacking chairs, moving tables etc.

I have also enjoyed talking to newcomers. It has been fascinating meeting people where they are at.

Rather than using my memory banks to relate my stories of treatment and recovery,  I am more interested in their own spiritual journeys of self discovery.  I kinda feel excited for them.

It is always spiritually nourishing to see people suddenly get it, to see the light of recognition and acceptance of their condition start shining a new light in their eyes. The beginnings of psychic change and a spiritual awakening about their condition.

I go to chapel  but rarely see this type of transformation. Perhaps the people at mass aren’t as spiritually ill as us? I am not so sure sometimes.

I shared this with an earthling/normie who had some experience of 12 step groups and she agreed most enthusiastically that the conversions one sees in 12 step groups appears more profound than any she experienced in chapel.

It makes one think this – how is is that a hopeless drunk can suddenly be so dramatically altered in his or her views of the world and those in it. How come they can come to accept a higher power in their lives so readily? Almost as if they had some strange disposition towards this?

Is this part of the gift of desperation? Is it partly an acceptance of seeing it work in others and this encourages one to explore this themselves?

Is it because there is close link about being humiliated by alcohol and the necessary ego deflation which leads to humility (for me humility is tied up with accepting one needs help and then asking for and receiving it)?

When i came to AA I was determined not to do the God thing but I intuitively understood the spiritual thing.

I had been a practicing Buddhist on and off over a decade or more and firmly believed that all suffering comes from an attachment to the self. I still do.

Hadn’t I already been looking for a spiritual solution to my problems?

 

 

Both my parents were very religious and both had issues with alcohol (my father before I was born) and drugs (Valium in my mothers case). In fact my parish priest was an alcoholic and my father would have to go the the parish house at least half an hour prior to mass to make sure he was sober enough to take mass. A beautiful man he was too, our local priest but an active alcoholic.

Was I born into this world with a spiritual thirst, a thirst for communion with the infinite, something beyond the self, with the divine in order to escape the often emotionally painful limitations of the self?

Has it always been necessary for me, spirituality? Does in balance my inherent lackings?

Before I went to mass I meditated for half an hour. I used this Christian meditation where I simply lie in a corpse position on my back and wait or God’s Grace. Sometimes I utter the words “Come Holy Spirit Come” and give myself wholly to His Grace.

Then I have this creeping feeling of peace, of stillness, of quiet.

I have some of the thoughts I normally have but they do not effect me, they are no longer exerting any distress and I no longer react to them. They are no longer propelling me out of bed and into some course of action.

They are my thoughts devoid of anxiety, devoid of emotional pain.  But they are still mine but cwtched in the comforting embrace of God.

To be an addict about it – it is like an analgesic, a pain killer in a sense. Like an opiate but without the disappearance from reality, instead remaining still but present in the now, in this moment.

The best way I can help explain further is in relation to the video below where Thomas Merton describes contemplation and mystical union with God.

This helped me a great deal this video because when talking of God we have to be careful we are not creating a self construction of God which leaves us still in the finite parameters of self and self delusion.

It is beyond self but it is a realm in which the self communes with that beyond oneself. Thomas Merton explains it better than I ever could!

It is the sense of the infinite, the escape from the attached self, the transcendence that I have always wanted, craved and finally compulsively sought .

Why did I not find it fully before? Why, well I think this is because I had always had this other way of finding transcendence and that was in a bottle or in a drug or in a behaviour.

I could not fully find this divine transcendence until I saw the lies of this chemically created transcendence.

It had always been getting in the way of what I really need, a full God consciousness, full transcendence from self.

After the meeting I stopped and talked with two elderly woman and then walked them up the street to where they were going. We laughing and carrying on, gently making fun of each other, stopping to talk and go on, then stop again and go on, with silly talk and laughter.

We stopped and staggered our talkative ways on the hill to Main Street. Arm in arm with foolish fun. To the outsider we must have looked like we were acting like three drunks would, talking, and excessively gesturing, caught up in waffly exuberance. Slightly intoxicated by our merriment.

I remember thinking this is similar to going out on the town with friends, who mainly were alcoholics too and are mainly now dead.

We could have looked like three drunks who had finally  found what they were looking for!

Drink was never the answer, it got in way of the answer but also kept some of us from killing ourselves while we waited for this answer, His Mercy.

 

God blesses AA!

 

Progress not Perfection

When I need a spiritual “tune up” I go back to basics. I up my meditation, go to more AA meetings and go to chapel more regularly.

I have over the last few years drifted away from what I used to do in terms of my recovery.

I took time out from AA to further my ideas into the neurobiology and neuromechanisms of addiction and I have now come up with theories of addiction which satisfy my understanding of addiction.  I have done with that in many ways.

These theories of addiction can be found here   please read as they may strike a chord with you too and hopefully contribute to your understanding of addictive behaviour.

But this research and time away from AA has had some cost or so may be the case. It depends on how one appraises this and how one appraises the role of mistakes in life, if this was a mistake even?

Are mistakes things to be learnt from, are mistakes also integral to learning a better way of doing things?

In these last few years only going to AA intermittently and nothing like as much as I used to, I have found I have increasingly been living in my head and less in my heart.  I have found it difficult to moderate my research. I have become quite obsessive if not addicted to researching addiction, however ironic this may sound.

Now I have taken time out as I want to change course in my life. I have decided I want to work more closely with my fellow alcoholics, I want to use what I have researched along with what I have learnt in AA in a more practical therapeutic way for myself and for others.

To do so requires me getting more spiritually and emotionally fit.

Today I have meditated after waking and then went to chapel then followed by a AA meeting. I have just  returned and after this will shop, cook tea, walk my dogs, do the clothes washing etc. All mundane compared to high flying research?

High flying research has it’s place but the spiritual programme I want to live has to come first and has to put others first.

I haven’t been doing that as much in reality as I should.

Throughout my research I have not been living in AA and visiting the world from there, I have been living in the world and barely giving AA any time. The reason I have done what I have in recovery and got what I got in recovery is solely down to AA.

AA does not need to be improved or updated. I do!

I went to this meeting today thinking I will be of help to others to be gobsmacked of how much help these other people are to me.

For an egomaniac self proclaimed genius this was such a humbling experience it was painful.

I have drifted off beam, gotten spiritually flabby.

All the shares I heard today where nuggets of genius on how to stay sober, they were living demonstrations of recovery, living demonstrations of living a spiritual life in a way I am not! It was like sitting around a table of spiritual  gurus.

How could I have been so wrong about these people before?

You know why? Because I was too busy being so right about what I thought.

I need to put more work in to get more out of this spiritual way of life.

When I was last in AA in this area I would pronounce that meeting as a sick meeting or that meeting is not doing it properly or that is not AA, or why are they always talking about outside agencies like treatment centres etc…..a controlling madman was what I was looking back.

Today I was completely teachable.

A first!

Everyone who shared was a teacher, everyone is a teacher period. Everyone has something to say, something I can learn from. Everyone!

This is where I am at.

A bit tired, fragile and dealing with the bitter pill of swallowing my false pride and admitting I have been so wrong about so many things.

I really hate to admit it. But there you have it.

There is not a problem out there – it is usually a problem in here, in between my ears, in my head and heart.

Perhaps I needed to step out  and then go back?

Who knows? All I know is that I now have a different attitude to when I was last there.

The worse thing which is also the best thing is that after all this research I can really state  that I can’t be sure I know anything much.

And that is definitely progress!

 

 

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.

sharing 82a62c4e060569b3dedb0dc7e4c6c438

 

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.

 

A New Sense of Belonging!

Like many others in recovery from alcoholism and addictive behaviours I grew up with this really uneasy feeling of “not being part of”, “never belonging anywhere”.

I felt like I did not belong or did not fit in. In fact it was only when I got to AA that I had my first sense of belonging, of being amongst my own kind.

I had found my own recovery family and had this feeling of having gone home in some strange way.

I grew up in a house with three older sisters so thought I did not fit in completely with them because I was a different gender and had my own bedroom.

I also felt warily distinct or different from my parents too. I was always wary of my parents because I never completely trusted them.

Their violent arguments had lead to many traumatic incidents in my early childhood which still scar my psyche to this day. In fact I still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) today as do about 40 % of alcoholics.

So I felt I never completely trusted and hence never completely attached to my parents, especially my mother. I loved them deeply but there was always this invisible almost unconscious wedge between me and them.

I also grew up in the “troubles” of Northern Ireland. I grew up in the highly usual scenario of being a Catholic in a very predominantly Protestant neighourhood.

This was also traumatic at times so I never attached with the society and culture beyond my home. I also got trouble from Catholic kids at school for coming from this Protestant area. I was always having fights to defend myself. So it was a fairly traumatic upbringing inside and outside the home.

Looking back I had more than enough reasons to feel not part of.

It wasn’t until I came to AA that I found a whole bunch of people who had also felt the way I did – they also felt they never belonged.

I was suddenly struck with a choice – either I felt I never belonged because of various circumstantial factors (which quite frankly did not help) to do with my upbringing or because I was an alcoholic?

As I feel completely at home with other alcoholics this seemed to be the reason I felt that I had never belonged.

If you feel that you do not belong it may be because, like me, you haven’t found your society of like minded people.

People just like you. People who do not fit in naturally with the so-called “normal” world?

In fact when I look back on my early drinking at about 14 or 15 years old I remember alcohol giving me that warm euphoric glow which felt like someone had poured “love chemicals” into my blood.

I had a “spirit awakening” if you like, whereby I felt so much more comfortable in my own skin, relaxed, expansive, acting spontaneously without fear, connected more with other people, felt the warmth and camaraderie of my fellow human beings.

Alcohol allowed me to more fully join the human race.

I allowed myself via alcohol to belong temporarily, to attach to the warmth of others.

Then in cold sobriety these feelings would shrink and recede – until the next time.

But was the illusion.

For me the so-called euphoric recall contains that feeling of belonging, or not being desolately alone. But connected. In fact the spirituality of 12 step groups is about the connection with others in the same boat as yourself..

In later years when asked by my wife why I drank, I would answer “to get away from myself”;  to escape me!

I found a surrogate home in AA, a learnt attachment. Like my own family it can be far from perfect at times, but it is here I belong ultimately, with my own.

Accepted completely for who I am.

Where I am free to be me.

You are Not Alone!

In the final months of my active alcoholism I was living in the attic room of my house.

I drank about 6 bottles of cheap Spanish wine plus a dozen cans of strong German beer every day.

The alcohol had little effect on me by this stage. I only drank to dampen the delirium tremens, the violent shakes. I often could not control my hand enough to get alcohol into my mouth, holding my wrist steady with my other hand to raise the drink to my mouth.

Usually  cracking the bottle or tin can against my teeth.

I was no longer getting drunk anymore.

You know you are fully addicted to alcohol when it does nothing intoxicating any more.

I slept in 5-10 minute fits and busts. I did not eat for months. The television told me to kill myself and voices not belonging to me talked insistently in my head.

Alcohol-related Psychosis it is called.

No one told me this would happen when I bought my first alcoholic drink when I was fourteen years old. There was no health or warning label saying “Could lead to Psychosis and Premature Death!”

Maybe there should be.  Or at least alcohol can be addictive for some.

Anyway there is more to alcoholism than alcohol.

In the depths of this alcohol induced madness, I rarely saw my wife, who could not bring herself to look at me and what I had become.

If I could have got it together I might have killed myself.

But I couldn’t get it together. Psychosis is all involving, doesn’t leave much time for planning anything.

 

 

So I staggered on. When I say staggered, I could not actually walk more than a few yards or climb more than a few stairs.

By  the time I reached my first AA meeting

1. the alcohol had stopped “working”.

2. I had surrendered.

Regardless of these two factors, I could not admit I was alcoholic. My pride and it’s best friend shame were still talking away to me.

I was willing to admit I was addicted to alcohol and that I was about to die from it.

But alcoholic?

We often wonder why some people don’t accept their alcoholism?

How did I start my journey to acceptance?

My wife came to my first meeting of AA, she practically carried me in!

The Chair of the meeting was a person I had drank with before – I though how come he is here?

I spilled more drink than he ever drank?

Then it dawned on me that maybe I should have come here before?

Especially when he shared that he had been trying to get sober and recovered for ten years!?

I then listened to the other alcoholics sharing their stories.

The stories mentioned the progression of the alcoholism, which I obviously identified with.

They also mentioned how they, even now in recovery, struggled with their emotions and anxieties, how they found living life difficult.

They talked about issues which had bedevilled them and me since childhood, this  spiritual malady they talked of was like the emotional disease I had  suffered from all my life, whether it was depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc.

They had used alcohol to self medicate these conditions, especially as alcohol for them had felt like an elixir for them as it had for me.  We all had all dealt with our negative emotions since adolescence in the same way.

Now a new way had to be found.

When we left the meeting my wife had a psychic change similar to the one I had.

She said these people are just like you. They can help you, I can’t.

A week before I had heard a voice in my heart, through the psychosis, saying  to go down stairs to my wife and ask her for help. I asked her for help in that round about alcoholic way of “do you think I look a bit jaundice (I actually looked like Homer Simpson with a heavy sun tan!)?

The help I asked for was not to come directly from my wife but she led me to where I could get it. In a room, full of people just like me, suffering the same illness as me.

I will be forever eternally grateful for it being there for me. For them being there.

We will be there for you too!

The Power of Identification!!

The main reason I am alive today, sober and have recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of alcoholism is simple!

Or rather the first step can be simple.

The first step on my recovery journey was to identify with the life stories of other recovering alcoholics.

Not necessarily with where they grew up, or the damage alcoholism had inflicted on their lives. Although many alcoholics talk themselves, or their illness talks them, out of the possibility of recovery by saying I am not as bad as that guy, or that woman.

You may not be as bad “YET!” – the “yets” are often talked about in AA – you may not have done the damage others have, yet? Keep drinking and you are bound to. You, like them, will have no choice.

Alcoholism increasingly takes away choice.

It takes over your self will.

Your self will, your self regulation, is a combination of your emotional, attentional, memory and reward/survival/motivation networks.

Alcoholism takes over these networks, progressively, over time.

Neuroscience has shown this, over the last twenty odd years.

A superb longitudinal study, “The Natural History of Alcoholism” by George Vaillant  clearly showed this progression in six hundred alcoholics over a 60 year period!

In my own research and in articles, with two highly respected Professors at a UK University, I have shown how the alcoholic brain progressively “collapses inwards” to subcortical responding.

In other words, we end up with a near constant “fight or flight” reaction to the world,  with alcoholism causing distress based compulsion at the endpoint of this addiction.

All the above neural circuits become governed by a region of the brain which deals with automatic,  compulsive behaviour. All the self regulation parts of the brain progress to an automatic compulsive behaviour called alcoholism and we are then often without mental defence against the next drink!

I identified with this one simple fact – the progression of this neurobiological, emotional, and spiritual disease state called alcoholism. I saw it in my own life, this progression over years of drinking.

The “invisible line” that is crossed, according to AA members, can be viewed on a brain image, I believe.

Can you see it in your life?

Like these recovering alcoholics I had not taken my first drink hoping to end up an alcoholic

It was something that had happened to me,  happened despite my very strong will not because my will is weak. I am as wilful a person as you would hope to me. How come I became an alcoholic then?

I did also relate to other things these people shared.

I identified with the damage caused by alcoholism  in their lives and the lives of their family.  How this illness affects everyone in the immediate and even extended family.

I had never considered the effect on others, apart from me?

I listened and identified with how they talked about a “hole in the soul”, how they never felt part of, felt different from others, detached. I related to this. That was me too.

Alcohol made me feel more me! I became attached to it and grew to love it like someone would love another person, more so perhaps? Alcohol came first, loved ones second.

Alcoholism takes away all the good things in life and then your life too.

All of this was the case with me too.

I identified with all this.

I identified too with their solution.

I identified with and wanted what these now happy people in recovery had.

I decided to take the same steps as they had towards this happiness.

There is a solution.

We do recover!