Out of the Asylum Years!

 

An interview here with one of my music idols Tom Waits, about his alcoholism, his fear that the muse was the drink and his relief it wasn’t and also his subsequent recovery via AA.

Alcohol it seems from this interview and from my own extensive collection of Tom Waits’ music was drowning his talent and not fueling it. 

“For years, Tom Waits was the booze-soaked bard of the barstool, the keeper of ‘a bad liver and a broken heart’. But Tom was saved by his wife Kathleen. He hasn’t had a drink for more than 20 years and, at 65, is making the best music of his life.

In the early ’70s, every Tom Waits song seemed to be about drinking and losing your way in the fog. His first record was even calledClosing Time, but it sounded more like a lock-in at the loneliest bar in the world. Just Tom in the corner slumped over the piano serenading the last few nighthawks with his slurred songs about heartaches and hangovers, and the girl that got away.

His persona had already been perfected by the time he started living in the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles in 1975, a faded establishment that also housed a couple of aristocratic junkies and several call girls who worked Sunset Strip. For six albums on Asylum Records, from his aforementioned debut in 1973 to 1980’sHeartattack and Vine, Waits was the gravel-voiced, beer-stained bard of the barstool, a latter-day beatnik with a bad liver and a broken heart.

Tom Waits's origins - Addicaid

As wonderful as many of those early albums are, the act was wearing thin. So, too, was his ambition, and his spirit.  In 1977, he fell for the singer Rickie Lee Jones, whose wayward life echoed his own, and whose most famous song, ‘Chuck E’s in Love’, paid homage to their mutual friend Chuck E Weiss. Waits and Weiss were arrested that same year for disturbing the peace in Duke’s Tropicana Coffee Shop. His life was unraveling. ‘I had a problem,’ he says, matter-of-factly. ‘An alcohol problem, which a lot of people consider an occupational hazard. My wife saved my life.’

In 1978, when Waits met Kathleen Brennan, everything changed. Kathleen was the catalyst for the dramatic sea-change in Waits’s music that occurred with the release ofSwordfishtrombones in 1983. ‘I didn’t just marry a beautiful woman,’ he says, ‘I married a record collection.’

She has been his songwriting collaborator for almost 35 years now. When Waits was once asked what his wife brought to the table, he replied, ‘Blood and liquor and guilt.’ Which is handy, because Waits himself hasn’t had a drink for 23 years. When he says that Kathleen saved his life, he means it literally.

‘Oh yeah, for sure,’ he continues, ‘But I had something in me, too. I knew I would not go down the drain, I would not light my hair on fire, I would not put a gun in my mouth. I had something abiding in me that was moving me forward. I was probably drawn to her because I saw that there was a lot of hope there.’

Given that his early songs, his voice and his persona, were so drenched in drink, how hard was it for him to give up? ‘Oh, you know, it was tough. I went to AA. I’m in the program. I’m clean and sober. Hooray. But, it was a struggle.’

Does he miss the odd night-cap? ‘Miss drinking?’ he says, sounding genuinely surprised. ‘Nah. Not the way I was drinking. No, I’m happy to be sober. Happy to be alive. I found myself in some places I can’t believe I made it out of alive. Oh yeah. People with guns. People with gunshot wounds. People with heavy drug problems. People who carried guns everywhere they went, always had a gun. You live like that,’ he says, without a trace of irony, ‘you attract lower company.’

Did he write a different kind of song when he was drinking? Tom thinks about this for an instant, ‘No. I don’t think so. I mean, one is never completely certain when you drink and do drugs whether the spirits that are moving through you are the spirits from the bottle or your own. And, at a certain point, you become afraid of the answer. That’s one of the biggest things that keeps people from getting sober, they’re afraid to find out that it was the liquor talking all along.’

For a while, Waits had that fear himself, the fear that when he finally dried out, the songs would dry up too. He worked through it, though. ‘I was trying to prove something to myself, too,’ he says, revealingly. ‘It was like, “Am I genuinely eccentric? Or am I just wearing a funny hat?” All the big questions come up when you get sober. “What am I made of? What’s left when you drain the pool?”‘

When asked about his ‘First sober album’ he says, ‘Well, if it matters to anybody other than me …I don’t know if I want to answer that. That’s a kind of personal thing.’

When he talks about songs and songwriting, the essential mystery of it all. You can tell he respects his gift, nurtures it, and doesn’t ever take it for granted; that he has a faith in the song that is almost spiritual.

‘Leadbelly died the day after I was born – 8 December 1949,’ says Waits. ‘I always felt like I connected with him somehow. He was going out and I was coming in. And, maybe we passed in the hall. I would love to have seen Leadbelly play, but that’s the great thing about records, you put them on and those guys are right there in the room. They’re back.’

‘I think about that sometimes. Some day I’m gonna be gone and people will be listening to my songs and conjuring me up…”

Reference

http://score.addicaid.com/tom-waits-the-booze-soaked-bard-of-the-barstool-is-sober/

Phew! So it’s going much better than I thought!?

I have often written about all the difficulties I have had with reading my emotions. Especially in early recovery when I could not even identify and label the most intense negative emotions.

That experience has set me on a near decade-long search to better understand emotions and the way a lack of awareness of emotions plays in addiction and in recovery.

Today I would say the effective and rational/reasonable control of emotions is one area that has become noticeably better.

I tolerate negative emotions better, their intensity is much reduced compare to early recovery, the duration of these emotions is much much shorter than before. I seem to also make better decisions in my life based on not being overwhelmed by my emotions, particularly negative emotions.

It is said by much research that addicts, alcoholics and those with behavourial addictions have something skin to alexithymia, an impaired ability to read emotions and act on them in making decisions.

Humans seem to use emotions to make decisions which is something I never realized before.

When I ask my wife how have I changed she always says I have become more considerate and more mature in my emotional reactions.

This to me shows recovery as a process of handling emotions better, in a more emotional mature as opposed to immature way.

I also have looked at lots of research that says this emotional immaturity is there for many pre-using drugs or alcohol or engaging in unhealthy behaviours. So it may be a part of the aetiology of addictive behaviours.

When I first came into recovery I remember my wife would drive me to AA meetings. This was before my sponsor said I would be either walking or getting the bus from now on!

I was mortified?

ME!? Doesn’t he know who I am?

I have chauffeur, thank you very much?.

I had become so emotional dependent on my wife. It was like another addiction/dependency.

Recovery has been a long, at times painful, process of growing up, however reluctantly at times!

I was not only powerless over alcohol but fairly hopeless too when it came to living life on lives terms.

The more chronic my addictions became the more I regressed emotionally.

The more I recovered the more I matured emotionally,  is my point.

Even today I often have to “talk my emotions out” to see what I feel really, before I can label and identify what I am feeling really.

Before I can act maturely on what I am feeling instead of emotionally reacting which is what I always used to do.

As a fellow recovering person said in this article (1)  . . “. sit down with people and bounce some ideas off each other and get it off your chest and stuff. That’s very helpful and that kind of helps me, like saying it out loud to identify where I’m actually at.”

This is why ringing sponsors and talking to fellow recovering people is essential  especially in early recovery.

We do not how we feel clearly what we are really feeling otherwise, delude ourselves everything is fine, continue to make poor decisions to the point of becoming emotionally  drunk and then often relapsing to physically drunk.

We do all of this sometimes not because we want to drink but because we think we can do it alone when we cannot.

Sometimes in early recovery we haven’t go a clue what is going on, our arrogant pride however resists this idea and keeps missing the point of what is really going on.

Our errant emotion processing does not result in clear thinking, it results in negative, strangely deluded thinking.

By deluded I mean divorced from the reality of things as they really are. It takes some weeks and months to realize we cannot fully rely on our own thinking and this can be a blow to the pride.

The concluding part of this study (1) was very revealing to me and explained part of the “feeling” that often accompanies early recovery, the feeling of not recovering fast enough of not recovering NOW!

Addicts and alcoholics want everything NOW even recovery, they want the recovery of ten years in ten weeks!

” …some  participants interpreted negative feelings as global markers of overall emotional ill health and poor progress in recovery, for example, “I think I should be feeling better now” and “I thought I was progressing but in a lot of ways I haven’t and that’s not good.”

Here, participants realize they are experiencing negative feelings and understand it as suggestive of a larger negative phenomenon, for example, that they are not “better now” and not “progressing” as previously thought. This type of negative globalization is a type of cognitive distortion.”

A cognitive distortion is a deluded thought like those mentioned above. Our errant negative emotions produce distorting thinking.

Our negative feelings rarely tell us the truth. They give some jaundiced view of reality.

This is why we need to have constant contact with others in recovery to offload these negative feelings.

Just as with sharing with a sponsor or a friend to find out what we feel, we need to share with others to undistort our negative thinking. Negative emotions often give rise to negative thinking.

“As one participant said “And I know [recovery] is not a magic fix either because I didn’t expect, if you get sober to be all of a sudden everything is perfect. That’s not the way it works. . . . So it’s going to take you a little longer to feel better.””

I would add to this that it is  progress not perfection.

I would also add that we can feel better quicker than we think on a basis, one day at a time.

Ring someone, talk to someone and try to verbalise how you feel.

This straightens out your thinking and you will feel better right away.

We drank to go “phew!” a release from our thinking and negative heads, now we “share” with others what is really going on with us, to get to understanding what emotions ail us and this leads to the same feeling of release, to the same feeling of “phew!”

We never have to drink again to go “phew”, talk to someone instead.

We will discover things are never as negative as our thinking has lead us to believe, and are usually a whole better in fact!

We recover together.

 

References

1. Krentzman, A. R., Higgins, M. M., Staller, K. M., & Klatt, E. S. (2015). Alexithymia, Emotional Dysregulation, and Recovery From Alcoholism Therapeutic Response to Assessment of Mood. Qualitative health research,25(6), 794-805.

The psychic change as continual behavioural change?

When I came into AA I remember hearing the words “the need for a psychic change” which was the product of a spiritual awakening (as the result of doing the 12 steps) and that the 12 steps are a program of action!

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly states this need “The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences* which have revolutionised our whole attitude toward life, towards our fellows and toward God’s universe.”

The question is whether this spiritual change is the result of behavioural change?

As I was told when I came into recovery that if I did not change my actions, and how I acted in this world, my actions would take me back to where my actions had taken me before – back to drinking.

This is the cornerstone of AA recovery; thinking, feeling differently about the world as the result of acting differently in the world, as to when we were active drinkers.

Otherwise one does the same things and ends up in the same places, doing the same things, namely drinking. It is a behavioural revolution; a sea change in how we act.

In line with this thinking, it is we that need to change, not the world.

According to one study (1) which examined whether personality traits were modified during prolonged abstinence in recovering alcoholics, two groups of both recovering and recently detoxified alcoholics were asked via questionnaire to  see if they differed significantly from each other in three personality domains: neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

The recovering alcoholics were pooled from self help groups and treatment centres and the other group, the recently detoxified drinkers were pooled from various clinics throughout France.

Patients with alcohol problems obtained a high “neuroticism” score (emotions, stress), associated with a low “agreeableness” score (relationship to others).

In the same vein, low “conscientiousness” scores (determination) were reported in patients who had abstained from alcohol for short periods (6 months to 1 year).

In this study, recently detoxified drinkers scored high on neuroticism. They experienced difficulty in adjusting to events, a dimension which is associated with emotional instability (stress, uncontrolled impulses, irrational ideas, negative affect). Socially, they tend to isolate themselves and to withdraw from social relationships.

This also ties in with what the Big book also says “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.“

In contrast, regarding neuroticism, they found that recovering persons did not necessarily focus on negative issues. They were not shy in the presence of others and remained in control of their emotions, thus handling frustrations better (thereby enhancing their ability to remain abstinent).

Regarding agreeableness (which ties back into social relationships), the researchers also found that recovering persons cared for, and were interested in, others (altruism). Instead, recently detoxified drinkers’ low self-esteem and narcissism prevented them from enjoying interpersonal exchanges, and led them to withdraw from social relationships.

Finally, regarding conscientiousness, they observed that, over time, recovering persons became more social, enjoyed higher self-esteem (Costa, McCrae, & Dye, 1991), cared for and were interested in others, and wished to help them.

They were able to perform tasks without being distracted, and carefully considered their actions before carrying them out; their determination remained strong regardless of the level of challenge, and their actions are guided by ethical values. Instead, recently detoxified drinkers lacked confidence, rushed into action, proved unreliable and unstable. As a result, lacking sufficient motivation, they experienced difficulty in achieving their objectives.

Recovering persons seemed less nervous, less angry, less depressed, less impulsive and less vulnerable than recently detoxified drinkers. Their level of competence, sense of duty, self-discipline and ability to think before acting increased with time.

 

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The authors of the study concluded that “these results are quite encouraging for alcoholic patients, who may aspire to greater quality of life through long-term abstinence”.

However, in spite of marked differences between groups, their results did not provide clear evidence of personality changes.

While significant behaviour differences between the two groups were revealed, they were more akin to long-term improvements in behavourial adequacy to events than to actual personality changes.

This fits in with the self help group ethos of a change in perception and in “taking action” to resolve issues. In fact, 12 steps groups such as AA are often referred to as utilising a “program of action” in recovering from alcoholism and addiction and in altering attitudes to the world and how they act in it.

The authors also noted the potential for stabilization over time by overcoming previous behaviour weaknesses, i.e. in responding to the world.  Hence, this process is ”one of better adequacy of behaviour responses to reality and its changing parameters.”

In fact, treatment-induced behaviour changes showed a decrease in neuroticism and an increase in traits related to responsibility and conscientiousness.

In line with our various blogs which have explained alcoholism in terms of an emotional regulation and processing disorder, as the Big Book says ““We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures”  the authors here concluded that  “rational management of emotions appears to be the single key factor of lasting abstinence”

If we want to to recover from addiction we have to change how we behave.  We have to start by following a recovery program of action. 

No by thinking about it, or emoting about it but by doing it!

Action is the magic word.

References

Boulze, I., Launay, M., & Nalpas, B. (2014). Prolonged Abstinence and Changes in Alcoholic Personality: A NEO PI-R Study. Psychology2014.

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York: A.A. World Services.

 

From a Drinking Problem to a Thinking Problem?

 

In early recovery I was amazed that some people in recovery said they never thought about alcohol after a few weeks into recovery. Or rather than thoughts related to alcohol rarely drifted across their minds.

I was alarmed by this as thoughts of alcohol rarely left my mind in early recovery.

They came to me rather than me actively going to retrieve thoughts about alcohol myself, consciously or deliberately.

I now realise that this was due to two main reasons.

First of all, fear of drinking is a distress which activates thoughts of alcohol as distress and negative emotions (and negative self perception/schema) seem to automatically retrieve thoughts of alcohol as there has been some habitual fusion of negative emotion with urge to drink in the alcoholic brain.

This is because my alcoholism resulted in compulsive drinking, i.e. my drinking was mainly to do with relieving distress, and that is what compulsion is, automatic behaviours that relieve distress.

Secondly and tied to this point, is that this compulsive drinking in itself is also linked to how chronic my drinking became.

I was completely addicted to alcohol at the end of my drinking so my alcoholism is very chronic.

In terms of neuroscience this means any distress activates a motoric part of my brain, the dorsal striatum,  a part of the brain that deals with stimulus response or automatic response the internal stimulus of distress, which activates an automatic approach or preparation of movement towards getting a drink.

This is expressed in terms of instruction in the brain as automatically occurring intrusive thoughts about drinking alcohol. This is also called an alcohol use schema because as a schema it is procedural way to deal with distress, i.e. have distress automatically deal with it by drinking.

I still find it fascinating that even automatic behaviours have thoughts that accompany them. Although nothing is completely automatic and we have a brief period of time in which to react or not.

By not reacting or acting on this thoughts they appear to lessen in intensity.  The more we do not react the less intense these thoughts become. Finding new ways to cope with distress lessens their grip on us too and eventually they practically disappear.

I have found I have to be very very distressed in recovery for thoughts of alcohol to come revisiting my mind.

This involuntary retrieval of drug related thoughts is thus a hallmark of addicted populations as it happens automatically, implicitly without you having to consciously and explicitly retrieve these thoughts and associated images from your memory banks. They just pop up without your permission.

The intensity of obsessive thoughts about alcohol is said to predict relapse rates (1), with addicts motivated to use drugs to “silence” obsessive thoughts (2).

The idea that abstinence automatically decreases alcohol-related thoughts is challenged by research (3) and supported by clinical observation that among abstinent alcohol abusers, alcohol-related thoughts and intrusions are the rule rather than exception (4).

Modell and colleagues (1992) highlighted symptomatic similarities between addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder with subjective craving for drugs or alcohol characterized as having obsessive elements. (eg, the compulsive drive to consume alcohol, recurrent and persistent thoughts about alcohol, and the struggle to control these drives and thoughts) similar to the thought patterns and behaviours of patients with obsessive-compulsive illness (5).

Modell et al. also point to the potential similarities in underlying neural pathways implicated in the two disorders, suggesting that they may share a similar aetiology.

The Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale (OCDS) implies that as the severity of this illness progresses, so does the intensity of the obsessive thoughts about alcohol and the compulsive behaviours to use alcohol.

Kranzler et al. (1999) showed relapsers who scored higher in ‘obsessions’ craving measured by the OCDS predicted relapse in the 12 months after treatment completion (6).

This may also be a reflection of addiction severity too! As addicts and alcoholics become more addictive brain imaging shows a shift in “reward processing” from the ventral striatum to the dorsal striatum.

The DS as stated above is in charge of more automatic, compulsive reaction.

This shift from VS to DS  may also be marked by an increased emergence of automatic thoughts, which the authors also suggested as the cognitive thoughts and images of automatized drug action schemata (2).

In fact, this is demonstrated by correlations indicating that dorsal striatum activation is lowest in participants with low OCDS scores. And vice versa, highers OCDS scores with increased DS activation.

 

This means, in simple terms, that more severe addiction may be associated with more intrusive/obsessive thoughts and less severe with less thoughts.  

So if you are in a meeting or in other treatment environments and someone in recovery says they never have any obsessive thoughts or intrusive thoughts consider the possibility that their addiction did not become as severe as your addiction?

Either way these thoughts are not your own but the automatic thoughts of addiction so be careful not to react to them.

They are frightening at first, but gradually becoming irritating and annoying before occurring less and less as recovery and your non reaction progress.

If you learn to habitually not to react emotionally to them they start to lose their grip and become less severely intrusive.

Most days I do not have any intrusive thoughts. This is because my recovery has progressed.

In many ways, recovery usually goes in the opposite direction to addiction.

References

1.. Bottlender, M., & Soyka, M. (2004). Impact of craving on alcohol relapse during, and 12 months following, outpatient treatment. Alcohol and Alcoholism39(4), 357-361.

2. 6. Tiffany, S. T. (1990). A cognitive model of drug urges and drug-use behavior: role of automatic and nonautomatic processes. Psychological review97(2), 147.

3. Caetano, R. (1985). Alcohol dependence and the need to drink: A compulsion? Psychological Medicine,
15(3), 463–469.

4. Hoyer, J., Hacker, J., & Lindenmeyer, J. (2007). Metacognition in alcohol abusers: How are alcohol-related intrusions appraised?. Cognitive Therapy and Research31(6), 817-831.

5. Modell, J. G., Glaser, F. B., Mountz, J. M., Schmaltz, S., & Cyr, L. (1992). Obsessive and compulsive characteristics of alcohol abuse and dependence: Quantification by a newly developed questionnaire.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 16, 266-271.

6. Kranzler, H. R., Mulgrew, C. L., Modesto-Lowe, V. and Burleson, J. A.
(1999) Validity of the obsessive compulsive drinking scale (OCDS): Does craving predict drinking behavior? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 23, 108–114.

7. Vollstädt‐Klein, S., Wichert, S., Rabinstein, J., Bühler, M., Klein, O., Ende, G., … & Mann, K. (2010). Initial, habitual and compulsive alcohol use is characterized by a shift of cue processing from ventral to dorsal striatum.Addiction105(10), 1741-1749.

 

 

 

Do you Have to Hit Rock Bottom Before Getting Help?

Does a person with alcohol issues have to hit rock bottom in under to surrender and start recovering?

Does one have to go to the bitter end before surrendering to the recover process?

My own experience showed  that I had to concede to my innermost self that I was/m alcoholic and that I needed help from others.

For me it was a “low-bottom” or “last gasper” rock bottom but for many it seems to be a high bottom.

I had lost practically everything and for some they had lost little compared to me but they had seen the road ahead and realised it was not going to get any better without accepting help.

This shows there is more to alcoholism than alcohol, that these people realised their negative behaviours and their consequences were causing them as much distress as their drinking. They did not like who they were becoming or the effect it was having on others around them , their loved ones, families and friends and employers.

I maintain also that there are also many different variables that contribute not only to one’s alcoholism and it’s severity but also in one’s chances of getting into recovery sooner rather than later. Environmental factors such  as ethnicity, income, place in society, class can often play a role and social and therapeutic support networks as well as childhood maltreatment such as trauma, various types of abuse, insecure attachment issues etc in alcoholism severity.

 

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Many more alcoholics seem to have stopped drinking before losing what was important to them are motivated to pursue recovery than those who lost nearly everything, including health, family, friends, and jobs.

Individuals are accessing treatment via support networks much earlier in their drinking and may not have to experience the multitude of physiological, mental, emotional, financial, legal relationship and other problems low bottom alcoholics frequently do.

“The concept of hitting bottom persists within Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) even though the backgrounds, addiction experiences, and therapeutic options of AA members are now radically different than they were at the group’s founding. Understanding what AA members now mean by hitting bottom is important because the experience describes the point at which they become willing to seek help—professional treatment, AA, or both.

Among the most controversial aspects of AA is the idea that alcoholics will seek help only when their “illness” has led to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” (AA, 2001, p. 30). Those words originally appeared in the 1939 first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, but by the time of the publication of the 1953 commentary, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (AA, 1953), the idea had changed in contradictory ways. The instance of help seeking received a name (“hitting bottom”) that suggested an objectively fixed point. On the other hand, the experiences of those entering AA demonstrated that such a point is relative, and not fixed. AA was helping “people who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics” so it was “necessary to raise the bottom” (AA, 1953, p. 23).

Denzin (1987) provided the succinct definition used in this article: “Bottom: Confronting one’s alcoholic situation, finding it intolerable and surrendering to alcoholism. Accompanied by collapse and sincerely reaching out for help; may be high or low” (p. 134). The hitting bottom concept originally reflected the experience and outlook of AA’s founders and pioneers in the 1930s.

“Which description best fits the ‘bottom’ you hit as an alcoholic?” This categorical variable had three potential values: high, middle, or low.

High bottom: I stopped drinking before I lost what was important to me.
Middle bottom: I suffered serious consequences but did not lose everything.
Low bottom: I lost nearly everything, including health, family, friends, and jobs.

The study found that Whites, religious people, and episodic drinkers were less likely to be low bottoms when they began recovering.

Alcohol-related problems were most clearly associated with level of bottom, supporting recent findings that problems increase the odds that an alcoholic will perceive the need for help and will seek help (Grella et al., 2009).

Findings were – high bottom (36.1%), middle bottom (44.5%), and low bottom (19.4%).

A fundamental tenet of AA is that alcoholism is progressive, so that alcoholics “get worse, never better” (AA, 2001, p. 30). Supportive of this progressive framework is the finding that problems distinguish high bottoms from low bottoms. The difference was most clear in the categories of social and physical problems, indicating that early identification of these problems could signal a need for intervention, particularly if the individual drinks constantly or uses drugs other than alcohol.

A recent study by Field, Duncan, Washington, and Adinoff (2007)reported an inverse relationship between motivation to change and alcoholic problem severity, suggesting low-bottom alcoholics might be less motivated than high-bottom alcoholics to pursue recovery.”

The salutatory lesson from this for me from this study is that we should never pronounce when another addict or alcoholic has had enough! That quite clearly is for them to decide not us!
It appears almost counter intuitive for some, if not many,  that many more alcoholics, who seem to have stopped drinking before losing what was important to them, are motivated to pursue recovery than those who lost nearly everything, including health, family, friends, and jobs.
This is very noteworthy as it runs contrary to AA experience in the early days when most alcoholics seeking recovery were low bottom.
This would suggest that widespread societal awareness that there is a solution has had a profound effect on alcoholics seeking help for their illness much earlier than in the early decades of AA.
This has profound effects on earlier intervention as these individuals can access treatment via support networks and may not have to experience the multitude of physiological, mental, emotional, financial, legal, relationship, family and other problems low bottom alcoholics frequently do.
If we can alleviate suffering we should also seek to do so and help others to do so as early as possible.
 
You do not have to lose everything in order to surrender to 12 step programs of recovery. For me there is  a real message of hope in this study, that alcoholics can seek help earlier without having to experience the various hardships of low bottom.

 

References
1. Young, L. B. (2011). Hitting bottom: Help seeking among Alcoholics Anonymous members. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 11(4), 321-335.

One from the Heart

I have started a page on my other blog on the role of trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addictive behaviours. This is a condition very close to my heart, literally.

 http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/ptsd/

For me PTSD is one “co-occurring” condition which has greatly contributed to  my overall alcoholism and the severity of my alcoholism.

It greatly contributed to my initial drinking especially via the effect alcohol had on me.

My traumatic incidents in early to middle childhood mixed with my insecure attachment to my mother meant I was always wary of people. I always left distinct from other people, even my immediate family.

I was wary and anxious, paranoid that people were thinking and talking about me. I never felt I could be myself around others even my best friends from childhood.

I was always holding something back, always left like I was protecting some invisible wound. I now believe that invisible wound was an emotional wound oozing shame.

Then I found alcohol. I felt I had come across the elixir of life.

It made me more me, a better me, a friendlier, warmer, less dismissive, less fearful me.

A me that got on great with others, effortlessly, even others I had not particularly liked before.

I became the life and soul of the party. I never classed alcohol as a drug because I thought drugs took you away from yourself whereas alcohol almost brought me home to myself.

I fitted my skin better and felt more comfortable in it after drinking alcohol. I loved that warm golden glow, the liquid bliss.

It made me go “phew!” and allowed me to escape myself.

A lot of this I believe was trauma mixed with insecure attachment mixed with an abnormal reaction to alcohol.

Trauma and insecure attachment alters the stress parts of the brain which heightens the effects of alcohol. It allowed me to connect with people. Gave me that “comfort and ease” which was illusive in everyday life.

In recovery this connection with people is essential too. We recover with the help of others, we learn the program via others.

We have to trust another person. So what happens when we lose that trust or never gained that trust. And don’t we have to trust in a God of our understanding?  Faith seems to  be about trust too?

The reality folks, is I don’t have a lot of trust period.

I love and trust my wife absolutely. After that…?

I have a lot of trust for various others such as some members of my family a few friends but generally my childhood has left me fearful  and mistrusting. All my immediate family and beyond love me but there is expressing love and there is demonstrating love, they are very different I find.

The worse thing is I also take over from God in many ways because I am not trusting enough to let Him get on with running the show.

This weekend proved to me I need additional help with trust, with my PTSD.

I mean I have come to the realisation I need outside help, professional help, EMDR help for my trauma – the two major issues I have in recovery and which act as my most likely relapse triggers scenarios are both to do with trauma.

This weekend I convinced myself that my unintentional actions had indirectly upset someone in recovery.

I had not real proof of this. I was kinda paranoid about it more than anything.

My head eventually went into a tail spin as a result of thinking I may inadvertently have caused harm in another recovering person. I was full of shame and anguish as my head immediately went into catastrophic thinking, thinking the worse, that his person might take it so bad that they may even relapse, and might even die!!

My thinking was constantly trying to convince me the worse case scenario was about to happen and it would be my fault. This is called PTSD thinking.

When I as a child something terrible happened and someone caused me trauma via a life threatening situation.

I blamed myself for this trauma, convinced myself that it was somehow my fault that this had happened. This was me dealing with my helpfulness and hopelessness in the face of extreme trauma. Trying to somehow control the uncontrollable.

Somehow I could have adverted this if I had acted differently? This is trauma in a nutshell, thinking one is guilty for something beyond one’s control.

In retrospect this seems insane to think I as a child could have any control over this incident. It had nothing to do with me.

Years later this incident (and others) had burnt into my brain and my heart. When I unintentionally hurt  (or otherwise think I have) who is vulnerable like someone in recovery I have this terrible reaction that they may relapse or die.

It is irrational but it is there and it has to be treated professionally.

Someone else’s adult life is not in my control, only my adult life is in my control (and I get a lot of help with that)!

In order to be in more in charge of this adult life I have to deal with that traumatised child, and via professional means.

The problem has become clear, it has become a broken record in my head. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

Action is required.

Recovery is about taking action, not thinking about taking action.

My PTSD and alcoholism got fused into one condition, although they each have different voices in my head.

There is other voices too – the trauma voice, the OCD voices, the insecure attachment voice/ the less than voice/ the not good enough voice – mostly voices of shame provoked by childhood trauma.

There is also the addict voice of the chronic malcontent, nothing is good enough and too much is never enough.

So there you have it, one definitely  from the heart.

That is where recovery has to happen ultimately.

This is where I hope the still voice of recovery will eventually reside.

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!

 

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.

 

Filling that “Hole in the Soul”

When I first  arrived in AA I was told by a big scary looking man that in AA you will get better.

That “we will help you by loving you back to health”.

I was quite alarmed by this situation to be honest “loved back to health”? Was this guy some relic from the hippy era?

What he said, was very threatening to me. It suggested unconditional love, a concept that I was only partially familiar with.

I had always knew my father loved my unconditionally but this was less the case with my mother. I knew she loved me in her vague, through a  distant Valium haze but part of me was always reaching out, crying out for more. More love.

I found that love in liquid form in alcohol. Or so I felt. Alcohol was constant. It always delivered without fail, transported me to the person I would much rather be. Allowed me to escape the person I did not want to be.

I now accept my mother suffered from addiction just like me and I have immense compassion for her because of that, she did the best she could under the circumstances. I forgive her completely and love her completely.

She was not a bad person she as an ill person just like me.

Did this relationship with my primary care giver have any effect on my teenage drinking and later alcoholism?

Like many alcoholics I have spoken to over the years I too seemed to suffer from the  “hole in the soul” they spoke of.

That not feeling whole, like something in you, some part of you was missing.

Having a curious mind, I always wondered what it could be? It must be something that can be discovered? I wasn’t happy to leave it was a vague spiritual condition.

It felt too emotional just to be a spiritual thing, although it is also that.

It felt like I was lacking in something, something in my make up was not there or in diluted measure?

Later I found out that this relationship with my mother was called an insecure attachment and that lots of people in recovery had this insecure attachment with their mothers or whoever reared them.

This insecure attachment they said often resulted in novelty seeking and hunting out some “secure attachment” elsewhere, in a bottle, syringe, sex, a poker machine, food or other addictive behaviours.

It is lonely recently that I found there is a brain chemical linked to this insecure attachment called oxytocin, the “love chemical” which effects all the neurochemical said to be involved in addiction.

Oxytocin is badly affected by the stress reaction to insecure attachment, abuse trauma and a tough upbringing. The oxytocin is then reduced which reduces the other chemicals too and we search for these at the bottom of a glass.

Unfortunately alcohol seems to give us cocktail of these chemicals in liquid form. But never enough.

For a while anyway, it gives us the illusion of attachment, of that fleeting feeling of being part, of being loved.

Through the years all these chemicals start running dry and the drink stops working.

We are then left with the problems we had before we put a glass to our mouths.

So when the drink stopped working and I had to go to AA – not one wants to go  there, let’s face it, it’s because we have to!

So the big scary guy may have been right all along. I have found that he is right over the years of attending AA.

I have found a new, surrogate family  in AA, a “learnt attachment” within the fellowship of others in the same boat as me, who have felt the same as me. I have found this attachment to others, by being looked after and trying to help others – my oxytocin, the “love chemical” the “cuddle chemical” has gone up dramatically while my stress has plummeted as I have bonded with others in recovery.

This connectedness is my spiritual solution to a neurobiological problem.

I now feel part of for the first time, I have filled the hole in the soul with love given and received.

Who Wants to be an Alcoholic?

The social stigma of being an alcoholic prevents many from coming into recovery and treating their illness. And it is an illness but it takes time to realise that – a physiological, psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and spiritual disease. It is as profound an illness as one can have.

It is the only illness that actively tells you that you do not have it!

How cunning, baffling and powerful is that!?  

In fact stigma, particular prevalent in the UK as compared to the US, helps kill alcoholics.

We all have ideas of tramp on park benches supping on bottles of alcohol when we think of alcoholics.

I know I did. When I went to my first meeting I thought I would be greeted by park tramps with strings holding their trousers up with food encrusted beards, no teeth and hygiene problems.

I wasn’t greeted by anyone like this.

I was greeted by a teacher, a lawyer, a counsellor, a business man, a builder, a nurse, an actress, among others.  Alcoholism effects every area of life, no strata of life is immune, there are recovering alcoholics everywhere.  The second man to have stepped on the moon is in recovery for alcoholism!

These shiny AA people were not drinking and some had not drank for decades!

Imagine not drinking for ten years and more? I could not imagine ten minutes…but now I am coming up to my tenth birthday in AA.

 

“Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows” (1)

Neuroscience has demonstrated repeatedly how the brain is taken over by the actions of alcohol and other substances which leave the brain severely restricted in it’s choice of behaviours. Self will has become so compromised we barely have any!?

We become so comprised in our own ability to make decisions that we are often “without mental defence against” drinking.

Alcohol via the alterations in stress and reward (survival) systems in the brain means our illness has literally taken over our brain and calls the shots, does the thinking which leads to the drinking.

We have a thinking disease as well as drinking one by the time we get into recovery.

It is the thinking of this illness, which we mistake for our own, quite understandably, as these thoughts are happening in our own head, that tells us we do not have an alcoholic problem, we do not need to go to an AA meeting, or when we have gone, that we do not need to stay, that we are different to the people at the meeting – that they need this recovery thing not me. I can work this out myself.

Why does it do this?

Why is it constantly chittering away between our ears. It has to be us, surely? Our thoughts can’t have been taken over like some 1960s episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk and crew are struck down by some thought virus??

If you are new to recovery don’t bend your head over this stuff!

All you have to do is twofold. Get to a meeting and see if your experience of drinking tallies with those there and two, watch out for that motivational voice of alcoholism trying to get you far away from these people.

This is my test to see if you are alcoholic.

This voice of the illness is similar to the voice of OCD and other anxiety disorders which talk to us in thoughts which are contrary to our well being and health. Why?

Because our survival networks in the brain have gone so haywire that these conditions think they are helping us survive by suggesting certain actions which we previously used to reduce distress, i.e.compulsive behaviours, but which take us increasingly into even greater emotional distress and unhealthy behaviours.

They are like an Olympic coach training us to get chronically unwell.

They persist because they have ingrained in our brains unfortunately, possible forever. They are the torturous whispers of our neural ghosts!

They refuse to die but in time these voices become more manageable, the volume on them can be turned down or ignored altogether.

Turning down the distress signal that feeds them is at the key.

You are not alone – “Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal  powerlessness.” (2)

This powerlessness led me to surrendering. Paradoxically to win this war we must first surrender.

Surrendering to the idea that I may, possibly, be an alcoholic.

Acceptance of this possibility is the first step.

 

References

 

  1.  Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York: A.A. World Services.
  2. Twelve steps and twelve traditions. (1989). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.

 

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