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.

Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works

A journalistic piece entitled,  “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous “, written by  Gabrielle Glaser, also harshly criticizes Alcoholics Anonymous. AA and similar 12-step programs.

I cite a blog on her criticisms here (1)

Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works

“Glaser’s central claim is that there’s no rigorous scientific evidence that AA and other 12-step programs work.

First, she writes that “Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, [other methods for treating alcohol dependence] are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.” In other words, “modern science” hasn’t shown AA to work.”

Glaser appears to lessen her argument by suggesting that AA is difficult to study (so how can she be so sure it is not effective then?).

” Alcoholics Anonymous is famously difficult to study. By necessity, it keeps no records of who attends meetings; members come and go and are, of course, anonymous. No conclusive data exist on how well it works.”

Equally there, in her world view, would also be no conclusive data to suggest if doesn’t work? So why make bold claims either way?

” In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration, a health-care research group, reviewed studies going back to the 1960s and found that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

According to (1), Glaser is simply ignoring a decade’s worth of science, not only here but throughout the piece.

“No, that’s not true,” said Dr. John Kelly, a clinical psychologist and addiction specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “There’s quite a bit of evidence now, actually, that’s shown that AA works.”

Kelly, alongside Dr. Marica Ferri and Dr. Keith Humphreys of Stanford, is currently at work updating the Cochrane Collaboration guidelines (he said they expect to publish their results in August).

” Kelly said that in recent years, researchers have begun ramping up rigorous research on what are known as “12-step facilitation” (TSF) programs, which are “clinical interventions designed to link people with AA.”

Dr. Lee Ann Kaskutas, a senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group who has conducted TSF studies, suggest that TSF outperforms many alternatives.

“They show about a 10 to 20 percent advantage over more standard treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy in terms of days abstinent, and typically also what we find is that when people are engaged in a 12-step-oriented treatment and go to AA, they have about 30 percent to 50 percent higher rates of continuous abstinence,” said Kelly.”

The original Cochrane paper that Glaser cites came out before the latest round of studies did, so that research wasn’t factored into the conclusion that there’s a lack of evidence for AA’s efficacy. In a followup email, Kelly said he expects the next round of recommendations to be significantly different:

Although we cannot as yet say definitively what the final results will bring in the updated Cochrane Review, as it is still in progress, we are seeing positive results in favor of Twelve-Step Facilitation treatments that have emerged from the numerous NIH-sponsored randomized clinical trials completed since the original review published in 2006. We can confirm that TSF is an empirically-supported treatment, showing clinical efficacy, and is likely to result also in lowered health care costs relative to alternative treatments that do not link patients with these freely available recovery peer support services. Another emerging finding is that a central reason why TSF shows benefit is because it helps patients become actively involved with groups like AA and NA, which in turn, have been shown to enhance addiction recovery coping skills, confidence, and motivation, similar to professional interventions, but AA and NA are able to do this in the communities in which people live for free, and over the long-term.

In other words, the most comprehensive piece of research Glaser is using to support her argument will, once it takes into account the latest findings, likely reverse itself.”

In other words, it will also help contradict Glaser’s arguments.

“In an email and phone call, Glaser said that TSF programs are not the same thing as AA and the two can’t be compared. But this argument doesn’t quite hold up: For one thing, the Cochrane report she herself cites in her piece relied in part on a review of TSF studies, so it doesn’t make sense for TSF studies to be acceptable to her when they support her argument and unacceptable when they don’t.

For another, Kelly, Katsukas, and Humphreys, while acknowledging that TSF programs and AA are not exactly the same thing, all said that the available evidence suggests that it’s the 12-step programs themselves that are likely the primary cause of the effects being observed (the National Institutes of Health, given the many studies into TSF programs it has sponsored, would appear to agree).”

“It’s worth pointing out that while critics of AA point it as a bit cultlike…to the researchers who believe in its efficacy, there’s actually very little mystery to the process. “We have been able to determine WHY these 12-step facilitation interventions work,” said Kaskutas in an email. “And we have also been able to determine WHY AA works.”

Simply put, “People who self-select to attend AA, or people who are randomized to a 12-step facilitation intervention, end up having people in their social network who are supportive of their abstinence,” she said.

Reams of research show that social networks…are powerful drivers of behavior, so to Kaskutas — who noted that she is an atheist — the focus on AA’s quirks and spiritual undertones misses the point.

“When you think about a mechanism like supportive social networks, or the psychological benefit of helping others… they have to do with the reality of what goes on in AA, with people meeting others in the same boat as they are in, and with helping other people (are but two examples of these mechanisms of action),” she said.”

At the heart of recovery via 12 step groups may be because it “works for a lot of people, simply by connecting them to others going through the same struggles.”

 

 

France - Alcoholic Anonymous celebrates its 75th year