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!

 

 

Euphoria Re-experienced not Recalled?

I never, never want to drink again, I would rather kill myself.

This does not mean I will not drink again however.

A possible relapse is thus not down to desire for a drink, it is because something in my brain and in my heart goes awry.

I remember being in early recovery and thinking the following line from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was very strange  “Remember that we deal with  alcoholcunningbafflingpowerful! Without help it is too much for us”

What did they mean, alcohol was cunning, baffling, powerful? Surely they meant, alcoholism was cunning, baffling, powerful? Right?

Alcohol itself has not got magical powers? It isn’t a ghost or a spirit that can come and get you lured you back into drinking? Why be wary of a substance?

I suffer from alcoholism not alcohol, don’t I? ISM – I, self, me, the internal spiritual malady treated formerly by alcohol. Right? Alcohol was symptomatic?  “Bottles were only a symbol”

Now what is it to be?

In AA, I used to think alcohol got off light, considering the damage it causes to the brain. I always felt alcohol and it’s comprehensive deleterious neuro-toxic effects on my brain have greatly contributed to my difficulties with emotions and thinking and memory and perception etc. The list does go on and on.

One only has to look at a brain image from a fMRI scan to realise  that the damage to the brain wrought by alcohol is extensive and some of it irreversible although there is extensive repair in certain regions of the brain in recovery. I have felt for some time that alcohol gradually help change, over years,  how I felt and thought and perceived this world.

Alcohol literally moulded my brain. If I emotionally reacted or  thought in the same distorted way as I did while drinking or perceived this world in the same jaundiced way I did while drinking ,but while in recovery, then the same behaviours would soon follow.

I would drink.

Like a lot of alcoholics, I had a terrible sense of self, a very negative self perception in other words. I thought I was the lowest of the low, that I had screwed up my life and squandered my talents, that I didn’t even deserve recovery or to recover. I was not even worth that. It was this shame and guilt-fuelled lack of self esteem, this devalued sense of self that helped drive my drinking and which threatened to ruin any chances of recovery.

But what does this have to do with alcohol being cunning, baffling, powerful I hear you ask? Lots, is the answer. This negative self perception, I have had since early childhood,  well since I could reflect on my self and the product of emotional and mental abuse and traumatic parenting is ingrained in my brain.

Even now when I reflect on myself I have a tendency to think negatively or poorly about myself and my achievements, I have a negative bias in my thinking about me. It could depress me even, if I indulged in thinking about me for too long.

Again what does this have to do with alcohol? Well these negative perceptions, ingrained in neural structures in my brain have had more than a helping hand by alcohol. Alcohol has helped reinforced this faulty image of my self.

Alcohol had helped colour this jaundiced view of my self and this can has serious repercussions in recovery. This distorted view was partly the result of staring at my refection on the warped  glass of a wine bottle or on a glass of beer.  It cemented this view or “concretized” it in my self perception neural networks. Every drink helped dig the grave of my self worth.

I have seen many people in recovery relapse after a period of negative self reflection, after not thinking they are good enough to recover. It is immensely sad, tragic but nonetheless true. That is why they need love more than anything when they come into recovery. Not orders or dictats but love, plain and simple, make them feel part of, that they belong, that they have found their place, their surrogate home.

I have seen countless people who were so severely abused that they could not face the self disclosure at the heart of the 12 step program of recovery. I have seem than unconsciously “choose” to drink rather than take the steps. Part of this is something deep inside whispers a barely audible solution. To drink again.

Why is it barely audible? Because it is. It doesn’t actually have a voice. It is the whisper of a neural ghost (1). It is ghost that lives in the machinery of the brain. As alive as you are. It will probably remain to haunt you as an alcoholic  in some form  and at some time of weakness. Never think otherwise!

It is like a euphoria recalled but also it isn’t!? It may be worse than that; it is actually to a very great extent re-experienced.

Euphoria re-experienced not simply recalled.

Euphoria wasn’t just the pleasure you received but also relief from…negative emotions surrounding the self. Negative self perception, emotional distress and so on. It appears that negative affect (emotions, mood, anxiety) can automatically prompt thoughts of alcohol or drugs (2) and that the neural circuitries of affect, reward, memory and attention are taken over or ‘hijacked’ in the addiction cycle and often prompted into activation by emotional distress so that attention is directed to alcohol to relieve distress, with the resultant ‘craving’ coloured by numerous memory associations ingrained in the brain linked to habitually drinking to relieve negative emotional states.

Also, pertinent to this blog, negative self perception may also prompt relapse. I partly reconcile alcohol being cunning, baffling, powerful and alcoholism by reference to an article I read a while back by Rex Cannon(3).

His observations about a possible role for negative self perception in relapse was based on a study conducted  on recovering alcoholics. It found that by measuring their brain frequencies, when thinking about drinking and when thinking about self perception that there was a change in the frequency of their brain waves. In both cases, thinking about drinking and negative self perception, Cannon et al observed that widespread alpha power increases in the cortex, commonly seen by use of certain chemicals, were also present and in the same areas of a common neural circuitry for his study group during their reports of ‘using’ and ‘drinking’ thought patterns as well as in negative self perception.

These reports of ‘using’ and ‘drinking’ thought patterns as well as in negative self perception which appeared to bring the brain into synchrony, if only for a brief period of time, suggesting this to be the euphoria addicted individuals speak so fondly of and one possible reason for difficulty in treating these disorders.

In relation to using thoughts they suggested that “if the brain communicates and orchestrates the affective state of the individual in response to contents and images relating to self and self-in-experience – it is plausible that a large scale feedback loop is formed involving not only perceptual processes but relative automatic functioning.

This process reinforces the addicted person to become habituated to an aroused cortical state (i.e. increased alpha/beta activity) and when there is a shift to ‘normalcy’ (or recovery/sobriety) it is errantly perceived as abnormal thereby increasing the desire or need for a substance to return to the aroused (perceived as normal (or desired)) state”.

This would surely have a profound impact on addicts attempting to contain normal negative emotions when there is an automatic desire state suggesting, unconsciously, an alternative to wrestling with these torturous sober realities.

I have seen a similar process but over a much longer time frame in some alcoholics in recovery who relapse. They seem to disappear into themselves, right in front of you, like they were being lured by some internal, inaudible siren, into a self drowning.

Letting go of the life boat trying to keep them afloat. I have seen it many times, the dimming of the eye’s light, the turning inwards to the alcoholic darkness. A submerging into this illness.

It may be that indulging in one’s negative self perception recreates a neural based virtual reality. One is almost bodily transported back in time. Back to a drinking period. In a neural sense, back in the drink and not fully in sobriety, however fleetingly.

It does leave a neural taste for it, a torturous transient desire.

I remember it, particularly in early recovery, when the ‘recovery’ script was not written yet and I did not have a habitual recovery self schema to automatically activate, to pull me out of this neural reverie, this most bio-chemical vicarious pleasure.

The problem is that it happens to you without you asking it! You can be invoking a negative self schema automatically without wanting to reawaken this  ghost.

But that is alcoholsim in a nutshell. It happens to you without your express permission. It takes over the brain step by step, while impairing ones’ ability to observe this progression.

That is why we are are the last to know. It is not just denial, it is brain impairment and limited ability to reflect on what has happened to one’s self.

The self has been ‘hijacked’ so it is nigh impossible to figure this out without the help of others.

It is others that lead you out of the fog, as one has become lost to oneself. If nothing else, in early recovery especially, before the steps are done, it is a dangerous place to visit, the self and it is safer to spend as much time as possible outside of it and working with others!

It is a horrible, frightening experience, the limbo between addicted self and recovery self schemas. It is fraught with danger! I remember bumping into people places and things from the past and experiencing the most excruciating cognitive dissonance of literally being caught in between two worlds and not knowing if I was a drinking or a recovering alcoholic; the sense of self as a drinking alcoholic was much stronger than the recovering self. I would hurry to my sponsor or wife to help pull my sense of self as a recovering alcoholic to the surface, out of the neural swamp of my drinking alcoholism.

But it felt alien as Cannon observes, this sober self.  All new, awkward, pained, exposed and frightened.  A constant vacillation between two worlds, that of active use and that of recovery. Recovery had not become “concretized” in my neural networks!

This left an oscillating experiential schism, with one caught in two realities almost simultaneously.

I see people relapse because they have no emotional sobriety and they seem to be emotionally drunk before they are actually drunk. Emotionally drunk seems to be like a virtual drunk, brings up the similar feelings or neurochemical reactions as actual drinking.

The best way to stay sober is to act sober and develop this habitual schema so that it can be retrieved instantaneously, automatically, without thinking. We achieve this schema through our actions, so in a sense is also an action schema. Tiffany (4) states that alcoholics and addicts are prompted to relapse by automatized schemata surrounding drug and alcohol use rituals, so we must have automatized schemata surrounding recovery rituals. Such as ringing a sponsor, mentor, friend, doing a  step ten, praying, meditating, working with others, letting go and letting God, re-appraising distress, regulating emotions, putting thoughts of others before thoughts of ourselves, living outside self.  There are so many automatic schemas in AA and other therapeutic regimes.

Either way, whatever path you choose, make your recovery  tools automatic, so that they come to hand without yourself having to think about them.

 

 

References 

 

1.  Zack, M., Toneatto, T., & MacLeod, C. M. (1999). Implicit activation of alcohol concepts by negative affective cues distinguishes between problem drinkers with high and low psychiatric distress. Journal of Abnormal Psychology108(3), 518.

2.  Cannon, R., Lubar, J., & Baldwin, D. (2008). Self-perception and experiential schemata in the addicted brain. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback,33(4), 223-238.

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

4.  Adinoff, B. (2004). Neurobiologic processes in drug reward and addiction.Harvard review of psychiatry12(6), 305-320.