The Great Obsession:
“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. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, some day he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30)
We all tried to moderate and control our drinking or drug use.
We experienced failure after increasingly worse failure, or we gave up trying to quit altogether, forfeiting our lives to our disease.
“We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30)
Eventually, the pain and consequences of this progressive illness got so bad that we stopped trying to prove we were like other people, gave ourselves over to the 12 Steps, developed a deep and functioning connection to God (as we understood Him), and recovered.
The Great Obsession 2.0
Years later, I still fully accept that I am bodily different from most of the other people I know, unable to put alcohol into my system in any form or amount, but I want to believe that I am now mentally just like everybody else.
I can’t drink like normal people, but I make countless vain attempts to prove that I now think like normal people.
At times, I want to believe I’m in full control of my thoughts and feelings, but I find myself on an emotional binge that can have drastic consequences.
While in this state of delusion, I have moments of clarity when I sense I’m on shaky ground, wading out into the world on my own amazing intellect and self-will.
That sounds familiar somehow…
Like I’ve been in that place before…
“If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove.
“The alcoholic may say to himself in the most casual way, “It won’t burn me this time, so here’s how!” Or perhaps he doesn’t think at all.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 24)
Just like drinking, I find myself believing that everything will be different if I just manage my thinking well— like a normal person.
I set myself up for failure by falling back into the tired old belief that I’ve got everything under control—not drinking, but that whatever ridiculous notions my mind concocts is surely just and right now.
The Bedevilments Return
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 52)
After all we’ve been through, after all the success we’ve seen in sobriety, we wonder how we’ve found ourselves once again plagued with discontent and self-pity.
If, When you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.
Replace the action of drinking with any of the following thought patterns:
- Obsessive thinking
- Low self-esteem
I find myself having little control over when and to what degree these things invade my life.
I can’t simply “think differently” or “feel better.”
I find myself powerless to stop these unbalanced ideas, emotions, and attitudes from taking over my more healthy thoughts.
I find myself trying to control my thoughts, my emotions, and my spiritual health, failing just as badly as when I tried to control or moderate my drinking back in the day.
It Was Our Solution Then—It’s Our Solution Now
My problem and my solution are exactly the same as they always were:
“Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously.”
When did this stop being so OBVIOUS to me?
Self-will is still just as useless today as it ever was, booze or no booze.
I need God (as I understand Him) on my best days just as much as I need him on my worst days.
I need God to be directing this crazy journey 5 years into sobriety just as much as I needed him 20 minutes into sobriety.
“At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life—or else.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 44)
I want so badly to avoid the issue of my faulty thinking, wishing I was not wired to react the way that I do. I’d rather just ignore it and hope it goes away on its own.
It rarely works out that way.
Refusing to recognize my continued need for God and a spiritual program is a perilous state of being.
Getting Back on the Spiritual Path
When I find myself off on an emotional bender, feeling off track, and crashing into other people (who have just as much right to inhabit this planet and live life as I do), I find it critical to get back to basics by asking myself some simple questions (Step 11):
- Do I still believe that God has my best interests at heart and wants me to be reasonably happy and successful as a human endeavor? (Step 3)
- Am I doing my part in keeping close to Him and performing His work well? (Step 3)
- Am I holding on to some resentment, some idea of what I deserve but am not getting, some fear about the future? (Steps 4 and 10)
- Am I avoiding talking with my sponsor about any of this? (Steps 5 and 10)
- Am I avoiding an amends or apology that I owe someone? (Steps 8, 9, 10)
- When is the last time I just simply did something for someone else, free of any expectations for return? (Steps 10 and 12)
- Do I have demands, a timeline, or other expectations I’m placing on God or other people? (Steps 3 and 10)
Most importantly, am I willing to accept that I need this Program—that my life is STILL UNMANAGEABLE (Step 1 on constant replay)?
Finding some clarity and insight from those questions, I pick up the phone and call my sponsor, and I get back in touch with God.
Life begins to shift immediately.
I don’t think like (I assume) the so-called normal people do, and I can’t survive for any length of time pretending that I do.
The solution to the new Great Obsession, that I think and feel in the same way and to the same degree as most other people, hasn’t changed.
There is emotional sobriety to be found in the 12 Steps, as well.
I am thankful for that.
Contact SONTX: Help Is Available
The Promises the 12 Steps offer are real, and sobriety is just the beginning for us all.
Life can be truly amazing at last—assuming we are still as willing as ever to work a spiritual program of recovery.
No matter how bad it is right now, where there is desperation, there is hope.
We’ve been there, and we can help—contact Solutions of North Texas.
David S. is an alumnus of the SONTX Residential Program and served as a house manager. He is celebrating sobriety as a up-and-coming writer in Dallas.