Football and basketball players practice organized plays and run drills hundreds and hundreds of times.
Professional distance runners, who meticulously manage every aspect of their health, will crush the average weekend amateur.
Many alcoholics and addicts attempt to apply similar logic to our damaged and devastated lives.
We make a lot of training plans.
As alcoholics or addicts, we create plan after plan in hopes of flipping the script on our circumstances.
Those strategies for rebuilding ourselves repeatedly fail despite making good common sense. People have success using “self-help” and “discipline” when tackling other challenges in their lives.
Trying harder seems such a tempting answer to our problems.
Why Keep Relying on Our Faulty Selves?
Despite terrible track records of tearing up our own lives and the lives of others, we continue to insist that we are the best managers of our own journeys.
NOBODY is going to tell me what to do.
My way or bust.
We decide to train ourselves to overcome, to become strong, to increase our will power, and to resist temptation.
Mental push ups and psychological burpees…
We’re the emotional equivalent of the guy at the gym who is always psyching himself up in the mirror…
I’ve got this. Just give me time to train. I’ll do it. Just watch me!
Good Luck, Buddy…
Not a Normal Life Problem
True alcoholics and addicts suffer from a serious illness, complicated because it comprises 2 parts. I’ll use myself as an example.
The Physical Allergy
My body reacts differently to alcohol (and other drugs, too).
I take a drink or two one day, and then a second day.
It’s more the next day, and even more the day after that.
Within a week, I am drinking around the clock.
Even making an attempt to stop is unbearably painful—the urge is indescribable.
The details of the pattern look a little different for each person, but everyone who has a problem can identify with the horrible beating that we go through when we put down booze or drugs.
Unfortunately, if that physical craving and withdrawal were my only dilemma, my solution would be quite simple:
Go to rehab, go to detox, go to jail, whatever… Do whatever it takes to get cleaned up and stay sober for a week or two—learn your damn lesson and never do that again!
I know that it seems logical, and that it should be so simple, but it just isn’t if you are the type of “addict” or “alcoholic” that I am.
It just doesn’t work that way.
Despite all of the knowledge of my physical condition and of the unending list of consequences that will come with relapse…
Something always happens.
The Merry Go Round of Spiritual Illness
I lose a job.
I fight with my spouse, partner, boss, or co-worker.
I get so lonely that I decide I can’t take it anymore.
Somebody lets me down.
I become anxious to the point a drink sounds like a really good idea.
I can’t sleep.
I get righteously indignant with fear or rage.
Or, I simply bust a shoelace—whatever.
My mind will find some reason good enough to make that really bad decision.
It always happens. Always.
Bank on it.
This is what the 12 Steps describe as a mental obsession or spiritual illness:
- Why do I become so sad that it’s OK to destroy myself trying to feel better?
- How is hurting myself a good solution to an argument with my wife?
- What good will be served by getting horribly drunk and behaving really badly, then suffering guilt, pain and remorse?
Nothing—just more wreckage to deal with.
These ideas make sense to the still-suffering alcoholic or addict.
As strange as it may seem, they can’t help but do it again.
However, that same alcoholic or addict so often cannot or will not accept the inevitability—that simple fact of powerlessness.
But, how many of us have been victorious over those emotions of anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, or victimhood in solitary combat?
Most of us fall flat on our face eventually.
I Was Wrong
Again, I thought I could train myself, like an athlete or a soldier, out of this difficulty, and then it would just be a matter of operating on that training.
To the core of my being, I was certain there was a way to overcome my own mind.
This passage represents something critical to me:
“He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 567)
So much for the training plans.
If years of “training” and self-discipline will be required to achieve any lasting change, I’m pretty likely to be dead by then.
What makes me think I’ve got years to discipline myself?
Hundreds of hours for mental marching… Not a luxury I have. An alcoholic working on discipline and self-will is running on a lit fuze.
“The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 24)
“I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could not happen to me after what I had learned… it would only be a matter of exercising my willpower and keeping on guard.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 40)
Keeping on Guard.
Fred, the man telling this story, was just waking up from a very destructive bender.
How’d all his mental push-ups work out for him? Did his training, solve his problem?
His rational training plan and strategies for mounting a solitary defense almost killed him.
Am I Doomed?
If you are the type of alcoholic or addict that I am, we’re in a tough spot if resistant to a spiritual solution.
If we expect medicine or psychology to solve this problem for us, we are likely to be sorely disappointed.
“Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has already lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not. Many of us felt we had plenty of character. There was a tremendous urge to cease forever. Yet we found it impossible. This is the baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it — this utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the necessity or wish.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 34)
Consequences, up to and including death, are realities for us if we stubbornly try to manage our own recovery.
A Solution Awaits You
If you still think you can train yourself to avoid alcohol or drugs, or that a little more discipline is all you need…
We wish you the best, even though such plans and designs failed us entirely.
However, we have found a solution that worked for us.
No matter how bad your situation has become, where there is desperation, there is hope.
We walk as whole and free men and women today.
Most importantly, 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.