Friday, October 30, 2009
The 12 Steps of AA - Step 2
2. Step 2 - "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves would restore us to saniety."
In AA insaniety is called 'stinking thinking'. The essence of stinking thinking is "poor me". "Poor me, poor me, Pour me another drink." Any thinking that would make me less than is sufficient to the task. The task is to create a scenario whereby I can rationalize or justify having a drink or taking a vacation from reality because I'm a victim. As a victim I have fears and resentments. The best philosophy or theology for a drinking man or woman is that they are alone against the universe, one pitted against the many, unfairly deserted by God and fellow men and women, afraid with nothing and no one in the immediate environment that can understand and make it better but the nipple of a bottle of Bushmills Whiskey, pills, booze, smoke, drugs, something that will help me handle life.
In AA we say that our "head's have a contract on our ass" and that our "mind's are a bad neighbourhood we should never go into alone".
Always the alcoholic wants others to 'cut them a little slack'. Others shouldn't be so 'up tight'. So I'm alone and alcohol isolates me. I may sit with others in a bar or at a party but we're not really together, each of us is in his or her personal alcoholic delusion. It's worse with marijuania where everyone is 'blatto' together but they might as well we watching different movies. Their bodies are in the same room but their minds are elsewhere. The crack house epitomizes this and finally the opium den is just an asylum ward by another name.
Alcohol is the gateway drug. The other drugs aren't really necessary since alcohol will do everything the others will do but not necessarily so fast or so smoothly. Alcohol has been said to be the great erasor as it takes everything in your life and removes it. It's also called the superego solvent.
Insaniety is persisting doing something despite negative conseqences and alcoholics compulsively persist in drinking while their life becomes a country and western song of 'poor me' which of course justifies and rationalizes more booze. One of my favourite groups in AA is the 'whine and snivel' men's group. Whenever a guy sharing starts to play the victim and start the 'whining' poor me song the other guys throw teddy bears at him.
I stopped going to as many mixed AA groups because in west coast Canada too many women were going to the fellowship of AA without doing the program of AA and taking offence when someone would say "get off the cross we can use the wood." My friend Julie says the women in her step group can't stand the women in the mixed groups playing the poor me pick up lines either, looking for a man to rescue them and solve their problems, continuing to blame, but she said her group didn't like the guys at the Alano club with their "will you be my mommy" stories either.
The reason people are told to have sponsors is so someone can talk to them when they begin to use the podium to sell this particular brand of insaniety. And of course there's nothing like a good AA meeting to test your own serenity, tolerance and spiritual development. We joke and say if you haven't got a resentment then you're not going to enough AA meetings. Anyone can be a spiritual guru alone or with their own people but it's a whole different equation when you get in a group of very strange bananas and coconuts.
My particular justification and rationalization was the women I got involved with. Now being raised Christian in a sober non drinking home with a grandfather who was against drinking and parents who were sober, wholesome and good middle class folk I naturally found good Christian girls boring and unnattractive. If I'd dated and married them I'd have had no reason to drink. Looking back at my life sober I see now,especially looking at the pictures in the albums, that those Christian girls were hot, good looking and everything a sane guy would have wanted to marry.
But they were not aetheists, drunks, drug addicts, promiscuous, shopaholics, materialist, liars or party girls snf I quite simply preferred bad girls. They were 'easy'. When and after I was with them I could say 'poor me, poor me, poor me another drink' . They were that much more 'entertaining.' The insaniety of the alcoholic is that they have to arrange their life in someway to be a victim so they can drink. It's ass backwards. The alcoholic's thinking is 180 degrees wrong. To themselves they're a victim but to others they're the 'victimizer'.
I remember it wasn't very long after I had this perfectly good drunk of a wife and there I was dragging her into a church and complaining she wanted to go to a bar. I got my dope addict wife to go to meditation classes with me and was taken the drunk stoner to tai chi and church. Of course they'd rather be with me than the psychopathic boyfriends she'd had before me or worse the guys they'd dated who didn't drink. We were the best of drinking buddies but they could never have children because alcoholic and drug addicted girls simply don't want to face 9 months of trying to be clean to have a baby. Alot of abortions go on so party girls don't have to face up to their addictions. They know that their drinking would hurt a baby so they abort the baby rather than give up the drinking. Eventually I'd complain there was no family and that we were always getting drunk or stoned and yet the very thing I found most attractive about them was that they were drunk stoners. Naturally they didn't like me either at that point. Which always gave us both reasons to drink more.
Like attracts like and alcoholic friends and alcoholic girlfriends, husbands and wives are the normal. When an alcoholic sobers up he thinks everyone drinks like him because usually his wife or her husband and their friends do. I even went to a doctor who drank like me and found a psychiatrist who said I could drink a bottle of wine a day and because my wife was such a problem addict told me I should smoke dope with her to help the marriage. In retrospect it's astonishing how I found such a great psychiatrist for me when I know today that at least a hundred others would have told me to stop drinking and smoking dope and get wife and myself into a treatment facility. Naturally I'd asked my drunk psychiatrist friend who he'd go to see if he'd needed a psychiatrist and he'd recommended his addict friends.
It was astonishing to me to learn that a third of adults don't drink at all and another third don't drink more than 2 or 3 glasses at any one time and rarely at that. 10% of the population drink 80% of the booze and in the end those were the guys and gals I liked. Today I still like them but only sober.
As for dope smokers they've never amounted to even that percentage but I liked the daily dope smokers and thought the girls who smoked dope daily were 'sexier' than those didn't. Smoking dope is the second most common reason for enterring treatment centers today because of the denial , lying and difficulty getting clean that goes with addiction to dope. First you deny the problem, then you lie about the problem, then you forget the problem and you never can get motivated to address the problem so you lie about the problem to deny the problem.
The alcoholic is the problem but to the alcoholic others are the problem. Like Keith Richards' famous line, "I don't have a drug problem, I have a police problem." The halcion cry of the alcoholic is always "it's not my fault" and finally "if you had my troubles (or my life) you'd drink too." I said if you have my wives you'd drink. But who created those troubles. Who picked the girls. It wasn't even my fault I naturally I looked for women who were promiscuous, non Christian,drunk, lying, drug addicted from drunken materialistic homes where everyone was some kind of victim and the family lied but loved to 'party'. What I liked most in a woman was that she drank and did drugs was downright dirty alone.
When I married the worst of a bad lot I was a victim and cried 'poor me' because they were so selfish and self centred and unloving, lying and didn't want to have a family, go to church, or God forbid , stop drinking or drugging. And they got really really really angry when I left because the party stopped and they lost their excuse for drinking and drugging. But that usually doesn't stop though divorced people who can usually nurse their resentments sometimes years and thereby justify their drinking and drugging long after they've lost their excuse.
In addition I'd go looking for the toughest most thankless job, be a workaholic people pleaser and feel sorry for myself because I'd be underpaid overworked and just your good old garden variety martyr. In AA we say, "get down off the cross, we can use the wood." Being a perfectionist people pleaser I set mysself up for being taken advantage of. I was the popular perfectionist doctor that everyone wanted until I was sober began to say 'no' and set 'limits'. I may as well have been wearing a sign beat me because only when I was down could I really enjoy a good drink feeling afraid and resentful and alone, drinking at you and all my troubles.
Of course my partner would be drinking there with me because that's what we really had in common. My wives and friends and I were all united in the religion of drinking and the church of booze supporting the government of alcohol and celebrating poor me and 'stinking thinking'. When I stopped buying the booze and having booze at my house all those 'friends' and the women stopped coming around.
It's a fairly universal observation in AA for those coming in. The drunks run with the drunks and when you stop drinking they are not quick to support you. Indeed they more often than not do anything to drag you back into their familiar circle.
The Big Book of AA was originally called a "Way Out" and that's not what an alcoholic wants to hear or see. Being around sober people you really see how much you need your booze crutches and you get really resentful when they're laughing and having a good time and they don't 'need a drink' to do that. Alot of alcoholics when they stop drinking would find themselves alone were it not for AA.
Many of us came from a culture of alcoholism. I came from the university. My particular alcoholic circle was doctors, lawyers, politicians, salesman and businessmen, entertainers and engineers. Getting sober is kind of like the Superman comic with the Bizarro world because one day you leave a group of friends who are drunks, you're alone, and then you're with a group of friends who are sober but this new group is doctors, lawyers, salesmen, businessmen, entertainers and engineers but they don't drink. Yet when you were with the first group, the Bizarro World, you didn't know this other world existed. Yet in this other world we all know about the drunks and drug addicts.
At a party we tend to leave early as they're cranking up and in the morning at work we see the tell tale signs. When you're in the problem you simply can't see the solution. It's the alcoholics and addicts that are always having problems and somehow missing the big picture too. They just never understand 'why bad things happen to good guys (and girls) like me".
Step 2 of AA says that we 'came to believe', not that we 'believe' but rather that we came to believe. We came to AA because we were powerless and our lives had become unmanageable and that we'd sought help. We believed that something outside of ourselves was needed to break from the insaniety in our head, our thinking and our lives. For whatever reason we had a moment of clarity and we reached out. We 'came to believe'. Intrinsically the alcohol and life we were dying with our drunken fairweather friends and the fears and resentments, the victims and victimizers, paranoia and battles royal just weren't cutting it.
I was as tired of listening to the chronic complaining of the women I was with, their utterly depressing litany of woes and wrongs, mostly problems with mothers and other women, and complaining and complaining and complaining as I was listening to my own whining, mostly about other guys. I was fed up. In AA terms I was experiencing "incomprehensible demoralization".
In the prodigal son parable I was suddenly aware that I was eating the pigs slops and that there had to be something better. I remembered what it was like in my father's home. I literally called my mother and father, said I was sorry, that I was wrong, and I was going to get help. They said, "we're glad, Son."
I said I couldn't work though it was amazing how hard it was to get away and how ill you had to be as a doctor before anyone would let you quit. Finally I just quit. I thought I'd had a heart attack but with Canadian health care what it was it took me a month or two to get an EKG outside a hospital. It wasn't an emergency so I wouldn't go to emergency. I continued to drink because alcohol is good for the heart. right? In the end I never did get to see a cardiologist. As a doctor I got about the worst medical health care one can imagine till I was shipped to another province where I was treated as a normal patient for the first time since I admitted I needed help. At the time the Christian psychiatrists were the only ones supporting my not drinking. I didn't have a heart attack. I had an alcohol problem.
I came back to the church of my childhood and said that really there'd been nothing wrong here. I went back to the beginning and retraced my steps and came to the conclusion that I'd had a pretty good life overall until I started drinking. I'd loved the learning at university, not the drinking, and finally even concluded later that working as a doctor hadn't been all that bad because I'd had a really good life sober as a doctor and my drinking was only on holidays. I was always a binge drinker. Things began to go awry in psychiatry and after I became a psychiatrist because I began to drink with some pretty drunken drug addicted perverted psychiatrists as addicted alcoholic exs and their families drinking and drugging began to affect their thinking and emotional stability. Alcohol is fun, then it's fun and trouble and finally it just progresses to plain trouble. The trick is to get off the roller coaster as early as possible.
Of course I met really fine upstanding psychiatrists, some who were my teachers, but being an alcoholic becoming I found them as boring as the good women had been in my life. I preferred the 'fast' crowd. I was 'hip, slick and cool' and the drunks I hung out with then were just as 'hip, slick and cool.' I thought my wife and I and our friends in the way the girls on "sex in the city' might see themselves. Sober though I heard that others just saw us as shallow, materialistic and drunk and stoned, and arrogant, much the way I saw the 'sex and the city' show.
My workaholism and people pleasing and all that other shit was still a problem but it would eventually serve to fuel my "poor me-ism" that would contribute to my justification for have another drink". If you worked as hard as I did and sacrificed as much as I did you'd need at least another drink too.
In Step 2 the Higher Power I came to believe was at first AA. I didn't think that I was insane so the second part was difficult. I knew that I'd turned my back on God and saw the Higher Power as the God of my childhood. Not the god of fire and brimstone but the God that my mother taught me to pray to on my knees as a little child beside the bed - a friend, rescuer.
The Higher Power of AA was a Loving God. Though AA was wholly rooted in the trimmed down spirituality of Christianity it would not even require any God per se. Aetheists and agnostics were members of AA. The key understanding of the Higher Power was that you were not that higher power. As Jesus said, "where two or more are gathered, there am I". Rather than a conversation with a bottle, in recovery an alcoholic talks with another human realizing that two minds are better than one. They leave the song "I did it my way" with all the gangster associations and romantic silliness implied at the door. It's a 'we" program. As we say, "our best thinking alone got us here." Recovery is a community. It's coming in from the cold.
The great jewish philosoper and theologian Martin Buber called the equation I and Thou. Instead of 'me and it' I arbitrarily (on faith) decided to look at life as if maybe "me was the problem" and You were the solution rather than the stinkin thinkin of alcoholism that 'you are the problem and me is the solution". Eventually you becomes 'thou' and 'me' becomes "I" and we call spirituality, 'growing love inside' and recovery an "inside job'. Instead of "me and it' I had a moment of 'faith' and came to AA hoping to believe that there was a higher power or God that would restore me to saniety or help me find my way back from the abyss. There was help outside, in communication with others, and the problem was my perception.
There's a song 'desperado' and frankly I knew I'd been out riding fences too long and I was thankful that people in AA welcomed me back and that the program of AA offered me more than the insaniety that I'd come to learn existed in the world of drink.
As a fellow shared at a meeting last night, 14 years sober, I went back to the people and places where I was drinking and they were still doing the 'world tour from their bar stools', still complaining, still flirting with the bar maids but now they were in their 50's and it didn't look so good any more. He said it didn't matter where in the world he'd gone when he was drinking or who he'd been with because when he was drinking he just had to alter that reality to suit himself by adding alcohol to creation because he couldn't live 'life on life's terms' . He couldn't exist in reality. He had to delude himself with alcohol and alter his perception of reality to make it palatable. Like a baby gets its' mother to chew it's food he had to have alcohol chew the food of his life before he could swallow it.
I realized sometime after I was sober that alcohol is really just liquid valium and my friends and their wives and my wives and I had all needed maybe a hundred valiums to be together with each other supposedly 'having a good time.' A party was a place where we 'passed out' or got drunk enough to tolerate reality or each other's company.
Today I don't drink and I have faith. I believe in a Higher Power I choose to call God and really in my case I even call this higher power Jesus but that's my particular brand of saniety. In saniety we don't all have to believe together. We can tolerate differences without feeling threatened. All the program says is a 'god of my understanding'. And of course, the higher power can't be you alone, it must be something more than your ego or your 'stinking thinking'.
For now that's my understanding. And it's changed with sobriety. In sobriety too I've had former friends join me in AA and we laugh looking back at the drunken life. Because I believe in a higher power I believe my ex's and former friends are being cared for too and that we're all slowly moving forward. Some take two step back and one forward, but eventually we get it. In AA we call it "spiritual progress, not perfection". That's the kind of world I like to live in today. It's a world of Faith.