The need to feel that you are in control of other people, and their actions, can be one of the most debilitating and draining processes in your life.
Often people have no conscious since that they are trying to control what is going on around them, but the underlying need is often the most central one in their lives.
Let Go and let God
This is one of the many phrases that abound in AA and 12th recovery, and in one sense at least gives the message about trying to let go of the need to control life.
Unfortunately, many people often also read into it an implication that God is in control.
This, really, is just a form of transference, of saying I will give up my belief that I am in control of what is going on around me, if something or someone else will take charge of it.
This idea may seem familiar to some people, mainly because it is an idea that normally is rooted in childhood,
Children have a basic need for security and safety, a basic need to feel that someone is in charge of their life.
The Illusion of Control
People can often realise that they do not have control around a lot of what is going on in the life, but this does not necessarily stop them trying to exert such control.
In fact, in many cases, it leads to try even harder to force their life to work.
Perhaps the first step in terms of letting go of the need to control, is a recognition that most people the sense of being in control of what is going on around them is an illusion.
That can be a hard lesson to learn, not because of the truth of it, but because of the implications of it.
The Al-Anon Preamble has a phrase in it to the effect that ‘our thinking became distorted by trying to force solutions’.
This really goes to the heart of the issue, and contains both the problem and solution within its simple sentence.
People often have quite a strong felt sense that they are trying to push their life uphill, that they are somehow trying to force their life to work.
This is normally a feeling that has been with them for a large part of their life.
At its core, wherever it comes from, is an issue about an inverted sense of control, a paradox that is in many people’s lives.
It is often most clearly seen in the lives of families and friends of alcoholics, who are either trying to get them to stop drinking, or still feel the need to try and control the life once sober.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Whilst there are many numerous and varied effects of growing up in an alcoholic home, one of the most common ones is the sense a child will have a feeling overly responsible, if not totally responsible, for the well-being or even the very life itself of one or both of their parents or caregivers.
Taking on this type of responsibility at any age is a heavy duty demand, for children of any age it is almost an impossible burden for many to bear.
The practical reality is that anyone in this type of situation normally focuses then tar spirit and energy on the belief that they are holding the other person together.
This is really at the heart of feeling you’re in control of someone else, not necessarily as a control freak, but as a sense of feeling you have the power to determine someone else’s mental state, or even their very life itself.
For many children in alcoholic homes, there is very little if any safety, either internally or externally.
What the majority of children/adults do is to create a sense of feeling safe by feeling they are in control of what is going on around them.
This is an illusion of control, as mentioned above, but for children in this environment it is the only solution they have.
What tends to happen is that a child faced with no safety cannot emotionally afford to own that reality.
They will invent a sense of feeling safe, based on the belief that they have this power or control over the adult or adults in their lives, in the sense of being able to affect or change control them lose or emotional stability.
As the child/children grow older, this belief or need to feel in control of what is going on around them normally deepens, and for many people becomes the dominant emotional drive in their life.
It is also probably the most destructive source of emotional turmoil in their lives because it totally reverses the very nature of our psychological make-up as human beings.
People believe that they have control over things that they do not have control over, and do not believe they have any control or power over the thing that they can control, which is predominantly their own lives and emotional make up.
Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous
When most people talk about Step Three, they enter a world of debate about God, turning over ones will and what it means.
What many people often don’t talk about, is that the majority of the passage on Step Three in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is actually about control.
It uses the analogy of an actor on the stage, trying to control the environment around him, and the calamitous effects that it has.
It goes on to ask people to realise that this is really the source of the problem, that emotionally and often practically, their lives are totally out of control because they are trying to control life around them.
What Step Three really does is to identify the problem, in terms of control, and without offering a simplistic solution, offers people a way out through working the rest of the 12 step program.
The Serenity Prayer – Problem and Solution
Whilst any prayer can have a number of different meanings, the serenity prayer does tend to bring together both the solution and the problem in terms of the nature of control.
It identifies a sense of knowing what you cannot change, i.e. things that you have no control over, and things that you can change, mainly yourself and your inner world.
In essence, people normally feel a need to try and control what is going on around them, because they feel out of control themselves internally.
This normally results from childhood trauma, but not always as there may be other causes as well.
The solution, albeit a long-term one, is to take back a sense of control internally, and as you do so the need to try and control what is going on around you will drop off.
This is because it is about safety, and the need to feel safe.
The internal sense of safety, that is primarily about your inner world and your inner sense of God, will diminish.
In the end it should pretty much eradicate this need to feel in control of other people as a way of keeping yourself together, and giving yourself some internal sense of stability.
This is the ultimate freedom that Alcoholics Anonymous and all 12 Step Programs can really offer.
There are a number of slogans and sayings that get chucked around in health circles, which some people find really helpful, and other people find both helpful and irritating, depending upon their mood.
One of the most common sayings, although not an actual slogan, is telling people directly or indirectly that they are as sick as their secrets.
The message behind the saying is that people need to open up, tell either an individual or a group what is going on in their life, or what it is from their past what is troubling them.
People will rarely question this message, in part because the process of 12 step recovery does involve an individual realistically assessing the past, sharing it with someone on a one-to-one basis and making amends harm done as a basis for moving forward and staying sober.
A degree of defensiveness can often mask a sense of underlying anger, which in reality is often protective rather than confrontational.
As Sick As Your Secrets ?
The problem with telling people that they are as sick as their secrets is that it often moves away from what is suggested in the book Alcoholics Anonymous to a different level.
This either puts significant pressure on people to share at meetings, and pressure on people that they should be telling everyone everything about their lives.
This is a hugely important issue, and unsurprisingly is really to do with boundaries.
When anyone starts the process of getting sober and staying sober they are quite likely to have experienced a significant degree of isolation, often both physical and emotional, often for a significant period of time.
Any emotional isolation is likely to have had a fairly devastating affect on the individual, often making them highly inward looking and secretive about their lives.
Telling individuals like this that they are as sick as a secrets can seem to make sense, as they will often think that they have to force their way out of that isolation in order to share and get better, otherwise they will drink again.
The process or an individual frame themselves in this type of isolation is as detailed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is not a forced process and never should be.
A sense of moving out of this type of emotional isolation can only come from the individual feeling safe enough to let go of the various emotional coping mechanisms that they have set up within themselves.
These coping mechanisms are essentially what the isolation involves, and need to come down so that the individual can have a healthy sense of understanding what their own issues are.
What is key is that they come down from within, not as a result of being pressured from outside.
Whenever an individual is starting a process of getting or staying sober, either in a rehab or in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a fair bet to say that the last thing in the world they need is any more external pressure.
Whilst every individual’s life is different, and their circumstances different, it’s a fair bet to say that they are already experiencing a high degree of internal pressure, as well as probably external pressure as well.
Telling people that they are as sick as their secrets invariably puts pressure on them. They either feel that they have to share at meetings, or that they need to share things that they are not ready to yet own themselves emotionally.
This type of pressure and the ensuing belief that people have to tell everyone everything about their lives often replicates the type of enmeshment found in alcoholic homes.
This is not surprising given number of AA members who grew up having been affected by someone else’s alcoholism.
It is important to realise the distinction between privacy and secrecy, and to realise that this is fundamentally a boundary issue, and one that can be hugely important in people’s recovery.
Bottom line is that putting pressure on people who are vulnerable is always a no no, especially when it potentially takes away from them one of the main things that they need in order to get well, a sense of safety at meetings where they can simply learn to be themselves.
Step Four is often thought of as the bogeyman and is portrayed as a turning point for people once they have initially got sober.
It is sometimes seen as almost a litmus test as to whether people are really willing to begin the process of facing themselves and their demons.
In reality, there are really several different things going on behind all these issues that are probably worth looking at and unpicking.
The phrase, a moral inventory, is used in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, specifically in step four of the AA 12 step program.
Many people find this phrase a bit baffling or a bit scary, and people in recovery often find the whole idea of doing a step four one of the biggest blocks or obstacles they face in staying sober.
Some of the confusion around the word inventory is because it is normally used in a business or commercial sense, and refers to a stocktaking or assessment of assets and liabilities in a company.
Fear in Recovery
Many people are pretty terrified when they get sober, normally for a number of different reasons.
Often it is about a fear of what it means to be sober, often it is a fear about losing alcohol even when it has stopped working, and often a fear about the possibility of change and what it might mean.
All these fears can combine and at times be quite debilitating, but it is worth unpacking them all and dealing with each as a separate issue in order to fully understand what someone is saying to themselves.
This can be true about a number of issues in recovery. It is often the overall effect of a number of fears or issues that can be quite traumatic, and it is really important to break them down into specifics.
These specifics can normally be isolated and looked at, and whilst they may be daunting in their own right, they are at least focused and tangible and In some measure can be dealt with.
When fears or issues come together as one, they not only can produce a chilling effect, but can also be seen unsolvable because of the emotional fog they generate, almost as one big glob of terror.
Fear of Step Four
There can be many reasons people have a fear of doing a step four, but there are probably two or three main ones.
Firstly is the fear of specific things they have done in the past, and the possibility of having to own that reality and share it with someone else can be very daunting.
Secondly is a more general fear about the fact that doing a step four is moving in a different direction to where they have previously been travelling, and the prospect of change, or the unsettling nature of change can be fairly daunting.
The other fear can be simply what if it does not work. This is a fear that can be quite common in the context of seeing the steps as an event, rather a process, seeing them in a very black and white context.
This is normally part of a broader thought process, where everything is seen in very stark terms.
Whilst this hopefully changes in long-term recovery, part of the nature of change is going through the steps as a process, which does become a bit of a catch 24 problem.
Whilst any fear can be powerful in its own right, often in recovery it is a bigger fear that can move a person through it.
Sometimes the bigger fear around an inventory is either fear of going back drinking, or the fear of what it means to live effectively as a dry drunk.
Fear can often push people to do things that they don’t want to do.
Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes not a good thing. Perhaps the important thing to add in terms of recovery is that this fear should generate itself from within people, and not from other people trying to bully them.
A Moral Inventory
In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a moral inventory initially is used to describe the process of a person looking at three areas of their life, those of resentments, fears and their sex conduct.
Other literature broadens this process to an extent, but the main focus is still on an individual looking at a number of areas of their life, and trying to gain some level of self-awareness about who they are and how they function in the world.
Other 12-step fellowships use the idea of a moral inventory in slightly different ways, each of which will have a somewhat unique take on what it means to begin the process of becoming self-aware. However the principle of self-awareness and ownership of one’s own emotional well-being is the same throughout.
An inventory is normally used in a business or commercial context. The fact that it is used in 12 step recovery should in fact be an asset not a liability.
People often get very bogged down in judgements about how they feel, and whether or not their feelings are okay, whether or not their feelings are good or bad, whether or not they should feel grateful or angry etc.
Pretty much the only way to really get a true and real assessment of yourself is to be able to look at yourself without judgement, to look at yourself in the context of unconditional love.
Whilst for many people this can take a long time to get to, it is a crucial element in any roadmap of recovery. Judgement of self kills any ability to be objective, and any ability to free yourself of judging other people as well.
The term inventory is very non-judgement of itself, whether or not that was the original intent when it was used in the forming of the 12 step program.
When any store owner or business is doing an inventory of their business, they will tend to do it in a fairly objective manner.
They simply want to know what are their assets and liabilities. They normally do not get bogged down in any type of emotional baggage around what they are doing.
This normally frees them to look at things objectively.
This should absolutely be the endgame and objective of a moral inventory in the context of 12 step recovery, the ability to analyse oneself without judgement.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous refers to an inventory as a fact-finding process. Facts are of themselves not normally that emotional, it is normally their interpretation that is.
It is really both a strength and a weakness of the approach to a personal inventory that it is meant to be a fact-finding process, not an in-depth emotional rebirth.
What this means is that the initial inventory should be fairly objective and analytical.
For a lot of people in early recovery this is all they can deal with.
It does also mean that the really powerful emotional drives behind a lot of this understanding do come later on in people’s recovery, either through other inventories, therapy or inner child work.
This process is probably what most people would mean by emotional sobriety.
Most people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and know that it has something to do with people stopping drinking.
People also have very different and often conflicting views of what an alcoholic is, and also the difference between someone who is an alcoholic and a heavy or problem drinker.
Some people are also wary of Alcoholics Anonymous because they have heard that it is a religious or spiritual organisation, and do not want any involvement with something akin to this.
For anyone really wanting to understand how Alcoholics Anonymous works, there are two important things.
Firstly is to understand the context of Alcoholics Anonymous in today’s world, and do that it is really important to have some sense of the history of AA and how it has developed.
Describing Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as a fellowship of men and women who share their experience strength and hope with each other, in order to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
Whilst this is quite a broad generalisation, there is a good deal of truth in this very simple premise, that AA is about individuals sharing their experiences in the hope of helping others.
History of Alcoholics Anonymous
AA is fairly unique as such, apart from other 12-step organisations, and does not have a traditional form of structure. Understanding the history of AA is a big part of being able to see how the reality of AA functions.
There are a number of history books, some written by AA itself, others written by independent journalists and authors. All will give slightly differing viewpoints as to how AA developed, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.
The books written by AA itself are slightly sanitised, but do also carry much if not all of the historical information that is relevant and pertinent to how AA developed.
AA, both in print and in reality, can have a slight gloss to it that is part protective, and in part slightly focused on not wanting to appear divisive or confrontational.
Independent books on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous are quite often written either why people who are members of AA themselves, although not always, and people who are quite unashamedly opposed to AA and everything about it.
The fact there are differing viewpoints about AA is not surprising, and should not of itself be a problem or an issue.
It can become an issue because people tend to become either very hostile or a protective about AA, both approaches tend to blur the reality.
Reality of Alcoholics Anonymous
Anyone wanting to understand the reality of Alcoholics Anonymous should really go to one or more meetings and experience it for themselves.
Whatever meeting they go to, they are likely to experience a different reality to other meetings, and other people’s experiences of them.
This is simply because anyone’s reality is different to someone else’s.
However there is a general shape and form to AA meetings, which largely focus around the definition given at the beginning of this post.
Individuals who have had serious problems and have been able to get sober, meeting together and sharing their experience in the hope of helping others who have had similar problems.
This has always been at the heart of AA, and continues to be in most of the meetings that anyone is likely to attend.
This will vary to an extent, simply because there are literally hundreds of thousands of meetings all around the world, all of which will have a slightly different structure and format.
The other thing that is worth saying about AA is that at most meetings, if not all, there is a mix of both practical and spirit. The practical tends to be the physical reality of individuals meeting and talking and sharing with each other.
The spirit tends to be an underlying energy which pervades the nature and process of the meeting, and for many people is the most powerful element of what happens to them, both in terms of getting sober and staying sober.
This mix of practical and spirit is perhaps the unique element of AA that makes it so difficult to describe. The good news is that people do not have to understand it in order to experience it.
Pretty much anyone can attend an AA meeting, as all are open to anyone thinks they may have a drink problem, and a good number of what are known as open meetings, where anyone who is interested in AA can attend and listen to what is being said.
Potted history of AA
There are a few basic points of history that should probably be flagged up, although none are a substitute to really understanding the full time line of AA.
AA was started in America in the mid 1930s, largely as a result of a chain of individual experiences of people who had a drink problem, and who got sober using a number of spiritual principles.
The best-known of these individuals were the two co-founders of AA, who stayed anonymous during their own lifetimes, but became quite well known afterwards.
Their individual experiences formed the basis of how AA developed, both in terms of individual groups in certain cities, through to the enormous growth of meetings and groups throughout the world today.
These and other individual spiritual experiences were collated into a book, which was entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, which became the name and basis of the whole organisation itself.
Perhaps the most important thing to take from the history of AA is that it has always been a collection of experience.
It has no ideology or belief system or any agenda other than an openness to share its experience in the hope that it can help others.
This sharing of experience is done primarily through the AA literature, which is open for anyone to buy or download on-line, as well as through AA meetings and individuals sharing their experience on a one-to-one basis.
Most people have normally been asked at some point in their life if they believe in God or not.
In AA and in 12 step recovery generally, people are likely to be asked this question more than once, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly and quite often in fairly intense and overbearing circumstances.
Whilst people in life can often walk away from those who they feel put pressure on them as to what they should or should not believe in, this is much harder in AA.
People come to AA effectively to get sober, whether they realise it or not at the time ! Once in AA, they enter a different world that can seem very intense and quite surreal in many ways.
People are invariably quite vulnerable, and are susceptible to being given lots of advice about all things to do with being and getting sober.
The God Question
AA in many ways reflects normal society, but often in more intense and intrusive ways. One of these is about the overbearing question of what other people do or do not believe in.
The nature of AA, and of the 12 step program itself, is rooted in the world of God and of the spirit, as any cursory look at the literature, or attendance at any AA meeting will quickly verify.
This by its very self often presents real problems for a lot of people, which are often compounded by the attitude of some sober members, who can appear very evangelical about the need to believe in God.
This attitude that some AA members have is often reinforced by their own experience of sobriety, and their own experience of using the 12 step program in their life.
These act as a sort of rationalisation for their actions and behaviours, whatever their motives, in trying to force people to have their sense of what they should or should not believe in.
The sense of trying to convince people about a belief in God is not necessarily about specific belief systems.
It is normally much more about a general sense that they need to have God in their lives, and if they don’t they won’t get or stay sober.
Sobriety and Beyond
There are so many potential dangers around this forcing of belief systems that it is difficult to pick any one in particular out.
Whilst there is obviously an issue about the motives of the people being quite evangelical, the reality is that it can exploit the vulnerability of people who are new.
Someone getting sober is faced with a whole range of issues, both internal and external, that at some point they will begin to own and realise that they need dealing with.
Some of these problems are likely to be fairly major, others less so. However, the pressure that someone getting sober feels is normally fairly intense, whatever the source.
The last thing they need, quite literally, is the pressure of someone in AA else telling them what they should or should not believe in ‘as a matter of saving their life’.
A Life Saver
It is quite common in AA for people to talk in quite melodramatic ways about life and death.
What is often forgotten or not fully realised, is the enormity of someone coming to their first AA meeting, and the potential implications for them if they do not come back.
This is not meant as a do or die fear, simply an acknowledgement that if someone is exposed to AA, they are exposed to a potential way of reconciling and healing their alcoholism.
If that same person feels overly pressured by anyone, about anything, there is a fair chance they will either leave or certainly not return in the near future.
This does potentially deprive them of the opportunity of using the experience of AA as a way of getting and staying sober, and potentially saving their life.
It is worth making the point, over and over again, that AA does not have any belief systems about anything.
Individual members have the freedom to believe anything they want, and unfortunately often cross that line of representing their own belief systems as being those of AA.
AA is a body of experience that is primarily expressed through its literature at a global level. The literature of AA represents its experience from the time it started through to present day.
This is of paramount importance to how AA functions, and people’s freedom to use that experience in any way that they find helpful or not.
This sense of balancing a body of experience, and an individual’s freedom to use that experience in anyway they find helpful is the linchpin of Alcoholics Anonymous, and all 12 step fellowships.
It has what has held AA together for most of its existence, and allowed it to grow on a worldwide scale.
Unfortunately, the reality of many AA meetings do not live up to this ideal.
Many meetings will contain individuals who, for whatever reason, feel the need to try and impress on other people how they should or should not think.
Whilst this often focuses on the God question, it shows up a deeper symbolic problem in AA around the whole issue of boundaries, and of giving people the freedom to be themselves
The freedom to discover for themselves what the world of the spirit really means, or not, to them
When people talk about an inner voice in the context of spirituality, they are normally referring to an inner intuitive sense of direction in their life.
This sense of there being an inner world, and it somehow helping to direct our life is for most people a hugely attractive idea, and for a great number of people a hugely attractive reality.
In the same way that the idea of an external control freakery God puts numerous people off the whole idea of God and/or any religion, the idea of an inner sense of the spirit can attract people in large numbers.
In many ways, people in 12 step recovery often mirror people not in recovery, but in a much more intense and often urgent sense.
This is probably true in the whole area of spirituality, and the idea of listening to an intuitive sense of self.
Healing the Pain
When someone gets sober, it is probably fair to say that most of their life, both internally and externally, is somewhat of a blur. This is true whether or not they get sober in a rehab, or on their own through AA meetings.
Once sober, it will become apparent at some point that the real issue they have to deal with is what is going on inside their head.
The emotional turmoil that underlies most alcoholics drinking does not go away when someone gets sober, on the contrary for most people it begins to get more intense.
The search or journey to reconcile this emotional turmoil is in reality the purpose of going through the 12 step program, as a way of trying to bring some sort of internal stability to their life.
This necessity to reconcile their emotional life at some point leads to a degree of stability and internal peace that is normally the first time an alcoholic is likely to have experienced it.
This sense of peace and stability is in some ways both a precursor and an experience of listening to the inner voice, even if the person is not at all aware of it.
It is really the expression of turning inwards, in a healthy sense, and letting the world of the spirit work in its own unique fashion.
Looking for Meaning
Once there is a degree of emotional stability internally, people’s lives can take very different directions. There are likely to be a significant number whose lives will have been touched by the reality of this sense of the spirit.
This can of course mean different things to different people, but in general people will have some sort of sense of their inner world moving them in a different direction to where they were going before.
This sense of there being an inner world, and a felt sense of it guiding them comes to feel a very natural and healthy place to want to be.
It is rather like a sense of feeling truly connected to their life, in the context of its real meaning. It is not necessarily about understanding or even becoming aware of the nature of God.
It is really about feeling connected to the inner reality of one’s life, which in a more traditional sense used to be referred to as balancing the light and dark of the soul, of the spirit.
The inner world is not necessarily a land of milk and honey. It is more of a journey, a process, a sense of connecting to our real sense of authenticity, and a sense of where the spirit works with us.
Authenticity not Sainthood
Whilst there is nothing wrong at all with sainthood, there is sometimes a belief that people who really connect to their inner world, who really do get a sense of God in their life, necessarily become better people, become good people, and do good works.
There is obviously some truth in this, but there is something more important, the value of connecting to ones inner life, the value of authenticity.
The phrase to thine own self be true has always resonated with people, even if it has become a bit of a cliche. It’s truth however remains a constant.
The importance and value of having the freedom to be authentic cannot be overstated.
This is true in life generally, and especially true in 12 step recovery. The value of authenticity more than anything else is an inner freedom, and a real awareness of one’s own truth.
The idea of an inner voice is really an expression of a calling for people to turn inwards rather than outwards in their search for meaning.
The search for meaning is really about an inner journey, and importantly a freedom to pursue the journey however the individual feels the need to process it.
Looking outside of yourself invariably takes you away from the real you, and will take you in the wrong direction.
An inner voice is for most people a really comforting notion. It is an invitation for most to really begin the process of coming home to their true world, the world of the spirit.
The term rigorous honesty is used a lot in Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the 12 step recovery world generally.
Its original intent was to make clear the need for people to really own and take responsibility for the reality of their lives, both internally and externally.
Like a lot of phrases and concepts in recovery, its usage tends to depend largely on the motives of the person saying it.
That is why it can often be used in a slightly overbearing way, making people feel they are either being bullied, or pressured into a degree of accountability that they are not yet ready for.
The 12 step world generally has a number of degrees of vulnerability, and a number of people who seek vulnerability in different ways.
Some can seem quite harsh, others quite gentle and a fair number somewhere in between the two.
Why this phrase rigorous honesty matters so much is really because of what lies behind it in terms of its original intent.
This raises the issue of the reality of an active alcoholics life, and their denial of the fact that alcohol is causing a problem in it.
This covers both the inner and outer world of the alcoholic, as well as their potentially more deep seated emotional and mental issues.
AA uses the phrase moral inventory when effectively referring to the need for self-analysis.
There is often a strong sense of urgency about the need for people who are recovering alcoholics to begin the process of becoming self-aware, and it is in this context that the term rigorous honesty is meant to apply.
Implying that an individual has to be honest with themselves can also imply that they had been lying to themselves beforehand. Not always the case, but in recovery is often taken as the norm rather than the exception.
This raises all sorts of questions about motives and denial, and why an alcoholic is so reluctant or unable to accept the reality of their own life.
These questions are quite complex, and will be different as are the answers for a wide variety of different people. There are however a number of important factors which do sit with these questions.
Whatever the form denial takes, it is worth remembering that denial is a form of protection.
It can sometimes be quite delusional, but for a significant number of alcoholics denial is about protecting their need to drink. This may seem ludicrous in the light of the havoc that alcohol is causing them, but is normally part of the alcoholic mindset.
It is probably fair to say that most alcoholics believe that alcohol is the solution to the problems rather than the problem itself, even if they are not consciously aware of this belief.
As such, the worse their life gets, both internally and externally, the more they turn to alcohol as being the thing that is holding them together.
Denial of the reality of the life is often their way of protecting alcohol, which they believe they need to do at any cost.
It is important to realise that denial is usually a defence mechanism, trying to protect something the person believes is of utmost importance to them.
The depth of the denial can often make this difficult for someone who is not an alcoholic or addict to understand.
The need to feel safe or secure is a core element of most human beings identity, and for an alcoholic it can achieve enormous proportions.
Their sense of safety is often disfigured by growing up in an alcoholic home, or other childhood dysfunction.
Many people in recovery link a lot of their emotional dysfunction, both whilst drinking and recovery, to the issue of safety and security.
The denial mentioned above is a core part of helping someone feel safe, however irrational it may seem to anyone else.
Safety is primarily an emotional issue, and is also the key element in allowing people to change their inner world. A real sense of safety allows people the freedom to change – threatening them and making them feel cornered does the exact opposite.
This is why the issue of how people approach their moral inventory, and the whole process of developing a level of self-awareness in recovery is so important.
Self-awareness, without judgement, is the cornerstone of real freedom in recovery.
Although it has become a bit of a cliche, the phrase”know the truth and the truth will set you free” is perhaps the most important element of a person’s recovery.
Developing a degree of self-awareness allows an individual to question themselves without judgement, allows them to question their motives and allows them to develop a real relationship with themselves, with others and with God.
This self-awareness, which is often associated with the phrase rigorous honesty, is about feeling safe enough to begin and continue the process of self searching. Of understanding the nature of one’s own alcoholism, as far as possible, and of putting the nature of denial into its proper context.
Whilst it may take a while to really develop, the willingness to really look at oneself and genuinely reflect on behaviours and motives is not something that people normally want to do. For alcoholics in recovery there is often a sense of urgency, as this need to self-awareness is usually a key element in staying sober.
It is in this context that the phrase rigorous honesty should really be understood, almost as a plea for urgency rather than a call to fundamentalism.
With quite literally thousands of rehabs to choose from, deciding which one to choose can be quite a daunting process.
The majority of rehabs in the US will offer quite similar addiction treatment programs, the majority of which will be rooted in the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Some people will want to go into a rehab close to where they live, others will want to go to a rehab as far away as possible, either in another state or in another country completely.
Some people believe that a complete change of scenery and location can help someone in their early days of recovery, others believe they should confront their issues in a more known and local environment.
This means that the choice of rehab can literally be a worldwide one for everyone.
Very few rehabs will advertise any type of success rate, although some will talk of a percentage rate of completion. These are two very different things.
A rate of completion is simply the number of people who complete their course of treatment, which is normally 28/30 days, although in some cases this can be longer.
The reality of recovery from alcoholism and addiction is that it is a tricky road for most people, and no one really knows how many people make it in the long run.
Some rehabs will keep in touch with as many of their ‘alumni’ as possible, but very few if any will talk of a success rate. Recovery is a long-term process, often taking many years to embed in the individual.
A stay in rehab is relatively short, and is seen by most people as initially breaking the cycle of alcoholism and addiction, and laying the foundations for long-term recovery.
There are however a number of factors can that be used to determine how effective a rehab treatment center is likely to be, and all the information required should be available via the rehab’s website.
Wherever you are looking in terms of location, there are likely to be a number of legal requirements for any type of clinical facility that is offering addiction treatment programs.
It is well worth checking what these are, and making sure that the rehab adheres to them. If in doubt ask the rehab itself.
If they are at all reluctant to help, it may be an indication to move on and find somewhere else.
As already stated, for many people location is an important issue. Within the geographical area make sure that the facility itself is an attractive and comfortable place for a short-term stay.
Some rehabs will offer single accommodation, others will insist on sharing a room and facilities as part of the recovery process.
Also make sure there is plenty of outdoor space, ideally near water, as this can be very therapeutic for a number of people who need time to have a break from the intensity of the rehab itself.
All rehabs will employ a wide variety of staff, both clinical and administrative.
Clinical/ therapeutic staff can/should include a medical doctor, nurses, psychiatrists / psychologists, therapists, yoga teachers, tai chi teachers, reflexology practitioners, acupuncture practitioners, art therapy practitioners, meditation practitioners, politicians, nutritionists, social workers, transitional living workers, and priests/rabbis.
Obviously this is a wide range of differing staff, but should give a fairly good indication of the facilities that the rehab offers as well. In addition to the numbers and types of staff, it is worth checking the qualifications and experience of the most senior staff available and their experience of addiction and alcoholism.
All rehabs should have their own clinical facilities and staff that allow them to assess at the outset of treatment whether a medical detox is needed or not for any individual entering the treatment center.
If they do not have such facilities, then they should have access to a local clinical facility such as a hospital, who can make this assessment for them.
This is a crucial element of any rehab or treatment center, because of the necessity to assess the need for a detox for anyone coming off alcoholism/drug addiction.
Most rehabs do not advertise how much they charge, but it is probably fair to estimate a charge of between US$ 28,000 / $35000 for a 28 day stay in most treatment centres in the USA.
It should be noted that there are a number that describe themselves as luxury rehabs that can easily charge three or four times this amount.
Most of this cost is normally covered by insurance, but there are one or two things to be aware of.
Many insurance companies will agree to cover the cost of rehab, but will sometimes review this on a weekly basis while the individual is in treatment.
This means that they could withdraw cover at any point during the individuals stay in rehab if they deem it not necessary any longer.
Also be aware that some rehabs offer loans to help pay for the cost of their treatment, especially if the individual does not have insurance, or their insurance plan does not cover rehab treatment.
This can end up being very expensive indeed, and is an option that should probably be avoided if at all possible.
Addiction Treatment Programs
Most treatment programs should begin with an assessment of need for a medical detox as referred to above.
Most rehabs will base their addiction treatment programs around the first five steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
Some will be slightly more specialised, and based around certain steps such as step one, or steps three and 11.
There is also likely to be a significant amount of personal therapy/counselling done, either on a one-to-one basis or in group. Some rehabs also offer specialised therapy such as CBT/EMDRA
Most treatment centers will also encourage, sometimes insist, that individuals attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous whilst in treatment.
These may sometimes be held on site, by local groups or in the locality where the treatment center is based.
A number of rehabs will also offer so-called alternative therapies, which are recognised by the therapists listed above.
They may also include things such as adventure programs which can be things such as white water rafting, hill or rock climbing or equine therapy.
A rehab’s approach to what happens when someone leaves rehab is almost as important as what happens to them when they are in treatment.
It is generally recognised that a rehab is something of a bubble, almost intentionally, that takes the individual out of their normal environment to provide a safe place allowing them to lay the foundations for their recovery.
Like all bubbles, a return to normality has to be thought through and carefully planned.
Thus a rehab should from day one lay the foundations for being able to integrate what happens in rehab back into the individuals normal life once they have returned to their home and family.
Most rehabs will encourage continued attendance at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in addition could have their own regular meetings, normally monthly, that are open to any residents or former residents to attend if they so wish.
Former residents are normally referred to as alumni and are encouraged to return to the treatment center, both for their own good and as examples to current residents.
Sober Living / Transitional Living
Some rehabs will have links to what are referred to as sober living or transitional living houses.
These are normally long-term shared houses, normally under some type of supervision, where people in early recovery can live together, and stabilise their own lives once sober.
This is an option foro some people who need an additional degree of stability around where to live and what do for work once they have finished treatment.
Everyone’s journey from active alcoholism into sobriety is both unique and complex.
One thing that is fairly common however, is that when people do sober up, they have to start living with themselves without alcohol.
This means beginning to live with the reality of what they were trying to escape from when drinking, both internally and externally.
For many people, this can be a pretty daunting process, can take a long time and is a lot of work to really heal. It is probably fair to describe this process as emotional sobriety.
The phrase emotional sobriety was first used by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in an article he wrote for the AA Grapevine in January 1958.
The article was entitled The Next Frontier : Emotional Sobriety.
In the article, Bill Wilson outlined his thoughts on the emotional struggles he had had, largely during the time of his depression, and how he had come through them with a much stronger sense of his inner world and what it meant to him.
Many people seek to interpret this phrase, and how Bill Wilson wrote about it, in a number of different ways.
The reality is, as with everything that he wrote, and all AA literature, that people have an absolute freedom to interpret in anyway they find helpful or not.
Trying to interpret his writings in ways that mean people have to fit their own experience into the context of what he was saying, is in many ways an emotional death wish, and something he most likely would never have intended or wanted.
It is clear from pretty much all of his writings that he intended to share his experience, both at a personal and an AA level, in the hope that it could be helpful to people, and that they could use his experience as part of the process of rebuilding their own life once they got sober.
It is probably a fair assumption to say that the emotional drives that fuel people’s alcoholism are for most people fairly deep-rooted, and quite often go back to childhood.
When someone gets sober, they start to live with the legacy of these emotional drives as they affect them on a day-to-day basis. The depth of this emotional trauma can often seem too overwhelming to go near for many people.
Most people soon begin to realise that their emotional lives are out of control at some level, and that in some way this either contributed to their drinking, or was the cause of the dread/terror inside them that alcohol seemed to be the solution to.
People’s understanding of their own alcoholism comes in time, and this sense that alcohol was the solution, not the problem, is pretty common and pretty core to this understanding.
It is also completely at odds with the understanding that someone who is not an alcoholic is likely to have of alcoholism generally.
There is a saying in AA, that when you get sober you begin to realise why you drank.
This is not normally intended to be taken literally, as in finding the reasons people drink alcoholically.
It is meant to refer to the fact that when people get sober, they begin to live with themselves without alcohol, and as such soon begin to realise at some level this emotional turmoil that fuelled their drinking.
At some point in their recovery, people are likely to realise that they need to in some way process this emotional turmoil or they are likely to start drinking again.
This is normally around the fact that most alcoholics see / saw alcohol as the solution to their problems, not the problem itself.
Once sober, the alcohol is gone, and people have to start living with themselves without it.
This can be a fairly tough thing to accept, and people’s ways of dealing with it differ significantly.
It is very likely however that it will take a significant degree of emotional pain before people become willing to really own and address their underlying emotional issues, although there are obviously many different reasons for this.
The phrase emotional sobriety really covers this entire process, pretty much from day one through till whenever it stops !
It is probably a mistake to think that the phrase only deals with issues of later recovery, or with issues of depression.
The nature of staying sober for many people is around finding ways of healing the internal emotional turmoil that alcohol helped to give some relief from, and this is normally a lifelong process.
Although anecdotal, it is fairly clear that a significant number of alcoholics in recovery grew up in what are normally referred to as alcoholic homes.
This normally refers to homes where either one or both parents were active alcoholics, or where there was a significant number of alcoholics in the extended family.
The effects of growing up in an alcoholic home can be varied, but there are a number of common traits.
The most common one is an absence of safety.
This can either be an emotional absence, or an actual absence or both.
People growing up in alcoholic homes describe a total lack of stability or safety, the lack of feeling anyone is in control, and the need to take responsibility for their own lives at an early age.
Growing up in an alcoholic home has a significant impact on someone’s development and sense of self.
It can distort ancestry damage how someone relates to themselves and other people.
Someone who is also an alcoholic themselves and grows up in an alcoholic home will find that the emotional chaos of their childhood is likely to have played a significant part in their own emotional development, and how they tried to force their life to work in some way.
Emotional sobriety is about finding ways of healing this emotional turmoil, and getting a real sense of peace and stability internally that can enable someone to really live at peace with themselves, possibly for the first time ever.
Quite a simple question in many ways, but one that many people struggle with, both in terms of trying to set boundaries of their own, and dealing with other people who don’t respect, or don’t seem able to respect anyone else’s boundaries at all.
The issue of boundaries is not unique to people in 12-step recovery, but is perhaps more acute because so many of them have grown up either in alcoholic homes or enmeshed homes of one type or another.
Anyone who has grown up in such a home would to some degree have felt that they did not have their own sense of space, or their own sense of privacy, or simply their own right to be themselves.
It is sometimes described as not knowing where your life ends and the other person begins.
This is really about someone having the space to be themselves.
This sense of not having your own personal space becomes more apparent as you get older, and becomes more important as you try to reconcile the responsibilities of your own life, with the responsibilities of other people’s lives around you.
Trying to define boundaries is quite difficult in one sense, but is normally much more obvious when there are really being blurred. When people do not respect other people’s boundaries, they do not respect the person themselves.
Respecting someone as an individual, is in large part about giving them the freedom to be themselves, and giving them the space to process their own needs, and also to have the space where they come to the realisation of what their own needs are themselves first.
Respecting the Individual
Respecting boundaries is about respecting an individual.
Where someone does not respect boundaries, they do not respect the individual’s right to be themselves and make decisions for themselves.
Inevitably they try and manipulate the other person into doing what they want them to do, whilst trying to make them think that it is their decision in the first place.
Boundaries are often talked about in terms of childhood development, because they are about setting a safe place for a child to learn what is and is not acceptable. Boundaries are about creating a real sense of freedom within the confines and context of your life.
In adulthood this is a very different process to how a child will learn how boundaries affect a sense of space.
The problem in many ways for people in 12 step recovery is that they are playing catch up. Many who have grown up in alcoholic or enmeshed homes will have experienced acute levels of a lack of boundaries.
This will have manifested itself in a lot of complications and problems in the individual, often leading to a real sense of emotional limbo, feeling they have no responsibility or power over their own life, but feeling responsible for the lives of other people that they have no control over.
This is normally a direct reflection of the home they grew up in, and becomes a pattern of behaviour and thought throughout the life.
Learning to set boundaries as an adult is not an easy thing, Especially if other people in your life used to getting their own way and being able to use you as they want to.
Learning to say no, and to own your own right to make your own decisions is really what setting boundaries is about.
At first it may feel a bit awkward, or even a bit controlling. As time goes on learning to set boundaries will become a very real and natural part of your life, and ultimately will give you the safety of being able to own your own emotional space, and really feel you have your life back.
People quite often like to categorise emotions as being good or bad, with emotions such as anger and self-pity been thought of as bad or weak .
Emotions such as gratitude and a positive outlook are thought of as good healthy emotional states.
Truth is that judgement of any emotional state is of itself counter productive.
Emotions are neither good nor bad of themselves, neither strong no weak, they simply are.
This may sound a bit trite, but is really important because of what ones emotional state can tell us about ourselves.
Many people in 12 step recovery struggle with emotional drives once they get sober.
Often the alcohol has been used as a way of quite simply blotting out the emotional pain someone has lived in, and has been used to simply avoid reality.
When someone gets sober, one of the first lessons that they learn is that this is, how do they live with themselves sober.
This may not be immediately obvious at a conscious level, but they soon into realise that the emotional unmanageability of their lives is often as strong as the practical unmanageability of their drinking which caused them to seek help.
One of the important part of the process of 12 step is recovery is to be able to consciously look at and evaluate how our emotions work at a normal instinctive level, simply because on a daily basis people just act or react to what goes on around them.
This can be particularly true when someone has a high level of anger or resentment that determines their attitudes and their reactions to much of what happens in their life.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous describes resentment as the number one offender, and says it destroys more alcoholics than anything else.
Anyone who has lived with their own anger, or with an angry alcoholic, drunk or sober, knows the power of resentment, and how overwhelming it can be.
Perhaps the most important thing to realise about our emotional states is that they give us information about ourselves.
The process of the 12 step program allows us to consciously evaluate this information at both a head and a heart level.
Being able to develop a degree of self awareness is a huge freedom, even if it does not seem so at the beginning throughout the process.
Knowing what one’s own emotional baggage and drives are, does give you the freedom to be able to process them, even if it is painful or takes you to dark places.
Thinking of people as being emotionally weak or emotionally strong is a fundamental misconception.
The real problem behind this attitude is one of judgement. If someone is judging themselves or other people for how they are feeling, they will be completely unable to accept it as a real state.
If they cannot accept that, in reality they will never be able to change it.
The term emotional sobriety is often used to describe the process of people coming to terms with their more complex and serious emotional drives that may only begin to become apparent after someone has been sober for a while.
This journey can be a tough one, but ultimately is the only real root to any lasting happiness or internal sense of stability and peace.
Tough love is one of those expressions that has crept into the vocabulary of mental health and 12 step recovery in recent years.
It sort of implies that an action or directive is being given or taken which may on the surface seem a bit tough, but is being done from a place of love, for the benefit of the individual concerned even if they are unable to see it.
A couple of examples.
A family intervention to get someone into rehab is often talked about as being an act of tough love. In recovery, a sponsor will sack a sponsor and tell them it is for their own benefit.
In truth it is normally because they are not doing something the sponsor explained to get them to do.
Both the above examples have actually very little to do with love.
In many ways they are simply about an act of bullying, using the guise of people’s vulnerability as a way of exploiting that in ability to fight back.
Trying to define what love is obviously a very difficult if not impossible thing to do.
It is easier in a way to show what love is not. Any type of loving and individual must at its core have a sense of respect for the integrity and life of the other person. When people are in any way exploited, such respect is non-existent.
Looking at the case of an intervention in more detail, an intervention is often talked about as being something that is used as a last resort and is often done because people say ” that things simply cannot go on the way they are”.
Looking at it logically, an intervention is a getting together of people who care about the individual, who try to shut that individual into agreeing to go into rehab seeking treatment in order to deal with their alcoholism or addiction.
The mindset behind an intervention is often that the sense of pressure from the family will make the individual see sense and do what he should have done some time ago.
What it fails to take into account is the mindset of the person who is the alcoholic or addict.
Although there is a slight risk of generalising, it is probably fair to say that an alcoholic will turn to alcohol at some point in their drinking as being one and only thing that is holding them together.
What an intervention does is pressure them into a situation that they possibly cannot handle, it presents them with a false choice about their future.
Whilst many will go into rehab following an intervention, some may get sober, some may not.
What people never really see is the emotional damage that may be done to an alcoholic by way of the intervention making them feel trapped, and forced to do something against their will.
The reason this matter so much is because an alcoholic will see his relationship with alcohol differently to people who are not an alcoholic.
The external chaos is real for everyone to see. But other people cannot see inside the mind of the alcoholic.
An alcoholic needs to drink until they get to a place where they are willing to let go of it. That willingness has to come from within, and is a fairly complicated process.
Tough but not Love
In the context of tough love, an intervention as understood in 12 step recovery is not really an act of love at all.
Normally a much better act of love would be to advise the family to go to Al-Anon and begin their own recovery in the context of the other person’s drinking.
Tough love is a phrase that seems quite active because it can provide a degree of certainty and harshness, under the impression that it is actually the loving thing that has been done.
Great care should be taken when anyone talks about tough love, as it normally relates to an action that actually is not particularly loving, even if the motives of the person doing it are coming from the right place.
Quite often in an AA meeting or similar, you will hear someone announce themselves as my name is so-and-so and I’m grateful alcoholic/ addict, or I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic/addict.
Equally, you are quite likely to hear someone say at a meeting something along the lines of a grateful alcoholic will never drink.
There is a sense that being grateful is not only a good and worthwhile things, it is an important part of recovery, and to some people it is a vital part of staying sober.
It is also often thought of as a way of preventing the build up of anger. The word gratitude can mean different things to different people, and it is worth being aware there are a couple of areas to it that are both really important.
There is no doubt that having some type of perspective about either what you have in life, or what is going for you in life can be helpful in terms of giving you a more balanced outlook on who you are and where your life is going.
This can be especially true for people who are alcoholics, especially those who are recently sober or trying to get sober.
There is a general sense that people in recovery to have a high degree of negativity about their thought and feelings, and as such being grateful or doing a crescent list hopes to counterbalance that sense of negativity.
This can certainly be true. The depressive effects of alcohol can induce a wide range of dark thoughts and feelings within an individual, often compounding an already distorted outlook on themselves and their life, and deepening a sense of dread about their future.
The process of 12-step recovery involves many stages, one of which is laying the foundations for a stable period of sobriety. Part of the process of laying the foundations is to give the individual hope, and let them discover for themselves the reality of their inner world, and what it means to them.
Developing a perspective that looks at their reality is hugely important to most people.
Often writing out a gratitude list helps people focus on the good in the life, and move away from an underlying sense of dread about the past and their alcoholism generally. Here comes the but – there are two other important things that need to be considered.
Gratitude is often touted as a good emotion or good feeling, as opposed to various other not so good feelings, and therefore one that should be encouraged. The danger with this idiot sometimes people will feel that they should be feeling a particular way when they aren’t.
This feeds into the whole issue of authenticity, and the need for people to have a genuine sense of being able to be they are.
It may be that in early recovery people are not able to face that in reality because of the dread attached to it. A focus on what is going well for them can help move them forward.
There does come a point however when that person needs to have space to own their own feelings, whatever those feelings are, and use those feelings as a guide to what is going on in there in their inner world.
This does not mean that they have to let go of looking for the good in their life, but it does mean that they need to be aware of what the so-called negative feelings are and where they are coming from.
There is a sense in recovery that there are two ongoing parts to it. One is dealing with the day-to-day stuff which most people should get better until sober, and dealing with the underlying stuff which for many people can be fairly traumatic, especially if there is a history of abuse or trauma, especially in childhood.
For many sober alcoholics, the process of dealing with the underlying issues becomes more important as time goes on, and also leads to a more healthy resolution of the effects of trauma and abuse which give rise to much of the so-called negativity or dread that helped fuel their drinking.
It has become almost something of a cliche in society nowadays to use the adage that you cannot cope with a problem unless you first admit it.
Not that this is a new or a novel idea, but it is probably true that this sentiment has become much more powerful and widespread owing to the nature of the growth of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step recovery movement generally.
The first step of the AA 12 step program refers to an admission of being powerless over alcohol, and is generally taken to mean that the person has to accept or acknowledge their reality of powerlessness in order to move forward.
This can often involve fairly mixed emotions, ranging from a deep sense of anger to a feeling of being in complete limbo.
There is often much debate about the intricacies of what various words and phrases mean in all of the 12 step programs, and unfortunately this often misses the real point.
12 Step Programs
The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the book itself Alcoholics Anonymous, were written as a statement of experience. This means simply that the words and phrases were designed to reflect the broad understanding and experience of the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This experience was codified and written down in order that anyone who was interested, either for themselves or for other people, would be able to access this experience, and use it in whatever way they found helpful.
It is worth realising that the word acceptance, and the more broad notion of accepting one’s own alcoholism, has a particular slant in Alcoholics Anonymous that differs from other 12 step fellowships.
It is probably fair to say that Alcoholics Anonymous has in some ways a slightly more to do or die approach, a more black-and-white perhaps rigid sense of 12 step recovery, and this is reflected in its attitude to getting and staying sober.
Acceptance in AA has quite an all or nothing feel about it.
The term surrender is quite often used in the same context as acceptance, and there is what is often a general sense that someone needs to surrender to the program, surrender to God, surrender to the 12 step fellowship, and sometimes even surrender to a sponsor in order to get sober and stay sober.
Dangers of Surrender
The package of surrender and acceptance in this approach to recovery is very much the do or die attitude mentioned previously.
It is a sense of almost having to accept the entire premise of what alcoholism and recovery are about, almost without any sense of the understanding of process. It is a very black-and-white attitude, and can come over as being quite fundamentalist, quite rigid.
The very word surrender implies some level of defeat, often worded as the defeat of the individuals own ego, or the defeat of their self-will run riot life and their journey with alcohol.
For some people this probably works, but equally it is probably fair to say that a significant number of people get put off by such a hard line point of view.
Interestingly, in other 12 step fellowships, the notion of acceptance is a much more gentle one. It is really about an acknowledgement of one’s own reality, not such a strong sense of fundamentalism, more such a strong sense of the implications of what it means.
At any level, step one in the AA program is about an individual who is an alcoholic accepting that this is their reality. Whilst that is very easy to say, for many alcoholics it is an extraordinary difficult concept to grasp, be they drinking or newly sober.
One of the main reasons for this, is that acceptance of the fact that an alcoholics cannot drink any more is often a pretty terrifying experience.
To really understand this, it is necessary to understand the mind of an alcoholic, which is hard at the best of times, but to understand that for many the idea of losing alcohol is a prospect too scary to countenance.
This may be completely at odds with the reality of alcohol has taken them, and often the need to drink, and the illusion of safety that it gives them is too strong for this reality to be allowed a place in their lives.
This is why an understanding of the term acceptance matters.
It is about giving people who are looking at AA a sense that the 12 step program is actually a very gentle one, albeit one that is quite demanding in many ways.
It is also one that is about helping people to acknowledge that in reality and move forward with it in a way that is non-threatening and healing.
Emotional Sobriety is the title of an article written in the journal of Alcoholics Anonymous, known as the AA Grapevine, by one of its co-founders Bill W.
In the article, he writes at length about the need to address many of the underlying emotional drives that fuelled his alcoholism, and implied that this was in effect a stage that follows the initial phase of getting sober and staying sober.
Many people have interpreted this as meaning different things. Emotional sobriety is often used as a form of judgement as to how ‘well’ people are in sobriety, irrespective of how long they have been sober.
Other people will often compare what they call physical sobriety with emotional sobriety, implying that once physically sober the level with which people are able to adapt and integrate their lives into sobriety indicates a degree of wellness.
It is really important, to understand the thinking behind the term emotional sobriety, irrespective of how long anyone has been sober or not.
Firstly sobriety is about being sober, pure and simple. There are no degrees of it, there is no judgement about it in terms of wellness or not, or how well people cope with it or do not manage to.
Emotional sobriety should be thought of much more in terms of the underlying emotional drives that play a part in most people’s alcoholism.
Anyone getting sober, whether in a rehab or through a 12 step program or some other way, will soon begin to realise that once sober the real issue becomes how do people stay sober, whilst living with the emotional turmoil that most people feel is inside them.
The process of people understanding and making sense of their alcoholism is a really important one.
What is equally important is that they have the freedom to discover for themselves what this understanding and connection is between alcohol and their emotional states.
Most people would recognise that their alcoholism is a mix of an instinctive or instinctual need to drink, and the sense of relief or freedom that alcohol gives them once they have taken a drink or several.
Often this connection between the effect of alcohol and what it is affecting you within is only clear at a felt level. Once sober, it becomes clearer that the emotional states such as anger, fear, loneliness etc that are a common part of alcoholism play a major role as a trigger for the compulsion or obsession to drink.
Emotional Sobriety and AA
However people come to understand their emotional states, it is normally clear from early on either in rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that the main type of therapeutic/spiritual work that needs to be done, is on helping the individual stabilise their inner world, and as such prevent the reflex action of picking up a drink or feeling the need to have a drink.
This work on one’s inner world, on helping to stabilise one’s emotions and begin the process of feeling relatively at peace with oneself at some level begins the moment an individual gets sober, either in a rehab or in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is the real focus of emotional sobriety, the understanding and need to be at peace with yourself.
Altered Attitudes is one of the many sayings that are used in meetings and in rehabs that is adapted from the letters of Alcoholics Anonymous into another word or phrase.
AA meetings and the recovery process generally are full of sayings and phrases that for some people are quite catchy, and for other people can be a bit irritating.
What is often important, is to look behind the saying or the phrase, and see what it is really saying to you. Continue reading
Asking the question what is care taking could almost be tagged with what is the relevance of caretaking in the context of alcoholism or other addictions. Caretaking can often be seen in the same context as taking care of people, a healthy thing to be aware of someone else’s needs and helping them take care of them.
It is important to understand the term caretaking specifically in the context of alcoholic homes especially, but other dysfunctional families may give rise to many of the problems associated with alcoholism and other addictions.
Whilst it is always dangerous to generalise about families, is probably fair to say that anecdotal evidence suggests that many active alcoholics, and especially members of Alcoholics Anonymous grew up in alcoholic homes.
This may well be where one or both of the parents were alcoholics, or may well be what our Al-Anon refers to as generational alcoholism. This simply means that one or more of a families relatives may have been alcoholics, and the effect of this may have been passed down through generations.
The process of recovery from the effects of growing up in alcoholic home do not really depend upon identifying who the alcoholic was or when they lived. The issue is much more about the effects of alcoholism in an emotional context upon the family concerned.
There are a number of common features that seem to affect children who grow up in alcoholic homes.
They mostly seem to relate to a lack of boundaries, a sense of enmeshment within the family, and a huge sense of distorted responsibilities. It is very common for children who grow up in alcoholic homes to take on responsibilities that are way above their age, and are not theirs to take.
This is essentially what caretaking refers to in a recovery sense. The effect that it can have on children in the context of becoming responsible for things that they do not have control over can be hugely damaging, both short-term and long-term.
Caretaking has very little to do with actually taking care of people, but has a lot to do with children trying to fill a hole that should not exist but often does. Any child in any family needs a sense of safety in order to grow and lead any sort of decent life.
In an alcoholic home that is likely to be little safety, either of a physical or an emotional nature. This will often lead a child or children to try and create their own sense of safety by overcompensating for the parents.
This often defines their sense of self for life, and their whole sense of identity once they grow up.This process is known as caretaking, and needs to be identified in a recovery context once the alcoholic is sober. This is essentially a process of rebuilding their life and their inner world, that is about giving them any peace of mind and stability as adults, whether in rehab or elsewhere.
One might easily ask change what, but anyone who has been to any AA meeting or has been through rehab will be well aware that people talk about change consistently, and present change as being perhaps the most important issue that anyone wanting to recover from alcoholism or any other addiction needs to address.
To anyone who isn’t an alcoholic but knows one, what that individual needs to change may well be fairly obvious.
It may start with their drinking, may well continue with their anger and their other emotional reactions to life.
The other person may or may not be aware that they cannot change the alcoholic, but can change themselves in terms of their approach to how they deal with them and help them or not.
Anyone entering a rehab or going directly to a meeting is likely at some level to be pretty terrified about the process, or what it involves doesn’t involve.
One of the underlying fears that may take a time to identify is the fear of living without alcohol.
This is not linked to where the reality of the alcoholism has taken them, it is simply an emotional attachment to alcohol that is likely to have been present for some time, and is likely to have got deeper the worse their alcoholism has progressed.
For many people who are alcoholics the idea of change is pretty terrifying.
It means letting go of the one thing that they believe has held them together most of the lives, which is alcohol, and letting go of the emotional coping mechanisms that have also held them together most of their lives.
For anyone entering rehab therefore, the notion of change can seem pretty terrifying and it is important for everyone to realise this.
People who are in recovery need to understand the process of change and the benefits that come with it and need to remember that this cannot be forced on an individual. Understanding where that individual is coming from and the fears that they are likely to have at some level is a crucial part of helping them feel safe enough to begin the process of recovery, of change.
The key, if there is one, to change is safety.
The individual needs at some level to be able to feel safe enough to begin to heal their inner world, the process that is key to their own long-term recovery. How an individual changes is a uniquely individual experience, and that change they will take time for them to fully appreciate.
Other people may see the change in them quicker than they stayed in themselves. However, the nature of change however it occurs, is that it is likely to happen only when the individual feels safe enough to really begin to deal with the underlying emotional drives that have fuelled their alcoholism.
For many people this is a incredibly scary process and takes some people much longer than others. Giving them time to process what they need is perhaps the greatest gift they can have.