Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

12steps800My therapist told me to craft my own version of the Twelve (12) Steps since I am always pointing out the illogic in several of the Steps. I’m not trying to replace AA’s 12 Steps, but rather, formulate my own personal set of steps or guidelines for my own recovery. Each person has a unique recovery program, or at least they should, in my opinion.

  1. Don’t drink, don’t drink, don’t drink. Yes, my program is one of abstinence. A few people in recovery believe they can drink in moderation or controlled, but I’ve already tested out that theory, and it doesn’t work for me.
  2. Work on and achieve acceptance. Accept your disease, but recognize that it’s ok not be happy about it and that you did not aspire to become an alcoholic. It’s ok to hate that word, alcoholic.
  3. Actively participate in AA. Embrace those steps which you believe in, and the fellowship. Discard the rest. Stop analyzing and pointing out deficiencies with AA program. It does no good. Reconnect with your Judaism to achieve some kind of spiritual foundation, whatever that may be.
  4. Go to private therapy as outlined by your therapist.
  5. Exercise, take care of my body, and eat healthy.
  6. Stay in frequent touch with your sponsor.
  7. Do Steps 4 and 5 of the AA program the way it’s laid out. It’s important to take that personal inventory and clean out all the “baggage.”
  8. Stay away from trigger locations, including bars, certain restaurants, parties and gatherings until I feel 100% confident I can deal with the situation without drinking or craving a drink.
  9. Do the making amends steps 8 and 9 of AA the way it’s laid out. It’s equally important to say your sorry to all the people you have hurt. But you can only do this once you have a solid foundation for recovery or else it’s just words.
  10. Seek rewards and gratification for a job well done and successes through healthy choices and inner confidence.
  11. Forgive yourself of all your past mistakes and focus on the future and the joy and happiness a sober you will bring to yourself and your family.
  12. Try to limit acting like a lawyer in recovery by over-analyzing everything and trying to “out-smart” the disease. Keep it simple. Again, if you don’t drink, you’ve done a good job for the day.

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Just a quick note because I’m crazy busy at work preparing for a big jury trial starting next Monday.

I’ve been “stacking” up meetings — which around here means simply going to more meetings than usual for a particular reason. So I’ve been hitting around 5-6 meetings/ per week, up from my usual 3-4. My particular reason is that I’m under a lot of work stress due to an upcoming trial and that’s always been huge trigger for me. So I want to keep an even keel heading into my trial, and the meetings give me an opportunity both to decompress and to vent on being stressed out. You see, when I was young and stupid, I used to say “stress is not in my vocabulary.” But of course it was. I just didn’t know how to deal with it properly.

As I shared at a recent meeting, if I had lost a trial, I would have had a few drinks. But had I won, watch out — I would have drunk even more. I used alcohol as much, if not more, to “reward” myself for battling through stress or a successful outcome at work. Success was the trigger.

So now as a recovering person, I know what my major trigger situations are and I’m actively building up a defense to it. Pretty common sense stuff when you think about it.

Well, back to the trial preparation!

One day at a time,

~Dick

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Just a quick blog before I leave for our Disney family vacation (which is directly related to my sobriety!).

Last night at my favorite AA meeting — a speaker discussion — the topic was our past. For me, my past, and its associated wreckage, is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I still harbor quite a bit of shame, guilt and remorse about all the stupid things I did when I was active. On the other hand, I know that but for my past, I wouldn’t be where I am now in such a good place.

Letting go of your past is a very important step in recovery as the guilt and shame can literally eat you up inside and cause you to pick up. This reminds me of a meditation passage we read every morning at Hazelden from the 24 Hour A Day book:

There are 2 days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept from fear and apprehension. One of these days is yesterday, with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed. We cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone beyond recall. Do I still worry about what happened yesterday?

I love that passage.

Do I wish I didn’t get pulled over for a DUI? Of course. Do I wish that I didn’t relapse after going to one of the best treatment facilities in the country? Of course. But through my falling down, I wouldn’t have hit rock bottom and had that “gift of desperation” that so many of I needed to finally accept and surrender to the disease.

I cannot change my past. The only thing I can do is live in today.

One day at a time…

~Dick

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My Thoughts On Huff Post Therapist’s Criticism Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Laura Tompkins is a “certified addiction specialist” who blogs at the Huffington Post. She just penned a slam piece against all that is “negative” and “wrong” about Alcoholics Anonymous, entitled, appropriately enough, Is Alcoholics Anonymous Negativity Based?

Ms. Tompkins repeats some of the same tired arguments about The Program and offers some truly frightening advice as well — that some alcoholics may indeed be able to drink in safe moderation under the careful guidance of a — you guessed it — a certified addiction specialist such as herself. This is Rational Recovery meets Smart Recovery with a sprinkle of Stupidity.

Of course, she’s entitled to her opinion, but Ms. Tompkins is not an alcoholic and therefore has no idea what it’s like to be one. She obviously has very limited experience with AA because her statements are, in large part, completely untrue. And like most critics of AA, she offers zero alternatives or “solutions” to what she perceives as the problem with AA — other than “don’t go to AA. It sucks.” The fact remains, and will remain, that with a meeting in every community in the country, AA remains the most available and affordable recovery program in the history of the United States. The program has historically been subject to criticism, but has saved millions.

With that said, allow me to critique Ms. Tompkins’ critique of AA based on real, personal experience. (Oh, by the way, I went to Hazelden too, where signs with all those AA slogans Ms. Tompkins mocks greets new patients on the ride in. I’m sure they are mortified at her article because Hazelden was founded on AA principles). Ms. Tompkins writes:

If you go to an AA meeting they will tell you the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. They will then require you to announce and declare to the room and God that you are an alcoholic. You are an alcoholic who will never recover. You must never pick up a drink again. They proceed to put you in a no-win position of pronouncing that you are an alcoholic at the beginning of every meeting, and every time you speak at all for that matter. Even if you are announcing that the cookies are running low and you need more money for the bad coffee everyone is swilling, you must announce that you are an alcoholic. A paragraph from Chapter 5 of the AA book is read aloud.

This is what most of my clients hear: Follow us or you will fail. If you do not recover, you are a dishonest and unfortunate idiot, and you were born a dishonest and unfortunate idiot. You will die painfully, full of shame for your innate inability to be honest with yourself. Even worse, if you are mentally and emotionally ill (which is highly probable), you will only recover if you follow our path completely and do not rock the boat.

First, there is no requirement in AA that you announce yourself as an alcoholic, although for most, like myself, it’s the first time that an entering alcoholic becomes honest with themselves. I say, “Hi, I’m Dick, I’m an alcoholic” with pride and courage, knowing that I’m facing up to my disease and my lifetime struggle with it. I’m sure my wife doesn’t mind that I fess up to reality a few times per week at AA meetings. The reference to God is purely gilding the lily. As the literature makes clear, you don’t have to believe in God. The suggestion is to find a Higher Power other than yourself.

Second, having graduated from Hazelden (where I attended its amazing 30 day program) Ms. Tompkins should know that alcoholism is an incurable, progressive, terminal and ultimately fatal disease that lasts one’s lifetime. Just ask the American Medical Association. She says AA promotes the notion that alcoholics will never recover. That’s just pure b.s. It’s more like “we’re always in recovery.” For an alcoholic to believe that she is “cured” and no longer needs any form of recovery is a very dangerous place indeed, and a sure path to relapse and using. Just ask all those who “came back” to the program. Most will say that they stopped going to meetings, stopped doing recovery related activities, and that first drink started to look real good.

The second paragraph is just pure inflammatory rhetoric. No one in the rooms would ever call anyone a dishonest and unfortunate idiot — unless they deserved it! I’m just kidding. No one talks like that at meetings. But I read somewhere that addicts do tend to lie once in a while….

But Alcoholics Anonymous also pushes members into believing that any deviance from the program is a slippery slope, and a relapse is a slow death. Negative? You betcha. Many of those who end up in an AA meeting recover on their own; many are even able to practice drinking in moderation. But AA meetings would never hear from these people since members are not allowed to talk about successful moderation.

This statement demonstrates that state licensing authorities should consider revoking Ms. Tompkins’ certification. A true alcoholic can never, EVER, drink in moderation or safety. Those folks Ms. Tompkins refers to were never true alcoholics in the first place. Maybe “problem” drinkers, but not real alcoholics who are powerless over their consumption of the spirits. And why in the world would Ms. Tompkins ever counsel a patient with a drinking problem, however severe or not, to go back to drinking? That’s pure reckless advice.

Entrusting a complete stranger who has no training or competency in mandated confidentiality is ill-advised, and yet it is encouraged and practiced every day in AA. That is, if the person gets to the fifth step at all. The majority of people with whom I work do not make it past step three, and they are vilified in AA for not completing all 12 steps. Why stop at step three? The rest of the steps are about personal morality, confession, removal of character defects, discovering personality shortcomings, making amends, and continually turning your will and life over to the care of a higher power. The steps are negative affirmations that keep the alcoholic always in a state of blame and dependent on a higher power, the group and AA meetings.

Ms. Tompkins ends her critique with a self-serving argument about confidentiality and sponsorship. Your sponsor is not a “complete stranger.” For most AA’s, their sponsor is one of the closest people in their lives and will surely respect the confidentiality. You can also do a 5th Step with a clergyman, rabbi, spiritual adviser and even a therapist like Ms. Tompkins. But perhaps Ms. Tompkins is looking for new patients by attempting to scare potential AA’s from the program.

In my experience, no one is vilified in AA for not completing the steps. I know a lot of folks who have strong sobriety and have never formally done the steps. I know some who have done some but not all the steps. And I know folks who are very into the Steps. No one cares. They care only if you are struggling or drinking or can’t get to a meeting. Just getting to a meeting is plenty for most folks.

Lastly, if Ms. Tompkins truly believes that taking a personal inventory, admitting one has been wrong in the past, making amends to those we’ve hurt and seeking help in a higher power is a negative, she is truly delusional. Ask any family member of a recovering alcoholic if those steps are a negative, and they will laugh in your face.

Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous has survived since 1935, and will continue to survive and grow, despite such criticisms from the likes of Ms. Topkins. Pursuant to its tradition of not commenting on anything publicly, you will never hear the AA organization defend itself in the media and social media. And they don’t have to. The program speaks for itself. However, for those of you who are in recovery and have benefited from AA and feel so inclined, feel free to comment on the article in support of AA.

One day at a time…

~Dick

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As I approach 90 days of sobriety — for the 3rd time — I was going through my computer and came across an email I sent to my mom, dad and brother two days after I relapsed. For me, it’s very powerful and emotional. I was a train-wreck. Despite how good I feel now, I cannot ever forget how shitty I felt that day and the days which followed.

12/28/11

I know you guys are angry, resentful and incredibly disappointed in me, as am I. I wish I could explain why it’s been so difficult to deal with this disease and my own character defects which are many. I am so, so sorry to have put you guys and my family and everyone else around me through this ordeal. It seems like a bad nightmare. But I have to take responsibility for my personal failings and deal with the aftermath, however painful it will be.

I’m sorry for lying and being dishonest to you guys. When I am drinking I think I literally become a different person, a bad person with little morals or ethics or basic decency. It’s like it takes over my soul. When I am sober, it is so much easier to live an honest life. I don’t have to lie or cover anything up, and I’m much better at expressing my feelings, however negative they are. When I drink, I isolate myself and wallow in my own “misery,” while rejecting any attempts to help me. I’m at a loss to explain why this happens, but it’s part of the disease from what I’ve been taught at Hazelden and through the AA literature. Doesn’t make it “right” though.

If the shoe were on the other foot, I don’t know how I would react. So if you guys don’t want to talk to me or be around me for a while, I totally understand. They say in Al-Anon that the family member needs to take care of him or herself first, and I hope you guys do that, for your sake and mine. “Detachment with love,” is the mantra.

Dad, I’m glad to hear that you went to Al-Anon the other night. If you want me to come with you to any meeting, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Brother, I know you are very angry with me, and it’s justified. I’m so sorry for being a bad brother to you. You have always loved and supported me, and I really appreciate it. You are my best friend and always will be.  I don’t want to lose you, and I won’t let that happen. I think it would be helpful if you started going to Al-anon. If you want me to come with you, I’m there.

B. (my wife) has been amazing. I’m just blown away. I’m sure most other wives would have kicked my ass out by now. She is my guardian angel and I love her so very much. I’ve been hugging her non-stop and it helps. I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with her at my new “home office,” in the car and the real office. She can come to court with me too! I have a very good feeling that our marriage will get back to where it was through this. I’m sure going to do everything to make that happen.

I’ve hit rock bottom. There’s no way but up from here. Whereas before I held out some little glimmer or hope that maybe I wasn’t truly an alcoholic, it’s finally time to accept my fate: that I’m a full-fledged alcoholic, the same as any other in the AA rooms. I never chose to have this life, but it is my life and I have to accept it. It sucks that it took this to get here. But I guess it beats some other alternatives, like killing someone else or myself. I need to keep some sense of a positive outlook or else I’ll go crazy with guilt and depression.

I will get through this, one day at a time.  The guys in AA have already stepped up to help me. [The guys] took me to a meeting last night, and I got a ton of hugs and support (and some tough love) from the guys there. They are taking me to another meeting tonight, and they are already setting up rides for me to get to other meetings. I’m grateful that I’ve made these friends because it will make my recovery less painful. I will get back to therapy of course, and whatever else is recommended to help me.

Well, that’s about all I have for now.  I’ve been a mess since this happened.  Lots of crying and feeling worthless.

With everyone’s love and support and my own self-love and acceptance, I’ll bounce back. I have to. I have no other choice. For me, B., the kids and you guys. I will be a better person. And some day, years from now, I can stand up at an AA meeting and tell my story and how I went to Hell and came back—and be proud of myself that I was able to do so. One day at a time, of course.

 

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1705 Hours Sober, But Who’s Counting?

March 6, 2012
Thumbnail image for 1705 Hours Sober, But Who’s Counting?

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here. Too long, actually. As my handy AA iPhone app tells me, I’ve been sober for 71 days, 2.33 months, or 1705 hours. But who’s keeping track?! So what’s been going on with my recovery? Well, not much other than staying sober. So that’s a good thing, actually. I’ve […]

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Power In Numbers: Why I Think Alcoholics Anonymous Works

February 20, 2012

Forget All The Myths Surrounding The Program: It’s All About The Fellowship (For Me) Have you ever tried to do something really hard? Perhaps lose weight, start a new fitness program or stop smoking? Did someone else help you or support you? Was it less difficult with someone’s help and support who accomplished what you […]

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The Importance of an AA Sponsor

January 9, 2012

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “Get a sponsor” when I first came into AA, I would be very rich. Did I listen? Of course not. I didn’t need a sponsor, I told myself. Sound familiar to anyone listening? When I came out of Hazelden last summer, I did pick […]

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