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Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Delusions: Facing the Truths of Our Addiction

There are three specific delusions set out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Two of these delusions are set out in the first two paragraphs of the chapter "More About Alcoholism."  The third delusion - and the most important for the sober alcoholic addict - is set out on page 61 of the "How it Works" chapter, following the description of the alcoholic as "the actor who wants to rum the whole show." The first two delusions, I believe, relate directly to Step 1 and Step 2, respectively; while the third delusion speaks to the second half of Step 1, and illustrates the necessity of practicing Step 3.

Before looking at these specific delusions, it is important to distinguish a "delusion" from "denial". The word "denial" is a treatment-center word, it is not a word used widely in the AA literature (although, unfortunately, one inevitably runs across it all too often in certain discussion groups). "Delusion" on the other hand is most definitely an AA word. "Denial" is essentially a lie - I tell you something didn't happen, or isn't true, when I know that it is in fact untrue. "Delusion", on the other, is when I tell you something didn't happen or isn't true, and I honestly believe that is the case, when in reality it is nonetheless true. Note again, suffering under a delusion I may have been willfully blind to the truth, but nonetheless I believe wholeheartedly in its opposite.

Bill was trained as a lawyer, and as I am myself a "recovered" lawyer, I can vouch for the fact that he writes like a lawyer - old style, one thought per paragraph. New thought. New paragraph. (He was also taught not to end two consecutive sentences with the same word. Hence the debate about the difference between "defects of character" and "shortcomings". Bill said these two concepts are the same thing, and that he just didn't want to end two sentences with the same wording. As a recovered lawyer, I can so relate! LOL.)

The First Delusion: The first delusioin Bill writes about is found in the first paragraph of "More Abour Alcoholism", and deals directly with the first part of the 1st Step - the admission that we are "powerless over alcohol". Bill observes that "(t)he idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker."  Bill notes that the "persistence of this illusion is astonishing," and that many alcoholic addicts will pursue this delusion - honestly believing they will some day be able to drink normally without all the consequences - "into the gates of insanity or death."  Having crossed a line, the alcoholic can never safely drink. "One Drink, One Drunk," as the saying goes.

The Second Delusion: New Paragraph; New Thought.  Bill writes that "we (have) to concede to our  innermost selves that we (are) alcoholics. This is the first step in our recovery."  Having made this concession or admission to our "innermost self" we have completed Step One.  Then, Bill stresses that "The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed."  How do we smash this delusion? Through admitting that we suffer from alcoholic addiction, from a mental illness, from a form of insanity itself.  It is only when we see and admit that "we are not like other people" that we can make this admission.  Only then will we be able to believe, or even be willing to believe, that "a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity." (Remember that we have been crushed by "a self-imposed crisis", that we are "self-centered to the extreme," that "with hardly an exception, (we) will be absolutely unable to stop drinking based on self-knowledge" (emphases added). Then, having seen the truths that unmask these two delusions, we are ready to face the third, and most powerful delusion.

The Third Delusion: At page 61 of The Big Book, Bill examines what happens when the untreated alcoholic - though sober - tries to manage his or her own life. "What usually happens?", Bill asks.

"The show doesn't come off", he reports. "He begins to think life doesn't treat him well. He decides to exert himself more. . . . Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he maybe somewhat at fault, he is sure that others are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying" (emphases added).

Then he asks, rhetorically, what the alcoholic addict's "basic trouble" is.  "Is he not a self-seeker even when trying to be kind?"  Bill then lists the third, and most basic delusion, asking: "Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well."  (Again, emphases added.)

And there is the third delusion. We are all - alcoholic, or non-alcoholic - conditioned by family, peers, schools, and society at large, to believe that we must manage life.  "The results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency," Bill observes in Step 3 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, is that everywhere "people (are) filled with anger and fear, society (is) breaking up into warring fragments;" and, he notes, "everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis." Clearly, he concludes, as many others have, "(t)he philosophy of self-suficiency is not paying off."

Thus, the third and most important delusion is that somehow, by exerting some force - be it, logic, intelligence, will-power, or sheer driven determination - the alcoholic must, and will manage life - all of it!  The rub is that life is inherently unmanageable. Life evolves synchronistically according to the laws and principles of a Higher Power and Consciousness - a Higher Set of Laws and Principles.

"Our actor," i.e., the alcoholic, Bill concludes," is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it."  This is the basic problem of the alcoholic addict: a delusionary need to run a life that is inherently unmanageable.  To relieve the inner pressure of constantly striving - in fear, anger and frustration - to manage his or her life (and thereby all of life itself), the alcoholic addict seeks the relief of alcohol or drugs, he or she seeks to chemically turn off the imperative and disturbing self-consciousness, that Bill calls a "punishing inner dialogue."  We seek release from our obsessive, manic thinking.  We seek release from the "voice in the head," some describe - a delusionary voice of thought that is intrinsically delusionary, and that always distorts or obscures the truth.

The crux of this is that life does not become manageable in sobriety. Rather, we learn to live with the vicissitudes of an evolving life and ever-changing people with all their quirks and flaws - quirks and flaws we recognize in our own self-consciousness when we pay attention.

"How It Works" on page 60, makes clear that "the description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and (the) personal stories before and after (the alcoholic puts down the bottle) makes clear three pertinent ideas."  The first of these truths squarely addresses all three of the delusions set out in the Big Book, by noting "that we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives." Could not, cannot and should not.  When we slip back into the delusion that we can drink safely, that we are going to be like other people, or that we can and must manage life, we have a problem - almost invariably a Step 1 problem.

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