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Friday, February 25, 2011

About Recollection and the Obsession of the Mind

"The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind."
At my home group, we have a "Solution" table that goes through the "There Is a Solution" chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book. Last night we went through what may be perhaps the most important pages in the chapter: from the middle paragraph on page 22 pages to the end of the italicized paragraph on page 24. These pages deal with the mental aspect of this two-fold disease. they deal with the obsessive nature of the alcoholic/addict's mind.

While the physical suffering of the alcoholic addict, as manifested in a "craving" for "more" while he or she is under the influence (and even while detoxing), is tragic, progressively more powerful,  potentially fatal, the craving stops in short order. What drives a sober alcoholic to start up again is the "obsession of the mind." This "obsession" is a mental preoccupation with the relief which the booze and or drugs used to provide, but which can no longer be found. Booze or drugs are solutions that no longer work.

(Let's face it: If booze or drugs still worked for us by doing what they once did, we wouldn't need "a solution," we'd just continue to drink and drug. As is stated on page 30 in the "More About Alcoholism" chapter: "The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.")

Page 23 plainly states that, "The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind." This statement is one of the most important passages in the Big Book, and it needs to be understood. The Steps can only be effectively taken if this is understood. We will only rely on a Power greater than our "selves' to the extent that we realize our alcoholic/addictive self-consciousness (or, "ego") is the problem, that the "problem" - i.e., that the illusory "obsession" that booze and drugs might once again provide relief - "centers in the mind."

As we shared, person after person with little or no sobriety - indeed, some who had not even worked the Steps - said that they wouldn't be or weren't able to "remember" the problems alcohol or drugs caused before they started using again. That, of course, is what we hear in too many meetings. But, at least for me, that was not the problem. If I wasn't able to remember what I'd done, I wouldn't have suffered enough to stop, I believe. Certainly, it would have prevented me writing out that first Fourth Step. But more importantly our ability to remember  is not what these passages are talking about.

The italicized passage on page 24 (italicized meaning "this is important") doesn't say we can't remember. We remember all right. It says we cannot "bring into our consciousness with sufficient force" those self-same memories of what we'd done in the past. The memories are there, but what prevents our being able to bring these memories "into our conscience" with enough clout to stop us from drinking and/or using again? Once more, it is the obsessions and obsessive nature of the mind.

The word "obsesssion" comes from the Latin sessare, which means to sit, and the Latin prefix ob, which in this instance means to block (as in obstruct). The example given in the Oxford Etymological Dictionary (which tells us where our words come from) is that of an army - or, I assume a Roman Legion - that sits outside of a walled city or fortress besieging it by allowing nothing to come in, and nothing to come out. (Doesn't this sound familiar?)

The reason why we cannot bring our memories of what happens "into our consciousness" with "sufficient force" to start the whole cycle of using and drinking again is that "our consciousness" is already full. Our minds are besieged by the seeming or imagined calamities with which our our ordinary "self-consciousness" ( or, our "ego" in the sense it is discussed in A.A. literature) continually  bombard us, destroying any peace of mind we might have and forcing us to find whatever form of relief we can. All too often, however, that relief comes in the form of drugs and/or booze.

It is because of the mind's preoccupation with all these calamitous disasters (and seeming or imagined disasters) that we will drink or drug again to find relief if we do not do something about the attachment of our mind to, and its identification with, the ever suffering self-consciousness of the human ego.

To stop the obsessive nature of the human ego - what Bill variously describes in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as that "painful inner dialogue" or the "terrifying ghosts" that produce an overwhelming sense of "anxious apartness" - and to overcome the ego through reliance upon a higher and deeper consciousness that exists within each of us ("Our more religious members call it God Consciousness.") is what the 12 Steps are intended to do. In the words of the late but inimitable Chuck C: We "uncover, discover and discard" those old thoughts (ideas) and thought patterns (attitudes) that separate us from, and prevent our accessing, this deeper higher, consciousness.

Remember this: "Many of us tried to hold onto our old ideas, but the result was nil until we let go absolutely." Nothing changes if we do not let go our old ideas and ways of thinking. This is the only "absolute" found in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Through the persistent and logically interrelated application of "self-examination, meditation and prayer" we are enabled to deflate the obsessive "human ego" (not pride, but "self" consciousness) and the suffering and separation from our fellows and G-d that the ego causes.

But, "nothing changes, if nothing changes.> We must let go of our old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" and allow a Power greater than our "selves," greater to our egoic self-consciousness, to replace them with new "conceptions and motives." (See how Carl Jung describes the "phenomena" of "vital spiritual experiences" on page 27 of the Big Book.)

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