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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Restless, Irritable and Discontented . . . "Who Me?"

Once again the topic of "Irritability, Restlessness and Discontent" - the base state of the alcoholic without alcohol or drugs in his/her system - whether still in 'active addiction, or in 'inactive yet untreated' alcoholic addiction (i.e., "dry" sobriety) - came up for discussion at our local discussion meeting. The topic comes from an oft-recited passage from the "Doctor's Opinion" in the introductory section of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. It reads:
"Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery."
("Alcoholics Anonymous," pp. xxviii-xxix.)
In Doctor Silkworth's opinion, this is what keeps drunks picking up "that first drink" (and it is not uncoincidentally, and most often simultaneously, what incites the addict to pick up his pipe or his pills). We like the effect that drink and/or drugs has on us. Without this effect we are, quite literally, 'out of our minds' with a mental restlessness that produces great feelings of irritability and profound discontent. Yet, unless our thinking and attitudes have changed dramatically we have only one solution to this condition . . . and that is to use again.

Most alcoholic addicts continue on this treadmill until it kills them, often after years of great suffering, perhaps with intermittent years "coming in and out" of church basement's where recovery from alcoholic addiction is discussed but not experienced by them. Yet, for some, they experience "an entire psychic change" that allows them to keep their fatal maladay in remission, based upon their attaining and maintaining a certain "spiritual attitude."

But what about the alcoholic addict who has put the bottle and the bag down and is "white knuckling" it? Or, the reformed alkie-addict that has years of not drinking or drugging under his or her belt, has settled for a form of milquetoast sobriety while enjoying the benefits of a chemically sober life, but has settled into a far less purposeful and contented life than is readily possible?

What about the person who remains "restless, irritable and discontent" for years into sobriety, whether this is the result of a lack of true understanding or good sponsorship, an aversion to working the steps or plain old procrastination and laziness, or because he or she has hurriedly dumped all the obsessions of the self-driven mind into their "performance" in another area of life, such as work, physical fitness, or making a lot of meetings just for the sake of the brief respite of Fellowship and "prestige" they might offer?

Let's look at the so-called normal person. Do they not appear to be similarly prone to the same irritability, restlessness and discontent which can become rampant within the rooms of any 12 Step group? Consider the husband and wife who snipe at each other, or the person who tailgates you on the freeway until finally he can zoom past you at twice the speed limit while talking on his cell phone and giving you the American Sign Language salute for "have a nice day"?

Consider ourselves faced with the pressure of the work-a-day problems of everyday living. Are we not all prone to this epidemic of restlessness irritability and discontent in our society? It is all well and good for the "so-called normal person" who will muddle along as best she can, and who may finally find a spiritual solution for her 'problems' as well. But for the alcoholic addict without the eventually fatal luxury of going back to the bottle or back on the pipe, this irritability, restlessness and discontent may very well lead him to buy a bottle, buy a bag, or buy a gun and buy the farm.

Irritability, restlessness and discontent must be addressed with spiritual means, and not tolerated, albeit at a reduced level from what it was when we were full-blown. If not?  It is too often fatal!

But what about the spiritually adept? How does he or she go about weeding out the last roots of this poisonous trio? A start may be made in meditation. I recently read a passage from David Bohm, a renowned theoretical physicist, and an accomplished spiritual aspirant. He talked about how, at the very deepest level of consciousness there is an "emotion of wishing to think."

I know from my own meditation practice what this vague emotional stirring "of wishing to think" feels like. My first meditation teacher (an A.A. old-timer with 35+ years of daily, and intensive, meditation and prayer) taught me that an awareness of this stirring, and a mindful returning to the object of meditation would dissipate that stirring. And it does . . . sometimes. When it doesn't and I break out into full, egoic "think, think, thinking," it is a reminder that meditation is a "practice."

Self-centered, egoic self-consciousness (or "ego consciousness") is the main root of our habitual 'thinking' problem. ("Think, think, think . . . stink, stink, stink . . . drink, drink, drink", I was taught.) And, thus, an awareness of this needing to think, is essential if we are not to break out in full-blown irritability, restlessness and discontent. When in our continuous self-examination, we note these feelings (Step Ten), it is time to affirm that life remains "unmanageable" at the level of the ego (Step One), and that we need to "stop, pause and from the quiet" (Step Three) and affirm and invoke a Power which is greater than "self" to aid us in going forward with serenity and an 'acceptiveness' of life.

We "need more grace," as Rumi - that lover of wine and of life's tavern - noted.

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