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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stuck 'In a Rut' of Old Ideas, Emotions and Attitudes

Most of us have, at some time or other, been 'in a rut' in our sobriety. Going to meetings reluctantly and critically, not going to meetings, sober and self-satisfied with merely being sober, entertaining old ideas, we can go on day by day spinning our wheels spiritually, and thus digging ourselves a deeper rut.

In various stages of my early and middle sobriety I have been guilty of all of these "half-measures" and have suffered (and inflicted suffering on others, including those I love the most) as a result.

Indeed, looking back, I came very close to both drinking and drugging, as well as dieing, as a result of being in various of these 'ruts.' For as the novelist, Ellen Glasgow observed, "The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions."

At such times, it is essential to remember the first, most important, and ultimate lesson about recovery from an alcoholic addiction, the message that Carl Jung passed on to his one-time patient, a "certain American businessman," named Rolland Hazard:
"Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding force of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
["Alcoholics Anonymous," page 27. Emphasis added.]
Hazard would pass this message on to Ebby Thatcher, who would come to be the sponsor of a then-drunk named Bill Wilson. Bill, in turn, would have just such a "vital spiritual experience," and would pass the message of his experience on to A.A. co-founder, Dr. Bob, and together they would carry this message to the world.

Thus, the question to ask for the sufferer stuck in his or her 'rut,' is whether their spirtual experience remains "vital" Is it "essential to (their) existing or functioning," "indisspensable" or "paramount" to use just a few simple dictionary definitions of "vital"?  If the sufferer is no longer "full of life or activity" and "lively" - to utilize another definition - the chances are he or she has slipped back into a 'rut' filled with old thoughts, feelings, and ways of thinking, and that he or she has once again picked up the old "ideas, emotions and attitudes," which had once been cast aside.

Remember: the only 'absolute' that is mentioned in the first 164 pages of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous comes in the "How It Works" reading, taken from the fifth chapter of the 'Big Book.' In it, we read: "Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."

The initials 'A.A.' have often been said to stand for an "attitude adjustment," and, quite simply, an "attitude" is defined as "a setttled opinion or way of thinking," as well as "behaviour reflecting this." When we become judgmental about what is being said in a meeting, about how others are driving in traffic, about the words and actions of our loved ones or perfect strangers, it is a sure sign that our old "attitudes" or ways of thinking have returned - along with our old "ideas" - and that we are holding on to them.

And the result will be nil - we will be just as "irritable, restless and discontented" as any other alcoholic addict not drinking or drugging - until we again try to let go of such "old ideas."

"It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels," we are warned, and "(w)e are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 85.]

A large part of that "daily maintenance" - referred to in Step 11 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as "self-examination" - is guarding against letting "old ideas" fester in our consciousness. And let's face it, the longer one is sober, the quicker the ideas we mull over in our mind become "old."

"Old ideas" are like Wrigley's chewing gum. Chew on them for a while, but they quickly lose their taste and appeal, and its then time to spit them out, not swallow them. Prayer and meditation make that possible.

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