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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Recovery Despite "Grave Emotional or Mental Disorders"

As an individual who has experienced a lifetime of bouts with recurrent depression - one of the "grave mental and emotional disorders" referenced in the "How It Works" chapter of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous - but who has nevertheless attained and sustained long-term sobriety and freedom from alcoholic addiction, it is helpful (indeed necessary) for me to remember the nature of that illness. For this, the "Doctor's Opinion" in the 'Big Book' is the best place to start.

In Doctor Silkworth's statement enlarging upon his views about alcoholism, we are confirmed in "what we who have suffered alcoholic torture must believe - that the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as the mind." Thus, while "the problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind" - as do other, primarily mental illnesses - it is important for me to recognize and remind myself of the strong physical component to alcoholic addiciton.

"It did not satisfy us," we read, "to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. But we are sure that our bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete."

If I had never drank alcohol, I wouldn't have become alcoholic, although that latent physical potentiality would still have been there. This does not mean, however, that I would never have suffered from depression. Looking back, with the help of friends, sponsors and therapists, it is clear that at times I treated my depression with the booze and drugs. However, looking at my family tree, it is equally clear that I, along with other family members, suffered from depression - some with additional battles against alcoholism, some without such struggles - irrespective of my alcoholism. Both diseases, I have found, have their biological bases, and their mental expressions are well known.

Thus, just as I seek treatment to guard against, and/ or ameliorate, chronic depression (which is a matter that is strictly between my doctors and myself), I must also remember that my alcoholic addiction requires treatment as well. That is why I continue to work the 12 Steps, attend meetings and try to help others work through the Steps.

Dr. Silkworth (and many doctors since) suggests "that the effect of alcohol on . . . chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve."

Looking back at my sixteen years of alcoholic addiction, three things happened the first time I got drunk, and the same three things happened the last time I got drunk: I lost my natural inhibitions and felt like an integral part of what was happening around me, I wanted more (and still more) of the booze and drugs that were making me feel that way, and I drank way more than I could stomach and eventually passed out. But in the midst of this, sometimes for just the briefest period, I felt elation. These effects were more or less present each time I drank, and accept for the puking out, passing out or, worse, blacking out, I drank for these effects. I craved more and more alcohol, and progressively drank more and more alcohol to attain the desired affect. And when sober, I could not wait to get high and drunk again. Such is the nature of my addiction.

I had one moment of clarity, which looking back I attribute to the grace of God, and that was sufficient to make the tentative first call for help which would lead me out of this alcoholic addiction. I work the 12 Steps to the best of my ability on a daily basis, so that I do not return to active addiction - ever.  I really do not know if I would have a "second chance" at recovery. And, I suspect not.

The added bonus is that working the Steps - living the spiritual way of life I have been taught in A.A. -  also helps me with the continuing threat that depression always poses, although, as mentioned, I do seek outside medical help for that supposedly "outside issue." For a while I attended meetings of Emotions Anonymous (one of A.A.'s many sister groups), where they used the Twelve Steps to deal with emotional and mental issues such as depression. I met people there who were getting great relief through working the Steps in that fellowship.

But, for me, an alcoholic addict in recovery, A.A. will always be home. All around me I see people just like me dealing with the same fears, overwrought desires and their struggles with everyday and once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, and I draw strength from their success, and knowledge from their experience which helps me in my life.

Over the years, I have boiled down the necessity of treating what are, in fact, two separate but related, and primarily mental illnesses (alcoholic addiction and depression) to the following: It is difficult and at times impossible for an unhealthy brain to entertain consistently healthy thought; therefore, I work with my doctor in assuring that my tendency to depression is kept in check. At the same time, it is still all too easy for a healthy brain to have some very unhealthy thoughts; therefore I work the 12 Steps, have a sponsor, and hang with individuals who are both working a program of recovery and have deep aspirations to increase and improve their conscious contact with a Power greater than themselves.

As a result, I have been the beneficiary of some great teachers and garnered invaluable insights into who I am as a person. And irrespective of what life brings to me, I have found (although it may not have seemed so at the time) that I can accept it all good and bad, whether it is the love my children have for me, or the loss of a woman I loved dearly, or any of the ups and downs that have happened in-between. I may not like what life brings, but that is not my call.

My imperative is to stay awake spiritually, to accept life as it is served to me, and to learn to accept it as it is, rather than plucking up false courage and unwisely battling things that are far beyond my ability to influence or control. My life remains unmanageable, and I accept that. Thank God, it is under better management than I could ever provide!

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