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Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Restlessness

"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." 
-- Dr. William D. Silkworth, M.D. --
(Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. xxviii-xxix)

 Restlessness is the state of mind of the alcoholic addict when he or she is not drinking. The inner dialogue of the entirely self-conscious mind jumps from calamity to imagined calamity, from this desire to that desire, and from this memory to that fear continually. As a result, the alcoholic addict - clean and sober for the moment - is acutely self-conscious, and is irritable and discontented with the state of his or her being and lot in life. And, unless he or she "can experience an entire psychic change" there is but small chance of his or her recovery.

In this, he or she is not alone. There are multitudes of so-called "ordinary" people who go through life in just the same manner - irritable, restless and discontented during the largest part of their waking day - but without the physical, addictive craving for alcohol or more drugs once some is ingested, it is unlikely that they will ever fall into alcoholic addiction. Most of these non-alcoholic types could perhaps use a drink or two to get over their all-too-common restlessness and discomfort. More aptly, they too require a psychic change, and not a mere expedient, if they are to live a happy and contented life.  The alcoholic addict, by way of contrast, and absent an entire psychic change, will remain addicted to that expedient.

This basic human problem is recognized in the Bhagavad Gita, a discourse between Arjuna, a highly developed warrior, and the self-realized master, Krishna, who acts as his charioteer.
"Thou hast told me of a Yoga of constant oneness, O Krishna," Arjuna says, "of a communion which is ever one. But, Krishna, the mind is inconstant; in its restlessness I cannot find rest. The mind is restless Krishna, impetuous, self-willed, hard to train: to master my mind seems as difficult to master as the mighty winds."

"The mind is indeed restless, Arjuna," Krishna replies, "it is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained. When the mind is not in harmony, this divine communion is hard to attain; but the man whose mind is in harmony attains it, if he knows and strives for it."
[Bhagavad Gita, 6:33-36]
Thus, Krishna affirms to Arjuna that the basic nature of the unawakened mind is restlessness. but he recognizes also that the mind can be trained through "constant practice and by (a) freedom from the passions" in order that it may be harmonized.

It is precisely this basic retraining of the mind in order to precipitate an "entire psychic change" that the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister organizations) are designed to fulfill.

At page 27 of Alcoholics Anonymous, the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, describes the "huge emotional displacements and rearrangements" that have been know to effectively treat alcoholism in the following way: "Ideas emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side and an entirely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."

Absent such a psychic change, the restless, egoic and wholly self-conscious mind is dominated by seeming "calamity, pomp and worship of other things." This inner narrative blocks off all possibilities of a higher, dilated consciousness in which the alcoholic addict can effect a contact with a Power greater than his or her "self," or, if you prefer, a conscious contact with God.

Thus, the uncontrollable consumption of drugs and alcohol can truly be said to be a mere "symptom" of a far greater underlying condition - the ordinary, restlessness of the human ego. And until, that restlessness is abated, there can be little hope for "permanent sobriety, and a contented and useful life."
Working the Twelve Steps is one methodology - "we have no monopoly" - to bring about the necessary psychic change, in this instance via a spiritual awakening from within.

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