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Friday, September 9, 2011

The 'Three Delusions'

There are 'three delusions' - actually one illusion, and two delusions - specifically referenced in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 'first delusion' speaks to the first part of Step One (that we are "powerless over alcohol"), the 'second delusion' speaks to both parts of the First Step, while the 'third delusion' addresses the last half of the First Step (that our lives have become, are, and remain "unmanageable"). An understanding of all three delusions is critical if we are to work the rest of the 12 Steps to the best of our abilities.

The 'first delusion' is in the first paragraph in the chapter entitled "More About Alcoholism," in which we read: "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 or insanity or death." (Emphasis added.) For the real alcoholic (or alcoholic addict) this illusion can entirely stymie all attempts at recovery, and may prove fatal if the victim of this delusion is unable because of it to move beyond his or her craving for alcohol.

In The Doctor's Opinion preface to the 'Big Book' we read: "We believe . . . that the action 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." (Emphasis added.)

A true alcoholic addict "can never safely use alcohol in any form at all." The illusion that he or she may once again control and enjoy his drinking has thus got to be thoroughly and wholly smashed. Do not perish under the delusion that you may one day be able to drink again, just like old times. At the end of your active addiction it did not work anymore, nor will it work if you resume where you left off.

The 'second delusion' is set out in the second paragraph of the "More About Alcoholism" chapter. New paragraph; new idea. In it, we read: "We learned that we had to concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed." (Emphasis added.)

This 'second delusion' is, as stated above, pertinent to both the first and second halves of Step One. There is an old saying in A.A. that once a cucumber becomes a pickle it can never become a cucumber again. This is illustrated by the story (at pages 32-33) of the man who quit drinking at age thirty, only to retire and commence drinking again at age fifty. Within two months of doing so he was promptly hospitalized for alcoholism. His story illustrates how the physical allergy never goes away and, so it seems, in our experience the untreated obsession for alcohol only grows worse with time and never better.

On a more subtle level, however,  this 'second delusion' speaks to the unmanageability of our lives. "Selfishness" or  "self-centeredness," we read at page 62 of the 'Big Book' "is the root of our troubles." And, we read elsewhere that "the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot." Looking back, each time we came to were we not a little bit more self-absorbed? Was the painful inner dialogue of "self" or the "ego" not a little more strident and painful? After years and years of escaping that painful inner dialogue of self though the bottle (and or drugs), in recovery we are faced with an inner dialogue that is seems to be much, much stronger and more unsettling than it is for the so-called 'normal' person. Does this not resonate with how we know ourselves to be?

In sobriety, desparately trying to 'manage" that which seems to be (and is) unmanageable - i.e., life, all of it - is our inner narrative not so painful that it leads many to try and drown out such thoughts once more with booze and/or drugs? All too often - and sometimes fatally - this seems to be the case.

The 'third delusion' is found after the description of the alcoholic as "an actor" on pages 60 and 61 of the 'Big Book.' In the middle paragraph on page 61, we read: "What is (the alcoholic's) basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satifaction and happiness out of the world if only he manages well?" (Emphasis added.)

Life is inherently unmanageable, we will come to see. Who can immediately change the circumstances that befall him or her? No one, of course. Who can shape how others act and react to their circumstances. Again, the answer is no one. Yet, at a very subtle level, the alcoholic addict still mired in habitual, self-centered alcoholic thinking thinks he can and must somehow control the uncontrollable.

If we can see through the delusion that we can somehow "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of the world" by managing well, we come to the point where we can, effectively and in reality, "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him." Until we do so, we are left helplessly on our own trying to manage the unmanageable through the application of our self-centered will as best we can. This is the height of the insanity of alcoholism, even in sobriety. It drives many mad unless, and until, it is overcome.

Unless we see through the 'first delusion' we cannot stay sober. Unless we smash the 'second delusion' we may stay sober, but we will remain trapped within the insanity of our old ways of thinking. But once we accept and see through all 'three delusions' we can - and will - be enabled to live in what Bill W. describes as "the Sunlight of the Spirit." We will have recovered from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body."

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