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Friday, November 4, 2011

Ideas, Emotions and Egoic Attitudes

In the second chapter of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholic Anonymous we read that "the main problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind rather in his body." If it were not so, if the alcoholic addict only suffered from a physical craving for more alcohol once he or she begins to drink, not drinking would be the full solution to the addiction. But we know that he or she also, and more importantly, suffers from an obsession of the mind when not drinking. Thus, there is a need for a psychic solution that is more than mere abstinence. The Twelve Steps work because, if taken effectively, they provoke "an entire psychic change" that relieves the obsessive nature of the alcoholic mind.

In retelling Carl Jung's description of the "vital spiritual experiences" that were then known to periodically relieve alcoholism, the renowned psychologist reportedly observed: "Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."

The "ideas" and "emotions" Jung describes are the thoughts and feelings experienced in the alcoholic addict's state of acute self-consciousness, the thoughts and feelings he or she drinks to escape from. "Attitude," on the other hand, is his or her "usual or habitual mode (or way) of thinking." Alcoholic addiction is thus, primarily a problem of self-consciousness, i.e., the existential problem of the human ego.

From this perspective, "ideas" are the fundamental thought content of the ego, "emotions" are the physiological and emotional response to this content, and "attitude" is the habitual identification of the alcoholic addict with the incessant stream of self-conscious, egoic thinking - a "painful inner dialogue" that most individuals (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) take to be "who" they are.

Steps Four, Five, Eight, Nine and Ten are designed to identify what the recurrent thoughts and painful memories of the alcoholic addict are. The sentiments, fears and desires of the ego are identified, and the alcoholic addict soberly faces, perhaps for the first time, what the predominant themes that make up his or her internal life are. Restitution is made for harms caused to others so that the sting is taken out of those thoughts, and an ongoing moral inventory is undertaken to identify egoic thinking and actions.

Steps Three, Six, Seven and Eleven, in their turn, are designed to allow the alcoholic addict to experience those areas of the psyche that lie beneath, but which were formerly obscured by, his or her ordinary self-conscious, egoic thinking. They allow the spiritual dimension of the alcoholic addict's soul to express itself. These are the "new conceptions and motives" that begin to dominate the alcoholic addict in recovery. Suddenly a newly found state of higher consciousness and being - a state of consciousness and being that was lost as the alcoholic addict became almost wholly self-conscious - begins to emerge.

Awareness of the content, feel and incessant nature of the ego, together with an ever growing experience of higher consciousness, is thus the key to kindling a spiritual awakening which will relieve alcoholic thinking. "With few exceptions," we read in the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book,' "our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves." More religious members call it "God-consciousness," a part of our Being wholly separate from the ego and which provides the comfort and ease we sought in alcohol and/or drugs.

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