Anonymity and Primary Purpose

The disease of alcoholism is a gradual deteriorative affliction that devastates entire families and will continue to do so unless the alcoholic member takes action to live a life of sobriety, physically and mentally. It affects the person who is addicted to alcohol, that person’s family and everyone who interacts with that person.

Consider the following:
• Alcohol dependence and abuse cost the US approximately $220 billion in 2005. For the sake of comparison, this was greater than the amount of money spent to combat cancer ($196 billion) and obesity ($133 billion).
• An estimated 43% of US adults have had someone related to them who is presently, or was, an alcoholic.
• 6.6 million Minors in the US live with an alcoholic mother or father.
• About 14 million US residents battle an alcohol addiction.
• Greater than 50% of grownups in the US have had knowledge of someone in their immediate family with an alcohol problem.
• Around a quarter of all children experience some form of alcoholism in their families before they turn 18
• 40% of alcoholism is passed down through the gene pool, while the other 60% stems from unknown circumstances.
• 500,000 US Children ages 9-12 are addicted to alcohol.
• Studies show that the offspring of alcoholics have a greater chance of becoming alcoholics themselves than those whose parents are clean.

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter 2, There Is A Solution, It says:

“But the ex-problem drinker who has found this solu¬tion, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another al¬coholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.”

Furthermore it says,” helping others is the foundation of our recovery.” And in the 12 Steps of recovery it says “… we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics and practice these principles in all of our affairs.”

If our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Then I believe it is incumbent on me to carry the message of hope in writing as well as in meetings. From the depths of my heart there is an intuitiveness that inspires me to share what I have to come to believe as the result of the 12 Steps and our book, Alcoholics Anonymous.

The enormity of the problems alcoholics experience, both physically and mentally, and the quantity of human beings who have this disease has grown significantly over the last decade. As we understand more about it and learn the devastating long-term effect on the family as well, it is more urgent to get the message to as many as possible. Not only, that “There Is A Solution”, but that no one is better suited the help an alcoholic with recovery than another alcoholic. If we are to arrest this disease and prevent it from further debilitation of our families we must take action. We can stop the spread of alcoholism within our own families. It can end with us. What greater gift could we give our children?

The story of my life and my 45 years of alcohol and drug abuse, how I recovered and what my life is like now is intended to help others recover. It is an illustration that we can end this debilitating disease’s devastation of our families. We have a choice and an opportunity to ensure that our children are healthy and that they and their children can live happy, free and joyous lives.

The solution is multi-faceted and starts with carrying this message to the sick and suffering alcoholic no matter where he/she is, nothing has a more profound affect than one alcoholic talking to another about our problems with this disease. Family members, law enforcement persons, doctors, clergy and counselors can appeal to us and try to reason with us about the devastating consequences of our actions, but with little success. The experience, strength and hope of another alcoholic can start a path to recovery better than any other means.

My story is one of hope. It starts with how my defects of character developed within me, how I used alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, how my life was unmanageable and my powerlessness of addiction. The solution I found in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a story that anyone who wants to change their life and become useful productive members of their community can follow and succeed.

The elimination of my drinking has only been a beginning; the relationship and partnership with my spouse, the participating in my children’s lives and my contributions to my community has changed my life.

It is my belief that the retelling of our experiences, what we have leaned from them and how we have changed our lives in recovery is key to helping others. What I am about to do is share “how I became what I used to be like, what I used to be like, what happened, and what I am like now”

As Allen Reid McGinnis said, “I can tell you things that I have come to believe with every fiber of my being, and you can dis¬agree with every syllable I utter, and yet both of us can be sober…both of us can be useful, productive mem¬bers, not only of Alcoholics Anonymous, but of society. So, if anything I say bothers you, just dismiss it. If any¬thing I say you disagree with, you’re entitled to disagree. “Nobody speaks officially for the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, not even the founders.”

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Severe Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

By Sarah Peters

New data linking severe mental illness and substance use could lead to more effective and streamlined treatment options for clinicians and patients, according to a leading expert in psychiatry and addiction issues.
The Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis and the University of Southern California jointly conducted a study of nearly 20,000 individuals, 9,142 of which were diagnosed with severe psychotic illnesses, collected over a five-year period. The findings were published online earlier this month in JAMA Psychiatry.
“What we are learning is that this overlap of mental illness with addictive disorders is not random,” said the National Institute on Drug Abuse Deputy Director Wilson Compton. The organization, part of the National Institute for Heath, provided the funding for the study.
Researchers looked at the nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and recreational drug use in mentally healthy test subjects and psychiatric patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. The study found that 30 percent of those with a severe mental illness engaged in binge drinking (four servings of alcohol or more), compared to 8 percent in the mentally healthy population.
The results for smoking and marijuana were much higher. More than 75 percent of those with severe mental illness were heavy smokers and 50 percent were heavy marijuana users. In the mentally healthy population, only 33 percent were heavy smokers and 18 percent were heavy marijuana users. While it is not yet known why the simultaneous occurrence exists, Compton said the findings do much in the way of helping both patients and doctors.
“We can use the fact that [mental illness and addictive disorders] go together to better reorganize our treatment centers to both address the mental illness and the substance issues,” he explained.
Clinicians have long suspected the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance use and even documented comorbidity—the concurrence of two disorders in one individual—in past studies. However, Compton described these new findings as a “wake-up call.”
“This kind of work is particularly important for the psychiatric community and treating clinicians,” Compton said. “For far too long psychiatry has ignored the problems related to substances while they focused on the mental illness of their patients.”
Establishing what causes simultaneously occurring disorders or determining if one caused the other has eluded clinicians thus far for several reasons. One reason being that some drugs have side effects, such as hallucinogens, that can cause symptoms similar to that experienced in a psychotic illness, according to the NIDA website.
Further complicating the issue is that drugs are often prescribed to treat severe mental illnesses.
“Mental illnesses can lead to drug abuse,” according to the NIDA website. “Individuals with overt, mild, or even subclinical mental disorders may abuse drugs as a form of self-medication. For example, the use of tobacco products by patients with schizophrenia is believed to lessen the symptoms of the disease and improve cognition.”
Although the cause behind the link remains a mystery, the importance of documenting the existence of this link with hard data should not be underestimated.
“Putting this on the radar as such a huge problem in this population of people with severe mental illness will help us both with the clinical treatment of the comorbidity and it will also help us researchers begin to understand the overlap,” lead author for the article and Washington University researcher Sarah Hartz said.
The results from the study conclusively show with hard data that mental illness and substance use need to be studied and treated together, not as individual ailments, she said.
The study was a first of its kind due in part because of its size—finding nearly 10,000 psychiatric patients with severe psychotic illness was no small task—and secondly because an overwhelming majority of the sample group agreed to allow researchers to re-contact them for future studies.
Past studies had been completed with individuals diagnosed with milder cases of mental illnesses, but this new study confirmed that rates of substance use in those with severe mental illnesses is much higher than previously assumed, according to the article.
Researchers are now planning a second, more intensely focused study of 2,500 of the original research participants diagnosed with schizophrenia to further examine the role of genetics in comorbid illnesses.
“My patients come to me all the time and ask, ‘what can I do about it if it’s already written in my genes?’” USC researcher on the study Michelle Paton said. “I tell them, this is not about destiny; this is about risk. The better we understand what risks you have, the more appropriate treatment we can offer when you come to us.” If funding for the next study is secured, researchers will begin as early as March, Paton said.
Fully understanding the relationship between mental illness and substance use is particularly important when considering past studies on the mortality and causes of death in those afflicted by severe mental illness.
On average, persons with severe mental illness die as much as 25 years younger than the general population, Hartz said. “I think it is part of the stigma of mental illness that people in the general population think [the mentally ill] have a crazy, hard life and they die because they did something dangerous and that’s not true. [The mentally ill] die of the same things we all die of but they die much earlier due to substance use.”
Preventable medical illnesses, such as lung and cardiovascular disease or cancer attributed to cigarette smoking or heavy alcohol use, are a leading cause of premature death in those with severe mental illnesses. While anti-smoking campaigns have significantly reduced illnesses related to smoking in the general population, these efforts seemed to have missed society’s more vulnerable population, Hartz said.
Part of this is due to a misguided belief that forcing a person to quit smoking or another addictive behavior while undergoing treatment for their mental illness could further damage the person’s mental health.
“When people come in for severe mental illness, we need to also treat the substance abuse,” Hartz sad. “We can’t treat them independent from each other.”
Hartz added that the responsibility to inform patients falls back on the clinicians. “Clinicians need to have a frank discussion about how important it is to quit substance use and how quitting a substance won’t destabilize [the patient] psychiatrically,” Hartz said. “Aggressively talk to your patients. The first step and the most important step is to plant the seed.”
This dialogue between patients and doctors may be of particular importance in gender and ethnic sub-groups that typically have lower rates of substance use. “The most striking finding of this study was the evidence that societal-level protective effects do not extend to individuals with severe mental illness,” according to the published article.
Findings in the study showed that participants of Hispanic and Asian decent, who typically have lower rates of substance use in the general population compared to that of Caucasians, did not benefit from any protective effect.
The same was found true for women compared to men, where women usually have lower rates of substance use. “The protective effects of belonging to these groups did not carry over to individuals with severe psychotic disorder: the odds of substance use increased to mitigate the protective effects,” according to the article. “…This highlights the need for targeting substance use specifically among individuals with severe psychotic illness because protective influences may not carry over from the general population.”
Researchers don’t yet know why severe mental illness seems to be a great nullifier. “Could it be that a severe mental illness alienates you from your group?,” Hartz wondered. “Could it be that either the use of substances helps cause the mental illness—which then takes away the protective factor—or that developing a mental illness takes you away from your peer group, making you vulnerable?”
Whatever the answer, researchers now have a concrete start provided by the new data and a launching pad for future studies.
“The numbers speak louder than assumptions,” Paton said. “This study was to show people how important it is to justify assumptions with data. The striking thing in this study, we didn’t expect the numbers to be so powerful.”

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Amplified Recovery

By William White

“There is nothing about a caterpillar which would suggest that it will become a butterfly”
– Buckminster Fuller
Recovery from a life-threatening condition can bring far more than the removal of pain and sickness from an otherwise unchanged life. Confronting one’s mortality through the experiences of illness and recovery can bring unexpected gifts. Surviving heart disease, cancer, addiction or other life-threatening experiences can be an unlikely source of renewal and personal transformation–catalysts for living more fully and more meaningfully. There may be something to that notion of being stronger at the broken places.
“The greatest wisdom there is to be won comes from the places and spaces where we’ve been split and undone.” –Brooke Feldman
Many years ago, Ernie Larsen suggested that the first stage of addiction recovery–saving one’s life–could be followed by “rebuilding the life that was saved” and through this rebuilding process one could get better than well. In a 2006 paper entitled Varieties of Recovery Experience, Ernie Kurtz and I used the term amplified recovery to depict individuals who, through these processes of saving and rebuilding their lives, experience positive and profound changes in the their character and interpersonal relationships and sustained acts of public service–a quality of service surpassed only by the degree of gratitude and humility through which they are performed.
Those achieving this amplified state of recovery are quite remarkable human beings who contradict everything one usually associates with addiction. They exemplify something far more than a once sick person whose disabling symptoms have disappeared. Such individuals have achieved strengths of character and social contribution not in spite of addiction but because of strengths found within the very heart of the addiction recovery experience. Persons achieving amplified recovery are not a form of rare recovery superhero. They are imperfect people like the rest of us, but they offer living proof of what one can achieve and contribute within this state of imperfection.
The addictions field has been so fixated throughout its history on addiction-related pathologies that we know very little about these amplified states of recovery. We as addiction professionals need to periodically remind ourselves of the distinction between remission and recovery. Remission is about the deletion or diminishment of sickness; recovery–real recovery–involves broader dimensions of character, purpose and quality of life. One of the most important ingredients we have to offer people seeking recovery is hope, and that hope is for far more than the elimination of pain. We need to be able to convey that as the broken places heal, it is possible to achieve optimal health and a fulfilled life. To authentically convey that vision, we must stay connected to those people who are living such lives. To be a champion of recovery, we must maintain our connections to those who are the most infectious carriers of recovery.
We should convey the expectation of remission to everyone we serve at the same time we convey the potential for recovery and a quality of life beyond that which can be presently envisioned. To sustain our faith in that potential for others, we must stay connected to the potential of that life for ourselves and stay connected to people in whom such potential is being fulfilled. Amplified recovery is as unpredictable as recovery itself. The unattractive, even repulsive, caterpillar before us today could well be tomorrow’s butterfly of uncommon beauty and grace.

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Love Recovery & InTheRooms

In The Rooms Video

By Lindsey Glass  Read The Valentine and Watch the Video

Four years ago I started producing documentaries focused on recovery because I felt frustrated by the way addicts and alcoholics are portrayed in the media. I thought, Isn’t it bad enough that we face stigma of every kind? Is it really necessary only to show stories of people falling apart or giving every sordid detail of a celebrity relapse or overdose? In my experience, having lived in NYC, LA and parts of Florida, it seemed that many of the best and brightest in our country are in recovery and thriving. But no one knows about them. We see celebrity breakdowns constantly. Why don’t we know that the other half is doing great? So showing that other half is our goal as producers, filmmakers, writers, and personally for me as a recovering addict.

I’ve always been open about my personal struggles with addiction. I’ve stumbled with this disease. I didn’t get it right away that total abstinence was the only answer. I didn’t want to believe that I had a disease or that something was ‘wrong’ with me. But now I feel very grateful to be someone in recovery with wholehearted acceptance of what that means. Recovery has taught me about self-reflection, accountability and how to be a decent person who cares about helping others.

Of course, when I was headed down to film RT and Kenny in Ft. Lauderdale, I was enmeshed in my own drama. My sobriety has been tested in the last few years, a major spinal surgery, relationship ups and downs, etc., etc. Poor me, pour me another drink was my thinking. Of course, I didn’t pour that drink. I was just grumpy. But when we started filming and we heard the story of RT and Kenny’s friendship, their marriages, their children, their friends and Richie Supa (of course) my heart lifted in that way it can only when doing service.

I stopped being obsessed with myself and became obsessed with them and telling their story. Listening to how they helped each other get sober, create families, create the website that has brought hope to so many people trying to stay sober together eclipsed everything else.

RT and Kenny reminded me that there is life in recovery. More than that, there’s success and happiness and satisfaction with helping mankind. I’m a textbook alcoholic, addict. I get in my own way. But when I focus on others, whether it’s in film or in service my life gets better and I feel better.

I’ve written and filmed a lot of material in the last decade, but this project in particular I feel the most proud of. I feel that way because it was everything that recovery is about. I didn’t feel good when I went to work. I was being a bratty. But because I did the next right thing–doing something I love and doing it for people who I admire and who spend their time carrying the message I had one of the best experiences of my life. And I left Ft. Lauderdale with a new faith in humanity, and even more, new friends. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work with this group. RT and Kenny are very special guys, eccentric and funny and all themselves. So are the people they surround themselves with. I hope that shows through and I hope this Valentine’s Day no matter what situation we’re all in romantically we remember that just loving another alcoholic by showing up for them or making a call makes us all successful at love.  <3


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There Isn’t A Cure For Addiction

Reprinted from Reach Out Recovery

by Marc Dunn

Another celebrity, Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead Sunday of an apparent drug overdose. Hoffman had been clean and sober for 23 years until a relapse last May. I do not know him and do not have knowledge of the specifics of his death or relapse, but if he was at all like thousands of addicts I have known he did not intend to die this way. We are regular people who suffer from an incurable disease.

He is not unlike thousands of others who die every year, nor is he any different from the 24 million of us who are presently sober and in recovery. We all only have our recovery today and must vigilantly work on it every day of our lives.

My daughter, Gaby Dunn, wrote, “Addiction is an insidious monster. As a child of an addict, it’s terrifying that someone could relapse after 23 hard-earned years of sobriety. My father was sober for two years, relapsed horrifically, and has been sober again for eight years. The addiction lurks beneath everything, never truly going away. An addict is never “cured. As a child of an addict, I should say that the addiction doesn’t only hurt the addict themselves, but also those around them. For example, PSH’s partner and three small children. The people who die of addiction are so random, so “there but for the Grace of God go I” that it is miraculous my father is still alive, and heartbreaking that those children’s father is not.”

We steal from our children and those we love something that can never be replaced, their peace of mind. But maybe, if we work at our recovery and grow spiritually we can give them a new peace.

Much has been written lately about the “cure du jour” regarding alcoholism and addiction. The good news is that there are solutions, but there is not a cure. These latest attempts to make medications the answer to alcoholism/addiction do not provide treatment or therapy for the mental obsession that accompanies addiction. Treating the physical symptoms without treating the mental issues will not work.

The first time I tried to stop drinking for more than a few days or weeks, it was by attending AA meetings and being stubbornly abstinent. This was to be “my cure”. I did it to get everyone off my back. My wife had threatened to divorce me and I thought this was the way to lessen the incessant feeling of being scrutinized every time I picked up a drink, which was often. It lasted about 3 years and I got nothing. My life did not get any better. It was a conniving attempt on my part to appear to be better. I would listen to old timers speaking of recovery and burglarize their conversations, repeating what I had heard as if they were my thoughts, pretending to have found some spirituality. It didn’t work.

I was out to dinner after about 30 months and without any premeditation said, “ It’s been 2 ½ years since I had a drink, I can probably have one with dinner.” The naïve responses were, “That’s great.” I was off and running for 6 months. The end came when I totaled my car in a blackout on the interstate, in the middle of the afternoon. Miraculously, I walked away without hurting myself or anyone else. My next step was to try recovery not abstinence. I found that they were compatible and my life could be better.

Addiction is cunning and baffling, it will linger inside of us forever patiently waiting for a moment of weakness: a moment that we think we are in charge again and take our will back. Then it will strike and things will get progressively worse. It does for all addicts who relapse.

A cure for addiction does not exist, “ we are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30)

Solutions for addiction follow two paths: recovery and/or sobriety. For those of us who are addicts these are two different ways of. All of us with the disease/mental health condition of addiction know this to be fact. We have lived it and can tell the differences.

What is the difference between sobriety and recovery?

Strictly speaking sobriety is the absence of mood altering substances: alcohol, narcotic drugs, pot, non-prescribed pain killers, etc. Sobriety with recovery is much more; it includes lifestyle not just abstinence.

The point of sobriety is life over death. We can achieve it by self-willed abstinence, the easier and undisciplined way, affording a less stressful lack of commitment, or by the action of recovery, a planned change of lifestyle designed to prolong life and make it more joyous and free. It is a medical fact that long-term alcoholism will result in a shorter more painful life, not just for the abuser but also for those closest to him/her. In abstinence we may be successful for short periods of time or indefinitely. But if the point of sobriety is recovery; then we are searching for a quality of life that includes peaceful happiness, better relationships, less expectations, more acceptance and tolerance, freedom and peace.

It is generally accepted that addiction is a disease if left untreated has a predictable end, premature death.

The disease of addiction has a gradual deteriorative affliction that devastates entire families and will continue to do so unless the addict member takes action to live a life of sobriety: physically and mentally. It affects the person who is addicted, that person’s family and everyone who interacts with that person.

Reports and opinions that lead to the conclusion that there may be medication to reduce the effects of alcohol/drugs and even repulse the user from using them but they do nothing to change the mental health issues an addict faces. Those issues will drive him/her out again once they either stop taking the medication or just impulsively decide to use.

Addiction is more than a physical obsession and the alcohol/drug is only a symptom. Treating the symptom does not cure the disease.

One of the things we haven’t done very well in working with those seeking help is updating our approaches from the way they were done 50-75 years ago. It may sound like heresy, but the world has changed drastically; medical approaches are different and better. Much more is known about mental health and addiction as well as the treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. They have certainly changed with improved results. Why would you go see a doctor today that was still examining and diagnosing you based on information he learned in the 1950’s? You wouldn’t.

The enormity of the problems addicts experience, both physically and mentally, and the quantity of human beings who have this disease has grown significantly over the last decade.

My daughter also wrote the following about kids her age discussing their ”thing” because everyone has a “thing”, She would ask, “What’s wrong with you, tell me in three words what’s your deal”. She heard them say, “my parents are divorced”, and my “childhood sweetheart died “or” I was raped in college”. My daughter responded to her own question, “Alcoholic, addict father.”

Thousands of addicts die every year and for every addict there are countless others, family and friends, who suffer from the loss that there addicted loved one has inflicted on them. We are not helping anyone by looking for a cure. We need to talk about the lifestyle changes needed to solve the addictions; alcohol, narcotics (pills, cocaine, heroin), sex, gambling and even food, because they all kill.

There is a solution, but not a cure. It is with the healing of the mind, body and spirit.

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by Deepak Chopra
Here’s how Deepak describes it: “Certain personality characteristics become evident when we are in touch with our universal Self.
We are immune to criticism, but responsive to feedback. This means that on the emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels, we feel neither beneath nor superior to anyone else. This doesn’t mean we are arrogant or cocky, but a quiet confidence and dignity radiate from us that result in a fearlessness and readiness to creatively take on any challenge. It also means we are never the victim of self-importance, knowing that all self-importance is a form of self- pity in disguise.
We relinquish the need for approval and control. This means that our actions are independent of the opinions of others and detached from expectations. We are motivated by our own powerful instincts and their evolutionary outcome, not because we have any expectations for payback.
We empower others by allowing them to be themselves. This means we react to people without preconditions and preconceptions. We accept people for who they are and do not force them to conform to our needs and expectations. In doing so, we empower others to express their full potential as well.” ~ Deepak Chopra from The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes

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Fear of Failure

By Anonymous

Many years ago with only a short time in recovery the following happened:

In a phone call on New Year’s Day, a college professor told me she’d failed my final paper for her course. I could rewrite the paper, she said, correcting the shortcomings, possibly retaining my overall A for the course. Or I could let it go and accept the B average my failure to follow directions had earned.
Failure isn’t a word that appears in AA literature that much. I haven’t scanned the Big Book or “Twelve and Twelve” for it, or added up citations. But much of Bill’s writing about the Steps and Traditions addresses personal and group mistakes and misconduct – failures of sorts – and how to manage them: humility, inventory, forgiveness, tolerance.
In reply to the professor, I swallowed my pride, thanked her for the chance to correct my mistakes, and told her I’d get back to her about that, wished her a Happy New Year, hung up the phone and then kicked over the chair I had been sitting in.
What I didn’t do is rage at her or think even once about getting drunk. Considering the fact that, good news or bad, that’s all I thought about for years, I had a lot to be grateful for. And seriously, what difference was a B or an A in some college course ever going to make to anyone?
I had more pressing and useful ways to spend my time than revisiting an academic exercise I’d already worked through. But something was eating me. I was getting A’s and B’s in all my courses, I’d worked hard on that paper, and I just don’t do F-level work. I’m too obsessive.
My heart was racing, and my head was catching up with fantasies of getting the professor fired. However inconsequential the cause, I cannot afford to turn my back on resentment and self-pity. They tax my serenity, my patience, my concern for others, and they kept me drunk for years. So I had to do something.
One of the most difficult skills for me to learn and remember about living sober is listening, especially listening to criticism. My first instinct is to strike back. Fear and anger always hinder clarity. “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of reason,” according to a local old-timer.
Hearing criticism that is to some extent justified, but out of proportion with my behavior, I vacillate between believing it entirely and rejecting it altogether as a personal attack. I can be sure one moment that I’ve been found out, and a phony like me deserves no less than failure and ridicule. And I can be equally certain the next moment that I’m a victim of someone else’s envy and mendacity. I know this because I’ve spent years taking my inventory and sharing with other alcoholics.
With such a volatile and fragile mind, and registering that I’d failed a final paper that had cost me many hours’ work, I needed to sit quietly, breathe, let what my professor said just be what it was, and unpack my AA tool kit.
“It’s a spiritual axiom,” I reminded myself, “that every time we are disturbed … there is something wrong with us.” Maybe I hadn’t been treated fairly. Okay, but I was certain from past mistakes that it really wouldn’t help to argue, defend, stonewall, deny, or attack. Balance, I reminded myself. I need balance, and I’ve never been able to find it on my own. In my drinking days, when I didn’t like what you thought of me, I would shoot back with rage or silent scorn. One negative comment could earn you a place on my list for the rest of your life. And every single night, I could drink myself into not caring what you or anybody else thought about me. My view of others withered with my unwillingness to entertain the possibility I might be wrong, and my circle of friends got pretty small: down to me and my bottle in the end.
The point now isn’t to get the greatest number of people to like me. It’s to live at peace with myself, comfortable in my own skin, without blowing back and forth between self-loathing and blaming others. So I started in on my inventory. Beginning with fear and pride, everything I wrote down was familiar territory, right down to the final admission of still being childish, grandiose, and over-sensitive – to a degree. With that out of the way, and having shared the situation with several sober alcoholics, and a couple of non-alcoholics too, I set to work weighing the professor’s remarks and evaluations. And I felt grateful to have a faith that works, a step-by-step method to follow, and a simple vocabulary that got to the heart of the matter quickly.
The upshot is that I was able to review my failing paper with the professor, calmly admitting its shortcomings, but also – and most importantly for me – “take due note of things well done.” She heard me out, again offered the chance to rewrite, but refused to change the grade.
I came away knowing that I had acted thoughtfully, standing up for my work without accusation, and without fear or anger in my voice. I didn’t want to drink, didn’t need to make amends, and didn’t need to submit to someone else’s low opinion of me, either. Today, I accept that people can disagree with me and still lead purposeful lives. So can I. And it was time to move on.

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By Dan Griffin

For most of my life I wanted to be fearless. Since I was a child I seemed to experience an abnormal amount of fear. Whether it is a genetic anomaly, neurological misfiring, a spiritual malady or all of the above, I cannot say. What I do know is that I was always aware that I had so much fear and I just wanted to be rid of it. Take it away! I would feel quite alone, especially from other men, because I assumed (wrongly, as it turns out) that other men did not have similar experiences. I was wrong, and I have an idea why.
For those of us in recovery from addictions, fear seems to have a special place in our lives. The literature of recovery and much of the prevailing wisdom speaks constantly about fear and how our lives are “shot through with it.” There is actually research showing that two of the areas of the brain affected by (or perhaps causative of) addiction are the amygdala, specifically, and the overall limbic system, of which the amygdala is a part as well as the prefrontal cortex, the primary decision-making center and most evolved part of the brain.
I was driving in my car through downtown St. Paul many years ago and well into my own recovery from addiction, and I was experiencing an inordinate amount of fear. Anxiety. Panic. Call it what you will — they are all members of the same family. I cannot even remember what it was about. I do remember the insight. Up until that point, it had been so difficult for me to admit that I was feeling afraid. Not because I was not aware that I was feeling fear. No, I was well aware of the fear that would regularly visit me. In fact, for the last several years, I had even become accustomed to talking about that fear with a select group of men and women, privately and usually in the basement of some church. In those groups fear was not only respected, it was expected – even from men! I could admit it to the people in those basements more easily than I could admit it to myself, because I knew they would not make fun of me for having it.
Over the years I have heard from men in recovery from all walks of life who — when they are able to be gut-wrenchingly honest — talk about how much of their lives have been spent in fear. Former drug-dealer turned patent attorney. CEO of a national criminal justice organization. Former bodyguard for a smalltime Chicago “businessman.” Priest. Judge. Real estate magnate. Teacher. Psychiatrist. Nurse. Musician. Author. The list goes on, ad infinitum. Most of these men spent an inordinate amount of time focused on trying to show themselves and the rest of the world that they were not afraid. And so we all walked around thinking that none of us were feeling fear — and, in truth, it was killing us and all of our relationships.
Remember those stickers that used to be everywhere, most often on those big trucks that most people need a stepladder to get into: No FEAR! They shouted to anyone driving close enough to them: I AM A REAL MAN! The words in ominous writing meant to further communicate how much we, men, don’t want to — no, shouldn’t — have any fear in our lives. Of course I have come to realize that some of the most fearful men are the ones driving around the big trucks with stickers saying “No FEAR” on them.
If you are like I was and have aspirations of someday being fearless – as in not experiencing fear – that day, sadly, will never arrive. But, if you instead wish to simply fear less, well, that is available to you any time. The only catch: you have to be willing to acknowledge that the fear is there and for many men that can feel tantamount to admitting they are not men.
Today it seems easier for me to see other men’s fear, probably because I have become so intimately acquainted with my own fear. My relationship with this emotion is one that has become mostly amicable — I notice its presence and respect it, but have made it clear it is not going to run my life anymore. As is the case with so many things, in recognizing and facing my fear, it has much less power over me. So go ahead and do it, get honest about your fears — what are you afraid of?

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