Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.
While exploring addictions, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss what is probably the most successful program for overcoming addiction--Alcoholics Anonymous.
For more than fifty years, through the AA program, millions of people have found freedom from their addiction to alcohol. The Twelve Steps--as the AA program is called--are so successful that more than one hundred fifty other organizations use them to overcome eating disorders, compulsive sex, drug abuse, and negative emotions.
The core of the AA program is described in thebook Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as The Big Book). Here are the Twelve Steps, along with the three paragraphs preceding and the one paragraphfollowing them. If you don't have a problem with alcohol, just substitute "negative thinking" (orwhatever you feel your addiction to be) for "alcohol."
Remember that we are dealing with alcohol--cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power--that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction--that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Compassion for myself is the most powerful healer of them all.
THEODORE ISAAC RUBIN, M.D.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Higher Power, as we understood Him, Her, or It.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought, through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power as we understood Him, Her, or It, praying only for knowledge of our Higher Power's will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Many of us exclaimed, "What an order! I can't go through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guidelines to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.
No, You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought is not an AA book, nor am I saying these twelve steps are the only way to break addictions. I just wanted to offer them as a way millions of people have found successful.
As far as I know, there is no Negaholics Anonymous (NA) for people who realize they are powerless over their negative thoughts. The closest I've found is Emotions Anonymous. If you consider that a negative thought is usually the step just before a negative emotion, then the goal of EA and the goal of overcoming negative thinking seem in alignment.
One of the advantages of AA, EA, and all the other organizations that end with "Anonymous" is the meetings. These meetings provide support, camaraderie, and the knowledge, "I'm not alone in this."
For more information on AA or EA, telephone information and ask for the number in your area. Or, write for meeting times and places in your area. (Emotions Anonymous, P. O. Box 4245, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55104. Alcoholics Anonymous, P. O. Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, New York, 10163.)
EA has a book entitled EA: Emotions Anonymous. AA has, in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, a long list of publications. Write to the above addresses for information.
No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY
Pain hurts. We as human beings seem prepared to do almost anything to avoid pain. So why do we persist in doing things we know will bring us mental, emotional, and/or physical pain?
Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear--childhood. Most children find that when something bad happens to them--an illness, an accident--they get an extra measure of care, understanding, sympathy, and love. "Oh, you hurt your finger! Let me kiss it and make it better." Injuries and illness seem to bring an outpouring of affection.
Given this scenario, it's not difficult for a child to conclude, "Injury and illness get me love." Some children then create accidents and sicknesses because they want the love, the cuddling, the pampering. The payoff. It's not necessarily a conscious creation-- although I'd bet just about everyone at one time or another faked an illness in order to stay home from school.
For the children unwilling to go through physical trauma to get attention, there are other ways.
I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake-- which I also keep handy.
W. C. FIELDS
Children who get their way by throwing tantrums sometimes grow up to be "rageaholics." When they don't get what they want, they get mad. Even in adulthood, getting angry sometimes gets them what they want. And probably quite a bit of what they don't want.
Some children misbehave to get attention, figuring even negative attention is better than no attention at all. These children can grow to be adults who go through life causing problems just to be noticed.
Actually, however, all of these payoffs are just symbols of loving, not the genuine article. But, when the real thing's not around--and people haven't yet learned how to give loving to themselves--a symbol will have to do.
Some of the popular payoffs people receive from indulging in negative behavior include attention, sympathy, avoidance, excuses, protection, acceptance, approval, martyrdom, deception, control, manipulation, and a sense of strength (albeit false), security, closeness, or accomplishment.
Other seeming benefits of negative behavior are avoiding responsibility, not having to risk, appearing to be right, self-justification, and appearing to prove worthiness. People even boast about their negativity: "I'm working out my problems," "I'm learning," "I'm getting a good emotional release," "Pain equals growth," and "I can handle pain."
You might want to take an honest look at what you're getting--or seem to be getting--from whatever negative thoughts, feelings, or physical manifestations you put yourself through. If you want attention, for example, that's a good thing to know. If you can find a way of getting all the attention you want without having to go through all the negativity, wouldn't that be easier? (Not to mention less painful.)
There's a simple way of getting payoffs directly--asking. "Would you please pay attention to me for a few minutes?" "Could I have some support?" "Tell me you love me." Yes, there's risk involved--you might not get the payoff. But--as you may have discovered--negative behavior doesn't always get it, either.
There is luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has the right to blame us.
Make a list of what you're getting from your illness--the payoffs. Work on getting those things more directly. Once you're getting those things through other methods, you may be able to let the illness go.
Making such a list requires unflinching honesty. The idea that we're doing something as drastic as creating a life-threatening illness just to get attention or sympathy or love is hard to accept. I'm not saying it's true in all cases. Yours may or may not be one. Only you really know.
Maybe you'll look at your list of payoffs and decide you don't need some of them after all. Then cross them off the list and tell yourself, "I don't need ____________ anymore. I can let that one go." The part of you that's creating the illness because it thinks you still want those things will listen and respond. This part of you only wants you to have what you want!
The remaining payoffs--the ones you really do want--give them to yourself. Love yourself. Pay attention to yourself. Nurture yourself. Cuddle yourself. Pamper yourself. Give to yourself so fully that whatever anyone else gives you will be just icing on the cake.
When you are filled by your own nurturing, there's no need to seek payoffs "out there." If there's no need to seek payoffs, maybe the illness that's seeking them for you will have no need to stick around.
Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.
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