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Clean and sober twenty days or twenty years -- it makes no difference. We all need a little help every once in a while. Barb Rogers has been sober for a long time. And she knows that doesn't make a difference -- what makes a difference is that she's clean and sober today. Rogers' newest book offers true stories from real life people. Their addictions have led them to a 12-step program. Yet, in working the program, they have found, as the saying goes, things are simple but not always easy. The important thing is ...
Clean and sober twenty days or twenty years -- it makes no difference. We all need a little help every once in a while. Barb Rogers has been sober for a long time. And she knows that doesn't make a difference -- what makes a difference is that she's clean and sober today. Rogers' newest book offers true stories from real life people. Their addictions have led them to a 12-step program. Yet, in working the program, they have found, as the saying goes, things are simple but not always easy. The important thing is -- no matter what difficulties we have with any of the steps -- is to keep working the steps, as many times as it takes. There is no perfection, there is no goal, there is only walking the talk, one day at a time. In 12 Steps That Can Save Your Life, Barb Rogers once again offers down-home sensible advice, along with stories a struggling reader can identify with. Twelve step programs are neither cult, curse or cure. They work because they are ongoing, because of the focus is inward and outward, and because people recognize that their lives are better when they work them.
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
In recent years, as I was attending meetings and working with other addicts, a new trend became apparent to me. Many who are seeking recovery suffer from more than one addiction. Others, in recovery from one addiction, grab on to another. I believe the situation has been there all along but has only recently made its way to the forefront. The reason is that to be free of addiction, the addict must be free of all addictions and aware of the impulse to substitute addictions.
When you think of it, it makes sense. Alcoholics don't handle drugs or sex any better than they do booze. Take away an overeater's food and he may find his comfort, or escape, in a liquid diet, pills, sex, shopping, or a wall of clutter. Many recovering drug addicts believe they can drink. I have yet to meet one who has accomplished this successfully. For addicts, a drug is a drug, wet or dry.
Mary S., who attended Overeaters Anonymous for years, ended up in an AA meeting. She said, "After my gastric bypass, I was on a liquid diet. No one told me that didn't involve gin. As a drunk, I convinced myself it would be OK to eat those things I knew I shouldn't eat when I was sober. I damn near killed myself."
For thirteen years I've watched Nancy D., who started out in recovery from alcohol and sex, move on to an addiction to prescription drugs, gambling, and now overeating. You would be amazed at how many addicts are sitting in 12-step meetings addicted to prescription drugs. I am not a doctor, but my personal experience, and what others have confided in me, has convinced me that it is nearly impossible to get a clear diagnosis of a mental disorder until the addiction is addressed. Therefore, many of the prescribed drugs simply mask the problem and become a secondary addiction.
It's a chicken-and-egg thing. Was Nancy indulging in addictions because she suffered from clinical depression, or did the feelings of a lack of control, helplessness, and hopelessness caused by her addictions bring on the depression?
After a lengthy stay in a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, manic depression, borderline schizophrenia, and God only knows what else, they released me with a bag of colorful pills. I would be taking up to eleven pills a day. There were pills to keep me up, put me down, level me out, and keep me from thinking. It didn't take me long to figure out I didn't want to live without the ability to put two thoughts together in a rational way. That, coupled with my fear of prescription drugs—I had watched my addicted mother take her own life at age thirty-nine—brought me to the toilet, where I flushed all the pills.
Anyone who has been addicted or has dealt with addicts will understand how a doctor might misdiagnose an addict. The other personality that emerges when an alcoholic drinks could be seen as a symptom of schizophrenia. The extreme high that a drinker, a drug addict, a gambler, an overeater, a sex addict, an anorexic, or a shopper feels when he is flush with product or any other sought-after feeling is counteracted by the extreme low when the opposite is true. It looks like manic depression. Addicts do not fall into addiction without a reason. They are brought to addiction through that unnamed "something" that has caused a hole in their lives that they are trying to fill. Post-traumatic stress disorder?
There are real chemical imbalances that can cause mental problems and will be solved with the right medications. However, with an addict, how can one tell where the addiction ends and the mental problem begins without first acknowledging the addiction and dealing with it? Medication may seem like the easier, softer way, but in the long run all it does, if there is no real chemical imbalance, is enable the addict to continue down a self-destructive, unhappy path.
I did not suffer from all those mental problems I was diagnosed with and for which I was medicated. I suffered from addictions, and until I was willing to look at them and find a way to get help, my life would only get worse. Which brings me to step 1 of a 12-step program. It is absolutely the most important of the Twelve Steps. Without working it honestly and completely, you will have no healthy way to continue. This step is stated in two sections: (1) admitting the nature of the addiction we are powerless over; and (2) recognizing how it is affecting our lives.
Taking step 1 is like hitting a wall of truth. It is not easy for addicts to accept the truth. If they do, the words are spoken aloud, the cat is out of the bag, and they will feel compelled to do something about it. However, like any other disease, until the suffering individual faces it head-on and accepts it as a reality, solutions will escape her. There is no solution for something that is not perceived as a problem.
What the problem is, is addressed in the second part of the first step: how is your particular addiction affecting your life? Is it taking you to places you don't want to go? Are you doing things you wouldn't normally consider? Is it affecting your health, mentally, emotionally, or physically, in a negative way? Is it affecting your relationships at home, or maybe at work? Are you pushing away those people who care enough about you to tell you the truth? When you consider what you have given up for your addiction, it doesn't necessarily involve things. It can be time, contentment, happiness, self-respect, or any number of other things. The second half of the step is a revelation of loss.
Donna G. was a cheerleader, majorette, and prom queen in high school—beautiful, intelligent, and popular. She was the epitome of what young women attempt to achieve. She knew exactly what was expected of her and discovered early in life that appearances meant everything. To the outsider, her life seemed ideal. But Donna lived with a big secret.
Through the week, she played her part well, running with the "in" crowd, making good grades, and she was well thought of. When the weekends and school vacations rolled around, though, she disappeared into oblivion with a whole other crowd of friends, who lived to party.
As I listened to her story, I could picture her at home, stressed over her parents' failing marriage, trying to keep up appearances outside the home, until one day when she went into the bathroom to wash her hair. Someone told her that if she rinsed her hair with beer, it would make it shiny. It took very little beer to wash her hair, so she drank the rest. A feeling only another addict can truly understand came over her. It was the beginning of a downward spiral that would culminate many years later in her facing step 1 in a 12-step meeting.
Donna went away to college, a real party school, and flunked out the second semester. She became a stewardess for a major airline in New York but got fired for stealing miniature bottles, and finally married a man she barely knew, believing that to be a solution to her problems. In a very short time, after one of her drunken escapades that ended with her in a hospital while her husband was out of town, she knew her marriage was failing. She went to a 12-step meeting. It took only one meeting to convince her she was not like "those" people. Yes, she might have a little drinking problem, but her life was not unmanageable.
Donna had not lost enough to admit the unmanageability of her life caused by an addiction to alcohol. Rather than face that first step, Donna spent years in and out of hospitals and detox centers. She tried everything: she attended and worked in her church, even went to the occasional AA meeting. But she couldn't accept that the first step applied to her. There had to be a way to figure it out. After all, she was an intelligent woman. She told me, "I realized my choice was to live without alcohol and exist in constant emotional torture, or continue drinking and deal with physical suffering and mental torture. It never occurred to me there was another choice."
She hit her bottom in a motel room in Flagstaff, Arizona, with little memory of how that happened. The last thing she recalled was being bailed out of jail by her priest, who was also her boss; him driving her away from the jail; and him putting her out on the side of the road, where he informed her he was giving her to God. With the realization of how unmanageable her life was, of all that she'd given up to indulge her addiction, she fell to her knees in that motel room and said, "God, whatever it is that helps those people in AA, please let it help me." Donna had taken the first step honestly and completely. From that moment on, she would be able to move forward to a new way of life.
You see, taking step 1 doesn't have to happen in a meeting. It has to happen within you; the deepest part of you has to become willing to admit the truth. If you are looking for a solution in a 12-step program, no matter the addiction you suffer from, it will require that one moment when you can no longer lie to yourself or rationalize or justify your actions. It is when you stand naked in front of yourself and become willing to do whatever it takes to change.
Just as there was a beginning to your addiction, there is a beginning to recovery. That beginning is step 1.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Those who are sane, who live in a healthy state of mind, learn not only from personal experience but also from the experience of others. This is not true for those suffering from addictions. They continue the same behavior over and over, expecting different results. Before Neva G. passed away, one of her favorite sayings in meetings was "If every time you ate chili it made you sick, wouldn't you stop eating chili? A sane person would." That sums up the insanity of addiction.
Addicts live in a small, controlled world. They avoid others who don't "understand" them. Dick B., a married man with a few years in recovery from alcoholism, sat in his garage, a drink in his hand, tears running down his face, and shared with me what took him back to drinking. Little by little, I discovered the truth. It seemed that he had been sneaking alcohol for some time, but things came to a head when his wife informed him they would be taking a trip that would require days of driving, overnights in motels, and staying with relatives. He panicked and checked himself into a seventy-two-hour detox center that night. I assumed he felt that three days in detox, where he was kept drugged, were preferable to a two-week trip where he couldn't get away from wife, and others, to indulge his addiction.
Do you think it is any different for the gambler, the compulsive eater, the sex addict, the anorexic, the drug addict—even those who suffer from those seemingly healthier addictions like exercise and compulsive cleanliness? Some of the stories that have convinced me this is true are the following:
Ben T. would fill the window-washer-fluid bottle of his car with booze and every so many miles would say to his wife, "Do you hear that? I think I better check under the hood." He'd pull the car over to the side of the road, open the hood, pull a straw out of his pocket, and have a drink. It was the only way he could get through a trip.
Mary S., an anorexic from California, invented ways to move food around on her plate so it appeared she was eating; she would store food in her cheeks and transfer it to a napkin or into the toilet if she was not in a place where she could purge. Late into the night, when the house was still, she'd sneak into the walk-in closet and exercise furiously.
Lonnie S. lied to the woman with whom he lived and whom he planned to marry, telling her he was mugged on the way to the bank to deposit cash to pay bills. He even went along when she called the police, and repeated his lie to them. She didn't find out until too late that he hadn't made the car payment or paid the insurance or the rent for a while. He told her he was going off to speak to other suffering gamblers or to attend a meeting when in fact he was getting away from the house to gamble. He eventually lost everything, including the woman he swore was the love of his life.
Donna R., whose surroundings had to be perfect, got to a point of hardly being able to leave her house. She felt safe there with everything spotless and in its place. Absolutely nothing, and no one, including her husband and children, could live up to her standards. While she told herself they were driving her crazy with their messy ways, she was driving them away. She refused to eat out in "filthy" restaurants, but all restaurants were filthy in her mind. She could bear to stay in someone else's house or a motel only if she brought her own disinfected bedding and cleaning supplies. Even then, if there was something she couldn't fix, change, or get clean enough, it wasn't going to happen. You can only imagine what her vacations were like.
Jane D., a young female addict, told me the story of her insanity. Money was in short supply; she'd just started a new job and would not have a paycheck for two weeks. She barely had enough money to buy the drugs to get her through. After she bought her drugs, afraid she would use them all up too quickly, she went to her girlfriend down the hall and asked if she could leave half of the drugs with her. She told her friend not to give them back until a certain date no matter how much she begged for them. Sure enough, she ran out sooner than expected. Desperate, she broke into her friend's apartment, ransacked it looking for them, and was arrested for stealing her own drugs.
These stories are but a small sampling of how addicts hold on to the insanity of addiction. The things they do while in the throes of addiction are not who they really are, or who they want to be. Many will try a myriad of ways to stop, but in a short time, they find themselves right back where they started. They have lost the power to control the situation, or the substance.
Let's talk about power. If you made a list right now of the five most powerful people you know of, who would they be? Go ahead, write them down. Next to each name, write down why you see that person as powerful. If you chose people who are politically influential, have great wealth, or are famous, you might be surprised what you would see if you could be a fly on the wall in their day-today lives. True power is the ability to act and to produce an effect. People who can do that in a positive way each day, no matter what life throws at them, are powerful.
I am fortunate indeed to have been put in a position in life of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and watching others do the same. There are many of us who to the outside world looked like hopeless cases, who contributed nothing to others and the world around us. If you asked us what changed, we would tell you that the first thing we did was open our minds to the possibility of a Higher Power.
It's not easy for many in recovery to wrap their minds around that possibility. Many of us have had lives filled with trauma, fear, frustration, and rage, and many times we placed the blame on a God we weren't even sure was there. Others were abused and frightened in a religious setting.
At age seventeen, as I stood in the hospital, my little girl dead in my arms, my in-laws' preacher said to me, "God needed a little angel." I can't repeat in print what I said to him. Why would this man's God take my daughter, who had fought so hard to live? At age nineteen I lived through nearly the same scenario with my youngest son, followed closely by my mother's suicide. God! God? They had to be crazy. Why would I want anything to do with a God? I didn't have much, but he took it all away. Later, when I lost another child before birth, and my fifteen-year-old son, who was the light of my life and the last child I would ever have, was killed, all I wanted was to be released from the pain that had settled inside me like a tangible thing. I used one addiction after another in an attempt to ease the pain, but it lived on.
Tom B., brought up in a strict religious household and forced to attend a religious school for twelve years, said, "The God I learned about scared me. He was just sitting up there waiting to punish me when I didn't live up to his expectations, and I didn't know how anyone could do that. Finally, I stopped trying."
Excerpted from 12 steps that can save your life by Barb Rogers. Copyright © 2009 Barb Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part I. the action steps
Steps 6 & 7
Steps 8 & 9
Part II. the promises
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our
experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for
Are these extravagant promises?
Part III. maintenance steps
Posted June 3, 2010
No text was provided for this review.