“You taught me how to live” – quote, AA speaker Joe

The police were called by irritated neighbors, tired of listening to her ranting and raving loudly through the night. Drunk and alone on her balcony, she had been crying and screaming for a long time, and it was not the first time, either. Upon return from the locked psychiatric ward after having been admitted by police in handcuffs, this is what Nora had to say, “I’m fed-up with you telling me diagnoses. The doctors say that my liver is fine. That means I am healthy. I’m gonna do what I did my whole life. There is no Higher Power over me.”

What is it that keeps her from understanding and acknowledging the nature of her predicament? What interferes with her ability to seek recovery from such incomprehensible and lonely misery?

I’m thinking of a lack of information processing, a fragmentation, compartmentalization, something similar to a computer virus, which compromises system functioning in such a way that communication is distorted or lost. Apparently some of us are born with a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. Think of a PC, which can get infected with a virus, versus a laptop, which won’t get infected. However, even a PC can be kept clean from viruses through certain measures, which protect its specific vulnerability.

Back to humans – a good childhood with continued nurturing care in a stable safe environment may protect a child form disorders, such as alcoholism by teaching self-love and self-care – which would function like a “firewall” in the presence of such a genetic weakness. However, ACE (= Adverse Childhood Experiences), trauma, or prolonged stress leave the child vulnerable to the “virus”, so that the neglected or abused child ends up with a lifelong condition – unless a “firewall” is put in place later on through re-parenting that introduces and maintains some emotional stability.

Alcoholism is a mental disorder, where healthy self-preservation is dismissed from a position of main priority, while distractions through perilous and auto-aggressive behaviors are favored as exciting – imagine a red light blinking with the message: “SELF-DESTRUCT MODE ACTIVATED!” and the alcoholic behaves in ways that suggest complete indifference to her own fate. It’s visible to everyone else, but usually not noticeable to the person affected with the “virus”. Nora is oblivious of all - blind to the effect of her actions her sense of self remains sketchy.

All human life requires self-management. The alcoholic feels exposed to an uncomfortably rough and volatile emotional climate of gut-wrenching shame about lacking the script for her role in life, and tries to forget and hide a pervasive feeling of being lost. Since thoughts, feelings, and behaviors go together as a unity, alcoholic thinking, characterized by deep existential disconnect and a sense of being dysfunctional and worthless, produces uncomfortable feelings, which then enable the self-destruct mode over and over… until… it’s sadly accomplished.

The art of recovery is about producing good-feeling thoughts without being delusional. It’s all about generating a meaningful life via making oneself useful in some way – this then counteracts the source of anxiety through the reality of being functional and worthy.

The focus must shift from immediate tension relief to the viable existence of a comfortable emotional dwelling place - achieved through connectedness with a community that offers a recipe for an acceptable self-image via estimable acts. Since the self-destruct mode can become reactivated due to renewed stress, a formula for a decent comfort level on a continuous basis becomes a necessity, i.e. a spiritual program that outlines how to manage vulnerabilities, reduce shame and guilt, and support self-soothing on a daily basis through forgiveness and compassion for all. If that happens, the disease can go into remission and the alcoholic “virus” gets inactivated.

Initially, this may not seem like a desirable solution, but look at the alternative…

“I was incested and thrown in a closet from the age of 3. I was unforgivable and didn’t forgive anyone. In AA they told me, ’Let us love you until you can love yourself.’ Eventually the ache in my heart went away.” – quote, AA speaker Jay