A Questionable Tendency for Fragmentation

“How many times have we heard people come up to the podium with 1 day who said they were sober and then they took a Valium for their back and they woke up again with a lemon peel in their ear, whipping cream in their hair, in bed with their sister, and in jail. “– quote, AA speaker

Human consciousness is enigmatic. Attention is selective. Memory is elusive. Motives are mostly unconscious. Social life and media offer information and connection. Ethnic and national values provide pointers on being human. Religions rely on ancient scriptures. Scientists develop theories, conduct research, and quantify findings to explain the brain, but the psyche remains a mystery. Although the soul doesn’t seem to be located in the brain, its presence fades when the brain becomes toxic - and the psyche fragments.

It’s not easy to be human. We do some learning and experiencing. We mature, develop convictions and beliefs, and end up taking them for the truth. On the basis of a healthy genetic make-up and a gentle and nurturing childhood, one puts it all together where thoughts, moods, feelings, attitudes, characteristics, and behaviors integrate into a functional whole so that it all works out.

For some of us it’s more complicated, where innate sensitivities and acquired vulnerabilities are to be managed. There may be a history of ACE (=Adverse Childhood Experiences) like neglect, abandonment, physical or sexual abuse, unprocessed trauma or unresolved grief. There may be a variety of self-defeating thought patterns, high-intensity emotions, and self-destructive habits. Such factors predispose us for a life where pleasure must be sought and pain must be numbed. No price is too high.

An estimated 80 – 90% of alcoholics (or addicts) have survived abuse or trauma and integration has been compromised. This means that wholeness and comfortable inter-relatedness of thoughts, memories, and feelings are interrupted. Staying present becomes difficult. It’s as though the inner melody of the soul has been rendered dissonant and the alcoholic is running from herself, in search of a better music outside of self. Missing comfort, flooded with adrenaline, tempted by impulsivity, filled with negative and conflicting thought content, it does not appear doable to “just say no” to food, sex, alcohol, drugs, or other thrills and forbidden pleasures. Hedonism is not negotiable when your mind is screeching and tension relief is sorely missing.

Lacking continuous attention to reality, her life doesn’t really make sense to her. She feels lost. She doesn’t understand others and she doesn’t understand herself. It’s scary and so she covers up. Torn by ambivalence, she can never be content about her choice. Feelings of inferiority are covered by arrogance. Confusion is expressed by hostility and aggression. Her need for love is hidden under a tough exterior. Fear of intimacy is handled by hypersexual activities. Despair about life and death are camouflaged by life-threatening bravado. Tortured by shame and guilt, seemingly resistant and defiant, she can’t show up for herself or for others, and abandons everything that's good in her life.

Recovery from alcoholism must offer a solution where the psyche can become whole, where trauma and shame can be healed - and consequently attachment ceases to be felt like holding on to barbed wire for fear of going under. The solution is of a spiritual nature. Mindfulness reveals the path for cognitive restructuring, Given the addict’s nature, she has to re-establish a friendly inner world on a daily basis. Without such mental hygiene her emotional landscape reverses to a treacherous swamp.

Of course, the alcoholic would like to ease herself into recovery – she can’t bear the prospect of adding more displeasure to her already unbearable misery. She must immediately be given hope that happiness is within reach, in spite of everything. She must be convinced that she is, in fact, loveable and deserves to be saved. She must be offered a way to believe that healing is for her and that life can be good. She must be handed clarification that it’s been an error all along, that she doesn’t really want oblivion and intoxication, but rather happiness and freedom from affliction. Only if that happens does she want recovery.

“Pain is the only thing that motivates us to change, but most people don’t want to change any more when the pain eases. They forget… and go back” – quote