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  Complicating and Complicated Recovery  

Editor's note: The following fragment of an essay on recovery from addiction was submitted by an author who, for reasons of his own, prefers to remain anonymous. The anonymous author has, however, given the present editor(FPG) permission to insert a few propadeutic remarks which, by establishing the context, may facilitate the reading of the fragment below.

The author has specifically requested that the following extract be included in any prefatory remarks, although he has otherwise exerted no control over this introductory note.

From "How Johannes Climacus Became An Author," in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Soren Kierkegaard. 1846.

"It is now about four years since I got the notion of wanting to try my hand as an author. I remember it quite clearly; it was on a Sunday, yes, that's it, a Sunday afternoon. As usual I was sitting outdoors at the cafe' in the Frederiksberg Garden. . .

"So there I sat and smoked my cigar until I lapsed into reverie. Among other thoughts I remember this: "You are now," I said to myself, "on the way to becoming an old man, without being anything, and without really undertaking to do anything. On the other hand, wherever you look about you, in literature and in life, you see the celebrated names and figures, precious and much heralded men who are coming into prominence and who are much talked about, the many benefactors of the age who know how to benefit mankind by making life easier and easier, some by railways, others by omnibuses and steamboats, others by telegraph, others by easily apprehended compendiums and short recitals of everything worth knowing, and finally the true benefactors of the age who by virtue of thought make spiritual existence systematically easier and easier, and yet more and more significant. And what are you doing?"

"Here my self-communion was interrupted, for my cigar was burned out and a new one had to be lit. So I smoked again, and then suddenly there flashed through my mind this thought: "You must do something, but inasmuch as with your limited capacities it will be impossible to make anything easier than it has become, you must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm as the others, undertake to make something harder." This notion pleased me immensely, and at the same time it flattered me to think that I, like the rest of them, would be loved and esteemed by the whole community. For when all combine in every way to make everything easier and easier, the remains only one possible danger, namely, that the easiness might become so great that it would be too great; then only one want is left, though not yet a felt want - that people will want difficulty. Out of love for mankind, and out of despair at my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable to make anything easier than it had already been made, and moved by a genuine interest in those who make everything easy, I conceived it my task to create difficulties everywhere."

In a recent communication to the editor, the author of the following piece expressed his conviction that, in some cases(but not in all), the topics of addiction and recovery had been made too easy for some individuals to be able to understand and pursue them effectively. The saying "Nobody is too stupid to get recovery, but plenty of people are too smart to get it" indicates one aspect of a difficulty that is by no means restricted to a small minority of those in need of recovery.

It is in fact quite common in the Editor's clinical experience for alcoholics and other addicts to disdain and disparage standard recovery methods, including the Twelve Step approach, as absurdly, even insultingly superficial and obvious, and as far beneath their intellectual and educational status. And in such appraisals, skeptical alcoholics and addicts are by no means wholly in the wrong; for the traditional approaches to recovery in fact are quite simple and obvious, and require no great subtlety, intelligence, or background of knowledge to grasp and practice.

But simple, obvious, commonplace and banal as basic recovery principles may be and in fact are, they nevertheless strictly require one thing for them to be efficacious, namely, that they be put into actual practice, if they are to be of benefit to anyone. And it is just at this point that difficulties arise for those alcoholics and other addicts whose preferred approach to them is theoretical rather than practical. For it is an all too common thing for those first introduced to such insultingly simple and superficial ideas that they remain for them just that, ideas, and never enjoy the actualization of their potentiality that can only derive from their actual personal flesh and blood performance by the very individual who is most need of them.

The author of the following essay therefore concluded, like Kierkegaard's Johannes Climacus, that the whole business of recovery had in many cases, and with the worthiest of aims, been made far too simple for some minds; who as a consequence of their initial offense at the scandal of what they, not incorrectly, took to be the ridiculous and insulting simplicity of the program of recovery suggested to them, concluded without further ado that it was simply not worth their while even to attempt to practice the ideas that were thereby recommended to them. For surely, they reasoned, if recovery with its promise of a better life were that simple and straightforward, then they themselves would have deduced their way out of their addictive predicament long before now. And after all they had endured and attempted, and everything they had suffered and caused to be suffered in their unsuccessful struggles with their addiction, it would be like adding insult, and an intolerable insult at that, to injury in proposing to them something as simple, obvious and straightforward as 1-2-3 or A-B-C.

Thus the author undertook to compose what he terms, not altogether in jest, an "infernal complication of something essentially, i.e. in its essence, uncomplicated," recovery from addiction. His hope is that such an approach to the topic will be useful to those who find standard approaches too simple - who are, indeed, insulted by them, and who require something more difficult, verbose, and abstract in order to take the topic of recovery with any degree of adequate seriousness - with the seriousness, that is to say, that is forceful enough to overcome the inertia of pure theory and to provide the traction required for the application of praxis. For the necessary first step is for the basic ideas of recovery to attract and hold sufficient attention to permit them to begin to 'heat up' to the critical state required for their practical implementation. And it was therefore with this in mind that he composed and submitted the following


1.1 Introduction and General Overview of the Topic

Entering the world of recovery from addiction can be like exploring a vast, frightening and unknown continent without maps, guides or landmarks of any kind - despite the fact such such maps, guides and landmarks exist in bounteous plenty if only those in need of them were able and willing to make use of them. But usually it is not so; and the perplexed alcoholic or addict, a rugged and defiant individualist to the end typically insists upon making and discovering his own way. And perhaps at bottom this is the essential nature of the journey, which after all is as unique, individual and personal as the solitary soul making the trek.

Addiction, both in its active and recovery stages, teaches nothing if not the limitations and boundaries of language and conceptual thought. In the last analysis recovery from addiction, like much if not indeed most of life, is experiential and performative, not abstract and theoretical. Words, ideas, theories, models and concepts can take one but so far. In most cases they serve well enough if they guide the explorer into the general ball park in which his own highly individual and personal discoveries must, if they are to be meaningful and valid, take place through his own frequently trial and error tactics. One learns to ride a bicycle, after all, by getting on the bike and struggling to make it balance and go where he wants, not by studying the craft of bicycle construction or the theory of bicycle riding.

Taken to an extreme, the line of thought sketched above might mean that no one could truly teach or tell, nor even usefully guide anyone else in any significant degree about anything of fundamental personal importance, including -but by no means limited to- recovery from alcoholism and addiction. Worse than that, it might mean that all attempts, no matter how sincere or diligent they might be, to help someone else find their way in such matters, are irrelevant at best, harmful at worst. If you want to learn to ride a bike, this view of matters might suggest, go get a bicycle, spend time struggling with it(including the inevitable falls and frustrations), and either persevere until you have mastered the task - or give up and learn to live without the skill that proved too much for you. An unbridgeable abyss divides each individual from every other individual in such matters, with the result that no useful communication from person to person is possible. Under such a scenario the best to be hoped for would be the power of example, imitation and desire, the cumulative force of which might, in favorable instances, supply inspiration and motivation for the individual to exert himself to become like those whose skills he admired.

And in the special case of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, even more daunting obstacles usually present themselves. For in almost all other instances in which difficult to learn skills are sought by the individual, there is a relatively pure and unmixed desire on the part of the student or neophyte actually to acquire the skill - whereas in the case of recovery from addictions that desire is apt to be mixed at best, absent at worst, and in all cases ignorant and confused to begin with.

The addicted individual, in the beginning, understands recovery from his addiction principally as deprivation, loss, and abandonment. It often seems to him that everything that makes life worthwhile -or at least bearable- is to be taken away from him, leaving him stranded in the world, and upon his narrow bank and shoal of time, all alone, with no means of emotional support or capacity to cope with the stresses and terrors of life.

Recovery, to those in such a state of mind, means always having to say you're sorry, and never being able to have a drink or drug to help you relax and forget your cares and stresses.

In short, the addicted individual typically does not want to acquire the knowledge and skills of recovery, whatever they may turn out to be for him. The reason for this is obvious if we understand that he considers the whole business of recovery to be nothing but a 'bait and switch' offer. For at the outset he believes that the only thing really asked of him is the giving up of his addiction - in most cases at the behest of other people and hence at least partially against his own will. And he doubts, because he does not and cannot know, that there can or will be anything whatever to take the place of his addiction and whatever scant and costly comfort it may have provided him.

To speak to such an individual of the joys and pleasures of recovery is to invite cynicism, skepticism and outright scorn. For him, all such promises are cruel jests or simple lies. He cannot imagine a satisfactory life for himself deprived of his addiction. Perhaps circumstances have brought him to the stage of readiness in which he is prepared to contemplate a life devoid of his addiction - but it is with a grudging and despairing countenance, not one full of hope and optimism, that he confronts the prospect of an addiction-free life. For it is the essence of addictive thinking that it shapes and constructs a future world of deprivation, pain and loss for the addict to envision whenever he attempts to imagine a life without addiction.

Were the active addict to be able to imagine with sufficient force and clarity a truly positive and happy life without addiction, he would surely cast off his chains and be thenceforth and forever free that very instant. But precisely because he is prevented by the requirements of his addiction from conceiving of a livable life without his addiction, he resists as long as he is able all efforts, either by himself or by others, to separate him from what he passionately believes to be the only true source of solace and security he has: his addiction.

Teaching and learning about recovery, therefore, would seem to be difficult if not impossible. For the very nature of the education in recovery is personal, subjective, and acquired largely by the blood, sweat and tears of the individual's own trial-and-error wrestling with his circumstances; and the peculiar, indeed the distinguishing characteristic of addictive thinking is that it recoils in fear and loathing from anything whatever that threatens to separate the addict from his addiction - thus rendering the addict highly ambivalent(at best) at the prospect of any set of skills or way of life that promises to help him learn to live without his addiction.

But there is still more: for in addition to the inherent difficulty of the instruction and the unwillingness of the addict to learn, the addict, insofar as he is in addiction, can without exaggeration be described as functionally psychotic. For though to modern ears it is somewhat startling to describe alcoholics and other addicts as clinically insane, we are only a few generations removed from the widespread usage of the medical term dipsomania with its rich connotations of insanity and entrenched irrational behavior. By whatever name the addict is called, no one who closely observes his behavior over any considerable length of time can doubt that a serious and often progressive disturbance in the sense of reality is indicated by his sometimes ludicrous, sometimes tragic but always irrational defense and pursuit of his addiction in the face of accumulating evidence of its harmfulness to himself and frequently to others.

The addict, so far as he is an addict, is a kind of subtle and sophisticated high grade delusional monomaniac, an individual seemingly sane and rational in every area but one, that of his idee fixee'(fixed idea, delusion). Thus he may display perfectly normal, even at times exceptional insight, self-control and competence in all areas save those touching upon his secret insanity, his addiction. But when his progressively expanding addictive belief system is encroached upon or threatened in any way by reality, the full spectrum of psychotic and non-psychotic mental defense mechanisms are promptly deployed, like soldiers dispatched and rushing to plug a break in the line through which the enemy threatens to pour through if not contained and repulsed.

Considerations such as these go some way towards accounting for the observed fact that most serious addicts are brought to contemplate 'doing something' about their addiction, not merely by logical and rational reflection upon their condition and its 'cost-benefit' ratio, nor by prudent analysis of their actions and their results in regard to their addiction, but by some concatenation or constellation of external and uncontrollable circumstances which conspire to drive the addict, largely and frequently entirely against his will in the direction of recovery.

The addict is thus often somewhat like a captured soldier marched at bayonet point in a direction he does not desire to go. More often than not, he is prodded into recovery at least in part against his will. For it is a distinguishing feature of addiction that the afflicted individual tends to cling to his addiction with the desperation and perseverance of a drowning man, and to reject attempts at rescue. For he realizes that rescue means separation from his addiction - and it is precisely this that he cannot, in the more advanced cases, bear to think about. His desire therefore is not so much for recovery -whatever, if anything,  that term means for him besides the giving up of his addiction- as it is for discovering some means of continuing his addiction without the negative consequences and difficulties that have arisen and brought him to the point of considering -reluctantly, in most cases- recovery. In short, his deepest desire is to be able to continue his addiction unmolested by adverse consequences which threaten the continuance of his addiction.

In other words, education in and about recovery is typically offered to addicted individuals who are incapable of understanding it; who, even if they were able to comprehend it, would adamantly refuse to; who would decline to participate in it even if they could and would understand it; and by instructional methods whose very nature(cognitive, abstract, intellectual, impersonal) make it probable that they will fail or be only spottily effective in the specific, individual, concrete and living instance. On top of all that, the typical targets of such instruction in recovery are quite often if not usually clinically insane on the topic of their addiction and everything relating to it. Candidates for such essentially involuntary edification about recovery must also usually be forced against their will, or dragged sometimes quite literally kicking and screaming, into programs and facilities whose aim is to awaken them to the benefits and wonders of a life without their addiction - a prospect that to them is frequently such a dire fate that it is more to be dreaded and hence avoided than death itself.

Considered from such an angle the wonder is, not that instruction in recovery so seldom succeeds, but indeed that it ever attains its goal. For the odds against recovery from serious addiction are formidable, the obstacles are many, and the successes far fewer than we should like. No doubt breakthroughs in understanding the neurochemistry and pharmacotherapy of addiction will one day soon permit us simply to bypass or overleap the psychological barriers described above by proceeding directly to efficacious remedial modification of brain function via corrective medications; but for the present, as we await such fresh approaches, we must continue to grapple with the problem of addiction the old fashioned way: by hard work, diligent perseverance, and courage in the face of the Absurd.

Yet it is the very difficulties of addiction and recovery and the turbulence they generate that, by posing obstacles to the smooth flow of mental processes, and churning up psychic contents and structures normally invisible and transparent in healthier times, establish the conditions of creativity and growth for the afflicted individual. At the same time, they may shed fresh light upon how the mind(and not merely the mind of the alcoholic or addict) actually functions. For it is just in such morbid, dysfunctional, unhealthy or 'breakdown' situations that we are sometimes permitted to peek behind the scenes and thereby get a glimpse of the deeper workings, or the engine and control rooms of the self.

Participation in the addictive process is always the path of least resistance. For there is a natural, smooth, seductive flow to addiction that stands in the strongest possible contrast to the awkward, 'unnatural' and against the grain feeling of early recovery. A rough rule of thumb for recovery from addiction might even be "If it feels good, don't do it." And perhaps in more instances than not, the converse also might be true, or at least worth considering seriously: "If it doesn't feel good, do it."

The practicing addict is like one floating effortlessly downstream, carried along by the natural tug of the current. Only when it almost too late does he sometimes -by no means always- awaken and notice that the speed and force of the current have insidiously picked up and are now difficult if not impossible to resist. He realizes that he is being pulled inexorably toward the falls, sees that the water is becoming rougher and more hazardous, but fears that he lacks the strength and the will to make his way back upstream. He may indeed make some efforts, half-hearted or strenuous; when they fail, he sometimes resigns himself to his fate and just tries to hold on for dear life and hope for the best as his little craft is swept along the increasingly violent cataract towards the falls ahead.

Thus, getting started in recovery from addiction means going against the flow and the grain. It means doing what does not come naturally - for at this stage, what comes naturally is continued participation in the addiction itself. A massive and sustained expenditure of conscious effort and energy is required to (a) cease and desist the addictive behavior, (b) continue to cease and desist, and (c) overcome the numerous obstacles and barriers to the acquisition of recovery skills which, by serving as the deep foundation of recovery, are essential for the construction of the individual's unique recovery 'home.'

Those who are able to surmount these formidable 'front end' difficulties and endure the strain of the initial phase of abstinence and recovery, and who become open and willing to learn both by listening and also by patient performance and practice both the universal and the specific personal skills of recovery, go on to a sustained and productive phase of personal growth which actually becomes easier and easier until at last it sometimes seems effortless, like flying on autopilot(though of course, in turbulent weather, manual flying is also required!).

Just as with the acquisition and learning of any other essentially performative skill, e.g. playing a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, riding a bicycle, the steepest and most challenging part of the learning curve comes at the beginning. As the skill is progressively mastered it becomes less and less difficult to practice until, after a period of time that is unique to each individual, it seems altogether natural, intuitive and 'transparent' - as though, like reading and writing themselves, it had simply always been there, and now to be without it would be strange, even unthinkable.

Recovery, therefore, is initially a difficult, frustrating and discouraging business that occurs step by step, gradually, and 'horizontally' in time - not an immediate flash or moment of insight that by its 'vertical' or outside-of-time quality, transpires in an instant and requires nothing whatever of the individual but his passive acceptance. In a certain sense, indeed, recovery resembles going to war, from the first recruitment of the future 'soldier,' through a period of arduous training and apprenticeship, to a series of battles and campaigns to a final victory which, however, is not altogether final but tentative in that vigilance is required to ensure that it not one day be overthrown and reversed. Therefore the virtues that are required for successful recovery are precisely those necessary for war: courage, discipline, endurance and skill in the art or science at hand.

From his throne of contempt and scorn the lordly alcoholic and addict typically looks down upon the humble precepts and techniques of recovery as being too far beneath him to merit his serious consideration. For he characteristically imagines, and may even say to himself, that anybody could do that, if they desired to do so. Such an easy and childish approach to his own difficulties, difficulties which he naturally enough conceives to be unusually complex, even unique, seems ludicrous and pathetic to him - though if he is in a generous frame of mind, he may allow that it is undeniably a good thing that there exist  such shallow and easily accomplished programs of recovery for those who are both in need of and suited for them. For himself, however, such kindergarten methods simply will not do.

The aim of the present work is therefore neither to simplify nor to minimize  the difficulties of recovery from addiction, but indeed to multiply them, highlight them,  and thereby to throw them into the boldest possible relief; to emphasize, perhaps even at times to exaggerate their complexity, until the reader(if by this point any reader remains) will be ready to throw up his hands and with a groan exclaim, "Enough! I have had enough! For now I see that this whole business of recovery from addiction is  in fact so infernally difficult, so incredibly complicated, and so heroically strenuous that only a tiny remnant, only the select and perhaps indeed even the chosen few, can ever hope to master it."

Yet out of each one thousand who have come thus far, and who have thereby been brought face to face with the well-nigh insuperable magnitude of the challenge, perhaps there will be one, just one, who will say to himself, "Very well, then! I have been searching all my life, though perhaps I did not always realize it as clearly as I do now, for precisely such a daunting and yet incomparably rewarding task! Let it therefore be as impossible, even absurd as it certainly seems: I am the one for for the job! And thus like a knight on his quest for the Grail I shall mount up, and ride forth, and persevere, and remain undaunted no matter how terrible, nor how fearsome may be the dragons and other trials I must encounter and overcome in order to achieve the glorious object of my adventure!"

And thus it is to that one in a thousand, or even perhaps to that one in ten thousand, that the cornucopia of complexities and problems that the present humble treatise depicts, is directed.

1.2 The Role of Language in Addiction and Recovery

Because it is through language -words, concepts, ideas, theories and interpretations- that man comes to know himself and his world, indeed establishes and functions in that very world(a world that would not exist for him except through his language) it becomes possible to consider the experience and phenomena of addiction and recovery in terms of language. And when it comes to initiating and sustaining recovery, we find on purely empirical grounds that semantic and linguistic obstacles as well as, of course, philosophical conflicts(themselves invariably stemming from disputes about the proper signification of terms) are the chief barriers to success.

It is as though an entire semantic and conceptual city of ancient and venerable origin and lineage must first be razed to the ground to make way for what is now to grow and prosper on its foundations. For in most cases, without the painful destruction, or at least the considerable paring down and clearing away of what is already extant, there can be no sufficient space for the new beginning required for a substantial and lasting recovery. But like the inhabitant of a an actual physical city, besieged and facing invasion, overthrow and destruction by an outside power, the addicted individual is by no means eager to surrender his homeland and his patrimony upon the mere assurance that something better will surely be provided to take its place. In fact he can be, and often is, the stubbornest and most courageous of resistance fighters, prepared to defend his City of Addiction block by block and house by house, even at times forfeiting his life in order to defend what he considers to he rightly his - and also to escape what he sees as the ignominy of surrender to the invader.

Recovery from addiction is about growing, getting, becoming healthier and therefore more powerful and capable of dealing with life; but there is no hiding the fact that the necessary first step, the sine qua non that initiates but is not alone sufficient for the entire process, is one of giving something up. It is of course obvious that one thing that must be given up is the physical or behavioral expression of the addiction itself, i.e. alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors such as spending, sex, gambling or eating. And it is upon just such a surrender of rights and privileges to continue to engage in his preferred addiction that the eye of the addict is inevitably and exclusively fixed in a kind of horrified and paralyzed stare, like the eye of a bird captured by the gaze of a serpent.

Yet even though the addict in the preliminary or early stages of recovery is seldom fully conscious of the actual extent of giving up that is going to be required of him, on a deeper level he is invariably aware, perhaps with the same dim but undeniable prescience of animals and birds before a an impeding natural disaster, that what lies before him as he contemplates a continued existence without the presence of his active addiction is not going to be any picnic at the park. It is indeed often just the awful, hovering, darkening presence of such apocalyptic forebodings of what may lie in store for him if he abandons what he conceives of, wrongly but nevertheless intensely, as the security and safety of his addiction, that not infrequently drives the addict back into his addiction like a frightened individual seeking shelter from enemy attack in a familiar and therefore trusted fortress.

What the addict actually gives up to begin his recovery is far more profound and substantial than simply refraining from whatever chemical substance or behavioral pattern happens to express his underlying addiction. Difficult as it certainly is to cease and desist his obvious addictive behaviors, the most difficult and frightening thing of all for the addict is relinquishing his entire addictive world, i.e. the world, including his sense and awareness of himself and who he is, that has subserved, and in extreme cases been entirely constructed by his addiction. In this sense the addict regarding the prospect of recovery risks the loss of his entire self, so far as that self has become familiar with, hospitable to, shaped by, and grounded upon the point of view of the addiction.

Because the sense of self and the valuative and emotional 'color' of the world itself for the individual are approachable and expressible only through the medium of language and concepts, the alterations and transformations of recovery find expression in equivalent modifications of language itself. The meaning and interpretation of words alters as recovery commences and progresses. And though these modifications of meaning are frequently unnoticed in both their particular and cumulative effects, the overall consequences are profound. It has been said that "language is the house of Being"(Heidegger); thus if the constituent parts of that house, the words themselves, acquire different attributes(meanings), then the house itself will be transformed in its very essence.

An example of the above is the transformation of meaning for the recovering individual of terms like "alcoholic" and "addict." Prior to recovery, and often for quite some while afterwards in early recovery itself, these terms denote and connote for the addicted individual the common cultural meanings plus, of course, any special shades or refinements they may possess for the individual as a consequence of his unique life experiences and exposures.

What words denote is not as important as what they connote in establishing the emotional and valuative texture and tone of an individual's experience of himself and his world. The denotative meaning of the word "table," for example, is bland and neutral, thus lacking any particular valence for an individual. But for the person who has just turned over a dinner table in a drunken rage, there is a painful emotional connotation attached to the word that does not exist for other people. It is obvious that each individual's actual life experience with the word "table" is absolutely unique and at bottom unknowable - even by the individual himself. Perhaps, for example, sitting at the dinner table as a child possessed a certain emotional meaning for him that has carried over, "leaked through" as it were, into his contemporary emotional and value associations to the term, rendering it no longer "neutral" for him but in fact a charged sign capable of attracting other charged signs(words with emotional and value connotations). Looked at in this way, it seems that all words are not only capable of, but indeed required to carry highly personal, unique, and idiosyncratic emotional and value meanings in addition to their consensually understood dictionary meanings - and that these "stowaway" connotative meanings, because they are unconscious or unexamined or both, exert a hidden and therefore incalculable influence upon the "house of Being" and the lifeworld that the interactive fabric of words and ideas establish and maintain.

If we imagine an experiment in which the meaning to the individual of the term "alcoholic" is tracked through each stage of the addictive and recovery process, we will, if we are familiar with this sequence, instantly grasp the subtle, steadily shifting, and conceptually transformative nature of the changes involved. Prior to recovery the individual has a conception of the sort of person properly described by the word "alcoholic" as weak, bad, undisciplined, foolish, immoral &etc. And by the time he has arrived at the stage for which recovery is a meaningful consideration for him, it is very likely that he has, almost in spite of himself, applied this very term to describe himself. Thus when he is asked to describe himself in treatment or in AA meetings as an "alcoholic" he is making a statement about himself that is closely bound to his conception of the denotative and connotative meaning of the word "alcoholic."

The entire addiction and recovery process is encapsulated in the slogan, "Alcoholics are sick people trying to become well, not bad people striving to become good." The change from the moral model of alcoholism(bad, sinful, weak) to the medical model(alcoholism is a true illness requiring medical treatment) is a major paradigm shift for the individual concerned. There is therefore a necessary change in the way he understands the words "alcoholism" and "recovery." But because these terms have, or are claimed by others to have relevance to himself, he must undergo a corresponding change in the way he conceives of and therefore experiences himself. Far more is associated with and required of recovery from addiction than a simple, superficial cognitive analysis might suggest. And it is just because of the deep roots of the addiction, roots that extend into the language and meaning system of the addicted individual, that achieving a sustained remission of addictive illness is usually so difficult.

Because words and ideas serve as anchors, foundation stones and placeholders for whatever view of self and world one has, it ought not to surprise us that any tampering with them, especially by an 'outside party,' is vigorously resisted and commonly counterattacked by the individual whose lifeworld is thereby jeopardized. For even under ordinary circumstances, we cling to familiar and established patterns of understanding, and only are willing to change them when change is scarcely avoidable any longer; how much more tightly, then, does the addict in crisis and upheaval tend to hold on to what he desperately supposes to the the foundational stability of his language and its repository of meaning and value. It is as though someone crouched and clinging for shelter in a hurricane were to be approached by a benevolent lexicographer who wished to persuade him to "try on" some alternative definitions of 'storm" and "shelter" to see how he liked them. Surely the individual in such a storm, hunkered down and holding on for dear life, would regard such a project as inopportune, irrelevant, or even insane.

The universal proclivity of men to cling to what is familiar and established, especially when it is foundational for their view of themselves and their world, helps explain the curious resistance of almost all alcoholics to the disease model of alcoholism and their frequently zealous holding on to the moral model - even though it would and in fact does commonly seem to observers that a guilt and shame ridden alcoholic in trouble for his drinking would literally leap at the chance to exonerate himself from his supposed sins, while at the same time preparing the way for still more drinking, by embracing the disease or medical model of alcoholism.

It is indeed a common fear and criticism expressed by skeptics of the disease model of alcoholism and addiction, that pathological drinkers exposed to such a morally neutral formulation of their difficulties as the 'disease model' will cast off all remaining restraint and thereafter drink without any attempt to control themselves, claiming as they do so that they are sick people who, because they cannot help themselves, should not be blamed or held accountable. Such concerns are brought into even sharper focus when the topic is the famous "First Step" of Alcoholics Anonymous, "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." For it seems self-evident to some critics that such an ideology, which they consider to be scandalous and absurd, can only lead to utter dissipation and total ruin by giving the alcoholic drinker carte blanche to drink as much as they like without fear of criticism.

But those actually familiar with the way alcoholics behave in the face of such a seemingly impossible-to-resist offer to exchange the burdensome and restrictive moral model of addiction for the nonjudgmental and seemingly permissive freedom of the medical model, know quite well that it is by no means a simple or easy matter to persuade even the most obviously pathological drinkers than they suffer, not from stupidity, or foolishness, or immorality, but from a medical condition for which they are not responsible. Alcoholics and addicts cling stubbornly to their original conceptions of themselves and the reasons for their behavior - even when an obviously more agreeable and comfortable alternative such as the medical model is presented and re-presented to them by therapists, experts, and peers who have themselves made the arduous journey from one understanding of alcoholic drinking(and hence themselves and their world) to another. Only if we grasp the fact that there is an extensive though largely invisible semantic and conceptual "root system" ramifying throughout the individual's total understanding and experience of himself and his world, will we be able to account for such inveterate and often intractable skepticism.

The invisible underground root system to which the superficial and easily definable denotative dictionary definitions of terms are connected, and from which in fact they are sustained and nourished, is modified only very slowly if at all. For this pre-verbal affectively and value-charged "soil" actually constitutes the fundament of the self and therefore of the individual's experience of the world.

1.3 What's in a Word? (Accepting Acceptance)

The vocabulary of addiction and recovery is replete with terms whose meaning may be obscure, elusive or actively misleading to those unfamiliar with their usage. This stumbling and cursing over the meaning of words is in fact one of the commonest obstacles to the maintenance of recovery from addiction.

Although many such terms might serve to illustrate the complexities and difficulties involved, perhaps the concept of acceptance is the most widely and seriously misunderstood one of all. And because it is so fundamental to the Twelve Step recovery methods, this misunderstanding naturally leads to the most serious consequences for the addicted individual, who is frequently thrown back upon –and into- his addiction over a matter that, from one perspective, is as simple as a correct understanding of language. But of course we have seen above that such linguistic misunderstandings are by no means as simple and easy to correct as one might think – for the self that is built upon and which remains grounded upon them actively and fearfully resists their modification, lest the whole structure of the self become unstable and itself begin to move in a new direction.

Therefore one cannot as a rule simply say to a neophyte in recovery, "Look here, your trouble is that you have not yet grasped precisely what such-and-such words actually mean as we are using them now. Instead, you are clinging to your prior and conventional understandings of these words, which naturally and inevitably causes you to resist and reject them, and recovery along with them. But if you will only consent to a shift in your understanding of these terms such that you will understand and henceforth employ them as we who have achieved recovery now do, all will be well."

Besides the usual human resistance to modification of understanding and belief, the addicted individual also manifests a specific type of active and frequently ingenious resistance to new learning. For anything that the addicted individual learns that threatens the continuance of his addiction will be attacked, undermined and if possible destroyed by the still relatively autonomous independent subsystem of addictive belief.

One way of thinking about the state of the addicted psyche might be to compare it to feudal Europe prior to the rise of the powerful nation state. For the addict, like the medieval realm under feudalism, lacks a sufficiently strong central organizing authority and is therefore subject to the competing claims of powerful and at times unruly nobles, one of whom happens to be named "Count Addiction." There may indeed be a King of sorts in the addicted individual, i.e. a nominal and largely figurehead duly constituted authority claiming the royal purple and scepter of the Self; but this King conspicuously lacks the resolve and the strength to rule the realm, which is instead subject to the contradictory and often wholly selfish designs of the great nobles who are often at war not only with the King but also with each other.

Thus if we consider the dynamics of such a realm we shall find that all parties from King to the least active and powerful noble possess the means and certainly the aim of defending and advancing themselves, but that as a rule no single party among them is powerful enough to prevail and to maintain effective dominance over the others. What naturally results, then, is an unstable and constantly shifting series of intrigues and usually highly unstable diplomatic alliances in a jockeying for primacy and control.

Let us then imagine our "Count Addiction" as a powerful and ambitious noble who is also cunning and clever enough to conceal his designs upon the throne behind a smokescreen of patriotic loyalist rhetoric. He will certainly have at his disposal a sufficient supply of lawyers, priests, philosophers and scribes who will assist him in the acceptable formulation and dissemination of his propaganda – which will aim simultaneously to satisfy the suspicions of the nominal King and his Court, the competitive fears and jealousies of the other powerful nobles with whom he may happen to be in a temporary alliance, and the needs and concerns of his own subjects, subject as they are to taxation and other onerous obligations to finance his machinations.

Editor's note:

Here the manuscript suddenly breaks off. The author, it appears, has grown dispirited, convinced that no one will have bothered to follow him thus far. Yet there is some reason to believe that he might be induced to continue if any interest were shown.

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Original Papers

The Addict's Dilemna

Addiction, Lies and Relationships

Addiction and the Mechanisms of Defense

Alcohol Addiction

Drug Therapy of Alcohol Dependence

Excuses Alcoholics Make

The Female Partner of the Male Alcoholic

Getting Away With Addiction? 

Intervention for Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Obstacles to Recovery from Addiction

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prolegomenon to the Metaphysics of Recovery

What is Recovery?

Why is Recovery So Hard?

Worried Sick About His Drinking?

Your First AA Meeting: An Unofficial Guide for the Perplexed