We Are the Sum of Our Experience

We Are the Sum of Our Experience

By Timothy Biron 12/28/14
One hungover morning in the Kalamazoo Al-Anon Club...
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Me and Wolfman had been hard jammin' down the freeway. We rode side-by-side on our Harleys, cruisin' at 70mph for most of the ride. We left Kalamazoo at noon, riding non-stop to Chicago. When we hit Chicago we headed straight to Rush Street where we spent the afternoon, and most of the evening, listening to blues and knocking back shots and beers.

We rode off at around eight o'clock heading north to Skokie. We had to meet Stroker and pick up a couple ounces of crank. We met him at a motel where he had a room, and embarked on several hours of debauchery that involved plenty of crank and women. By the time we stashed our product and headed back to Kalamazoo, it was three o'clock in the morning. Pretty well cranked up, we made the trip back in three hours.

By now, I was crashing from the crank and was feeling the residual effects of the copious quantity of alcohol that I had consumed the previous evening. We rolled into Kalamazoo at six o'clock in the morning and pulled up on Portage Street. We shut down our machines and gave both the bikes and ourselves a rest. I told Wolfman that I felt like shit and could use a cup of coffee. Wolf replied that he could also use some coffee and added that he knew where we could get a free cup. Well, in my book, free is always good, so we fired up our bikes and continued up Portage Street. I followed Wolfman and pulled up behind him, when he stopped at a well-kept gray house.

I was a little skeptical, but I followed him regardless. Battered from the road, head humming from the speed, and still reeling from the booze, I followed Wolfman into the house. Inside, I saw that the house had been converted to one large room in which there were several tables and an assortment of chairs. Seated around the room were several people who were drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and talking among themselves. On a table in the corner sat a coffee pot and Styrofoam cups. We went to the table and helped ourselves to some coffee.

As I sipped my coffee, I wandered around the room. I had noticed that there were several placards on the wall with wording on them. Out of curiosity I began to read one of them: “Step one; we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. Step two, we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step three, made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.” My mind reeled. Catholic guilt rose up within me. What was I reading, what is this place, and should we even be in here?

Up to that point in my life, I had never heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, nor did I comprehend it at that moment. I could not, at that point, fathom that in years to come, I would be an active participant in a 12-step recovery program. It would take failed marriages, prison, and being institutionalized before I would finally surrender to a new way of life.

That hungover morning in the Kalamazoo Al-Anon Club would inhabit my subconscious for years to come. It still astounds me that my first exposure to AA came about in such an oblique manner. I left that house that morning not knowing what it was all about. I only knew deep down inside that there was something in those words that were intended for me.

We fired up the Harley's and rode off.

It is not unusual for an addict or alcoholic to have numerous encounters with recovery long before they realize that they themselves have a problem. William James, one of the founders of functional psychology, stated that in a perfect world there is a forgiving God who turns a blind eye to our minor indiscretions, however, in reality; each minor indiscretion leaves a mark on our psyche making it easier to commit larger indiscretions. Hence, it is best to not have sinned at all. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of not having sinned; no we are the product of our experiences. So now we must turn to each other for support in our endeavors to change our patterns of behavior, and ultimately, our thinking.

If it can be said that we are the sum of our indiscretions and our environment then it can also be said that we are the sum of our positive experiences. Each and every encounter with recovery is indelibly etched into our subconscious and available for retrieval when called upon. When finally the addict or alcoholic comes to the point where he is faced with the choice of either dying in addiction, or recovering, then he is at the point where recovery is possible and the positive experiences may be reinforced through cognitive reasoning. 

My first encounter with a 12-step fellowship, as described previously, was the first of many such encounters and multiple attempts at recovery. Each of these attempts left a mark on me, which caused me to experience a dissonant state when using. It is impossible to say at what point the addicts’ pain will finally outweigh the pleasure, we can only hope that this time will be the time that he gets it. As long as the addict is actively seeking a solution then we can hold a hope that he will recover. It can be frustrating, even heartbreaking to be involved with someone going through this process, but take heart, as long as the addict hasn’t given up on himself then there is still a chance.

For the addict who has relapsed time and time again, don’t quit “quitting.” Take what you have learned and experienced in past attempts and add to it. Remember that we must change our behavior before our thoughts will follow suit. The whole premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is changing behavior in spite of where our thoughts are taking us. We can learn to practice this on our own by simply slowing down the process and not immediately acting on a thought. We learn not to trust our thinking, that our thinking is flawed. Flawed by the ingrained beliefs that we have developed through our past behavior. 

Twelve-step fellowships offer excellent support for the individual striving to change his behavior. A sponsor can be a sounding board, someone to talk to before making decisions. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think on our own. No, far from that, recovery is a thinking mans’ game. What I am saying is that we need to be aware that our first thought is probably not the right thought and that we need to utilize our ability to think about our thoughts. We have been endowed with this ability so we should use it.

In summary, I would just like to offer encouragement to anyone struggling with an addiction or anyone involved with someone who is. Take heart and keep on keeping on. 

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