I've not been to an AA meeting, and it's for a variety of reasons, but not really anything to do with religion.
As a one time student of psychology, I've always considered myself to be "scientific" rather than "spiritual", although as I get older, I acknowledge that there is a grey area, a blurring of the lines between the two if you like.
And during my own sober journey, the lines have become more blurry and the grey area a little wider.
I've recently finished reading a "scientific" book about Habits. I thought I would find some useful "tools" for my sober toolbox, and brush up on some psychological theory.
I learned some good stuff from this book.....here goes with my summary...
- Our brains are bombarded with new information all the time. It has to find a way to efficiently deal with it, otherwise we would be gibbering idiots. It does this by "chunking" together bits of information, so we respond on "auto -pilot" to certain 'cues', so that we don't have to constantly review the same information over and over again. So for example, when we learn to drive, there is a massive amount of new information to take in - we have to remember to look in the mirror, signal, brake, change gear, etc in certain situations. When we first learn, our brains are on overload - buzzing with activity. As we do it over and over again, our brain are 'oh whatever, we've done this before, what's for dinner tonight?"...and we are driving, responding automatically to driving situations...without consciously thinking
- This is essentially the same process when we form a 'habit" - good or bad.
- A habit is formed when we respond to a "cue" with a repeated action, which results in a "reward". When this process is performed over and over again....the repeated action becomes a routine, and we begin to anticipate or crave the reward.
- So to apply this to my previous drinking habits....the "cue" was the end of the working day "Wine O'clock", the routine was to drink wine, and the "reward" was the relaxation and elimination of the day's stress. I began, over time to anticipate the pleasure of the relaxation, to crave that, and my habit or routine to gain that reward, was to drink the wine.
- To break that habit, we merely have to change the routine...ie. find another way to get the reward.
- Are you all still with me?
- So, if we can establish the "cues" and the "rewards", we can, be repeated actions, re-wire our brains to automatically follow new routines...This is the "Golden Rule" - almost any behaviour can be changed if the cue and reward stay the same....you just insert a new routine
- So my "cue" is the end of the working day, the reward is relaxation, and my new "routine" is writing this blog, or going for a walk, or whatever, over and over again, until my brain tells me without thinking, that I need to walk for relaxation - and I have replaced the wine drinking habit with a new walking habit.
(For those of you who are saying...hang on a minute, what about the alcohol, isn't that an addictive substance? Yes it is. But the alcohol leaves our body completely after about 5 - 10 days, and the physical cravings cease. What's left are the psychological cravings for 'rewards")
Step Four in the Twelve Step programme (which arguably should be Step 1) is to "make a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves".
When we do that, we look to our own behaviour, the causes and reasons for our behaviour - our yearnings and our cravings - in effect, we are acknowledging the "cues" for our behaviour and the "rewards" that we seek.
Many of us drink to escape stress. Our cue could be an argument with a family member, the craving or reward we seek, is escape from the emotional turmoil - the routine or behaviour is our drinking.
As we start to recognize the cues - some of them could be deep down in our emotions - we can then begin to change our routines. Change our drinking habits into sober habits.
Sounds like hard work right? Doesn't sound much like we are surrendering to God's Will does it? Putting all the shit into His Hands?
No. The secret lies in our Brain. This magnificent, intricate, delicate piece of human machinery that works in ways that we have barely begun to understand despite our advanced scientific endeavours.
We have no idea how or why we have such power. Why or how we have evolved in such an advanced way compared to all other species on the planet. Almost like a Higher Power. We might have got it from God, the Creator, the Universe, but somehow, we've got it.
Glinda the Good Witch said to Dorothy " You always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself".
For me, that's what Bill Wilson meant.
We do surrender to a Higher Power, the one that's already within us. Working the 12 steps, or just one of them, confronting ourselves, will lead to success in sobriety.
We already have the power. We just have to believe it. And that, my friends, is sometimes harder than the science.
It's a Leap of Faith.
P.S. The book is called "The Power of Habit" and its by Charles Duhigg.
Edit - suggestions for New Habits here.