Living with an intractable problem that has been successfully solved is a lot like moving away to a foreign country. Or Texas. One can judge a foreign land based on externals and never move to that foreign land based on one’s findings. Many times a person’s externally-oriented judgments come to be proven accurate. However, no reasonable person can argue that individuals experiencing intractable problems in their lives have learned to properly identify a solution to their problems and then implemented the prescribed solutions. The first whiff of spent Betadine in an asylum generally cues new visitors to the obvious fact that they are not observing people living comfortably in a solution that is working for them.
In those few brief, pre-olfactory moments in the formation of a judgment regarding what one sees taking place in an asylum, I observed human beings in motion. The motion may have been with or without a specific purpose driving the individual to meet their basic need for air, water, food and shelter. Most often these individuals seemed externally comfortable until an attempt was made to interact with them from a basis of common understanding. Human beings cannot communicate with each other without a shared and shareable set of common symbols and meanings to interact with. As anyone who has ever interacted with a clinically insane person will attest, the clinically insane are operating from inside of a system of thought that only the most highly skilled and trained health professionals have a chance to comprehend – it is a fully self-contained reality. Sometimes even the best health professionals cannot gain access to the abbreviated or exaggerated version of reality occupied by the insane: they are living inside of a problem that they, themselves, cannot solve. They may not even recognize a problem exists or that they are unable to effectively communicate with other human beings. Truly very sad.
If an intractable problem is to be solved, a solution must be brought to the location of the problem, wherever that location may be. Just as in chemistry, the solution must then be permitted to dissolve the boundaries that defined the problem in the first place. Once the existing problem is absorbed into a solution set that incorporates a clear understanding of what the problem actually was coupled with a set of beliefs and actions that serves to keep the original problem resolved, our original problem is no longer intractable. In other words, our toughest problems cannot be solved by applying solutions generated from within a troubled system of thought. A problem that can be solved from within a system of thought cannot truly be intractable. Intractable problems, problems which repeatedly resist solution, require a newer, larger system of thought that must be adopted or the problem continues to separate the insane person from the rest of the physical world around them.
Like a lot of “seekers” in our world, I have tried a variety of systems of thought in order to resolve the problems I have come across as an adult child who grew up in a psychological theme park of mental illness and substance abuse. I tried talk-therapy, gestalt therapy, trauma resolution therapy (for five years), committing to being a positive person, reading the Bible, going on spiritual retreats, A Course in Miracles, medications, addictive substances, Moderation Management, Rational Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous. I have even tried playing the guitar, taking more or less exercise and just not thinking about it. Then I tried mixing and matching one method with one or more of the others, when I was not busy trying to clean up the wreckage I left in my wake.
Precious few problem-solving systems of thought have been as thoroughly road-tested and documented as the system of thought provided to the world by Bill Wilson, the Twelve Steps (TS), the Twelve Traditions and the members in and out of the professional community who have, over the years, utilized TS “tools” to restore the lives of millions of alcoholics worldwide. It is true that this system of thought has failed most people, but this has been, in my experience, because systems of thought cannot be successfully judged as effective or ineffective by individuals who refuse or are unable to observe the system from the inside, out. If a problem, such as living in and around the mentally ill in a dependency relationship, has become as intractable a problem as it has in the United States of 2010, we must first accept the obvious: we do not have a viable solution that has, or can be, implemented. The time has come for each of us to humble ourselves and face the fact that either one or all of us are “nucking futz.” The solution may yet be upon us; however, the solution has not been placed anywhere near to the “location” of the problem.
By way of commiseration, most of the individuals who successfully utilize TS do not understand how or why the steps worked for them, creating a cult-like, “miracles and magic,” atmosphere in most TS meetings that can be suffocating for anyone who has had a snootful of people treating them like an escaped mental patient. The bar was made very low by Alcoholics Anonymous out of Depression-era necessity and under it a veritable bell-shaped curve of human incompetence, mediocrity and utter brilliance has passed and in about those proportions. Impatience with one’s self, or others, is punishable by one of the slowest, most painful, most heart-breaking deaths by suicide a human being could tolerate dragging themselves through. Such is the illness of alcoholism and drug addiction, a truly hopeless state of mind and body. Welcome to Twelve Step recovery and, “La Crème de la Scum.”
How could anything like an imaginary cloud being of “love” even bother to create such a pathetic illness responsible for the deaths, traumas and handicapping of tens of millions of people, globally, every year? How lame can any of us truly be to find ourselves skulking around roomfuls of people who want to talk about “Jeebus,” “tha-bibul” and “gawhhhhd?” A new, lower than whale-shit level of lame is what we have found and, along with “Father Knows Best” reruns and proclamations of daily miracle sightings, we have manifested a veritable host of turd merchants all wanting to help us help ourselves. Their way.
As a person of a somewhat intellectual bent, I can assure the reader that by following a few very unchallenging, almost insultingly simple, steps, a person can move their lives from a place of zero hope and negative prospects to nearly twenty years of recovery, a sense of peace and contentment (and for me, sobriety) that has surpassed my expectations and certainly my given life’s potential trajectories. Having had a number of relatives who preceded me in death, deaths caused in no small part by the abuse of alcohol and other addictive substances, I believe I can speak with relative assurance on that point. While I cannot say that I began my TS journey as an agnostic or an atheist, I can honestly confess that I do not understand why the word, “god,” is ever uttered in or out of any TS meeting. No verifiable empirical evidence for the existence of a supreme being is possible, let alone available, and yet human arrogance demands that we abrogate the obvious and substitute it with a tripartite delusion, labeling it as “faith,” and ostracizing the hell out of anyone who disagrees with us or has a different opinion. By the Twelve Traditions religious or spiritual debates are not a part of the suggested TS program, nor would these be a legitimate aspect of any TS meeting, and yet the debates find a way to rage on. “It’s not religion, it’s spirituality,” unless one doesn’t believe in a god like the group’s god, in which case one can expect a lot of friction between members. TS meetings are autonomous fellowships designed to extend hope into a community where only despair has been the sole comfort. The autonomy really inculcates the local culture and local mores, so if a person has always found philosophical trouble in a local community, trouble will eventually find them in a TS fellowship in the same community. The good news is that most people who benefit from the TS thought system learn that the majority of their problems with their local community were caused by their own misperceptions and misguided notions, making “tit for tat” the absolute best anyone in disagreement with them could ever hope to achieve. Such individuals tend not to attract a lot of stable friendships. In those cases where the local community was actually the major aspect of the person’s inability to thrive, the odds are very high that they were not alone in their troubling observations; an oasis of like-minded souls may very well be closer than such a person imagines. Failing these possibilities, TS fellowships exist around the world now; a community of more than 40,000 with an attractive appeal to a person should have an even dozen compatible individuals available for fellowship and community.
If being real, vulnerable and transparent to a host of friends has an attractive, if unrequited, appeal, a TS fellowship may have a big chunk of life to offer such a person.
If no possibility for a loving supreme being exists, the possibility of formulating a creative solution to a global dilemma does. In a pinch everyone is willing to at least try something that works. I had to open up my mind, take a lesson from Ken Wilber and recognize that holarchies exist and one cannot truly know a holon without first attempting to view the world from the inside, out. Everyone should move to Texas. </end pitch>
The business at hand is very grave, indeed. The lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum. In an old Texas idiom, “we’s in a heap a-hurt.” Into such a hopeless situation, a TS solution can offer a way out along with plenty of insight and hope for a better day. But we do have a few simple questions to ask and two requirements. If the answer to either requirement is, “no,” then the beatings will continue until morale improves. The two requirements are as follows.
1. Can you/we be honest with yourself/ourselves?
2. Are you/we willing to commit to a solution and a process that may change everything you/we have ever known to be true about your/our reality?
What an order, right? Obtaining agreement from even one person to these two requirements would be something akin to a miracle, let alone an entire culture. Happily, only one of us has to meet these requirements and one of us is twenty years down the road from you, gentle reader. So our choices are to meet these two requirements or continue to suffer from the effects of the problem, whatever the source of the discomfort turns out to be. Perhaps human beings may stumble upon another way out of this mess we have gotten ourselves in to, but one would think most approaches have already been tried and given a fair hearing as of, say, twenty years ago. A person of healthy temperament does not have to contemplate the choices offered here for very long at all; a person of addictive temperament, a person who would crawl through ten miles of thorny underbrush just to have eight seconds of relief – these unfortunate folks can spend decades mulling over these very simple requirements.
Once the transformation from the problematic system of thought to the solution-set system of thought takes place for one person, the willingness and faith in the process spreads quite rapidly. Alas, most individuals do not possess the stamina or the constitution to tolerate a reality that appears founded in quicksand. For these individuals more community support and experience is required to lift them up and out of the thinking that generated their part of the overall problem to begin with.
Why are we, the victims, required to do anything at all given that we did not cause these circumstances to come to pass?
Time for all of us to be rigorously honest and real. We – you and I, gentle reader – are the folks who are experiencing the pain behind the misbehavior of the few psychopaths we have allowed to slime their way into positions of power and moment within our society. Our society. The time for making excuses and fixing blame is over; it is our collective asses on the line here, not just the misanthropic malcontents down the street who burn through three jobs a year when they are feeling relatively stable. Even if we have been exceptionally active in organizing and staging protests against the onslaught of these craven fools, we cannot honestly suggest that we succeeded in accomplishing anything but, perhaps, a delay in the development of recent, and apparently well-planned, events. With each delay we simply pushed into the future the time when the attempt at global enslavement would transpire, perhaps congratulating ourselves that the end would come after we were long dead. No such luck, as it has turned out. When facing down a leviathan like the collective mental illness of an entire species of intelligent life, one needs to pack a large lunch and ask for a lot of help along the way, or at the very least demand that useful assistance be provided.
We might disagree about some of the details, but one thing is certain: we are powerless to stop these bastards and the autonomy some of us were fortunate enough to experience as children has been stolen from what remains of our lifetimes. Think about that distinct possibility for a moment. In every real sense, our lives have become unmanageable by us – we have outsourced our very existence to the whims of a cabal of criminal and near-criminal enterprises. For some of us, our lives have become unbearable, empty husks for which no solution seems possible. I know from personal experience that desperation is the fuel which powers the revolution in consciousness required to make our lives worth living again.
Or, at the very least, we need to be willing to hope that this is so.
Some of us have lost all hope, resorting to suicidal behavior and dysfunctional cries for help. All any of us have to offer each other, effectively, is the faith that comes from experience: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to change one’s life can work wonders. Human beings can be very resilient and crafty if given the proper motivation. Should enough of us become familiar with a path that can restore disturbed human beings to some semblance of sanity and share that path with one another, we will have played a big role in doing what life brings us to consciousness for: evolution, the increase of fitness for survival and the joy of simply being alive while tapped into the marvelous machinery that is our known and unknown universe(s).
At this point, I need to interject yet another honest matter of fact to all believers in a loving supreme being: whistling in the dark does not help. Ranting, chanting and charismatic experiences do not alter the fact that when push comes to shove the god worshipped in organized religion is
precisely the opposite deity from the one believed to be empowered with all of our ego-inflating praise and snake-handling nonsense. My experience has been that any amount of fear or panic present in an individual bears witness to a god of human evil. Banal and mundane though it often is, we each lose our faith in a better tomorrow and pick up the charge of a life none of us wants in a battle of inches against our own egoes. In any confrontation where the opponent is permitted to choose the weapons, battlefield and terms of surrender, the outcome is certain.
A supreme being of anyone’s understanding can never be successfully defined: the instant anyone attempts to do so they have failed because of the meaning of the terms, “supreme being.” Non-conceptualizable entities, once labeled in any way, have been placed inside an all-too-tiny box in the mind of the labeler. Using the single word, “god,” becomes a potent prayer to have the god of lack, limitation and misery manifest itself, and this is precisely why organized religion always becomes a superb vehicle for channeling the world’s misery – they have dared to label their supreme being and worship the “graven image” of their definitions.
Emptying one’s self of graven images of a supreme being as the agnostic or atheist has committed themselves to do allows what has always been our birth right as human beings to come forth and manifest. Compassionate, caring and constantly aware of the presence of a mortal end, the atheist and the agnostic feel alienated by the worship of a god that may or may not have any relevance to our survival as a species. In fact, plenty of evidence exists that the worship of organized religion has played a significant role in the destruction of the human species. The “faithful” as they are often fond of calling themselves, believe that only faith in what cannot be empirically experienced can be called, “faith.” This is an error. Placing faith in a solution strengthens the communal belief in that solution. Placing faith in what could be delusional, or what could be someone else’s delusion, only makes human beings vulnerable to exploitation. A loving supreme being could not want this for its creations. However, an unloving supreme, or lesser, being could not get enough of such “praise.” The conundrum of this dichotomy is not lost to atheists and agnostics; allowing the level of cognitive dissonance inside a human mind that organized religion demands be present should not be considered a legitimate form of worship by any thinking person; this is mind control and mental illness, not a search for the honest trust of any matter.
I do not find fault with anyone’s freedom to believe in a supreme being of any sort; my problem begins and ends with individuals who use proscribed beliefs as a means of dividing the human family into pieces too weak to solve the problem of species survival. All are One. Anything less than Oneness is not whole, the original meaning of “holiness.”
Honesty, hope for a better tomorrow and faith in our ability to identify and implement a solution to our intractable problems opens the door to higher possibilities. When faith is not strong because we still do not have the confidence of experience behind us, we must have hope that this experience will come and that our contribution to our problem must be what can be corrected to reveal what has been missing from our lives inside of this “asylum.”
The meat of TS recovery is the fearless and searching moral inventory. Forget the origins of TS in the Oxford Group and the endless moralizing and shaming of one’s self for being less than a perfect human being. All that is required to accomplish a useful and productive inventory is the belief that life is better than death, that life is, ultimately, a beautiful experience not to be missed. The warm feelings of a sunset shared with one’s children or one’s lover, these are examples that bear witness to the possibility of the existence of an abundant, beneficent life force that would not be whole if any part of what is truly treasured in anyone’s life has gone missing at any time.
Connection with one’s subconscious mind, by definition, cannot be directly and consciously achieved. But one’s behavior patterns over time can certainly leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to the source of one’s own life force. Agnostic or theist, everyone experiences these patterns in our lives which confound and confuse us. Addressing these issues directly never seems to work completely. What is needed is a lightning rod of self-recognition that can bring the conscious and unconscious selves on a path towards congruence. This is the stuff from which peace and contentment are made.
The lightning rod of self-recognition required is our resentments against people, places and things. If one believes in a love-filled abundance of Everything possible, then resentments are the termites that serve to rot the stability of one’s relationship with one’s self. A list of fears, too, should be written down. All of this should be written down. Something deeply meaningful transpires when a person writes down their resentments and their fears. What we begin to see as these resentments and fears are placed on paper is the edge of an awareness of just how self-defeating our behavior is, can be or has become. Do not attempt this process completely alone; invite a trusted and experienced friend in for a peek. Balance and moderation should be the final outcome or the process of inventory has not been completed.
Sharing these lists with another human being, feeling the personal content present in them, seeing how we have set ourselves up for failure repeatedly – we become ready to release the beliefs that buttressed the self-defeating cycle of behaviors. I guarantee that once a person accepts that their beliefs do not work for them, the beliefs that have blocked their personal evolution will be dropped like a hot rock. It is in the release of dysfunctional beliefs that the healing can begin of itself. No special incantations or rituals are required. All of this is as simple as properly dressing an open wound.
Identifying what wounds we have as individuals and which wounds we share as a community is beyond the scope of this essay, except to suggest that such wounds exist. These wounds have formed the basis of our many dysfunctional systems of thought that are both fed by, and which reinforce, our dysfunctional beliefs.
Beliefs cannot be critically appraised in a direct manner; the behaviors that these beliefs tend to generate must be examined along with the often painful consequences directly associated with the behaviors. Once the individual and the community recognize and accept the origins of troubling behavior, the release of the beliefs happens almost of itself.
As Bill Wilson and the first 100 sober drunks suggested in their book, Alcoholics Anonymous, “instincts on a rampage balk at inspection.” The flurry of assaults on civil liberties within the United States and abroad, the rampant destruction of cultures and civilizations, the callous treatment of the sanctity of human life – these observable and arguably self-defeating behaviors point to both our unwillingness to inspect our systems of thought and the urgent need to do precisely that.