I kid you not when I say that the august journal Scientific American Mind, publishes some strange articles. This one, the “Nuts and Bolts of Emotional Sobriety” by Herbert Wray (March 2012), is about being sober. Persons must attain “emotional sobriety” before they get too far along; and that means—hold on!—you must learn to regulate negative feelings that can lead to discomfort, craving and ultimate relapse. The maxim is “Don’t think and don’t drink.”
What the article goes on to say is that this is a lifelong effort and requires new ways of thinking. There are so many loose intervening variables involved, so many ill-defined notions that I hardly know where to start, except that this appears in an important scientific journal. But if we suss out the hidden text it is “thinking will make you well”. Oh yes, that is not exactly what they are saying but it really is. You need a new way of thinking and where does that come from? And by the way, where does thinking come from, in any case? Thinking is not so deep, not deep enough to change deeply embedded feelings that drive cravings. You can only agree with that notion if you do not understand where addiction comes from, and it is not, not, not from faulty logic, where you just need to change your attitudes, and voila. Ideas and attitudes are late arrivals in the brain and are never strong enough to combat feelings, instincts and sensations, which preceded them by millions of years in evolution. There was this life going on a long time before ideas came along. This is true in antiquity and in our personal development. And we hurt and imprint that hurt long before we have ideas to describe it.
They go on to say “take it one day at a time,” because there is nothing else you can do, and you are always susceptible to falling back into drinking and drugs again. There is this rock-hard belief in all these booga booga approaches that there is nothing you can do about addiction except beat it back every day—hence, one day at a time. But suppose we know what causes it and can eradicate that cause?
Then you don’t need one day at a time. You can get your whole life back. The answer lies within us, not with some self-styled guru who assures you he has the answers. No one has a single answer about your life; only you do. We want to lean on the all-knowing savant but, unfortunately, he does not exist and never will.
This is denial at its zenith; don’t pay attention to those negative ideas! What? Those ideas arise from early life trauma that makes them painful, not pesky. And addressing those feelings, integrating and resolving them, means liberation from addiction. Our bodies cannot ignore them; they are there for a good biologic reason—to warn us of trouble inside that must be dealt with. They have it backwards; it is not thinking about those feelings that produces discomfort; it is that we are not at all comfortable and the only way to get comfortable is to plunge into those feelings. Instead, they recommend distraction as a way of dealing with it all; my mother could teach them about distraction, every time I whimpered she would start raising her voice and saying look over here, look at that dog, etc. Forget your real feelings and look somewhere else. My god! That ploy is a hundred years old. Their idea is that distraction helps you not focus on alcohol and drugs. But the craving is real! It is telling us the truth; there is pain and suffering that we must address and experience. We must definitely focus on it and not look away. That is the way to health. Does anyone think that when we ignore pain it just goes away? No, no. It buries itself deeper and becomes unreachable. This for the scientists is called a “strategy.” I call it neurotic acting-out; not facing reality. Can anyone get well not facing reality? What happened to “you shall know the truth and it shall set you free”? The whole idea, they say, is not to ever let those negative feelings gain force over you. What they believe is that once we can identify our “processing” style we will do better. Pure cognitive therapy.
And so they go on to say that recovery programs teach this method of self-regulation. This is the old wives tales raised to the level of a scientific principle…but faulty as hell. Do I sound angry? Yes. It is a continuation of nonsense masquerading as some kind of psychological science. And whom does it hurt? Those who suffer.