If you are not engaged in criminology or science, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about chain-based theories. Nonetheless, you should be. This phenomena permeates everybody’s life.
Later in my life I realized my personal decisions typically followed an ingrained path circumstances had developed in my early youth. My decision chain for dealing with the stress, insecurity, and common setbacks was the antithesis of my professional approach. I made business decisions analytically, driven by facts that were readily apparent and by reality that put a premium on getting them right or suffering career setbacks.
It was not so with my personal life. There, I was habitually inclined to seek the easier, softer way to reduce tension. Sleep and alcohol both offered escapes, but I preferred alcohol.
The Road to Addiction Is Paved With Flawed Thinking
Nobody starts out intending to become an alcoholic or addict. I worked hard, and after a long day at the job I felt entitled to tipping a few before going home to a troubled marriage, or whatever other undesirable circumstance awaited. Yes, my actions when drinking sometimes brought about decidedly unfortunate results, which I quickly dismissed as bad luck. “I mean, this kind of stuff happens to everybody, don’t make a big deal of it. If people would just get off my ass, I could solve my current dilemma. I know what I am doing.”
A little alcohol to dial down my anger, fear, insecurity, or disappointment was my response to these circumstances. Alcohol was not the problem, it was the answer. Besides, we regularly went to church on Sunday, and I was working on becoming a better person.
Then a crisis backed me into a corner. My wife threatened to divorce me and take the kids if I did not stop drinking. My first reaction was to play the moment down, express sincere remorse for my actions, and promise to do a better job of regulating my drinking. It was a management problem, and that was right up my alley.
My wife met that with a firm, “No deal. Quit, or we are gone.” I had no choice, I quit—cold turkey.
One day I got a call from a man at our church who had been sober for 30 years. He told me he was an alcoholic and that if I wanted to recover from my malady, Alcoholics Anonymous was essential. He then offered to take me to a meeting. Feeling cornered, I reluctantly agreed to go.
The instant I walked into that meeting I looked around at “the losers” and decided no way were these folks going to help me. I was not like them. Bad decision. I stayed sober for five years on my own willpower—no rehab and no Alcoholics Anonymous. Then, one evening I decided to have one gin and tonic. It seemed apparent to me that if I were an alcoholic I would never have stayed sober this long. Surely one drink would not hurt me. That was another bad decision.
Less than 30 days later, I was arrested for driving under the influence (the only time) and was off on another run of nine years. The old self-deception chain of thinking I had practiced for years was restored in the blink of an eye; it had only been in remission by force of will.
Fortunately, one morning nine years later, I experienced my long-overdue meltdown. I had been emotionally driven to my knees by alcoholism and finally surrendered (the non-negotiable first step in recovery), and agreed I needed outside help.
That afternoon, I went into a two-week rehab and was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous. The spin-dry (rehab) got me stabilized, provided some modest education on alcoholism, and exposed me to kindred spirits in similar or worse condition.
While in rehab, we attended two AA meetings a week, which eased the transition to the honesty embodied in AA meetings. After leaving rehab, it was strongly suggested that I attend 90 meetings in 90 days, at a minimum, no excuses. I exceeded that target. Thirty years later, I still go to two meetings a week and try to help others by paying it forward while reminding myself that one drink would start the insane cycle all over again.
Addiction Is Growing
During rehab I also learned that millions of Americans suffer from addiction to alcohol, drugs, and other substances of choice. As we shed the trappings of virtue embodied in faith and traditional concepts of morality, alcohol- and drug-fueled forays meet less and less social resistance. In fact, many increasingly accept their use as an essential ingredient to having a little harmless fun.
Let’s look at some staggering (pun intended) statistics. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence says: 80 percent of offenders incarcerated abuse drugs or alcohol; nearly 50 percent of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted to drugs or alcohol; 60 percent of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs; and alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes.
The Center On Addiction and Substance Abuse states that federal, state, and local governments spend close to $500 billion a year on substance abuse.
The National Institute for Health (NIH) in 2014 reported that 24.7 percent of people ages 18 or older had engaged in binge drinking in the last month. And nearly 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes; it’s the fourth leading cause of preventable death. Alcohol-impaired driving caused 31 percent of overall driving fatalities.
This month, a Seattle task force was formed to fight a heroin epidemic; recommending opening public sites for people “using illegal drugs – all the while being under medical supervision.” This is not an isolated response to our growing addiction culture.
Don’t Despair: There Is A Road to Recovery
Looking back on my initial dismissal of whatever AA was offering, I see what a foolish man I was. Contempt without investigation is exactly what I exhibited. I was a self-assured fool with a closed mind.
Alcoholics Anonymous stepped in after rehab and saved my life. It has restructured my thinking, acquainted me with rigorous self-honesty, and continued to hold me accountable. I have not had an inclination to drink in more than 29 years. AA and the many friends and fellow travelers it has brought into my life constantly remind me of where I have been. The endless stream of battered newcomers into it constantly reminds me of where I could go again.
Those “losers” I so quickly dismissed are physicians, lawyers, professors, psychiatrists, craftsman, teachers, executives—you name it. I have worked with some distinguished people in my lifetime and I can honestly say the best and wisest man I ever met was a skid-row wino who later became a postman and died after more than 40 years of sobriety.
A saying in AA best describes our membership: Alcoholism doesn’t care if you are from Park Avenue or the park bench—it is an equal-opportunity killer. Members of AA share a bond with one another that can’t be bought. They are dedicated souls helping one another deal with life on life’s terms, without alcohol or drugs.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a brilliant example of chain theory that can resurrect seemingly hopeless lives. Once lost, these wayward souls can embark on a path leading to spiritual, moral, and ethical renewal. Brilliantly conceived and unmistakably inspired by a higher power, the steps have been saving lives for more than 80 years.
The 12 steps are not some random collection of handy hints for successful living. They are, in fact, a disciplined process to reveal flawed attitudes and thinking, acknowledge their effects, and then to set about a new approach to thinking and living that leads to a renewed life. It is not complicated, but neither is it easy.
It is axiomatic in life and business that effective processes are, by necessity, orderly and not without some rigor involved. That is as it should be. It is the weak link that causes the chain to fail.
Proceed With Hope and Caution
If you have an alcoholic or other addict in your family, proceed with hope and caution. You can hope this person has finally hit bottom emotionally and surrendered the long-held myth that he or she can manage the problem. It is imperative that addicts surrender to the proposition embodied in Step One: “I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable.” Absent that admission, they are unlikely to embark on the quest embodied in the Twelve Steps.
After a few days’ abstinence following a particularly bad episode, and when the heat is on, addicts often enthusiastically express their remorse and claim an epiphany. They have seen the error of their ways. They now possess new insights. They sincerely believe they can “manage the problem.” Sometimes it is just another charade to turn the heat down. At other times, they actually believe their own lies.
Consequently, if someone tells you it is all about learning to “manage” the substance abuse, I have one suggestion: head for the door as quickly as possible. Although I am not a certified counselor nor trained therapist, experience has proven to me without a shadow of a doubt that recovery has two bedrock ingredients, with no exceptions. First and foremost is abstinence and second, renewed thinking best facilitated by constant reinforcement (such as AA meetings). A spiritual renewal or awakening is a powerful adjunct, but not a substitute for AA’s 12 steps.
Resist the temptation to point out to your person in recovery, “You are not working your program.” Zip your lip, butt out, and let them work the program with the experts. It’s easier said than done, but wisdom you need to embrace wholeheartedly.
I have known atheists to get clean and stay that way. I have also met a few people who have stayed sober as a result of a spiritual experience. These folks are rare in my observations. The 12 steps plus faith in a higher power deploy additional leverage into a life and death struggle.
Here is a chain philosophy everyone should be able to embrace.
Watch your thoughts, they become your words
Watch you words, they become actions
Watch your actions, they become habits
Watch your habits, they become your character
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. — Author unknown
“Character becoming your destiny” is profound! We are all creatures of habit to some extent, and that implies a chain pattern in our thoughts. Healthy and destructive chain patterns follow the same general path. Thoughts that begin in the mind and are nurtured and translated into actions and habits ultimately shape our destiny. If we take the time to identify the flawed thoughts that beleaguer us, we can create a new pattern for living, free of the bondage of the past.
“Thinking about our thinking” is a much underrated pastime.