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What Attitude in Recovery Really Means For Your Sobriety

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“The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.” – Alcoholics Anonymous

It’s no secret that a positive attitude affects your health. Leading research shows that just thinking positively can decrease heart disease. Optimism is even linked to better immunity. Logically it seems like an addict or alcoholic would just have a positive mindset to get sober. Unfortunately, we addicts cannot think our way out of this disease. And simply being positive does not solve the flaw in our character makeup to keep us sober.

The book states that “frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices.” Things like staying sober for our kids or staying sober to support our families are not enough to stay sober. Likewise, positive thinking will do little to help us stay sober if it is all we have to stop our drinking and drug use. Friends and family cannot keep us sober. So why does Alcoholics Anonymous talk about attitude so much in the Big Book? Why is the word mentioned 22 times and why is attitude another meaning for the “spiritual awakening” that the Big Book promises if you follow its 12 suggestions?

Attitude Means More Than Positive and Negative Thinking

Attitude meant a lot more than just how you think about a particular situation. Today, attitude means someone’s disposition about a particular person or topic, or their mental state towards a subject. Attitude means, “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.” A 14-year-old boy can have a negative attitude towards doing laundry. This will ultimately affect how he acts and his overall disposition. However, in the 1930s when the Big Book was published, attitude meant something slightly different. It had more to do with an addict’s actions and the thoughts, beliefs, and moods that could influence those actions. From Webster’s Dictionary, 1938
The posture, action, or disposition of a figure.
Position or bearing as indicating an action, feeling, or mood.
The attitude was closely associated with action. When the book talks about a change in attitude, they are talking about a transformation of how you think, what you believe, and ultimately how you behave. Everything in your psyche, what you think about others and yourself, your character, and actions change. It’s much more than a good attitude. It’s a different way of responding to life, a different way of thinking, and a different approach to your actions.

How Do You Get this New Overall Approach to Life?

Oftentimes, people suffering from substance use disorder need additional help and will go into a drug treatment center or join a support group. Alcoholics Anonymous contend that all you need to do is follow the 12 suggestions in the Big Big and you will have a spiritual awakening. Your thinking and actions will be revolutionized and completely different. In the late 1930s when the book was written, alcoholics didn’t have treatment centers to go to. Alcoholics and addicts were ostracized, society didn’t know what to do with them. They were either hospitalized, imprisoned, lobotomized or left to die. Hearing about Alcoholics Anonymous, people would write the New York office and have a book mailed to them. They would read it and follow the 12 Steps and get sober. The 12 Steps are the catalyst to make this psychic change that is known as a spiritual experience.

Carl Jung Taught The True Meaning of Attitude

A story in Alcoholics Anonymous highlights just how much of a transformation chronic relapsers need to stay sober. Rowland Hazard came from a wealthy family. His family could hire any doctor they needed to help Roland with his alcoholism. At the time, Carl Jung was the leading psychiatrist in the world. After his treatment from Jung, Rowland relapsed. After his relapse, he went back to the renowned psychiatrist and asked Jung why he could not stay sober.

The doctor said: “You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you.” Our friend felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang. He said to the doctor, “Is there no exception?” “Yes,” replied the doctor, “there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description.”

What is Emotional Displacement?

In the quote above, Carl Jung uses the term emotional displacement. This is a psychological term credited to Sigmund Freud. The term means that humans can displace their anger or emotions on someone or something else. Displacement is a natural defense mechanism that happens on the subconscious level. Addicts do this a lot in active addictive, and even whenever they are trying to get sober. Alcoholics often displace the pain caused by their alcoholism and transfer it to people they are resentful at, angry at or situations that cause fear. Instead of looking at the wreckage of their past as a source of pain and alienation, they often displace these thoughts on their spouse or a job or an event that harmed them in the past. These thoughts and displacements must be rearranged or completely altered, otherwise the addict will continue to act the same way by drinking or using drugs.

—- With addiction, it’s not just about a good attitude. It’s about completely changing how you think and act. This is the start of what the Big Book calls a spiritual awakening or spiritual experience, which is a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.” It’s what Dr. William Silkworth called a complete psychic change.

How Do You Get This Change in Attitude?

A recovery program for drugs and alcohol can be one of the best options to get this deep attitude adjustment. Especially if you have an underlying mental health issue, a dual diagnosis program might be your best option for a long-lasting road to recovery. While addiction and alcoholism are chronic diseases, chronic alcoholics often need to go to a treatment center for additional help. When you go to a drug addiction treatment center that understands the recovery process, they will know how critical attitude is for people in recovery. It’s difficult to get there alone. If you need help, please call Burning Tree Programs. We will help you get into a program that deals with drug abuse so you can live life on life’s terms.


- SINCE 1999 -

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