Learning from my mistakes


One of the promises listed on page 83 of the Big Book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ is:

“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”

For a long time I had struggled with this question.  I could not possibly find a way not to regret many of the mistakes I had made in the past.  Whenever memories of them started swirling around my head I would just feel regret, remorse and a deep sense of shame, so much so that I have often wondered if there was any good reason to carry on.

The healing steps of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous include first taking a moral inventory of ourselves and then to go over in admitting to ourselves, to God and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  As soon as I started this step I realized it had taken away one of the biggest issues preventing my spiritual growth, dealing with shame.

Everyone makes mistakes on a regular basis.  It is through making mistakes that we learn.  If I make a mistake and I am by myself I quickly analyze it, correct it and internalize the lesson learned.  However, if I make a mistake and this is observed by another person I wouldn’t want to admit the mistake for it may make me dumb, foolish or stupid.  The more people observe the bigger my shame and the greater the need to make up one or more excuses to explain away the mistake.  As soon as I do this I take away the opportunity to learn and to grow.

This may seem like a simple issue at first but just imagine how complex this becomes the moment I try to cover up a mistake.  A simple mistake could be getting lost by making a wrong turn in traffic.  If I choose to ask for directions or consult a map I can easily take corrective measures and find my way back.  If there is a passenger in the car I may try to cover up the mistake and hide my shame by pretending it was not a mistake or bluff that I’m taking a short-cut.  Surely I hope I’m not discovered as I feverishly look for signs or other indications which will get me out of this snag.  My mistake just got compounded and more difficult to resolve.  In no time this situation can get so tangled up that I cannot lie my way out of it any longer.  The only way out ultimately is to be honest and admit my original stupidity which would have remained just that, a stupid mistake, but now has revealed a character defect as well, my unwillingness to be found in the wrong.

By being honest with myself while taking my moral inventory I had uncovered a true treasure-trove  of mistakes and character defects.  By being honest with others I can get myself beyond the shame involved and start learning.  By being honest with God I soon realize that I start healing and appreciate the lesson and move on to a higher plane of existence and awareness.

I now realize that my past is not something I should regret, it becomes the bountiful instrument through which I can mature and prosper.  It has taken me to a higher ground after I was willing to be honest.  This is not something to regret.  I can learn from it and I can allow others to benefit from my experience.

“Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes: find the cause of your problem and eliminate it. Don’t try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human.” ~  Anthony Robbins


Belladonna Treatment

In October 1909, Dr. Alexander Lambert boldly announced to a New York Times reporter that he had found a surefire cure for alcoholism and drug addiction. Even more astounding, he stated that the treatment required “less than five days.” The therapy consisted of an odd mixture of belladonna (deadly nightshade), along with the fluid extracts of xanthoxylum (prickly ash) and hyoscyamus (henbane). “The result is often so dramatic,” Lambert said, “that one hesitates to believe it possible.”

Dr. Lambert was hardly a quack looking for headlines. He was widely known as Theodore Roosevelt’s personal physician, a professor of medicine at Cornell Medical College and an expert on alcoholism. Dr. Lambert had years of experience taking care of thousands of alcoholics at Bellevue Hospital’s infamous “drunk ward.” In fact, it was on this storied hospital ward where he experimented with the belladonna cure.

He had obtained the recipe from a layman named Charles B. Towns, who, in turn, claimed to have learned about it from a country doctor. In 1901, Mr. Towns opened a substance abuse hospital in New York City at 293 Central Park West, between 89th and 90th Streets. He needed Dr. Lambert because he lacked a medical degree and, hence, professional credibility; Dr. Lambert needed Mr. Towns, because for all his medical knowledge, he had relatively little to offer his patients in terms of an effective treatment.

The Towns Hospital attracted only the wealthiest alcoholics and addicts, who gladly paid exorbitant fees for a treatment that “successfully and completely removes the poison from the system and obliterates all craving for drugs and alcohol.” Because of Prohibition and the paradoxical rise in alcoholism in 1920, the Towns Hospital restricted its practice to drying-out well-to-do alcoholics.

Perhaps the most famous patient was William Griffith Wilson, better known as Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the early 1930s, Mr. Wilson was consuming more than two quarts of rotgut whiskey daily, a definite health risk according to Alexander Lambert, who found in his copious research that consumers of cheap or bootlegged alcohol were far more prone to seizures, delirium tremens and brain damage than those who drank the expensive stuff. Between 1933 and 1934, at his wife’s urging and on his wealthy brother-in-law’s dime, Mr. Wilson was admitted to Towns four times. The cost upon admission was steep: up to $350 (roughly $5,610 today) for a four- to five-day stay.

Although Mr. Wilson made some progress in temporarily abstaining, he relapsed after each of the first three hospitalizations. It was around this time that he reunited with a drinking buddy named Ebby Thacher. Unlike previous times, when they went out on wild binges, Mr. Thacher told him that he quit booze and was a member of the Oxford Group, a church-based association devoted to living on a higher spiritual plane guided by Christianity. As a demonstration, on Dec. 7, 1934, Mr. Thacher took Mr. Wilson to the Calvary Mission on East 23rd Street and Second Avenue, where the most drunken of New York’s Depression-era down-and-outers went to be fed and, it was hoped, “saved.”

A few days later, a drunken Wilson staggered back into the Towns Hospital. There, his physician, William D. Silkworth, sedated him with chloral hydrate and paraldehyde, two agents guaranteed to help an agitated drunk to sleep, albeit lightly. This was especially important because the medical staff members had to wake patients every hour for at least two days to take the various pills, cathartics and tinctures of the belladonna regime.

On the second or third day of his treatment, Mr. Wilson had his now famous spiritual awakening. Earlier that evening, Mr. Thacher had visited and tried to persuade Mr. Wilson to turn himself over to the care of a Christian deity who would liberate him from the ravages of alcohol. Hours later, depressed and delirious, Mr. Wilson cried out: “I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let him show himself!” He then witnessed a blinding light and felt an ecstatic sense of freedom and peace. When Mr. Wilson told Dr. Silkworth about the event, the physician responded: “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it.”

Hang on to it he did. Indeed, this experience ultimately led Mr. Wilson to abstain from alcohol for the remaining 36 years of his life and to co-create the novel program whereby one alcoholic helps another through a commitment to absolute honesty and a belief that a higher power can help one achieve sobriety.

The willingness to change.

The Twelve Symptoms of My Alcoholism


aathekeyHow can we really define and diagnose alcoholism?

It isn’t always easy.  As far back as 1938, the AA pioneers had trouble defining an alcoholic as they formed what is now the General Service Board.  The simple definition, “a sick person who couldn’t drink at all,” didn’t work for legal purposes.  So they gave it up.  Since then, we’ve trudged our road of happy destiny without a real definition that wraps it up in a few brilliantly crafted sentences.  As for diagnosing alcoholism—well, the AA idea is that people must diagnose themselves as best they can.

I’ve privately thought of an alcoholic—at least myself—as a person who uses alcohol compulsively, excessively, and destructively as a mood-changing drug.  I also like that concept gleaned from the Big Book:  a person who suffers from an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind.  (We shouldn’t go too far with that one, however, because “allergy” doesn’t really fly with the medical community.  I prefer using “physical susceptibility to alcohol” to make the same point.)

Following the lead of the medical sciences, however, I realized that the right way to diagnose alcoholism is to look at the symptoms.  Scanning my own embarrassing past, I could find twelve such symptoms which should convince any person that he or she is one of us.  Simply put, an alcoholic is a person who shows these symptoms.  I have frequently talked about these symptoms while sharing with other alcoholics in AA discussions or in talks at AA meetings.  Here they are, a list of twelve for anybody who wants to use them:

1.       Couldn’t quit drinking even when my posterior was dropping off.  While I never had much in the way of status or possessions. my alcoholism quickly stripped me of what little I had.  I swore off after waking up in jail, after passing out on the street, after being beaten, humiliated, or rolled.  Swearing off or cutting down never worked, and it hasn’t worked for countless other AAs I’ve met.

2.       People started calling me a drunk.  Though I tried to deny it, word got around that I was a drunk.  Moving didn’t work; people in my new locations quickly got the same idea, proving that gossip seems to travel.  It was almost as if a large “D” had been tattooed on my forhead.  Some bartenders seemed to read it almost intuitively and would shut me off even before I’d had enough drinks to become really obnoxious.

3.       I failed at the drink-switching game.  I tried one beverage after another, hoping there’d be one that wouldn’t turn me into a slobbering wretch or leave me with a terrible hangover.  They were all the same in the long run because they all contained alcohol.

4.       The “hair of the dog” became routine.  I can’t remember when I learned to medicate my awful hangovers with more drinks the next morning.  I may have done this even before I  learned that this was taking “some of the hair of the dog that bit me.”  And I was doing it long before I learned that this practice is another symptom of alcoholism.

5.       Watching controlled drinkers made me feel envious and weak.  Time and again, I felt wretched and ashamed in the presence of people who could take a drink or two and then go about their business.  Secretly, I berated myself for my lack of will power and vowed I would become one of them.  It never worked.

6.       Drinking made me a “problem person” to other people.  My way of drinking caused rumbles with others.  While drunk, I once took a cab thirty miles without having a cent to pay the driver.  I insulted people over the telephone.  I borrowed money without paying it back.  I told lies while drinking and then told other lies to cover them up.  The list goes on and on—all things that don’t belong in a sane, manageable life.

7.       Drinking caused home problems.  I had no real home of my own, but my drinking brought trouble wherever I lived. I was kicked out of a rooming house for wetting the bed.  A relative who put me up temporarily asked me to leave within a week.  I lived with my parents for a time, and finally wore out their patience.  For a while, I was even homeless, although the term then was vagrancy.

8.       Frantic, compulsive drinking overtook me.  Once started, I wanted to drink continuously without interruptions for any other activity.  I wasn’t invited to parties, but I would have snatched extra drinks had I been so favored.  I hated to drink with people who could control their drinking or preferred a more leisurely pace.

9.       Denying the problem, deluded about the seriousness of it.  Looking back, I am now amazed that I could have had so many delusions about my drinking.  I was aided in denial be observing a few others whose drinking seemed to be even worse than mine.  Long after I was way out of control, I continued to believe that I might somehow either quit or moderate my drinking.

10.   Getting fired, being rejected.  I was fired several times and also shunned by others once my drinking problem became apparent.  The main reason for being fired was absenteeism caused by drinking, but alcohol-related character defects also caused some of my employment problems.

11.   Blackouts, or whatever you call them.  I had many experiences of forgetting an entire evening.  A few weeks before taking my last drink, I apparently caused a shameful disturbance in a bar, but never recalled a single moment of it.  It was also common, while drinking in a bar, to notice that two or three hours had elapsed during what I thought was a few minutes.

12.   Mounting regrets.  Despite my denials and delusions, I had numerous regrets about the damages and costs of my drinking problem.  In rare moments of honesty, I was beginning to see how it was wrecking my life and hurting others.

Those were my Twelve Symptoms, and they had the cumulative effect of prodding me into AA.  The memory of the pain and humiliation they caused has helped keep me sober since April 15, 1950.  If anything, the memories of the symptoms have become sharper with the passing years, serving to dislodge any belief that I might somehow drink again in a controlled manner.  I never want to revisit the distressing life that included these symptoms, which did disappear when I got sober and stayed that way.

Does one have to have all of these symptoms to be self-diagnosed as an alcoholic?  Not at all; having even a third of them surely means that the individual is well into the danger zone.  Yet I believe that a large number of AAs could honestly say that they had most of the symptoms in one degree or another.

I’d like to offer My Twelve Symptoms to the drinking world, but it’s not necessary.  AA World Services has already done this job.  In slightly different forms, the Twelve Symptoms are discussed in two AA conference-approved pamphlets.  One is titled Is AA for You?; the other, Is AA for Me?  You can use either of them to go over your own drinking problem or to help others walk through theirs.  Honest answers to the questions in these publications could be the keys to real understanding of one’s problem and continuing recovery.

“Twelve” also seems to be a lucky number in AA.  Bill W., in writing the Twelve Steps, even linked it up with the Biblical use of the number.  Then we went on to have the Twelve Traditions, the Twelve Concepts of World Service, and even the Twelve Promises.  I never realized until lately that my alcoholic symptoms added up to Twelve.  But talk about lucky numbers!  Facing my Twelve Symptoms was one of the luckiest things that ever happened for me


Mel B.
Toledo, Ohio

Copyright ©1944-2004 The AA Grapevine, Inc.
All Rights Reserved. Reprints by permission only.

Alcohol has a ripple effect. It can be devastating.

Why supporting someone with an alcohol problem is never just about alcohol

Addaction Voices

In the past year Addaction has helped thousands of people with an alcohol problem.

But it’s never just about alcohol.

Treat the person

From supporting older people through our Drink Wise Age Well programme to going directly into schools, we see how alcohol problems can affect people from all walks of life. Meanwhile, our webchat service helps people who are less likely to reach out for support in person.

Any front-line worker will tell you that it’s almost never just about alcohol, there are often multiple issues, and the root cause is frequently pain and trauma. Our recent YouGov polling gets to some of these issues.

YouGov (Fieldwork 28 Sep — 1 Oct 2018)

We found that people with an alcohol problem are 50% more likely to have experienced anxiety/depression, twice as likely to have self harmed and are twice as likely to have had had an eating disorder.

They’re also over four times more likely to have had experience with illegal drugs, three times more likely to have had a problem with prescription drugs, and four times more likely to have had a gambling problem.

The Mental Health Foundation state that “alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression and people often use it as a form of self-medication” . This is backed up by our Drink Wise Age Well report which found that stress is the strongest predictor for being a higher risk drinker.

It can be really tough for people, especially people in crisis, to figure out where one problem starts and another one ends. This is why we say we treat the person, not just the substance issue.

Support their loved ones

Our polling also found that 6.3 million people in England, Wales and Scotland have personal experience of an alcohol issue. That’s a huge number.

Yet it’s still shocking that over half of the population as a whole (55%) said they knew someone who had experienced a problem with alcohol. These are not niche problems, they touch and affect millions of us every day.

Supporting someone with an alcohol issue can be an incredibly trying and stressful experience. A family member of one of our service users described how isolating it can be:

“I had stopped seeing friends. I didn’t really call my family anymore. I didn’t know what to keep secret or what to say.

This is why we offer friends and family support services to help people understand and cope with a loved one’s addiction and give them the opportunity to talk to others going through similar experiences.

Studies have shown that compassionate, non-judgemental support from family and friends is key to helping someone reduce their drinking. But this can be really tough for the caregiver too. That’s why if we’re serious about helping people with alcohol problems we muOK st go the extra mile with the people close to them too.

See the bigger picture

We believe we have a good idea of what works when someone reaches out for support for an alcohol problem. Yet, as a nation, we aren’t helping anywhere near enough people.

Between 2013 and 2018 the number of people entering treatment for alcohol fell by 19%. This means we’re at a stage where four out of five dependent drinkers aren’t receiving treatment.

When people come forward for help about alcohol it can be the start of an incredibly important journey. In many cases the most acute crisis, the person’s drinking, is the first thing on the agenda. But the hope is that it’s a step towards working through other issues. This might be a problem with gambling, or addressing childhood trauma, or even identifying and making changes with a job or a relationship.

The positive effects ripple through that person’s life and their network of relationships.

And when we set out to do this on a mass scale it doesn’t just have a positive impact on the person seeking help, it makes a difference to everyone.


Inability to Cope and Relapse


The real danger for people in recovery is that the feeling of not being able to cope can quickly lead to relapse. This is because recovery is unsatisfactory when people feel overwhelmed by problems. They can start to romance the drink ; this is where they think back to the days when substance abuse did help them cope with life. The feeling of being overwhelmed interferes with their ability to make rational choices. They then make the decision to once again return to their addiction as a means of escape. This means a return to even worse misery, and they may never get a chance to escape again. It is therefore vital that people learn effective coping strategies so that they can avoid relapse.

The 12 steps of AA teach us to live life on life’s terms.  Without using the steps we eventually return to the devil we know.

RARELY HAVE we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.  BB page 58