There's this thing with cats -- if you're not a cat person, bear with me, this is not a post about cats -- but there's this thing with cats that you can be petting them petting them petting them and they're purring away, clearly in the pet-me-love-me-love-you groove, and basking in the physical affection... and snap! Without warning, and apparently without reason (all you were doing was petting), they turn and bite. Not all cats, of course (I want to hasten to point that out, lest I get a deluge of emails from angry cat-lovers accusing me of felinophobia or anti-cat bias or something.) But with some cats this is a regular thing. Prrr. Prrr. Snap. Bite.
Desperate for small talk at a party one time I found that the guest seated near me at dinner was a veterinarian, so I asked them about this Prrr Prrr Snap Bite thing. (For the record, if you are at a dinner party and asking someone a question about cats -- or animals in general -- it's probably not a great social strategy to actually make the animal's noise when asking your question. I'm just sayin'.)
The vet's response was that at some point, when the cat was a kitten, people had, most likely in play -- with no intent of abusing the animal -- rough-housed too much, batting it around and such in what seemed like gentle fun to the person but what must have been like assault and battery to the kitten. He pointed out the scale of two human hands to one kitten blah blah blah... and then I left my body for a while since he really went on and on and on, and I have a very short attention span... but when I came back I discovered I'd dribbled dressing on my shirt but finished off an excellent salad, and the vet was wrapping up his point with the idea that the cat had made an association with something -- be it affection of a certain kind, or human touch, or a certain level of excitement -- that caused it to lash out, even when it didn't feel hostile or threatened.
I'm like that, I think. I wonder if that's not true for a lot of alcoholics. We have certain associations that are deeply rooted, that cause us to lash out, even if there's no reason we can see within ourselves as to why we're lashing out. (Sure, this is probably true to some degree in all people, but fueled by hyper-sensitivity and warped egos I suspect alcoholics can really take this to an extreme.) In my case, I believe, I lash in more than I lash out -- rather than attacking people around me I tend to attack myself, but the mechanism is pretty much the same. Some of us are doormat drunks and some of us are punch-throwing asshole drunks -- my observation is that in sobriety those dynamics can still be in play for maybe quite a long time.
So here's the thing: We may not be able to see those associations within ourselves, but a sponsor, or close sober friend, might, if we've been earnest and honest with them about everything that's going on with us. Or a therapist -- do not underestimate the value of a good trained professional.
But what makes AA not a psychological endeavor, what makes a good sponsor not a therapist, is that ultimately the solution to these dynamics -- these deep down associations that cause either hostile or self destructive impulses -- is not a clinical one but a spiritual one.
In the 12 Steps themselves they're pretty much addressed in the 3rd (Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.), 6th (Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.) and 7th (Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.) Steps.
This does not mean I sit on my ass, praying for God to change me and then waiting for that to happen. (Man, I wish that was the deal.) I pray allright, but then I need to get busy.
I get busy whether, on any given day, my belief in God is in my heart or only in my head. I work to be willing to do contrary action, to listen to tough truths from people I trust, to snip the wires on those associations, so I'm not blindly lashing -- be it lashing out or lashing in.
Why? Because I woke up today wishing to give Mother Teresa a run for her money? (Hand me that dish towel, my gold chain necklaces and buzz my head in a mohawk, I'm goin' Mr. T on Mother T!) No. I get busy because "Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us." ("Alcoholics Anonymous", AA's Big Book, pg. 77).
Again, why? Because alcoholism kicked my ass (as Mother Theresa likely could have when she was alive -- you don't come from the streets of Calcutta and not know how to handle yourself, nun or no nun -- I'm just sayin') and because "Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery." (Big Book, pg. 97 -- underlining mine).
That's what makes it a spiritual solution and not a clinical one. Our solution is found through service -- even though our thinking is often the problem we heal through action on the altruistic plane, not the mental one. I need to address the things that I may be blind to, that cause me to react without realizing it, so that I can better help other people get and stay sober, and eventually be more of service in general as I go through the world, and this is a crucial ingredient in my own sobriety.
Plus, you can't be bitin' people when you're workin' the 12th Step. I'm just sayin'.