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Monkey Bars

I was at the park watching children play and quickly became fascinated with a young boy playing on the monkey bars. It was probably his first experience with this piece of playground equipment. He climbed up the two steps and grabbed the closest bar with his right hand. Focused on the next bar, he swung off the step. He let go with his right hand as he reached for the bar in front of him with his left hand.  He fell in to the sand. He brushed off his hands as he stood up and climbed back up the two step ladder. He reached back with his right arm and grabbed the bar. Again he swung forward off the step. He reached for the next bar and fell to the sand. He stood up, wiped the sand from his hands and walked back to the step ladder. Again he fell in to the sand as he reached for the next bar. As I watched, he repeated this ritual several times. Finally a man approached him as he stood up, said something very quietly to him as he began to step up the ladder and grab the bar. For the first time he went hand over hand across the piece of playground equipment.

Family members and friends of a person with an alcohol problem are usually aware of the problem before the drinker. Although they may watch the drinker as he meets struggle after struggle, it is difficult for the drinker to see how his use of alcohol has progressed.

Drinking started as fun, usually occurring at parties or other gatherings with family and friends. Drinking served as more of a social lubricant. Alcohol helped the drinker put aside the stress of his life and focus on fun times with family and friends. On rare occasions he may over drink and get drunk. He will suffer a hang over the next day. These event will be the exception at this phase of his drinking. The experience may even cause him to pass the next two or three times an opportunity to drink is presented. Eventually he will drink again mindful of the unpleasant experience. Ninety five percent of the population begins using alcohol this way and 80% of that number will continue using alcohol that way.

Twenty percent will develop a tolerance to alcohol and will begin to find they need more alcohol to produce the desired effect. They may or may not feel drunk after drinking copious amounts of alcohol. They may or may not experience hangovers but if they do have a hangover, they will justify it as a simple consequence of enjoying beverage alcohol. The memory of the hangover will have no impact on them the next time an opportunity to drink presents itself.

If this person’s wife begins to complain about his behavior while drinking and shows the dysfunction being caused in the family, he will stop drinking. If this person’s employer writes an unfavorable job performance and lists consuming alcohol as the cause, he will quit drinking. If he is stopped and cited for driving under the influence of alcohol, he will quit drinking. When “fun” becomes “fun with problems” 90% of heavy drinkers will stop drinking.

But what about the other 10%? These men and women will continue to drink in spite of the consequences. They will justify, rationalize and deny the connection between alcohol and their problems in spite of the evidence, in spite of the opinions and i spite of threats from others.

Research suggests this 10% suffers from a spiritual malady, a condition that cannot be overcome without outside help. Reluctant, the drinker may begin making efforts to stay sober on his own. He will make deals with you, he will make promises with himself, he may draw up elaborate plans. Some of these promises, plans and deals are designed to allow the drinker to continue to drink but to do so while avoiding consequences. For this part of the drinking population these ideas, plans and schemes will fail. Within short order of resuming drinking the drinker will be at the same or a worse place than he was when he began his efforts to control his drinking. He will try again and again. There will continuously be one more attempt and sadly one more failure.

If we go back to the little boy swinging on the money bars we watch as he climbs back up the steps, reaches out to the first monkey bar, swings and falls to the dirt. He does this over and over until the man comes and very quietly says something to him, “do not let go of one monkey bar until you have grabbed the next with your other hand”.

Drinkers whose use of beverage alcohol has transferred from fun to fun with problems and is now simply problems may make a succession of attempts at success. Without help those efforts will sadly be met with failures.

“I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. A ‘chronic relapser’ is what they called me. I went but I didn’t stay sober. I went to treatment. I have been to three different treatment programs. I still am not able to stay sober. None of it works”

The little boy in the play ground was not told to look at the next monkey bar, he was told to grab the next monkey bar. A man can go to a gym and look around. He may even sit on a NuStep or stand on a treadmill. These things are not going to change his heart rate or muscle tone. He’s got to use the equipment. The same is true with therapists, Alcoholics Anonymous, other 12 Step Programs, Smart Recovery,  Celebrate Recovery or all treatment facilities. You have to tell the truth, trust the process, complete the work and utilize everything available exactly the way it was designed to be used. You will need to follow the directions of a coach, sponsor, counselor, case manager or maybe, in some cases, a combination of these.

“Make a decision” is 50% of the requirement for success. Following the decision with actions gives it impact.

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