Thursday, August 6, 2015

She has a great personality - Part I: Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

When I was looking into ideas for a new series there were several directions I wanted to explore, but eventually I decided I wanted to write a few posts on personality disorders because I have two partial diagnoses myself and am closely acquainted with people who have other diagnoses in that field. Both of mine, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder, are ones I didn't get a "high score" for in the various forms of testing I had done with me, but I was a close enough match for both for them to end up in my list of diagnoses. I actually recognise myself a fair bit in both of them, which is why the first two posts of this series will focus on them, starting today with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).

When reading about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the past, my web sources, mainly Wikipedia, were always adamant about it not being confused with OCPD because, they say, that's often done, and it's some sort of really bad thing to do (judging by the tone of the "do not confuse"-warnings) because they are completely different things. Well, I made sure I never confused them and steered clear of reading about OCPD because of how unrelated I was told it was to what I have. In the end, I now, since recently, have both diagnoses. Unrelated they may be, but I guess it's not impossible for you to have both. So I had to begin reading up on OCPD anyway, after being told for so long that I shouldn't bother with it. Also, what's with that extremely similar naming if people are so worried about the two diagnoses being confused with each other? Just saying, though. What you read in this post has nothing to do with OCD, even though I have that diagnosis, too, and wrote a post on it in the past.

My partial diagnosis of OCPD came together rather simply and quickly. I was in treatment for - among other things - depression, and one of the most common things people with depression have bothering them is that they have a lot of principles in their heads that go "I must..." I must perform well, I must satisfy this or that need of others, et cetera. When my therapist asked me to write down a few sentences like that that apply to myself, I filled an entire page. About fifty or so sentences of things I thought I must do in order to consider myself a valuable human being. And the list wasn't nearly complete.That's OCPD in a nutshell, everything has to be done to perfection according to a rigid set of rules, and if you don't live up to them, you suck. You put immense pressure on yourself to run every aspect of your life by these ideas written in stone and measure yourself by your success at fulfilling them every day. You obsess over them and you have the compulsion to follow them, hence the name of the disorder.

If I were to make a list of examples from my life this post wouldn't be done before next year. I'll just pick one I think is the weirdest and most useless to illustrate how invasive this disorder is in living one's life normally. I bet many of you have heard of that site You install a software on your computer and it "scrobbles" the music you are listening to with your media player of choice, and the scrobbles are then made into a set of lists including charts of what you listen to the most. I've been using it since late 2006. At one point a few years ago my taste in music drastically changed, and I wanted my charts to reflect my changed taste in music, but I did not want to delete anything because I didn't want to lose the data for historical value, and I also would consider it cheating. So I started to constantly listen to the music I'm into nowadays. Must have been around 2011. You know how hard it is to get a lot of new stuff past an entire top 500 of music that had been established for five years? So I constantly watch my charts, see what needs to go up, look what needs to go down and what can go past it, listen to things I like on repeat ad nauseam, all day every day. Just think of the maths in this. If you have an artist in, say, seventh place at a thousand plays, and you want to get it out of the top 50, you'll have to get forty-four artists above a thousand plays. It sucks the life out of you. But music is one of the most important things in my life and I identify myself by what music I like, so I feel it is necessary to do this to properly represent what kind of person I am.

Sound ridiculous? It is. And for years I have been trying to identify what it is inside me that causes me to spend so much time on that ritual. For the longest time I assumed it was a form of net addiction, until one day I read up on OCPD after the therapist at the clinic gave me that partial diagnosis, and then it dawned on me. A rigid set of rules linked directly to my self-worth. Obsession and compulsion are a constant given. And the difference between OCD and OCPD shows here. If it was the former, I'd feel strong symptoms of anxiety after non-fulfillment of the ritual, with the latter it is not about how I feel at that moment, it affects how well I think of myself as a person. Mind you, the above is just an example of many, I do not determine my intrinsic value by some charts no one will probably ever look at alone. It's this huge list of things I need to do perfectly, a list so long it is humanly impossible to get everything right. The perception of oneself suffers by the nature of the thing, because you simply cannot live up to every rule you burden yourself with.

I think the reason I only got a partial diagnosis and not a full diagnosis is that I can often "unhinge" my daily life from my suffocating rules. It's like when I play/record music. I want everything to be perfect, but I can quickly reach the point at which I say "ah, fuck it" and just do as well as I can and be happy with it. It's something that plays a major role in my life, but there's a healthy side of me that can just as well take over. No, not as in multiple personality, it's still me, it's just that mental illness can vary in severity depending on how you feel at any given moment. It's less true for personality disorders which in many cases tend to be always there, but it's not uncommon, either. Sometimes it dominates my thinking, sometimes it doesn't even cross my mind. Hence the partial diagnosis.

To close my first post on personality disorders, you'll already be getting the idea that almost all of them are united by the idea that you are your own harshest critic, that somehow you always fuck up. Maybe not narcissists, more on those friendly fellows later, but in most personality disorders you'll always catch a person if you ask them about the last time they did really great at something. Or generally something they're really great at. With OCPD it shouldn't surprise you that I think every single post in my blog sucks. You know, they don't live up to some outlandish idea of perfect writing. But we live in a time in which these disorders can be identified and treated, so I'm optimistic about the future. Mine and that of everyone else suffering from a personality disorder.

Alcoholism: A love story - Part IX: Self-harm and suicidal ideation

The previous post in the alcoholism-series was about the liberating feeling of sobriety. Since then I have broken my inofficial vow of abstinence on a small number of occasions. What happened was the same thing that always happens when I get drunk by myself in recent months: I get suicidal ideation and start cutting myself with a carpet knife. That's no fucking good. In December (last year), January and April it ended in me having an emergency admission (in the middle of the night, all three times) to the crappy local psychiatric hospital and staying there for a few days. I completely freak myself and everyone else out. So, hey, that sounds kind of serious, so what is happening here?

The obvious first. I am really unhappy with my life, and I suppress it very well. When you suppress something and get drunk, chances are what you suppress comes boiling up with a vengeance. I don't like to whine, but there are a lot of things wrong with how my life has been going in the past, well, thirty-three years or so. If it wasn't for my awesome dog and a few hobbies I can still get excited about - like writing this stuff - I'd pretty much be unhappy with every single thing that my life consists of. No, I'm not going to post a picture of my dog, stay focused. It's not just that I am unhappy, I also see no feasible way of changing it because the environment I live in is so suffocating. I'd have to get far away from this place, but where? Are other places better? And I need better friends, but how? There's no mailorder for those. And wherever I go I have these mental disorders in my head that I like to write about in this blog. And I need to do something productive, something I can be proud of, but what? I don't think of myself as particularly good at anything. I'd also like to be with someone again, but I promised not to whine.

Of course I can't talk about this to anyone when I'm sober, partly because "don't whine" is a strict rule of mine that was shoved down my throat by family my entire life, and partly because my social anxiety tells me no one wants to hear it anyway. Can't even hint. So I suppress. And try to look like nothing's bothering me. Then I get drunk, feel great while I'm mildly to moderately intoxicated, and then it explodes out of me. Basically I am The Inverted Hulk. I turn green and become a superhero of self-destruction. It literally builds up in the space of a minute, from a great mood to completely messed up. Start talking about suicide to friends and family, something which I hate, and start cutting up my arms. All the while living through a feeling of misery the word "depression" can't quite live up to.

But how did I arrive there? I used to not do that when I was drunk. Even though I've been unhappy with my life and bottling it up for as long as I can think back. Got whiny or annoying sometimes, but nothing to anywhere near that level of dysfunction. At one point I turned from a normal obnoxious drunk to The Inverted Hulk. And I think it has its roots in little over a year ago when someone close to me started making frequent, very dramatic and very convincing suicide threats to me. I was never one who could in any way live with the idea of the death of someone close to me, so it hit me hard. And it happened more and more, until it was all the time. What made the whole thing infinitely worse was that I was always given the feeling that it would be my fault, that I would be responsible for that person's death, which was a burden that exceeded what I could carry by a factor of a million. I'm not particularly good at carrying any of the burdens I have in life (as we all do), but that one was like putting a Himalayan mountain on the back of an ant and expecting it to keep going about its life normally as if nothing was there. Far lighter things have been known to flatten an ant (fuck off, PETA), so don't expect it to live very long with the weight of Mount Everest on its shoulders.

So I started breaking and falling apart. It wasn't that suicide threat thing that caused it, that was the general unhappiness with everything else with my life. But it brought me to the point of being unable to deal with everything. While I continued to bottle things up while sober, the drunk stage now got infinitely worse. My faith in life was shattered, and my tortured brain knew only one way to live it out. The way that person taught me so thoroughly.

For now that means drinking is absolutely out of the question. And there are a lot of areas in my life I need to work at very hard. I am soon going to be admitted to a day clinic to continue the therapy started at that clinic I've been to from mid-May to mid-July, and while I'm there I have a lot to build for myself, a life, something to have faith in and a future to look forward to. Something far away from what has been suffocating me all those years. Figuratively far away, not intending to move to Australia. Huge spiders. I have some big decisions and changes to make, and it won't be easy. But I need to have something. Anything resembling happiness. And you can bet your life on it that I will do everything in my power to try to accomplish that. I have no intention of ending my life as a fuck-up. Like nobody should.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Life with an anxiety disorder - Part VIII: Social anxiety, part two

Having been in the clinic for eight weeks being treated mainly for social anxiety I have learned quite a bit about it to add to the previous post on the subject. Most of it are minor adjustments to what I already knew about it, one major revelation occured as well, though. Overall my first post on the subject was pretty accurate, but yeah, it can use some minor tweaks. And a single large one.

I was pretty spot-on on how common it is, I learned it afflicts as many as one in ten people. To various degrees of course, but that's still quite a lot of people. And my idea of this intense fear of doing something ridiculous, inappropriate, laughable, awkward, etc. is a common symptom to all people suffering from social anxiety, which I didn't know before. So I indeed described it correctly, yet did not realise how these are the same issues millions of people with social anxiety suffer from. That was quite interesting to hear, especially in the social anxiety group when people talked about their problems and they talked about things I have experienced or could experience the exact same way. That's the first minor adjustment, I figured my symptoms were pretty unique to myself, or to a small number of people, but they're symptoms a huge number of people suffer from in that exact same way.

The second minor adjustment I have to make is to my connection between social anxiety and panic attacks. It is not entirely uncommon for panic attacks to be caused by social anxiety, but for most people, the anxiety symptoms of social anxiety are not as extreme as those of a panic attack. Not that they feel great in any way, but the intense panic usually isn't there, just a very broad and unsettling anxiety that is hard to describe, like a weight on your chest. But because I do suffer from panic attacks, and there have been occurances of panic attacks in social situations, then why do I now say I was inaccurate in connecting them? Well, in my case it was always a coincidence when social anxiety and a panic attack occured at the same time, because I have discovered that they have two entirely different triggers and two entirely difference sets of symptoms, and one isn't connected to the other. They can occur simultanously because you can have trigggers for both in one place, and you get confused about what causes what, but from what I have learned now, I do not get panic attacks from social situations. That's a different issue I still need to work on.

I learned a bit about escape and avoidance behaviours, the German term we used for it translates to safety or security behaviours ("Sicherheitsverhalten"), which is something I hadn't known about before but did feel able to relate to when it was discussed. Stuff like playing with your cellphone in social situations, playing with your keys, crossing your arms, playing with your beard if you've got a cool one like mine, having drinks of water and always having the water bottle handy. Anything those suffering from social anxiety think will distract themselves and others from their insecurity. It helps a little in the short term, but we learned that it really only makes you more insecure in the long run because you become dependent on your little rituals and end up completely lost without them, or screw up even more if you put more thought into playing with your cellphone than into the conversation or presentation or whatever you are doing that scares you. 

The key to any social interaction of course is to pay attention to the other person(s) involved rather than to yourself, and that is the key people with social anxiety have lost, because they feel they - we - are so socially awkward that we need to constantly watch out for what terrible things we are doing. The major revelation for myself at the clinic was that it actually turned out I'm not perceived as socially awkward by others in any way. It's all, entirely, in my head. I've had many social exercises where I did small talk, held presentations, moderated groups, did all sorts of stuff with people, and I was always told I am perfectly charming and seem very secure and self-confident, by people who have no stake in lying to me. That was really what hit me the most, that the perception of others I am so worried about is so different from what I worry so much that it might be. 

All this stuff I will have to take with me on my continuing path to recovery. The bit in the first social anxiety post about practice being the key to beating this thing is still valid. Lots and lots of practice. But the additional things I have learned since the first post on the subject helps me reach my goal a lot better and more confidently.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pills against the ageless ills - Part VI: Sweet dreams

Currently I am in a clinic doing long-term therapy for anxiety, and aside from the great opportunity it presents for getting my life in order, it also gives me a lot of ideas for what to write for this blog. There was for example a conversation with a fellow patient about how intense and memorable his dreams have become since starting on antidepressants that made me think that's actually something I know a lot about. If there's one common side-effect that majorly affected my life in the past years, it's that. The success of medications in what they're supposed to do varied a lot for me, but what was there since day one and remained throughout numerous changes is how my dreams were altered by the drugs. 

It's pretty much any psychoactive medication you can take that can have such side-effects. For me, I think it is chlorprothixene that does it. Some medications are known for it more than others. Mirtazapine is the one with the highest reputation for intense dreams, and I can say from my own experience that it is quite effective in doing it. This is not to be confused with another common side-effect, a much more unpleasant one, frequent nightmares. I think an entirely different part of the brain is affected for that side-effect and entirely different meds do it. The intense dreams I am talking about are rarely unpleasant and even more rarely nightmares. 

It's some really weird stuff you get in your dream phase. Just last night I dreamt I was in a sequel to the movie The Thing, and in the dream the thing was a brilliant tactician that perfectly planned out who to take over at what time for the maximum tactical gain. The goal was to frighten me, because I was the prize it wanted to take over for some reason, but it could only take me over if I was scared. At one point it took the form of Cthulhu, but it was sort of a 50s James Dean Cthulhu with a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. It was destroying things and killing people but it looked ridiculous. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Now imagine I get dreams like that every single night, and they're always extremely vivid and I remember them for hours. It's what everyone who likes dreaming would wish for, if it didn't involve taking pills. 

I think it is up to everyone for him- or herself whether or not you see this as a blessing, a curse, or something you just don't give a damn about. For myself, I see it as a bit of a gift, because I've had many creative ideas from my dreams, and I wrote down or permanently memorised some of the best ones with the intention of making them part of a book some time in the future. But I can see how to some people this intense dreaming may be annoying or unsettling. I can only recommend it as a conversation starter at the very least. A lot of people love to dream and might envy us psychoactive medication consumers if they knew we have some of the best dreams you can get every night. 

For many people, the question probably is whether there could be therapeutical potential in this type of dreaming. Does traditional dream interpretation work with dreams clearly influenced by chemicals? That's provided dream interpretation works at all, it's not without controversy. But it's an interesting question, whether there is important information about ourselves in these dreams, and whether by amplifying them and making them more memorable, meds make our dreams and thereby our subconscious more accessible. At one point I should write down everything I dream and read up on some dream interpretation to see if there's any useful information in it at all. Mental health professionals feel free to give some insight in the comments. 

In the end, to me it's mostly a pleasant diversion to think about the dreams while I am awake, and sometimes an inspiration for creative writing. But in my dream phase, while my brain is coming up with all that stuff, I can't help but think it's the most awesome side-effect any medication could have.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Life with an anxiety disorder - Part VII: Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Last in the collection of anxiety issues I have personal experience with is obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is not nearly as pronounced or bothersome as my social anxiety or my somatoform autonomic dysfunction, but it is still a key puzzle piece of the big picture of what goes on in my mind, anxiety-wise. Perhaps some of you are familiar with some of it through various media, including that film with Jack Nicholson, but reality is often different from popular perception. 

As the name implies, OCD is split into two main components: Obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. The latter is what you'll find popularised in mainstream depiction. People suffering from that component of the disorder are forced to constantly repeat certain rituals individual to the afflicted. This may include washing your hands after every time they are used, or checking whether the door is locked a particular number of times, or locking it a particular number of times, or arranging your silverware a particular way before eating, and so forth. This is generally for the afflicted to feel safe from whatever impending doom he associates with that ritual happening.  Psychologists call it "magical thinking", if I recall correctly, meaning there's a certain magical effect associated with the rituals. And that only performing them correctly and every time will allow the magic to work. 

Personally I don't really deal with any of that sort of stuff. I'm an obsessive thoughts kind of guy. Most OCD people have both types of symptoms, one more than the other, but for me the obsessive part absolutely dominates. It's some of the most bizarre stuff that goes on in my head, and the only reason I don't consider it a major issue is how relatively rarely it happens and how easily it goes away when it occurs. 

Obsessive thoughts aren't really what you'd think at first when hearing the term, having certain thoughts that you obsess over for extended periods of time. That would be ruminating. They're thoughts that just shoot into your head and kind of force themselves into you against your will. It pretty much always is deeply disturbing stuff. It goes against all your moral values, everything you stand for in a profound way. A psychiatrist once told me obsessive thoughts are pretty much the exact opposite of what the person experiencing them actually believes, and it seems quite true to me. 

Examples of obsessive thoughts include situations in which I ride my bicycle and a truck comes the other way and suddenly I have the thought of steering my bike (and myself) in front of the truck. Or jumping when I'm in a high place. Those are self-harm related thoughts. I also get a lot about harming others, such as the thought of kicking a child in the face when I see one. It gets a lot darker and more disturbing than that, but I'm not comfortable putting that in public. There are thoughts about taking off all my clothes and/or jacking off in public as well. All kinds of thoughts that just force themselves into your head against your will and make you think you're some sick, crazy sociopath. 

It's often not easy to talk about, because this stuff is so disturbing, and what gets you in particular is the nagging feeling that they are manifestations of someone you really are subconsciously. But as I said, they are not. They're the exact opposite. That's OCD. Someone has yet to explain to me what exactly causes these thoughts. Because it has never been a major issue to me I have never researched it. But I do know that obsessive thoughts in no way represent you as a person, and that technically, if you have them, you shouldn't think of yourself as the new Jack the Ripper, or whatever your thoughts are. 

I say "technically" because it isn't easy. For a long time I was deeply concerned about this stuff going on inside my head, and every time one of these obsessive thoughts occurred I used to grimace and try to force it out of my head. And there was a lot of shame about what kind of monster I thought I was. It wasn't until I got a little more information on what OCD is and how common it is that the shame started to subside a little. More so over time. I still hated the thoughts and tried everything to make them go away, which was an extremely stressful situation and only seemed to make it worse. 

In the end, a psychotherapist told me that trying to force obsessive thoughts to stop indeed makes them worse, because it gives your brain the information that these thoughts are extremely important and the neural connections for them need to be maintained and strengthened because they are so important. What actually does help is what some of you have learned or will learn in mindfulness exercises: Let the thoughts come, let them happen, know what they are, don't judge them or assign value to them, and just let them pass. May seem like an impossible task at first, but it's really very easy, and I can attest to that helping a lot in reducing frequency and especially severity of obsessive thoughts. Simple psychological trick that worked miracles for me. 

Yes, these thoughts can still be bothersome and disturbing sometimes, and there are still moments when I think I'm some kind of monster, but it really improved a lot, to the point that I consider OCD the least of my worries. But it's still up there and still a part of myself, probably interacting with my other issues to some degree. Will be interesting to see if I can ever fully get rid of it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Alcoholism: A love story - Part VIII: Sober

At this point I have written so much about the dark side of alcoholism, I think it's time I mention "the other side" that I've come to know recently. After detox in August 2009 I stayed sober for two and a half years. It was a pretty shitty time because there's some sort of post-alcoholic depression that I don't know whether it's something semi-official doctors know about or just my bad luck or my brain's way of punishing me. Symptoms of my anxiety disorders were going rampant, couldn't leave the house, felt like crap all day every day.

I was however in psychiatric treatment, and though I went through many false diagnoses - mainly schizophrenia - and thus went through the wrong types of treatment for a long time, through trial and error, doctors eventually found ways to alleviate some symptoms. More and more of them over time. This is turn made me more social and I generally found myself doing a little more, which helped, too. Anxiety disorder and depression were still a big issue, but I had some slight relief in some areas.

Eventually I felt comfortable enough to have a few drinks here and then. It was never a big deal to me because I was never convinced that you'd relapse from drinking once, you'd have to drink over a longer period of time for addiction to kick in again. And I was right. Drinking occasionally was no issue at all. In fact, doctors told me that it really isn't that much of an issue as long as I pace myself and don't overdo it. It did however become more of an issue every now and then, there were times when I would drink several days in a row, or when I'd drink regularly every week. Those times were usually associated with a general feeling crappy. A lot of depression usually means I am more prone to drinking not entirely out of control, but with less than full control. I did have to do one smaller detox in December 2014, not in any way comparable to the big detox in 2009, but it was something I had to do at the hospital because I had overdone things a little and my body told me it was not amused. After that I was still fine with drinking occasionally, but I still had periods when I couldn't fully handle it.

So about a month ago I decided that's it, I'm going to stay sober for the time being. Things have changed since the last time I stayed sober. As you can see in the first post of my "Pills..."-series, I got new stuff called ziprasidone which helps a lot with my depression and anxiety. Had it since February 2015. With that stuff in my system, sobriety really is an amazing experience I haven't felt in a very long time. All of a sudden there's all sorts of stuff I find myself being able to do. Just look at the amount of posts on this blog I have written recently. I've also been working on a lot of music (I'm a musician, guess the genre), been working on drawing band logos which I think I am quite good at, have been starting to get into learning to code (website stuff, as in html, css, php, javascript), and there's a ton of other things I want to get into. I've even been starting on my idea of writing a novel. I have a lot of creative energy and with the new med and the extended period (by my standards) of sobriety so far I have a lot of drive and ambition to put all my ideas into action, make everything a reality.

Whether or not I will eventually get myself two sixpacks of some nice German beer eventually and have a little party with myself or friends I do not know. Tomorrow I start a long-term inpatient anxiety therapy at a very high profile clinic, which could be around three months, obviously no drinking there. But after that I do not know. What I do know is that right now, being sober works miracles for my disposition. I feel great. I feel better than I have in a long time. It's something every drinker should do sometimes, take an extended/open-ended break, live your life a little. A few years ago, "yolo" aka "you only live once" has been a popular slogan among morons to justify doing some total shit with your life. For me, "you only live once" means that you should use as much of that one life you have to make an impression on the world people will remember. Do something good, or at least something you think is good. Being wasted can be great, but spending most of your time not being wasted leads to something even greater. Something like a rewarding, fulfilling life.

Not trying to preach here, and I certainly didn't turn anti-alcohol. Just enjoying this extended/open-ended break a lot. I'll likely have a couple drinks again some time in the future, but after my current experience with sobriety, I'm going to make long, productive periods my focus in life. It's the true "yolo." And it's awesome.

Alcoholism: A love story - Part VII: Believe in yourself - say "No!" to AA

This is a subject that is very close to home for me. Those of you who have known me before reading this blog know that I have a long history of addiction, with many ups and downs, good choices and poor choices and a lot of stories to tell. Being an addict is not something that is easy to deal with, and in most cases you need help. The problem is that a lot of people who offer you help do not have your best interest in mind. There are some really shady groups out there, and chances are that if you have dealt with alcohol abuse in your life, there's one you will inevitably have come across.

What I would like to talk about are the lies perpetuated by Alcoholics Anonymous and its subgroups (Gamblers Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Foot Fetishists Anonymous and a thousand others devoted to just about everything you can develop an addiction to) and an alternative solution to the problems it deceitfully proposes to solve through shady methods. Basically two very different ways to go: Their way, or the right way (one that I and others I have met with similar experiences went.)

First of all, there is their way: The Twelve Steps:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
 Let us examine everything that is wrong with these steps, one by one, shall we?

The first is the worst. Admitting to be powerless is the worst thing you can do as an addict. This is what I would counter with an attitude of "addicts' empowerment" to address the issue properly. You are never powerless. It was you who got you into that mess and it is you and no one (or nothing) else who can get you out of it again. You didn't become an addict as the result of some disease or demons or whatever they have you believe in, you made the choice to go down that road, and you can make a choice to go a different way. You have the power. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Believe me, I know what it is like when one's life becomes unmanageable as a result of one's addiction. There is only one solution: Take control, make a cut, and start back from square one.

Then comes number two. I know from U.S. TV shows that people in the United States refer to taking a dump as "number two", and it seems very appropriate for the AA's second step. First of all there is the matter of addiction and sanity. Yes, insanity can be the reason for addiction: For example, a lot of my meanest drinking habits could be attributed to myself attempting to use alcohol to suppress panic attacks that were the result - I did not know back then, the diagnosis came years after I quit - of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, addiction is not a form of insanity by itself. It is, in almost every case, a symptom of a deeper problem, be it insanity or other deeply entrenched psychological issues. And it should be treated as a symptom. Direct and rapid treatment, read: detox, in the case of alcohol it is over in one week and the symptom is dealt with, works like a nasal spray or cough syrup. Once you have eliminated the symptom, and only then, can you deal with the underlying issue. And here you do not need "a power greater than yourself", in fact that might even do more harm than good because belief in something immaterial might bring some short-term relief but distract you from actively dealing with the problem that led you to addiction. No, I am afraid there is no quick fix. In most cases, that being almost all, you will need proper treatment. How involved this is can be your choice. You can see a doctor once a month or you can commit yourself to an in-patient institution, usually rehab, to work on your problem intensively. But the minimum requirement is a proper diagnosis, from a doctor, not WebMD, research into proper solutions, with the help of your doctor and through research of your own (unlike with the diagnosis, here you can freely search the internet for pointers), and the will to work hard to overcome whatever underlying problem led you to addiction. It's going to be a rough ride, but you want to get out of the mess you got into, no? Toughen up and bite your way through. "Greater power" my shiny metal ass.

Does it get worse than step two? Oh yes, the Twelve Steps have the unique ability to surprise you with yet more revolting and misguided "advice" with each new step. I already quoted it above, but let me repeat step three once more, in all caps for emphasis: "(WE) MADE A DECISION TO TURN OUR WILL AND OUR LIVES OVER TO THE CARE OF GOD AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM." (Love the italics on the last four words. Tacky attempt at suckering people from other faiths into the true path™.) This one makes me furious! First of all: You made a decision? Thought you were powerless. But that's just nitpicking. It's not even the bit about "God" that infuriates me, it is the eight words after "decision": "To turn our will and our lives over." No! You don't turn your life over to anyone or anything! Nothing good will ever come from that. And your will? Are you serious? Turn over your will? Then you lose everything that makes you a human being. I hear Nietzsche rotating in his grave as I type this. What you do with your will and your life is the exact opposite, take control back over them. Adjust them to a new purpose: Beating the burden that bogs down your life and fucks you up in a way you hate more than anything. Your will and your life are what you depend on the most at this point, they are your only hope to get out of this in one piece. Hang on to them, they are of the essence to your recovery. Hand them over to anyone or anything and you have already lost. You, like other AA drones, may stop drinking, smoking, gambling, injecting, snorting or watching porn for a while, but you are running away from the hard road to recovery by refusing to take responsibility of your life.

Step four gets into morality. You have read the exact quote above, and you will have noticed how it is deliberately vague. Okay, so you are looking into which times you have done well morally and which times you fucked up. That's not a bad thing to do per se, on the contrary, it's something every addict just as much as every non-addict should do occasionally. The implications of the context of the Twelve Step Program are of course a little more sinister, since it just spent the previous three steps blathering about God and greater powers. So it's not your own moral guidelines they want you to examine yourself by, it's theirs. That's a load of bull. If you want to quit whatever you're into right now, religious rules are the last thing you need to screw up your bearings. But even if there wasn't the shady context of the first three steps, examining every time you fucked up is not something you should concern yourself with in the immediate process of getting out of the addiction, it is something to do when you go through therapy to take care of the underlying problems for your addiction, because these underlying problems are likely the true root of your screw-ups. Basically, what step four is trying to tell you is that you should blame your addiction for the times you screwed up. Prime example: Beat up your wife and kids while drunk? It's the alcohol's fault! Reality check: Nope, it isn't. Alcohol was a catalyst for something seriously wrong inside your head and when you remove the alcohol something is still seriously wrong inside your head (you beat your wife and kids, should be self-evident), you are just less likely to act on it. In the example I just named, you need some SERIOUS therapy. No seeing a doc once a month, this is the stuff for prolonged in-patient rehab. No way around it. And it's going to take a long-ass time. And you have to face the fact that it might be better if your wife and kids ditched you, and if you are serious about making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself you will have to present them this option and let them know you would be okay with it if they left, otherwise you would be, pardon my French, an asshole. That is just one example, there are many other ways you can screw up in ways that are amplified by your addiction BUT NOT CAUSED BY IT, but they all only have one solution: You have to make a serious commitment to fixing this. No scapegoats, no blame game, no greater power, get off your rotten ass and do it.

You may have noticed that step four did not mention God by name. Fear not, he's back with a vengeance. I don't know what else to say about this fifth step that I haven't already said in my paragraph about the fourth step, except for the fact that step five is, well, pretty pointless. Yes, once you reach the point in your road to recovery that it is time to examine your screw-ups as detailed in the previous paragraph, you must of course accept them yourself and, God aside, seek an outside perspective, preferably from a professional. Shouldn't this be self-evident?

The sixth one just gives me a headache. Yeah, that's gonna work just beautifully. Ten Hail Marys and *poof* your defects of character are gone. Do I really need to get into how this is a load of nonsense? You obviously got to work on your flaws yourself. I'm afraid magic tricks from supernatural entities won't get you very far. Quite frankly, provided you believe in God the way Christianity teaches him, and you assume that he created you, and you go to him saying "Hey God, thanks for creating me (and the universe and everything else), but you screwed up here and there, would you mind fixing that?", how do you think he'd feel hearing this, being an all-powerful, all-knowing entity who makes no mistakes, and certainly none a mere human could spot and know how to fix? That doesn't make much sense from a theological perspective, is frankly quite rude towards the guy who created the universe and everything in it, and is most likely just a way for AA to sucker you into becoming more and more deeply entangled in their cult, because if God isn't fixing your character, surely you gotta pray more or something? Go to church more often, empty your wallet, there are still defects in your character you bum!

Step seven is just an addendum to step six. Yeah, God's gotta get rid of those shortcomings for you, too. Because shortcomings are obviously not included in "defects", so they gotta be an additional step.

The eighth step is something that if you went to a psychiatrist or therapist or anyone with proper training in the field and told him a group advised you to do that, they would ask you what the hell kind of purpose that is supposed to serve? I mean, yeah, people close to you, obviously, such as your spouse, your children, your family, closest friends, if you put them through a hard time, you gotta try your best to make it better, especially if they remained loyal to you throughout the years, you owe them. But AA wants you to make a list of all people you have ever harmed. What for? Don't you have enough to worry about without making a list of people on whose mailbox you peed twelve years ago? Nah, you gotta focus on what's important. First, get yourself in order, then get your life in order, then get the lives of those around you in order. Focus your energy on these three things instead of spending weeks trying to find the name and address of the guy you punched in the nose during a bar fight in 1997. Focus on your life and the life of those you love and who love you. AA is just trying to overwhelm you so you offer less resistance to their proselytising. Don't give them a chance to make a mess of your head and turn it inside out, you made a mess of it already, and your goal is to make it less of a mess, not more.

Next two steps are pointless filler again like the seventh, just repeating what was said in previous steps.

What the hell is wrong with the people who wrote the eleventh step is inexplicable to me. No one can be that far gone. This is basically "pray the gay away" for alcoholics. In fact, this is literally "pray the gay away" for alcoholics. It's not going to work. It's never going to work. In the United States, people are told by courts to either go to AA or go to jail. And thanks to the poor appeal of U.S. jails, this is what people end up with. This type of shit is not a treatment or help for anything, they are literally saying outright that their only purpose is to convert you to Christianity, and sending you to jail as an alternative is the exact same thing Islamic State is doing to religious minorities in Iraq and Syria right now. That's the kind of thing we want to be like? Joining a cult has never done anything good for anyone. What you want is therapy. You want to work on your problems. You want to get yourself in a position in which you can deal with all your problems without resorting to alcohol or whatever else you may be addicted to. This is hard work, and it requires help from trained professionals who base their work on hard science and decades of experience in how to properly deal with addiction. You can't "pray the gay away", you can't if you're gay, and you certainly can't if you're an alcoholic. Fuck this shit, seriously, it pisses me off to no end.

Last but not least, once we're fully brainwashed into this creepy little cult - at least that's their goal, the smarter ones of us never gave them the satisfaction - we spread the word to anyone we can get our hands on. At this point their intentions become obvious even to those so blind that they could not see them in the first eleven steps. This is an organisation to promote Christianity, and to get people to forego proper therapy in order to maintain their underlying illnesses, keep the relapse potential high so AA can always be sure they will keep coming back. In short, they are deliberately keeping people ill so they can maintain a dependency on the organisation. It's disgusting as shit. How it can even be legal in a civilised society in way beyond me. They are deliberately inflicting harm by preventing treatment of serious mental conditions, all in order to maintain permanent control over the person. And then they openly urge their subject to lure in other people who are at their weakest point in life, increase the flock of submissive drones, brainwashed into believing they are powerless and only the ways of the cult can keep them alive. I repeat, this is enforced as the only alternative to jail in the world's leading superpower. And offshoots of this sickening sect exist in every other Western society and exact a good deal of power there. If that doesn't make you a little nauseous, you have a higher tolerance for modern barbarism than I do.

You are not going to be helped by any of these steps or anything this organisation does. A lot of people say it has helped them, but it is always short-term relief. Since they actively prevent you from seeking proper treatment for your underlying problems, these problems are always going to be there to steer you on the road to relapse. And the numbers are obvious: Do a little Google search on the relapse rate of people going to AA compared to people seeking proper medical/psychiatric treatment. It's horrifying. And this is still done in 2015. Always remember that we live in the 21st century, not the early 20th. Shit like AA should not exist in the world in which we have such great medical advances as we do. It should not exist in any world.

What should exist, and I can't say this often enough, is a mindset that you are in power of your life, that it is up to you to take control back over your life, that you are the one making the decisions, that it is you who is going to work on your issues, that you are going to work hard and not be distracted or deterred, that you are the one who holds the cards and decides your future. You are not powerless. Nobody is powerless because of addiction. You may feel that way sometimes when you lose all control over what happens, but control is not power. Power is something you will always have. And with that power, control is something you can regain just as well as you could lose it. It's up to you to exercise your power to MAKE A DECISION. You decide that you want no more of your addiction in your life, that you want to be in control of your life, and you decide that it's time to stop letting an addiction run your life, that it's time to do something about it, and that you will do the right thing about it. You will not hand over your will and your life and pray the gay away, you will take charge and seek the professional help that you need. Never let anyone tell you you are powerless. You got into this mess, you can get out. Fuck AA. Believe in yourself.