Action not Reaction

For Every Action, There Is An Opposite Reaction

When last we met, i described how Step 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps had me detailing my defects and defaults to another human being. This step was key because it forced me 1) to unburden the secrets i used to have to drink to drown and 2) put them out in the open where i could deal with them.

That done, i was ready to move onto Step 6:

[I was] entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The key to this step, my sponsor explained, is the “entirely ready”. “Entirely ready” means i do not expect myself to become a saint and don’t pressure myself to be perfect. i do not beat myself up for my shortcomings…but i no longer use them as crutches or excuses, either.

It’s all about recognizing patterns. Lately, i’ve been noticing when i get angry or become anxious that it’s like there’s two parts to my brain, the one part that feels and another, distant part that stands off on the sidelines and observes.

In the past, i wasn’t able to distinguish between these two entities, so i thought they were one. If i felt an impulse, i had to act on it because it was valid.  The fact it was an urge that came from deep inside of me meant it was good, by definition. Now i understand i need to analyze these urges to see if they’re good or not.

That’s what i mean by “action, not reaction “. Instead of reacting blindly to stimulus, i need to take a step back and act responsibly and consciously. Sometimes the best reaction is no action at all. Sometimes, doing the right thing means doing nothing. Keeping my mouth closed and losing the battle to keep the peace. Or if i’m anxious, “acting” means sitting myself down and for the rational part of my brain to tell the freaking out part, “You go ahead and freak out for as long as you need,  i’ll be over here waiting, just let me know when you finish.”


About Al K Hall

Like a battered drinker or a punch drunk boxer, i am here for another round. For those of you who don’t know me, i’m a semi-professional writer on the rocks and a non-practicing alcoholic (if after 30 years of practicing, you still can't do something well, it's best to just give it up). For those of you who do know me, thanks for stopping by anyway and where’s the ten bucks you owe me? Welcome to my Bar None. A hole in the wall where we can hang out and trade the kind of stories you swap only when you’ve had one too many and either can’t find your way home or are afraid to. Hell, it’s cheaper than therapy and plus the pictures are prettier. Here we’ll crack open bottles and jokes and ‘last call’ are the only dirty words you’ll never hear. Pull up a stool and make yourselves at home.

Posted on May 29, 2012, in AA Step Work, Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholism, Lessons in Recovery, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Awesome post, Al.

    I think there is an analogy to writing here. Immediate reactions are like the first draft. There might be something good there that needs polishing. Or maybe it’s complete horseshit and needs to be discarded. But the first draft is never the best.

    Your post reminded me of this essay from the SMART site:

    “Preoccupation or obsession with one type of thought causes tunnel vision, in which only those aspects of existence that support that way of thinking are recognised. The result is one predominant and usually quite painful emotion, such as chronic anger, anxiety or depression. Tunnel vision is the foundation of neurosis and is the opposite of awareness.

    Increasing awareness requires noticing and questioning automatic thoughts, particularly those which are causing continued painful feelings. Regard your thoughts as a slow-motion film. Look at your internal dialogue frame by frame – notice the millisecond it takes to say “I can’t stand it”, or the half-second image of a terrifying event.”

    • ITSB!

      Funny, i hesitated a long time about posting this puppy because i was afraid it was too preachy and intellectual…

      i really liked that concept of looking at my thoughts like a slow motion film! Great advice, brother!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

      • I’m now reading a book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by a Nobel Prize winner in Economics. And it’s absolutely fascinating so far. Here’s the wiki page:,_Fast_and_Slow

        But I think what you are describing is very similar to the two systems of thought that he explores, which he calls dryly System 1 and System 2:

        “The book’s central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking…”

        I think at some point someone with a drinking problem (or other addiction) manages to have “drinking” weave itself into both systems, to the point that System 1 takes over saying “drink drink drink” and System 2 essentially shuts down, or at least causes the person to take steps to protect himself, by isolating, and drinking in safe places. Extreme traumas (such as hitting rock bottom) force System 2 to kick back into production and realize that something needs to be done about the problem.

        Anyway, I highly recommend the book. Thinking about thinking is a wonderful form of therapy.

        • So, you’re saying i think like a genius, right? That’s what i got out of this. Lol!

          i agree so much with what he says! This line especially rang true for me:

          Extreme traumas (such as hitting rock bottom) force System 2 to kick back into production and realize that something needs to be done about the problem.

          Thanks for the heads up! i’ll definitely look for this if i ever decide to start reading again!

          Thinking about thinking is a wonderful form of therapy.

          Now who’s the genius?

          Keep coming back, Brother,

          Al K Hall

  2. You so totally hit your head on the nail and I had a wonderful aha-moment! There is actions going on in our minds all the time and I automatically react – with no forethought and most often no afterthought either.

    Thank you for sharing this great post and good luck with your 6th step!

    • Hi River!

      i hit the nail on the head or hit my head on a nail? Sometimes i think i do both simultaneously!

      Thanks for stopping by and your support, my friend!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

      • Hahaa oooh lawd… Even when I wrote the “hitting your head on the nail” I thought… how does that make any sense? Hitting your head on a nail could probably kill ya! But then I got distracted and moved on (rather than doublecheck with Google). And then I wrote the same damn phrase somewhere else in another comment!

        Still laughing about it… geesh

  3. working on it

    Powerful post. I read it more than.once to take it all in. In my worklife I am anal retentive about stepping back and analysing the information and patterns before I act. In my personal life it totally goes out of the window. I’m.a reconciler yet I can’t seem to reconcile.this.

    • Hi Working On It!

      i was exactly in the place where you are and there was an exercise i did that helped me. At the end of every day (or every couple of days) i physically wrote down on paper with a pen when i’d been angry. By getting in the habit of doing this, the delay between my urge and the conscious realization of it got shorter and shorter… ANyway, that’s what worked for me!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

  4. jumpingpolarbear

    Seems like a fun party :).

  5. Huge step to STEP back. Huge. I still can’t do it all the time … then i’m in a swamp of back-peddling. However, the good news is, as you say, i do not need to be perfect, but i DO need to find a way to deal more maturely, erm, or more peacefully … perhaps less REACTIONARY!!! This is a tricky one for me, but i have seen great improvement. It’s amazing how much you learn when you’re in a committed relationship: Reactionary (taken too far) is a sure-fire way to sour a relationship.

    • Hi Mel!

      How true that the step back is one of the biggest steps we can take. i’m learning to stop trying to be perfect but instead to work on being better…

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

  1. Pingback: See Your Thoughts « Al K Hall-ic Anonymous

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