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Behavioral Learning

Cognitive Behavioral Learning

Cognitive Behavioral Learning

The following is copied from the 14th edition of the St. Jude Program, also known as The New Choice.
Baldwin Research Institute, Inc., 9 Market Street, Amsterdam, NY 12010 © 2016 all rights reserved)

Usually, when people try to quit or reign in an addiction of some sort, they try to scare themselves into submission, or they look for some controlling force outside of themselves to change their behavior. Both of these strategies result in a lot of pain, confusion, and short-lived attempts to change.

The fear method of change seems like common sense to most of us. For example, we might try to remind ourselves of all the horrible things that will happen if we don't stop our use. Our loved ones will leave us, we'll give ourselves health problems, and we'll go broke spending money on our habits - so we'd better stop. You sit there beating yourself up with these thoughts, generating a massive amount of fear and guilt. And then you go right ahead and start drinking, drugging, or doing whatever it was you were trying to scare yourself out of all over again.

Too many people spend years implementing the fear method with no success to speak of. They come out of the experience a nervous mess, and confused, saying "I don't know why I'd keep doing this when it's cost me so much." This is sad to see and it is totally unnecessary.

Then there is the external control method. We look for our loved ones to control us - let them do the scaring, or hold onto our paycheck, or implement some other form of control. We look to counselors, therapists, support groups, and rehabs to control us. I know of past guests who had gone so far as to hire a sobriety bodyguard whose job it was to babysit them and save them from themselves! In all of these situations the thoughts are the same: maybe they'll pressure us in the right way. Maybe they'll change the way we think. Maybe they have a miracle drug that can make our choices for us. Maybe if we sign up for drug testing at the outpatient clinic that'll keep us from using drugs.

We're hoping that we can put someone else in the position to make our choices for us. It's an attractive idea. We resolve to call our support group sponsor about every choice we have to make, and to let them run our lives for a while. We think that we haven't done such a good job of making our own decisions, so why not let them do it?

It would work if it was truly possible for others to make our decisions for us, but it's not. When you really want to use substances, you simply don't choose to call your sponsor. When you want to drink, you stop taking your Antabuse or Naltrexone. When you want to smoke, you take off the nicotine patch. When you're afraid of not getting your "30 day chip" at the meetings, you hide your weekend crack binge and pretend that you've been consistently abstinent. And even though your therapist's words are comforting when you meet, they don't change your mind when you're on your own and start to believe that you'll explode in rage unless you have a drink. You always end up making your own decisions.

These common methods of dealing with substance use problems usually fail because they directly conflict with a few facts about the nature of human beings. The fear based methods fail because motivation is positive. That is, you pursue happiness in everything that you do. Fear of negative consequences just doesn't effectively tap into this drive in a way that causes much change. Fear might temporarily change your trajectory, but as quick as it came, it fades. Then your mind once again returns to what might make you happier. To change the course of your life, the most effective way is to change what you see as your path to happiness. The practice of continuously welling up fear within yourself does not generate a vision of greater happiness. Although we all want to avoid pain, it is not our prime motivator. If it was, then we'd just stop all action of any kind, because everything in life costs us in some way. That's not what we do though. We move, always, toward what we believe will make us happy. We refer to this fact of human nature as The Positive Drive Principle, or PDP for short. Again, the fear method of change works directly against this part of our nature, and that is why the effects from fear are so short-lived.

The external control methods of change incorporate fear, and they go against some other distinctly important parts of our nature as well. The most obvious one is free will. We make our own choices at all times, but the practice of getting into treatment programs represents an odd attempt to stop making our own choices. As demonstrated above, the hope is that some helper can direct our lives - but the choice to listen to their direction is in itself a free choice - and if our judgment tells us that their direction is wrong, or doesn't serve our needs and desires well enough, then we will ignore their directions.

There's nothing wrong with seeking counsel from someone you trust, but when done under the falsehood that we are "out of control", that our "free will has been hijacked", and that we are generally not making our own choices, it adds confusion to our lives - because it isn't true. Furthermore, when our search for helpful words is equated with medical treatment, the impression is that the words of the counselor will stop us from choosing to use substances in the same way that a surgical procedure stops an infection from spreading. This charade hides our free will from us, and it conflicts with the exercise of our will, complicating and bogging down our decision making processes that we will go through, regardless of whether we're playing the charade of being "treated" for our choices or "supported" in our battle against the nonexistent disease of addiction.

Free will is your uniquely human attribute by which you choose your own thoughts and actions. Any method of change that denies or attempts to circumvent this attribute will either fail, or result in troubling unintended consequences. For example, although some people who attend support group meetings are clearly choosing to stop drinking, they end up believing that the meetings cause them to stop drinking. As a result, they often become fearful and anxious when they can't get to a meeting, and become convinced that they'll uncontrollably begin drinking. Essentially, the charade in which they pretend to not have free will ultimately burden them with new fears and anxieties. This is to say nothing of the fact that it leaves many more people just plain confused, feeling hopeless and helpless, and returning quickly to problematic levels of substance use.

Finally, there is the uniquely human attribute of mental Autonomy. What is meant by this is that your mind is an impenetrable fortress. It means that no one or no thing can force or cause you to think or feel any particular way. As Dr Viktor Frankl put, the last of human freedoms is the ability to choose your own attitude. This attribute is easily demonstrated by cases like Frankl, who chose to feel strong and motivated, even while physically stripped of everything in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. It is demonstrated by those born with physical handicaps who choose to see themselves as "differently abled" despite those who pressure them to behave helplessly.

With autonomy, everyone is the master of their own mind. Nevertheless, we ignore this fact with external control methods of change. We invest in a vision of ourselves as delicate beings, helplessly brainwashed, and mentally and emotionally pushed in any direction by our circumstances. For example, we learn to avoid so-called "triggers" such as the sight of a liquor store or drug paraphernalia - believing these things can literally force us to want to use substances. We're told to avoid "toxic" people whose words can cause us anxiety and stress that we'll then be forced to self-medicate with substances. Or we're told that circumstances such as living in an impoverished environment can cause us to desire and to ultimately use substances heavily.

All of this ignores that we are the masters of our own minds - we have autonomy. Again, because this attribute is ignored in external control methods of change, there a rampant problems with this method and unintended consequences. The answer is simple, you don't have to believe that heavy substance use is all that great anymore - and boom - it doesn't matter if you see any so-called triggers! You can believe that your other pursuits are more important than getting high - and boom - it doesn't matter if you live in an impoverished neighborhood amongst drug dealers!

These personal thoughts are what you have the most immediate direct control over. And yet they are completely ignored (even denied) as a tool to change in the external control methods. Instead, they seek to change the world outside of you, or to retreat into some artificial safe space. People are encouraged to spend months or even years on "sober living" communities; they're taught to work frantically to avoid triggers, or else they'll relapse; and they're taught to see themselves as an inevitable product of their environment, and to simply lower their expectations of a brighter future, and learn to cope with their predetermined fate. This all leads to a lot of unnecessary inconvenience, pain, and repeated episodes of problematic substance use for those who are led astray in this way. Because you have mental autonomy, you can choose to throw the ideology of fear and external control based methods away, and choose the beliefs and attitude that will eventuate in a brighter future.

So What is Cognitive Behavioral Learning?

CBL tackles more than just the challenges of addiction on a personal level; it is constantly raising questions about the misleading American addiction culture as a whole. We call this culture of misinformed and often dangerous addiction mythology the recovery society. You will hear us refer to the recovery society a lot throughout this book. The recovery society includes treatment, recovery, 12 step dogma, and any method that attempts to stave off addiction through some external means such as therapy, rehab, support meetings, etc. In contrast to the recovery society, CBL is internal to you - so you ALWAYS HAVE CONTROL. CBL is also based on being motivated past addiction rather than being fearful of addiction or feeling deprived of your wants and desires.

The CBL Method is quite simple. We recognize these 3 human attributes:

And then we present a learning experience with information and exercises that provide a proactive way to tap into the attributes as tools for personal change. In CBL, you are seen as already fully capable of solving your problem. Think about that. Does any methodology within the recovery society assume you have decision making power and that you will make the correct choice for yourself? Recovery society charades in which it is pretended that someone else can force you to change long-term, are avoided at all costs in CBL. Judgments of what choices you "should" or "shouldn't" make are avoided in the CBL experience as well, and are left up to the individual. In CBL we focus on providing factual information and solid self-evident theory in every CBL experience or exercise. You can then use these exercises as tools to make the choices that will serve you best, according to your own preferences and judgment - not ours, nor society's preferences.

As a CBL participant, your role is easy to follow: do your best to grasp and consider the information and theories presented and then choose to apply those lessons or not - whatever suits your needs better. As you challenge the habits of thought and action that have left you troubled, you will become more active and motivated to positively and confidently change them. If you stick with fear and external control based methods, you'll miss out on what can be gained by the CBL method.

The Four Universal Axioms

In addition to the CBL method we will also discuss what we call the Four Universal Axioms throughout this book. These axioms, or universal truths, define some of the main rules that frame the playing field of life and the human experience within it. These are principles we all live by whether we know it or not. It's like a baseball game. If you are knowledgeable of the playing field, the rules, the general idea of strategy within those rules, well,...then you have a pretty good chance at not only playing the game, but also a chance at winning the game. The Four Universal Axioms are like that, except the game is life. Each Axiom is a truth, or a rule of life. You can't change them, adjust them, or buck them. They a just are. They define the playing field we all work and live within.

If you have no knowledge of these universal truths, then how can you effectively play the game? You can't of course; you will always be limited by the level of your ignorance of them. So we took it upon ourselves to seek out those principles that make up this thing called life and made sure you will have a fantastic working knowledge of them. With a clear understanding of the rules and playing field, you can succeed as never before! Of course these axioms apply to overcoming substance use issues, but that would short change their overall positive scope of influence should you understand and embrace them. Their message of personal power provides a framework in which to overcome any obstacle and build a more fulfilling life. The Four Universal Axioms are:

  1. Change is constant.
  2. You are what you think.
  3. There is no free lunch.
  4. Your happiness is in your hands.

I think it is rather obvious to you by now that CBL and the Four Universal Principles have nothing to do with therapy, support groups, rehab, treatment, or any recovery society ideas. That is because what you will discover in the New Choice is not a dependence upon a system or a group or a program, but rather your own power and a world view that encourages your understanding and use of it.