Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I really like my Tuesday night meeting.  It is filled with all kinds of people at different levels of recovery and no recovery.  There are newcomers who cry, people who come but have no sponsor, others who have a lot of wisdom, and many double winners of which several violate the traditions.  The group is large and the room is filled to overflowing every Tuesday night.

Last night, I brought a fellow who had not gone to this meeting before.  He has been in Al-Anon for a number of years.  His impression of the group was that there was a lot of intellectualizing going on.  He stressed that Al-Anon is a spiritual program and isn't about the intellect.   

I know a lot about intellectualizing.  It's what I do as a scientist.  In recovery though, it means avoiding emotional and personal awareness of the problem of alcoholism by being general, analytical, or theoretical.  An example of this comes to mind in which one justifies not dealing with underlying feelings because their childhood was so bad. 

Al-Anon is a spiritual program which means that I have a relationship with my Higher Power that isn't intellectual.  I have faith and a belief.  I also have a gift from this program that allows me to put myself in the shoes of another.  And through this principled determination of compassion I put aside self-will, judgment, and a host of other character defects and enhance the capacity of my heart. Eventually, as I progress the head and heart will be in alignment. 

I cannot intellectualize my way to a spiritual experience.  It basically gets down to walking the walk and not just talking the talk.  I must act on my compassion, not just pray out of compassion.

I have a concern about intellectualizing this program.  I speak plainly with my sponsor, but often with people in every day life, I have difficulty transitioning between the truth of my heart and the gray matter in my head. 

I have read that surrender is not only a part of Step One but is also essential in Steps Two and Three. I want to surrender those defense mechanisms of the ego that keep me off the spiritual path.  What are your thoughts on intellectualizing recovery? 


  1. Great posting and a good message.Thank you for this one.

  2. Exactly. I think initially this was my problem with connecting to the program.

  3. Rehabs are for intellectualizing (lots of chicken/egg talk going on there). AlAnon is for learning the tools to live your own life no matter what the alcoholic is doing.

    Frankly, after 10 years I don't care how or why my family got to this place anymore. I want to love the people in my life, live a life of purpose, and treat others with respect. I need spiritual help for that.

  4. I agree Syd, I think being over analytical/intellectualizing gets in the way, causes distraction and even can be done to the point of avoidance when it comes to recovery. I am in my head WAY too much and it is something I need to work on. I like the idea of using the steps and surrendering. Great post as usual!

  5. As some one who's been roundly criticized (justifiably) of trying to avoid the truth by what you call "intellectualizing", I can assure you: 1) I can avoid working on the underlying causes and conditions for a long time (sometimes decades) 2) I can't hold my breath forever.

    Blessings and aloha...

  6. If I am intellectualizing, I am keeping myself aloof and not allowing any emotion. I don't want to be acting totally in my feelings and being bat shit crazy with grief and anger, but I need to be on middle ground using my head and allowing myself to feel compassion and everything not just about me.

  7. HI Syd,

    Leave intellectualizing to the Health Care Professionals - We just live and love it!

    Anonymous #1

  8. I have been told at least a million times that I think too much..... just can't seem to stop the thinking....

  9. This is a huge character defect of AA sponsor called me on it once and I found myself very defensive which meant it can be A HUGE DEFECT when avoiding emotional issues.

    It is still very hard for me to turn off the analytical part of my mind since it is a big part of how I navigate the world in my work life.

    However, recently I realized that one of the problems I was having with understanding my HP was that I viewed it as my inner critic rather than a more benevolent force. Wow...I realized seeing my HP as a reflection of my EGO was WAAAAAY wrong. Now that I realize that I am a little kinder to myself.

  10. All I know is that I have never been able to intellectualize anything in my recovery. all the AHA moments I have had have been as a result of God opening my spiritual eyes rather than my analytical mind figuring it out.


  11. I know, for me, if my brain (i.e. intellect) had been enough, I wouldn't have had the chaos that I always had in my life. My dad use to say I had book sense but no common sense. I think that was a roundabout way of saying I could find my way out of the maze easily..except I kept going right back in...go figure!


  12. I'm with Prayer Girl on this, Syd. I don't know much but do know this: Thinking about something never got me into positive action. Instead, doing right actions has put me in a positive state of mind.

  13. Syd, I have read this post several times (that's one reason blogging takes me so much time--grin!) and I am trying to recall if I ever intellectualized about anything in our program. If so, not memorable.

    It helped that when I arrived at the door, I was a mush-brained idiot, even more than now. ALL I COULD DO was what I was told, I knew nothing else.

    I know that some make fun of Peeps who seem to claim to always live in peace, serenity, and happiness but do you know, I have a hard time remembering the days when that is not so. NOTE: There ARE some few each year!

    Having learned to cease fighting every thing and everybody, including alcohol (and some stupid AA members at meetings!) I guess the motto here is/was "Let go, Let God". This does not imply a lack of participation. I am a GSR, a Greeter, and the Librarian, for the Naples group.

    Even peeps who know me well say to me (every day) "How do you stay so happy?" So I am NOT making stuff up. Intellectualize? I'd say some of us here just steer clear of that wheel-spinning exercise.

    You sure do STILL keep us on our toes though, Syd. And you do it so well! Lots to think about.

    Of course neither alcoholism, nor AA are sciences, for me.

  14. Intellectualizing and rationalizing are defences against what are perceived as unmanageable realities. There was a period when I was very out of touch with my own pain and distress, choosing to detach and analyse rather than feel the turbulent and painful emotions.

    On the other hand, anti-intellectualism is a serious problem in AA where people want others to do their thinking for them and grossly over-simplify issues or the dynamics of the Steps.

    I try to aim for clarity, balance and connectedness.

  15. for me, i need them both. the intellectual for the rational part of my brain, the spiritual for the, well, spiritual side.

  16. I've been thinking about what to say here. I had a feeling I'd be the contrarion. 'Intellectual' is a bit of an easy whipping boy, isn't it. But it not all bad, or all good. Lots of great things have been accomplished through thinking. Roads built, cures found, wars stopped. Blah blah blah.

    On the other hand, it's a balance, isn't it.

    I approach things with my mind first. When I came to Al-Anon I read EVERYTHING. And that allowed my mind to get the concepts pretty quickly. Looking back, I see that as a good thing. It allowed me to move quickly to changing my behaviors and actions. And then, slowly, the practice of actions led to a change in my heart. That's how it works for me. It's my style. I have learned to just accept it.

  17. I know plenty of folks who think that becuase they understand the program, they are working it in their lives. I see these same people struggle to stay sober. My dad and my wife are classic examples of this. They could quote the Big Book and 12X12 Chapter and verse but when it came down to it, they couldn't stay sober until they actually surrendered. I think you're 110% spot on.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.