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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Our former group secretary started her share yesterday saying "I have no idea what happened," and unintentionally captured the most maddening, misunderstood quality of alcoholism.  She got drunk the night before, and-- in addition to being shocked and mortified-- was scratching her head.

"I had to plan it, because there was no alcohol in the house," she said.  "So I had to go the liquor store.  You would think I would have stopped myself at some point."

It reminded me of one of my own relapses.  I was strapped to a hospital bed, tubes in my mouth, and my sponsor at the time stood at the end of the bed and asked, "Why didn't you call me?"

"Really?" I remember thinking. "That's what you've got for me?" 

"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called willpower becomes practically non-existent.  We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our conciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago.  We are without defense against the first drink." Alcoholics Anonymous, page 24

The majority of people in A.A. continue to believe that this program is about building obstacles to the first drink, about not taking the first drink no matter what, about creating a support network of people that will stand between you and alcohol.  As well-intentioned as these tactics are, they ironically only work for non-alcoholics. If simple awareness and understanding of the disease, or the admonishment of another human being, are sufficient to keep you sober, you aren't powerless over alcohol.  Don't misunderstand- perhaps it's better that you not drink. There are plenty of hard drinkers who create havoc and misery, and if you have a desire to not drink, there's a place for you in A.A. But when I read the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, I see you differently than me. 

I require a spiritual awakening to survive, you require a well-charged cell phone.

But back to the point--dissecting relapses is a staggering waste of time, and a thinly veiled attempt to regain power over the disease of alcoholism.  I've come to appreciate my relapses as critical evidence about the futility of my condition, as experience that lined up perfectly with the information I was presented from the AA Text Book.  I can't not drink. I must find a power greater than myself that will solve the problem for me.

There are several components to the first step.  The physical allergy-- when I put it in me it says "give me more"-- is just the first part.   This is the part that nearly everyone in A.A. gets.  But the second part-- the mental obsession-- is casually dismissed by most.  The broad side of Alcoholics Anonymous operates under the painfully misguided idea that once sober, once dried out, the alcoholic must now use willpower and other humans to stay away from the first drink.  And when the alcoholic fails at this-- and most do-- they are often told that "perhaps they are not ready."  Or, "maybe you need to drink more."  

This sort of staggering ignorance could drive a man to violence, you know?

If I believe my disease is ocassion-based, I will likely have occasion-based sobriety.



Posted by on in Alcoholism

I noticed this weekend in a local AA meeting that the group member list -- a document distributed for members to contact one another-- includes a column for sobriety date.  It wasn't the first time I'd seen the list, but it was the first time I noticed the sobriety date column and it made me uncomfortable. It was not lost on me that when I had 11 years of sobriety, I probably liked it listed next to my name; now that I had 18 months, well, not so much.  But there was more to it than ego.   

Despite proclamations that "we've only got today" and "whoever woke up earliest has the most time," time is the most respected AA vital sign.  Many people like to slip it in casually when they share, and it's often the first or second question asked when people meet someone in the fellowship for the first time (how much time do you have?). It's human nature--we want to know how we stack up.  If you don't believe me, try to think of someone in your home group whose sober time you don't know.

On one hand, I get it-- the amount of time you've been able to stay away from a drink has to indicate something about your qualifications, right?   If you're hiring, you want someone with continuous experience, not the guy who's been in and out of jobs.

But when I started to think about what it used to be like for me-- way back when I had double-digit sobriety and never hesitated to work it into a conversation ("'Hey, Jay, how you doin'?' 'Fine, thanks, for a guy with 11 years!'"), I started to see something clearly.

All I had was time. 


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